Category Archives: families

Hostel accommodation – harmful to families

At a meeting with families from Brimstone House and Focus E15 campaign with the head of temporary accommodation in Newham, one of the mothers expressed what they are all going through, summarised in the powerful points below. This important piece of writing is going up on our website on 5 May. 

This is a very important day in the history of struggle in the east end, as it is the birthday of Sylvia Pankhurst, who was born in 1882, 139 years ago. Sylvia Pankhurst was a courageous fighter for human rights, for working class rights, an internationalist, a communist, an anti-racist and anti-fascist, an anti-imperialist. 100 years ago, in the east end of London, Sylvia Pankhurst was active on the streets, in the meeting rooms and organising to challenge the local council and the government about housing, healthcare, education…… 

The women of Brimstone House are continuing that fight for their rights and the rights of their children. Please read below and understand that the legacy of Sylvia Pankhurst’s fight goes on and we can still win important and inspiring victories and be part of building resistance by the solidarity of collective action and class struggle.

Long Live Sylvia Pankhurst! All strength to the women and children of Brimstone House!

This is a summary of what it is like Brimstone House, 10 Victoria Street, Newham, as expressed by the current residents:

  1. There is no welcoming process at Brimstone House and no information about how to complete relevant housing application forms in order to move on.
  1. It is not clear who the case worker is for individual families to discuss their applications or housing needs. When a case worker is finally assigned, it is near-impossible to get hold of them resulting in being bounced from one department to another, and having complaints/issues fall in between the cracks in the system.
  1. There are families living in Brimstone House for three years or more without a housing suitability assessment being completed and ongoing struggles to obtain bidding numbers. 
  1. The rent for studio rooms in Brimstone House is close to £800 per month, not including bills and council tax. A council home with two bedrooms, two storage units, a kitchen, a living/dining room, is about £500 a month.
  1. Single mothers are having to leave their work/jobs, to depend on benefits, because they are worse off working and becoming more impoverished by having to pay full rent. Universal Credit deducts 63 pence out of every £1 after the first £292.
  1. The studio flats in Brimstone House were designed for the purpose of a single person’s living accommodation, yet the council is now using them for families with three or more children, as well as partners. Families are forced to live, eat, share bunk beds/sofas, in the same living space. 
  1. It is shocking to think that anyone should be living in such squalid conditions in Britain, the fifth or sixth richest country in the world. Made worse by Newham’s slogan: ‘People at the heart of everything we do.’
  1. The flats have numerous hazards that also impact on life at Brimstone House, these include mould, bugs, rodents, and other pests (about which letters are frequently circulated). The other main hazard is the frequency with which the lift breaks down. Then single mothers, pregnant women, people with disabilities are seen carrying buggies, pushchairs, shopping, children up and down nine floors.
  1. The water boilers are often broken, faulty, or too small to provide what is needed in a British winter and often there is no answer to the request for plumbers to fix faulty showers. There are occasions when residents have been told to use buckets. Many flats have heaters that are not working, lighting is always faulty both in the corridors and the studio flats – and electricity bills are extortionate, often coming to more than £100 a month. The communal washing machine area is a health hazard with leaks and floods and inefficient machines which are known for recycling household filth.
  1. The bare flooring of wooden floors on many rooms are uneven and adults and children cannot go barefoot. Not being allowed to bring any furniture in means that families are forced to share bunkbeds and sleep on sofas, do not have enough chairs for everyone to even sit together to eat. Requests for more furniture are refused. 
  1. Children are the most affected by these living conditions, with an increase in skin allergies, eczema and respiratory infections and wheezy episodes. Their mental and physical wellbeing is compromised. There are children developing obesity because of their confined space. The restrictions being even more in the pandemic. Children’s toys and belongings often have to be left in the corridor as there is no storage space. This leaves parents in fear of possessions being thrown away as letters are circulated warning not to leave things there. 
  1. Children in Brimstone House have no space to study, to be free, and to form their own individual personalities in their own private space; Children are ashamed to have no bedroom or to say that they sleep with their mothers.
  1. The fire alarm goes off very frequently, sometimes daily at any time of day of nights. Children are dragged out again, having to negotiate flights of stairs, only to find out it is another false alarm. This causing huge anxiety. Security workers often have no knowledge how to pinpoint the fire alarm location. On 30 March 2021, an exit plan of the building in case of a fire was handed out.
  1. There are ongoing complaints about staff being disrespectful to residents and guests. Guests who are sometimes needed to look after someone who is ill or help with childcare, are often refused entry or there is the complication of an overnight form to be filled in and signed. This is supposed to be our home.

