Monday 22 May, Newham’s annual full council meeting in the Old Town Hall Stratford.
Focus E15 campaign joined members of London Renters Union (LRU) and PEACH outside the town hall. With placards, banners and flags flying there were speeches and chants on the megaphone. It was lively and militant. Every councillor who went in got a leaflet about the LRU campaign SafeHomesNow. Newham council must take action against landlords who rent unsafe homes, who don’t respond to tenants’ issues and who share details with the Home Office of a tenant who is a migrant.
We are now near the end of May 2023 – the month when the Labour Mayor and council promised that every family with children would have moved out of 10 Victoria Street. But no, over 50 families are still stuck in the substandard overcrowded inappropriate accommodation, sharing beds, no space to play, and with no space to do homework.
So we decided to go in to the meeting to make sure all the councillors and members of the public present are up to date with this matter. They would have preferred to have continued the chats in the corridor but we thought it time to go in with people directly effected by housing insecurity and living in overcrowded housing misery.
As instructed, members of the town hall security staff were heavy-handed and pushed pulled and dragged the protesters out. After the meeting resumed, Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz was forced to comment, reaffirming her commitment to move families with children out from Victoria Street, with all the excuses the council repeatedly gives as to why it is so difficult, and then spoke of the millions of pounds the council is going to spend for ‘option appraisals’ and the ‘reconceptualising of the building’ at 10 Victoria Street.
We chanted Deeds not Words as we left the council chamber, our heads held high, determined to fight on for housing justice for all.
If you want to take action on housing, join Focus E15 campaign on the weekly Saturday stall 12-2pm outside Wilko’s on Stratford Broadway, follow us on facebook for the latest information about meetings and events.
Our demands on May 1st 2023 : All families must be moved from 10 Victoria Street as a matter of urgency , into suitable and long term accommodation.
Rokhsana Fiaz, Mayor of Newham, stated at a council meeting one year ago that by May 2023 “I will be making sure all of those families with children will be moved out of Victoria Street and no other families will be placed there.” However this has not happened , adding to the remaining families sense of ‘moral injustice’ and growing anger. We will not stop campaigning until all the families are moved out of Victoria Street into suitable accommodation.
Open all empty homes in the borough to house homeless individuals and families. We are aware of empty and suitable council homes, in a borough with one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country. This is outrageous – open these council homes now!
Repair, refurbish and repopulate the Carpenters Estate. People need long-term council homes now, not shoddy Temporary Accommodation! In the interests of the community and the planet, we say repair, refurbish and repopulate this estate with long-term council tenants!
End the use of ‘intentional homelessness’. We call on Newham Council to reject the malicious practice of labelling individuals and parents ‘intentionally homeless’. No one is intentionally homeless and the council must stop using this tool to shirk their responsibilities on homelessness. Furthermore, the use of threats by housing officers to parents such as we will rehouse your children and not you must cease immediately.
We say to Newham Council – resist or resign! Join the campaign on the streets next Saturday from 12-2pm outside Wilkos on the Broadway in Stratford to plan the next actions!
A mother and child, survivors of domestic abuse were labelled by the Council as having made themselves intentionally homeless, and therefore, the council discharged its housing duty to this family.
The family, who are living in an overcrowded hostel, had questioned the Council over an unsuitable offer of housing because the new property was in an area that is local to the perpetrator. What follows from a discharge of housing duty is eviction and often, a referral to social services. The family were extremely frightened and upset.
Due to having no option but to fight back, this mother was involved in collective action with Focus E15 campaign, in a process that culminated in a demonstration outside and inside the full council meeting on 16 January, at the Old Town Hall in Stratford. Council officials responded by offering a face to face meeting.
After this meeting took place on 19 January the council was forced to reverse the decision to discharge their duty. The woman said:
The public support I have been shown since we protested at the Newham Council meeting on Monday has been amazing. On the basis of this pressure, today Newham Council scrapped the decision to discharge their duty to me and I am no longer threatened with intentional homelessness. Protest works.
Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz was also forced by pressure and protest in May 2022 to promise that all families with children would be moved out of the notorious 10 Victoria Street hostel by May 2023 as it is no place for children to grow up in. However, threatening eviction as an exit strategy from this building is a shameful moment for the Council. We must ensure that decent homes are now found.
Stand with all those families still languishing in Victoria Street hostel, and with all those moved out into damp, cold homes with mould that the council has allowed to fall into disrepair.
Housing Justice and Respect! No Evictions! No Excuses! No Threats!
Focus E15 will be celebrating on the street stall outside Wilko’s this Saturday from 12pm.
Over the last 9 years, Focus E15 campaign has battled with Newham Labour Council about the conditions in Focus E15/Brimstone House/Victoria Street hostel. While the name of the hostel has changed over the years, the appalling living conditions remain the same.
Here we go again. 5 May 2022 and time for local elections. Focus E15 campaign demand that the next lot of elected representatives, actually do something for the most marginalised in our communities and represent those living in overcrowded, shoddy accommodation. In the words of the East London Federation of Suffragettes, one hundred years ago, we demand DEEDS NOT WORDS.
Life in 10 Victoria Street hostel, Newham Stratford, London E15 in 2022
‘This place is like a prison. It is like three people living in a cage.’ Parents of a newborn baby in Victoria Street.
Nine years from the start of the campaign, Focus E15 campaign stands side by side with residents facing the same housing issues due to the same hostel. Parents and children are still being crammed into tiny rooms, with no space for homework or study or privacy. There is damp and mould, no ventilation, parents sharing beds with children, no space for babies to crawl or toddlers to walk. Residents are expected to use laundrettes at higher cost as the washing machines are dirty, with frequently broken lifts, alarms sounding regularly even overnight, case workers/housing officers who say they have too much to take on and to stop contacting them. There is additional suffering and worry about children with disabilities who need space and calm, and very little face to face support.
Focus E15 hostel
Focus E15 campaign emerged from the Mother and Baby Unit of the Focus E15 Foyer hostel over nine years ago. When the young mothers moved in they were told they would be there three to six months and out by the time the baby was crawling. However they were left for years with growing children, less space and eventually an eviction notice with no offer of either permanent, affordable or local housing.
Back when the building was run as a young people’s hostel it was owned and run by East Thames housing association and funded by Newham council. When Newham council withdrew funding and the housing association issued eviction notices, the mothers began to organise and take action to stop them being forced out of London to housing in Hastings, Birmingham and Manchester.
Clip from the start of the campaign
See a clip of Chris Woodhead from East Thames Housing Association in 2014 stating the hostel is ‘not suitable’.
The young mothers were fighting to stay local, be rehoused adequately, and acting to highlight the unliveable, dangerous and brutally depressing conditions Newham Labour council had placed them in – in the Focus E15 hostel, later named Brimstone House and now known as 10 Victoria Street.
The battle for housing justice went up a gear in 2013/14, once residents knew of the empty homes all around the borough and over 410 empty council homes on the Carpenters Estate. Having destroyed them by leaving them empty for over a decade, now the council are on-track to demolish these council homes and replace them with various types of housing, none of it council.
In the last nine years, Focus E15 campaign has been a thorn in the side of Newham council, seeing off the Mayor Robin Wales and now taking on Rokhsana Fiaz. There has been a weekly stall, marches, occupation of empty homes on the Carpenters Estate less than a mile away from Victoria Street. Residents have spoken in deputations to the Mayor in full council meetings and with the support of the Public Interest Law Centre there has been a formal complaint with testimonies of residents in Victoria Street. Shamefully, the council dragged its heels, replied a year later inadequately, and the ombudsman refused to take it further.
The Labour council promises much but delivers little. People are still facing evictions, labelled intentionally homeless, moved out of borough or out of London, away from family and support networks. Rokshana Fiaz came into power in 2018 promising to tackle homelessness and poverty – shame on the council for the conditions still facing families in 10 Victoria Street.