Newham Council! Brimstone House: No place for children

Watch as Newham mother is forced to study on cooker top

A mother living in a hostel is doing her best for her children by trying to keep up with her education. She wants to get ahead and move on with her life by studying, but the cramped living conditions make this difficult. She has to allow the children to play in one bit of the space and then is forced to learn and study in the tiny kitchen area by using the cooker as a work table. There is no other space available as she has two children – in a space that was originally designed for one single person. The hostel known as Brimstone House in 10 Victoria street in Stratford, Newham, is no place for a family to grow and learn.

Families have had to also endure months of living on top of each other throughout lockdown. It is claustrophobic. Why should she and her children be forced to live like this, in one of the richest countries in the world? Mothers have every right to be students and a decent society would ensure that everyone could access childcare and further education and fully contribute to society to the best of their abilities.

Watch and share the video below to understand how some are forced to live. We are demanding that Newham Council rehouse all the families in Brimstone house for the sake of the children’s future – they need to put down roots, to attend the same school, to become part of a neighborhood. Instead they are left at the mercy of the private rented sector, which often means short term tenancies, constant moving and overpriced accommodation. The families living in the hostel have had enough!

Video shows the cramped conditions of a hostel and how one mother is forced to study on top of her cooker

Come and help organise the campaign for decent housing in Newham by joining the regular street stall on Saturday’s from 12-2pm outside Wilko’s on the Broadway.

Newham council, give us a future! Give us a chance!

A banner describing the cramped living conditions on Brimstone House hostel, March 2021

Mothers unite to say rehouse all of us now!

Dear Newham Council, Newham Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz, Director of Housing Darren Levy, Head of Housing Shaban Mohammed and Labour MP Lyn Brown,

The residents of Brimstone House, 10 Victoria Street, E15 need urgent rehousing.

As an emergency situation, it may be considered tolerable, as a living arrangement, it is cruel and punishing.

There is already a legal challenge underway but no action from Newham Labour council and now the residents are speaking out again.

We ask for a meeting with the Head of Housing, the Director of Housing and the Mayor of Newham.

This is how the Labour-run borough of Newham sees itself (https://www.newham.gov.uk/contact-information/vision-1)
‘Newham is a borough with a radical vision to build a better and brighter future. We are a diverse and aspirational place. By putting people at the heart of everything we do, we aim to enable all our residents to reach their potential and thrive.’

Tell that to the mothers struggling up flights of stairs with buggies and babies and toddlers and shopping as the lift is broken again. It is not possible and it is not safe.

Tell that to the mothers who are having to study overnight using their cookers as a table, because they don’t have room to sit in the main room, and don’t want to put on the light as the children are asleep.

Tell that to the mothers who are co-sleeping with one or two children and who have no privacy in front of their children, not appropriate, particular in front of boys.

Tell that to the families with exhausted parents and traumatised anxious children who have to be pulled out and rushed downstairs as the fire alarm in the building keeps going off.

Tell that to the families who can’t wash their clothes or their children’s clothes properly as there are not enough washing machines, they are substandard and very expensive.

Tell that to the families paying very high heating costs in Brimstone House, 10 Victoria Street with an electric key system that consumes large sums of money.

Tell that to the families who can’t all sit down to eat together because Newham Labour council doesn’t allow them more than two chairs in their room or flat.

Tell that to the families who feel dumped and abandoned in Brimstone House, with no knowledge of who their housing officer is, who have their emails unanswered, and who have no bidding numbers.

Tell that to the families who have been offered places out of borough and out of London, when their support networks, their work, their family and their children’s schools are in the borough.

Tell that to the families in the cramped and damp rooms with children who are forced to isolate during the pandemic.

Tell us all why the empty council homes on the Carpenters are not being used while a solution to that estate is being found. And what about all the other empty homes around the borough…

If Newham Labour council wants to be a radical council building a better future, then it must speak out and speak up and defend the rights of all its residents.

As Assata Shakur said:
It is our duty to fight for our freedom, it is our duty to to win, we must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.

We ask for a meeting with the Head of Housing, the Director of Housing and the Mayor of Newham.

Thank you
from the families of Brimstone House, Victoria Street with full support of Focus E15 campaign

Book Review: Michael Romyn, London’s Aylesbury Estate – An Oral History of the ‘Concrete Jungle’

Michael Romyn, London’s Aylesbury Estate: An Oral History of the Concrete Jungle (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020) The estate was like a shiny new penny. It was lovely. It was really lovely. It’s hard for me to paint a picture for you but it was a beautiful place to live … The community side of it, you […]

Book Review: Michael Romyn, London’s Aylesbury Estate – An Oral History of the ‘Concrete Jungle’

Give us space to live!

A mother and two children living in Brimstone House, 10 Victoria Street, Stratford E15, has taken the brave step of speaking out about the unbearable conditions they are forced to live in. Focus E15 campaign stands with her and all those facing these issues.

Brimstone House is no place for children to grow up in, yet hundreds of families with children are languishing there in overcrowded rooms, labelled temporary accommodation, for years. Less than a mile down the road, four hundred council homes lie empty on the Carpenters Estate, and all around luxury apartments continue to be built. 

In October 2020, when Rukaya asked about the difficulty with the space and the bed provision as the baby is too big for the cot, she was told her three-year-old could sleep on the sofa. When she challenged this, the options included getting her a bigger, better sofa and/or putting some of their belongings into storage….

This is a shocking story, but not an isolated one. 

Newham’s Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz said recently,  ‘The scale of the challenge has never been greater. But together with my cabinet, which I’m proud is one of the most diverse in the country, I am leading a hugely ambitious programme that sets out how we will improve residents’ lives now and well beyond the pandemic.’

Rokhsana Fiaz and her council have set out their housing policy. She said ‘We’ll continue prioritising housing delivery as we scale up our plans and meet promised targets. The housing strategy is another crucial milestone in our efforts to drive forward through all the instruments of the Council to deliver for local residents.’

In the tradition of Sylvia Pankhurst and the working class struggles of the east end of London and the East London Federation of Suffragettes, we say Deeds Not Words

This is an emergency, for Rukaya, her children and all of those in Brimstone House. 

Even more urgent in a pandemic and lockdown conditions, in Newham which has the biggest percentage of children living in poverty of any borough in London, 25% of residents living in overcrowded housing, and in the first few months of the pandemic suffered the highest death rate in London from Covid19.

Rukaya and her two children need Newham Council to deliver on housing now, a proper solution – decent long-term housing with space for children to grow and develop and for Rukaya to take her life off hold and continue to study, to work and to be active in her community. 

Together we are stronger!

Solidarity with all those fighting for housing justice!

There is no excuse while there are empty homes.

Resources for the people and not for the property developers!

Newham legal team drag their feet.

A Focus E15 campaigner writes…

Imagine a local government tasked with the housing of vulnerable and homeless people but who has either rejected or systematically failed to provide adequate housing and assistance. Imagine a redress system that on the surface claims to have the best interests of the people at heart, but instead punishes them for daring to challenge poor policy decisions and labels the brave few as intentionally homeless. Now imagine a council that responds to a legal complaint one year late with many inaccuracies in their written reply. Welcome to Newham in Britain in 2020.

It was also in the middle of heatwave in 2019, when I chose to take up the offer from Focus E15 and the Public Interest Law Centre to raise a legal complaint against Newham Council. In the sweltering July heat myself and another 18 residents chose to outline our discontent with the living conditions of Brimstone House now, 10 Victoria Street, and listed demands for a change in Newham’s housing policy in general.