At the peak of the pandemic, Newham Council has the highest number of children in the country living in poverty, the highest level of homelessness, one out of every 24 people, the worse level of air pollution in the whole of Britain, the worst overcrowding at 25.2% of dwellings. Newham has over 4,500 households in temporary accommodation and over 27,000 households on its housing waiting list. By June 2020, Newham had the second-worst Covid19 death rate in the country.
There is resistance in Newham from all sorts of groups and campaigns and this includes Focus E15 campaign and the parents in 10 Victoria Street.
Focus E15 campaign has a clear message for Newham Labour Council – Victoria Street is no place for children! Rehouse residents now!
We will continue to organise together as collective action is what achieves the most and empowers us all.It is how we learn together and fight for a better future.
Join us on Saturday outside Wilkos on the Broadway in Stratford from 12pm-2pm with residents from Victoria Street hostel to campaign for decent homes for all and to
Brimstone House, 10 Victoria Street, E15 is a notorious temporary and emergency accommodation building owned and run by Newham Labour council.
Built as a young people’s foyer, it is not suitable for couples let alone families with children.
Listen to the interview below of a young person who has spent all of his teenage years in Brimstone House. The toll on the parents and young person, now 18 years old, is huge, physically and emotionally. The pandemic years and lockdowns have made it even harder.
This family is facing eviction – the bailiffs are coming on Thursday 10 February.
It’s too late to stop it says Newham Council.
It can’t be stopped say the lawyers.
Where do the family go?
Stand with Focus E15 campaign to say NO EVICTIONS.
Oppose and expose this cruel system that punishes the vulnerable and strips people of their dignity.
Newham Council advertises itself with the words People at the Heart of Everything We Do….
However 25.2% of all housing is overcrowded in Newham, well over the London average of 14.6% in social housing and 12.6% in the private rented sector. Newham Council has just spent hundreds of thousands of pounds to get a Yes vote in the Carpenters Estate ballot on regeneration, which means a substantial number of council homes will be demolished.
Two million council houses have been lost through the Right to Buy policy since 1981 in Britain, and in the past decade only 147,000 ‘social rent’ houses have been built in England, while over 282,000 have been sold or demolished. Almost 2 million people are on the housing waiting list.
Publicly-owned housing on a mass scale is the only way to address the housing crisis and we will have to fight for it.
Listen to to the interview from a young person, describing life growing up in a hostel and the threat of being evicted :
Join Focus E15 campaign on the streets every Saturday 12-2pm on Stratford Broadway outside Wilko’s.
This morning, Sunday 23 January, Focus E15 campaigners and Carpenters Estate residents in Stratford, London were on the BBC Politics TV show, to bring further attention to the recent estate ballot process that took place on Carpenters Estate last month. Not only did Newham Council spend at least £350k to secure a ‘yes’ vote, but they tied temporary accommodation residents right to a secure tenancy to the ‘yes’ vote for demolition (of almost 60% of the estate!)
If the Mayor of Newham was really concerned with residents rights, then why move anyone into a council estate on a temporary contract? All the residents currently in temporary accommodation should be given secure council tenancies now! No demolition of the Carpenters Estate!
Focus E15 campaign will be back in Stratford this Saturday from 12pm-2pm on the Broadway outside Wilkos. If you support the campaign, please watch and share the video below.
This is an URGENT message for anyone interested in human rights, women’s rights, children’s rights and the ruthless cruelty of a Labour council.
Newham Council has discharged its homelessness duty to a pregnant woman who has a toddler and is due to deliver her second baby in February (therefore anytime now). She is currently living in Brimstone House, where families languish in emergency and temporary overcrowded accommodation in rooms built for one.
This piece is being published on Monday 10 January, the day that Newham Council’s responsibility for providing further temporary accommodation to this family ends.