Myself and so many residents felt with the weight of the law now behind us and the public interest surrounding housing conditions, especially for society’s most vulnerable in light of the tragedy at Grenfell, Newham Council would at least make moves to be seen to be doing something to address such injustice. Yet I cannot say entirely that it comes as a surprise to me that they have only chosen to respond to the legal complaint almost a year late and with no signs of change on the horizon.

Our challenge highlighted the damp and mouldy conditions that many residents of Brimstone were living through. Their response was to send council elected environmental officers who to no one’s surprise declared the block was fit for human habitation, and that, in their eyes, concluded the matter.

We highlighted the insufficient provision of laundry facilities within the block. The Council’s response? To claim there was no space for more machines and that it was out of their hands as the service was contracted out to a third party. This is despite the addition of at least 10 more properties to the block and a fire that took place in the laundry room in January this year. If that alone was not enough to bring the service back into the Council’s hands I fail to see what would be.

A long running theme within Brimstone House was the anti-social and prison like environment the Council has actively fostered via the presence of a security detail, numerous CCTV cameras and the imposition of curfews. To counter this residents have long requested that the only unused space left in the block, the conservatory, be opened up for communal gatherings and socialising with neighbours. The Council has claimed in their response to the legal complaint, that it has been available for use since September 2019 and has held an 8-week English language course. Residents have pointed out that they have never been notified that the conservatory space was ever open to them and the course only ran for 4 weeks in January 2020.

Focus E15 campaign is not blind to the challenges that a decades worth of cuts and a government wholly opposed to the idea of a welfare state faces. We acknowledge that Newham faces its own unique set of challenges being a Borough with the highest proportion residents in temporary and emergency accommodation. Yet you cannot deny the fact for 63 years Newham has been a Labour run council. What challenges or even alternative to unpopular government policies did our councillors bring to the table to elevate the standing of their residents? I am essentially saying the situation Newham finds itself in right now is not the fault of external, emotionless government policies.

2018 promised to be a year of hope and change for its residents with the inception of Rokshana Fiaz as new mayor. We were promised ‘more transparency, accountability and [greater involvement from] residents in decision making’. With genuinely affordable housing and the ‘safety of our young people’ being the priority. Yet in 2020 Focus E15 is still receiving reports of unfair evictions, cramped and inadequate housing conditions, dismissive and threatening council officers and the adverse impact these conditions are having on the children of residents living through this nightmare.

Below are a two more testimonials from the residents of Brimstone house hostel who expect to see changes to their living situation.The living conditions in Brimstone House are difficult and the cause of physical illness and emotional distress. We have protected the identities as per their request.

Mother of two, referred to as R

This mother has been living in a small room in Brimstone House since September 2019. R was told she would be there 56 days maximum when she moved in but she is still there with no news, no contact from the council and no idea how long this nightmare situation will go on for. Her children are three years old and ten months old. She has had no contact with a housing officer since the day they moved in. It is hard to look for work and arrange childcare when the staff at the hostel question everyone who come in and out of the building. Her room is small, the heat is intense and due to difficulty with the washing machines she has been hand washing all their clothes but told she couldn’t hang them outside to dry.

Mother of two referred to as H

This mother has been in Brimstone House since November 2018. She has a seven year old and a 14 month old. She has no housing officer and has not been allowed to bid for council housing. Like many other residents in the building, H has confirmed that the conservatory is closed-another place that young children could have for recreation and play if the council kept to their word. John Gray, deputy Mayor and head of housing in Newham, promised to open the conservatory for children to use in Summer 2018. H has been coming to the street stall and has told us that: “it is not acceptable how we have to live, we can not take this anymore!” During the heatwave the safety windows could only open a tiny bit making it impossible to sleep at night. Now her kitchen light has gone, the council haven’t responded to her contact about this essential repair and she has bought a little lamp to have light in the evening so she can cook food for her family.

Many of our campaigners and followers will know Marsha, who caused a justifiable stir at the height of lockdown during an international day of action – May Day – highlighting the unreasonable aspects of the housing crisis. With a banner hung from her balcony in Brimstone House, pointing out the injustice of isolating with children in a tiny room while 400 homes on Carpenters Estate, ten minutes’ walk away lie empty, Marsha highlighted the dreadful reality of being forced to isolate in hostel accommodation. Where is the urgency from the council to solve these issues? Three months on from the May Day protest and Marsha is still languishing with her child in Brimstone House.

As more and more articles appear that make the link between COVID19 deaths and overcrowding, and diverse communities – you would think that Newham Labour Council and Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz would be rushing to solve some people’s situation as fast as possible. However, there are still over 400 council homes still lying empty on the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, Newham, London E15. Now into the fourteenth year of being empty, and with a timeline for doing something about them that extends beyond this Mayor’s tenure, it is becoming clear that the value of the land is more important than housing the people.

To top up the roller-coaster ride the mayor and the council have put residents at Brimstone House through, along will 28,000 people on the housing waiting list the council’s legal team has rejected campaigners from speaking as a deputation at a online council meeting stating that that this is because there is an ongoing legal complaint between Focus E15 campaign, Public Interest Law Center and the council. When you look on the council’s website the slogan ‘people at the heart of everything we do’ is plastered everywhere. Yet it seems when people power takes action the furious foot of autocracy is there to kick us to curb. Help us publicise the raging injustice of the council’s response to our legal complaint, the many stories behind the brave people fighting for housing justice and take action to make a change and demand that the Labour Council in Newham starts by refurbishing and repopulating the Carpenters Estate now. No more lengthy processes involving exhibitions and form filling. The answer is yes – those towers should be full of people now. A local forum even came up with their own plan for the estate but it was rejected by the council. Why?

Whilst the council gloss over the legal complaint submitted over a year ago by Public Interest Law Center, we say that the fight for decent living conditions for all those stuck at Brimstone House must go on. The more we stand together, the stronger we are. Together we can challenge Newham Council and demand immediate decent housing and reopening of Carpenters Estate for the people of Newham.

ABANDONED BY NEWHAM

At the end of June and after lockdown restrictions eased, Focus E15 campaign went back out on the streets. At the weekly street stall we have met many people struggling with overcrowding living and poor quality housing – made much harder to sort out due to the pandemic and the closure of services. This stress has been compounded by the knowledge that Newham, a very diverse borough where over 70% of residents are Black, Asian and people of colour, is the borough with the second highest death rate in England from COVID19 . Many campaigners have been making the connection between poor housing, poor health and increased risk of illness.

The residents of Brimstone House are organising. Fed up of isolating with children in box rooms, with windows that don’t open in the sweltering heat wave and no answers from the council about what their housing future is, they are planning to take action. In addition to this one hostel block there are also thousands of other people in Newham struggling with housing in a borough where over 25% of people live in overcrowded situations. Try and explain to them why over 400 homes lie empty on the Carpenters Estate and have done for years and years and years.

We know that if we organise together we are stronger and we have a voice.

In order to illustrate this please take a look at Mary’s story below. She has been trying for over a decade to sort out her living conditions, one of thousands of people who feel abandoned by Newham and for whom, having a new Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, for the last two years, has changed nothing.

Mary and her 21 year-old son and 18 year-old daughter are living in a two bedroom council home. For over ten years, Mary has been trying to ensure that there is enough space for the children growing up who need separate bedrooms as stated in all guidance and legislation on sex of children and overcrowding. She has been on the housing waiting list for over 12 years, it is in fact longer but the council lost her original application. She bids regularly, and she is on a council and private swap register.

Mary has been to see her local MP Lyn Brown, has been to see her councillor, has even been to Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz’s surgery. Everyone listens but does nothing. She has told these elected representatives very personal details of her family’s history that explain the urgency of her situation. But still no action, no replies, no follow up.

During lockdown in the pandemic, this stressful situation has been magnified and relationships have become very strained. Mary, who sleeps in the living room anyway and hasn’t had a proper bed for years, is now also working from home. Her son also returned from university due to lockdown and has been trying to study from home. Mary explained that the physical and mental health strains are ‘exacerbated by the lack of space for everyone’.