The council housing officers have emailed to clarify and confirm there is no intention to evict this family on 10 January, but make it clear that this could happen if the council applies to the courts for possession. The council officer casually adds in the email that there will be more than sufficient notice if this happens.
HOW CAN THIS BE?
At the end of September 2021, this family was offered a move from Brimstone House, Victoria Street, E15, to another temporary accommodation. It was not a great place for various reasons including an insecure door that was a worry about safety, and she felt it not appropriate for her and her 21-month-old child and baby to come. She refused the offer and immediately Newham Council discharged its housing duty to the family. Within a few days, knowing the consequences, frightened about eviction and homelessness, struggling with her mental and physical health, she changed her mind and contacted the council. But too late for Newham Council, who don’t recognise a change of mind, and clearly would rather see families homeless than reverse their callous decisions.
A review was undertaken by another housing officer who concluded that they are satisfied that she refused a reasonable offer and will be able to manage in the private-rented sector and that there are no exceptional circumstances and the council will not be exercising any discretion. Therefore the reviewing officer upholds the decision that the council has no duty to secure this family with accommodation.
This is disgraceful. But it is also terrifying, because to say that someone can manage in the private-rented sector is to assume that they have money for a deposit and several months’ rent and a rich guarantor.
If Newham Labour Council insists the discharge of housing duty stands, they will proceed to evict this family and she will go into labour homeless and once she has delivered her baby, she must make another homeless application and has to be provided with emergency housing. Or perhaps the council expects her to make an application to court and challenge this situation in the last few days or weeks of her pregnancy. Neither are a satisfactory way to treat a family in need.
Court-mandated evictions have increased by 207% after the pandemic-related ban was lifted. In England there are 95,450 homeless households, two thirds of them with children, living in cramped and unsuitable temporary accommodation.
Focus E15 campaign stands with all those struggling for decent housing. We challenge Newham Labour Council to do the right thing and start 2022 by showing this family some compassion and humanity.
No such thing as intentional homelessness! No discharge of housing duty! No eviction!
Join us at the Focus E15 street stall on Saturday 15 January at 12pm outside Wilkos to make a stand for housing justice for all!
RESIDENTS ACCUSE NEWHAM LABOUR COUNCIL OF SPENDING PUBLIC MONEY TO FORCE THROUGH A VOTE FOR DEMOLITION
On Tuesday 14 December 2021, a resident ballot on the Carpenters Estate in Newham, East London, returned a Yes vote in favour of the council’s regeneration plans, meaning almost 60% of the estate will be demolished for ‘regeneration’. This is a deep blow for residents who want to refurbish and save the existing estate as it is.
Residents have called out the whole of the ballot process as being deeply biased in favour of the council’s plans. Newham council and the council’s housing company, Populo Living have spent at least £350,000 on campaigning for a Yes vote, whilst campaigners had no access to public funds.
Throughout the consultation and ballot process, Carpenters’ residents and supporters of Focus E15 campaign have complained of underhand tactics used by Newham Council and Populo Living. Blatant propaganda posed the council’s plans as the only viable option.
For example, Populo Living’s newsletter of October 2021, states:
The future of The Carpenters is up to you – if you want to build a stronger estate, you need to vote YES in the ballot at the end of October.
‘Vote Yes’ graphics have been seen on billboards, newsletters, community spaces and in the Landlord Offer document which the vote was based on. Residents have told of continual door-knocking on the estate by both Populo Living and Source Partnership employees who are the Independent Resident and Tenants Advisors.
A huge amount of public money has been spent in the process of canvassing for a yes vote. A Freedom of Information request found out that at least:
£146,275 has been spent by Newham Council on running consultancy services
£224,000 has been sent by Populo Living on running consultancy services
£4,400 was spent on a Community fun day
Newham Council has followed the GLA’s Good Guide to Estate Regeneration in order to secure funding for future development.
However from July 2018 to March 2020, all of the ballots held on estates in London have resulted in ‘Yes’ votes for regeneration – in every case this resulted in demolition.
Councillors in Haringey have been so outraged by this process that they have called for an independent inquiry into the regeneration ballot carried out on the Love Lane Estate, following allegations of pressure put on residents.
Under GLA guidance, neither Newham Council nor Populo Living is required to put forward a balanced argument and they are allowed to lobby with huge resources for their preferred position. Residents who wish to lobby against the council have no resources made available to them.
Such one-sided campaigning and clear inequality are unlawful in referendums and elections.
The Greater London Authority and Local Authorities’ ballots are a cover, using the voting and the notion of democracy for ultimately destroying council homes. This corrupt and unequal process must end.
Focus E15 campaign and residents will be meeting on the Carpenters Estate, Newham, London E15, from 12-2pm on Saturday 18 December (next to the shop in the middle of the estate) to discuss the next steps in our campaigning, to shine a spotlight on housing issues in East London and say to the council and Populo Living:
Hands off the Carpenters Estate!Join us and residents to make more planson Saturday 18 on the estate. Together we are stronger.
Another family has been moved into the hostel Brimstone House in Victoria Street in Stratford during the last eight weeks. This means that Newham Labour council and Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz still think that rooms built for single young people are adequate to house families. This has to stop! People need to be housed in decent housing. Shame on the council and those in local government who sit by and let the housing crisis in Newham escalate whilst people suffer and homes remain empty.
This family is a father, a mother and a four month old baby. There is just about space for a double bed and a sofa. Currently the father sleeps on the sofa while the mother sleeps with the baby in the bed, which is against the advice from midwives, health visitors and GPs about safe sleeping for babies. It is just not appropriate for an adult to sleep all night on a sofa.
There is little or no ventilation, the room is quickly filled with cooking smells which can be overpowering, and the toilet flush does not work properly despite repeated requests for it to be fixed, it has not been repaired. The alarm continues to go off in the building and there is drilling early in the morning. It is no wonder that these parents are distressed, tearful and unwell. There is no space and nowhere to put their belongings. It is clear that Brimstone House is no place to raise a child and the housing is not suitable.
Meanwhile, the roomy council flats around the corner on Carpenters estate remain empty and there are trees growing out of them! What a waste. We want to save every single council flat on this estate because this housing offers the chance for long term stability, community and cheap rent. A chance for a decent life.
Please join us on Saturday 18 December 12-2pm on the Carpenters Estate where over 400 home have stood empty for over a decade, where currently a ballot is underway and where the council is spending hundreds of thousands of pounds to secure a yes vote to its regeneration scheme which will mean demolishing 60% of the estate.
We need more council homes, not fewer! We need families like the one above from Brimstone House, and the thousands of others on the housing waiting list and those in temporary and emergency accommodation, to be housed decently.
Join us on Saturday 18 December at 12 noon in the middle of Carpenters Estate in Stratford (near the shop) to fight for housing, to make a stand against capitalism, against racism in housing and to restore people’s dignity.
Thank you for the following thoughts by our guest blogger Toni Adscheid from Germany, who supported the campaign on the street stall and in meetings when he was in London, and who participated in our online meetings during lockdown. It is through back and forth conversations such as these that we are inspired to carry onwards and take up the fight for housing with greater clarity and awareness of the role campaigning plays in the tremendous struggle that lies ahead. Educate! Agitate! Organise!
The following text is based on a talk, given at a conference on “Decolonizing the curriculum” via zoom, to an audience of university lecturers, schoolteachers and students. The conclusions I draw, derive both from my experiences in teaching undergraduate geography students as well as my observations and interactions with members of Focus E-15 campaign during the weekly street stall in Newham, organisational meetings and personal conversations. I also want to clarify that I regard capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy as inherently intertwined structures of oppression.