Thank you Mary for getting involved with Focus E15 campaign and sharing your story. The more we stand together, the stronger we are. Newham Labour Council must act to alleviate the housing injustice in the borough.

The East London Federation of Suffragettes were active 100 years ago in east London, but they remain totally relevant today. We echo their sentiments when we say that we need Deeds Not Words when we encounter the brick wall that Mary and others have come up against when dealing with the council. https://www.eastlondonsuffragettes.com/

Join us on the street outside Wilko’s every Saturday on the Broadway from 12-2pm and help educate, organise and mobilise for our right to long term housing that is safe and secure.

HOMES NOT HARASSMENT

Following the Chain of Power demonstration from Brimstone House hotel to Carpenters Estate on 27 June 2020, more people have come forward to tell their story and speak out. Alone our voices are often lost, but together we are stronger, louder and we are heard.

Below is an example of someone who wants to remain anonymous but who knows that her story is not an isolated one.

A woman and her young child have been in Brimstone House hostel for over a year. She was placed there by Newham council as she was homeless. Very little support from her caseworker despite repeated attempts by her to get in touch. She kept bidding for secure housing with no success. A new caseworker was suddenly assigned, who was aggressive and demeaning, saying that she had not done enough to find accommodation in the private-rented sector. Threatening conversations: if you refuse what the council deems to be a suitable offer, this can result in being labelled intentionally homeless, no more help for housing and possible referral to social services. This led to great feelings of anxiety as it is also implied that if not enough evidence of searching for accommodation, then the council may give up its duty to house her and her child.

Legal advice was taken, it is illegal to threaten the end of housing duty on basis that the search for private accommodation is inadequate. During this time however this woman had many feelings of insecurity at the thought of being sent out of London, away from support networks, family and friends. Feelings of being undermined as a parent. Huge negative mental health implications. Effect on physical health.

This is just one example of the 1000s and 1000s of others and THIS HAS TO STOP.

Focus E15 campaign says to Newham Labour Council:

Stop the harassment! House people decently! No more excuses, no more time wasting – open up the empty council homes on the Carpenters Estate now!

Why I displayed a resistance banner in my temporary accommodation (Brimstone House)


On the 1st of May I decided to make a resistance banner. This is my way to make stand about how I feel  living in temporary accommodation/bedsit provided by Newham council. I feel it is the only way to get public attention and for people to understand about living in such conditions in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic.” 

”People from deprived and over-populated areas such as Newham are more likely to catch the virus. My thoughts behind making the banner and hanging it up on the balcony of Brimstone House was to simply say I have had enough. I am angry and frustrated that for myself and many other families living in temporary accommodation, we have been disregarded by the Council.

With so many empty homes around Newham such as those on the Carpenters Estate, it is totally inhumane and unacceptable to have families living in one room with children.

We are scared for our lives and our children lives. There is not enough being done by Newham Council to protect us as residents with so many empty flats lying empty.

The least they can do is open them up.”

By Marsha from the Focus E15 campaign

RADIO INTERVIEW ON HOUSING DURING CORONAVIRUS

Listen to Focus E15 campaigner Egwolo being interviewed by Pete Day from ”NuSound Radio 92FM” here: http://radiopete.org/home/nusound-radio-92fm-140520-focus-e15/

https://radiopete.org/

TAKE ACTION ON MAYDAY TO DEMAND EMPTY HOMES ARE OPENED!

Following our online meeting with Moms 4 Housing, Focus E15 have decided to call for action on Friday 1st May, in the form of creating and displaying banners to demand that empty homes are opened because housing should be a human right.

Get creative and make your banner – walk down the street with it, hang it out a window, whatever you prefer. But make sure to take a picture and hashtag: #OpenEmptyHomes and #HousingIsAHumanRight

Our friends and comrades in the USA and around the world will also be doing action to highlight the same message. Follow Moms4Housing here: https://moms4housing.org/

Remember to check out the Moms4Housing meeting podcast: https://focuse15.org/2020/04/26/moms4housing-webinar-released/

Give solidarity, take action this Mayday!