Contemporary neoliberal university practices attempt to fix the generation of knowledge through curricula to the university, which is regarded as the only place for study. Moreover, in neoliberal universities, students come to see themselves either as problem, because they need to earn credit to graduate, or as professionals after they graduated. These attempts of fixing the generation of knowledge to the place of the university as well as fixations upon students as either problems or professionals, I argue, are two examples for colonizing knowledge in neoliberal universities around the globe. In this regard, colonization can be understood as the normalization of structures of oppression in which people are defined as problems and offered salvation through institutionalized settings, which supposedly hold the tools that people need to solve their problems. In the face of colonizing the generation of knowledge through attempts of fixing (of students) and fixations (on the university as place for knowledge generation), what would it mean to escape and thus refuse these attempts of fixing the generation of knowledge to the university and attempts to fix students? For me, this entails two things: To acknowledge that, outside of the university, people study all the time and that amateurism should be encouraged rather than sanctioned.
As scholars like Stefano Harney and Fred Moten remind us, when we think about study we ought to think as much about nurses in the smoking room as we are about the university (Harney & Moten 2013: 112). Their argument opens up knowledge generation beyond the walls of the university building as people constantly try to figure out ways to be with one another, despite attempts to keep them apart, either by promises to become better by themselves or by fixing them in place. This mode of study is what Focus E-15 engages in, and what authors like Paul Watt and Penny Bernstock continue to emphasize. If we are truly committed to challenge current ways of colonizing knowledge, we have to look no further than the street corners, the narrow alleys, the council housing estates. Here, in the outside of institutionalized knowledge generation, people constantly try to figure out why they ended up in their current situation but also think and practice how to live otherwise. This is what Focus E-15 continues to highlight. People who are not recognized to have a voice, especially young mothers in so called ‘temporary accommodation’, constantly figure out ways how to escape and thus refuse attempts of being fixed, both in place and as persons. They refuse because there is nothing wrong with them and nothing can hold them; they are already amazing. As Saidiya Hartman wrote in relation to the US:
‘The decades between 1890 and 1935 were decisive in determining the course of black futures. A revolution in a minor key unfolded in the city and young black women were the vehicle. This upheaval or transformation of black intimate life was the consequence of economic exclusion, material deprivation, racial enclosure, and social dispossession; yet it, too, was fueled by the vision of a future world that might be.’ (Hartman 2019: xv).
Young women, especially the young mothers of Focus E-15, are radical thinkers who never fail to imagine how the world might be otherwise; this is what the campaign can teach university students. This is what I convey in my teachings to my students in order to decolonize knowledge generation: You are not the only ones who study, learn to listen to the radical thinkers who continuously study around you. Initiating modes of mutual learning, between in and outside the university, then becomes an imminent task if knowledge is about to be truly decolonized.
My understanding of young mothers as radical thinkers then led me to the realisation that neoliberal institutions, such as universities, fear those who they consider amateurs. Amateurs who supposedly do not fully know what they are talking about, those who refuse to be creditors after graduation, who refuse to graduate because they are committed to study outside of the university. The university tries to get rid of that amateurism through us, people who are involved in teaching. Our task, so we are told, is to enable students to graduate by giving them credit. Hereby, those who do not receive credit are considered to have failed, as they refuse to earn credit. However, as Focus E-15 continues to show, the aim of study is not to become a professional (who supposedly knows everything) but about fostering a kind of collaborative amateurism. This kind of collaborative amateurism in which for example a German PhD-student studies housing issues in the UK, can create openings through which one can be affected by others, dispossessed and possessed by others. It allows students to be opened up to the vast array of knowledge continuously generated around them and to be affected by that knowledge; it helps them to realize that they can never be entirely ready, never fully become professionals.
Practicing amateurism then means to acknowledge that study happens with each other, in conversation with those who never fail to imagine how the world might be otherwise. For those of us who are committed to keep ‘studying as amateurs’ it is important to stay with the trouble; even though we might be in neoliberal universities, we are not of them.
Harney, S., & Moten, F. (2013). The undercommons: Fugitive planning & black study.