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!
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.
A local resident speaks to Focus E15 campaign about what Carpenters Estate means to her.
When I reminisce about my best moments growing up, I always think of the Carpenters estate. I can’t imagine growing up in a more fulfilling community.
Across all generations we supported one another. You had the over 65s, some who had known each other since the 2nd World War. They had grown up together and then raised their children together. It was a very close, caring and supportive community that felt more like a family. Us children would all attend Carpenters primary school and play together afterwards in the lovely green spaces and park. There was so many different cultures too, I tried so many different cuisines and learned a lot by being around different ethnicities and religions. I actually believed the whole world was multicultural like the estate I grew up on, because to me Carpenters was the only world I knew.
Over the years we have seen people be moved away and relocated. It started with the Olympics. So many people were paid off and moved on. The place was becoming more and more deserted and neglected. There was never a problem to start with on Carpenters, it was just an inconvenience to Newham council and the London Olympics to have ‘common people’ so close to the games and the new Westfield. They were creating a new Stratford and we were an inconvenience to that image.
Now they are proposing to regenerate the whole area! That will mean 60% of homes being demolished. That includes my Grandmothers house which she worked her whole life to own, just to be told in her early 80s that she is at risk of losing it, because they need the land now for their new plans. It’s all what works for them and they never consider the people they are affecting. My Grandmother had been very stressed due to thinking she had to move. Carpenters estate is all she knows and she loves her home and didn’t want to move. Also she was worried about decorating or changing carpets in case she is forced to move.
The council have said that the residents of the estate supports demolition which is a lie. Why would we want our homes destroyed? If they want to support residents, why not improve the conditions on this estate right now? We had already voted for refurbishment over redevelopment but now they are saying something completely different. They have been trying to degrade the estate to make it seem that they have the solution, which is to demolish, because in the long run, it’s what’s makes them the most profit, they do not care about the welfare and health of the elderly and the stress and affects on mental health of local residents.
We must Vote No to keep Carpenters alive and rebuild a community that they demolished years ago. Choose refurbishment over demolition. Community over Capitalism. Everyone deserves a place to live and to stay in their homes that they love and feel content in.
What can you do to help?
Join the Focus E15 campaign street stall outside Wilkos in Stratford from 12pm and then on the Carpenters Estate near the shop this Saturday 20 November from 1pm.
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.
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:
There is no welcoming process at Brimstone House and no information about how to complete relevant housing application forms in order to move on.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
On Sunday 7 February, a mother of two in Brimstone House, 10 Victoria Street, E15, could take it no more and shared very personal photos of her home to illustrate the contempt that Newham council has for families crammed into the shoddy, overcrowded, damp rooms in this building.
For two years, she has put up with damp, with mould, with inadequate and expensive heating appliances, with a cramped situation whereby she has to share a bed with her children, with no bedroom for her children to sleep in, no room to study for the older one now of school age, no privacy for her.
Then came the rain and in it came. Now the children’s books were ruined, now the mattress was all wet and all their bedding affected. She packed up the room into boxes and bags to safeguard what was left and she asked a family also living in similar conditions in the building if they could take her children overnight, which they kindly did. The next night, she found space on the kitchen floor to put the children down to sleep.
Being an active part of Focus E15 campaign, this brave, resilient mother put out the message to others. Tweeting Newham council got a response, she was contacted and there was a promise of a visit to see and sort out the problems….
But this mother of two is clear, you can sort out the leak but you cannot fix the endemic problems of Brimstone House. The only way to reverse the negligence of extended stays in this appalling living situation, is to move people out to decent homes. Until then, the huge toll on adults’ and children’s mental and physical health will continue.
Focus E15 campaign knows that there are empty homes around Newham, and shockingly, has to repeat again and again and again what everyone, including Rokhsana Fiaz, Mayor of Newham, knows only too well – there are over 400 empty council homes on the Carpenters Estate, deliberately left empty for well over a decade, less than a mile from Brimstone House.
Residents of Brimstone House have voiced their issues loud and clear over and over again. In a recent exchange, mothers of young children expressed some of the issues they are struggling with in Brimstone House, in lockdown and with extreme difficulty getting replies from housing officers now that Bridge House and other housing offices are shut.
The constant merry-go-round of temporary and emergency housing:‘Moving again with my child….we have been living in a hotel, then a friend’s house and then various shared houses. It’s been a physically exhausting year living in London, we have been moved five times already.’
The lack of security: ‘It’s really hard to see a way out of this … and then the empty horrible threats that they will remove our children. All this is magnified by constant insecurity, knowing we’re at their mercy and they really can do what they want. If the council was someone’s partner, they would say it’s an abusive relationship.’
Being forced into tiny spaces in lockdown in a pandemic: ‘It’s so narrow and the ceiling is very low, I feel boxed in. You can see the end of my feet is where the TV is supposed to go, glued to our eyes!’
Knowing there are empty homes nearby:‘There is no way they can possibly justify not opening the Carpenters Estate and many others during this pandemic, I hope at some point we see someone held accountable for purposely keeping houses shut whilst knowing that we have been having a housing crisis for many many years.’
Being at the mercy of a system riven by division and discrimination:‘And they purposely trap us in the illusion of their ‘fair’ system. If we don’t have jobs, they call us lazy, when we do get a job or try to pursue our education, they make it nearly impossible…Unfortunately a lot of people are either dismissive or insensitive, they don’t actually see just how oppressing and soul destroying this system is.’
The women show their strength and resilience: ‘Persevering in adversity is one of the many life skills we are passing down to our kids simply by living the best we can in these situations…’
The conversation ends on a positive note:‘All they want is to distract us and make our lives not meaningful, they do not want us to achieve our goals because they know we are coming back to fight. All we need is NOT to keep quiet, we should continue to use our voice, and I believe with the support of Focus E15 campaign together we will win, they will hear our voice!’
A Newham resident who lives in Brimstone house has been working with the campaign and has this to say about her living situation:
I am a 20 year old woman with a young baby. I grew up in Newham and am now a registered carer for my older brother who has a disability and cannot live independently. We both lived with my mum who is in full time work. I shared a bedroom with my brother. When I got pregnant the arrangement was still manageable but once my baby was born it was not possible to share the bedroom anymore. I had to move out.
I approached Newham council and explained the situation. No one will believe what happened next, but it is true. They offered to send a mediator to speak to my brother and my mother to negotiate me and my baby saying in the same bedroom as him. My brother’s disability means that he would not be able to cope with being woken several times in the night. It was embarrassing that the council worker thought it appropriate to offer this. My mother clearly turned this down but they didn’t take no for an answer and sent someone round to the house to talk to my brother. It felt like they didn’t care about or try to understand our situation.
So they placed me and my baby in a hotel room as an emergency. I continued to care for my brother and, apart from my period of maternity leave, planned to resume my studies and my work. Then Newham offered me a place in Tilbury. I said no because I could not fulfil my caring duties with that distance to travel and a young baby.
I am probably lucky the council didn’t accuse me of intentional homelessness and discharge duty to house me, like they do to so many people. Just before the March 2020 lockdown they gave me and my baby a room in Brimstone House, Victoria Street in Stratford, at least I am in Newham. But it is now nearly ten months. It seems like I have the smallest room in the block, my television obscures the window, it is no place for a child. I can’t afford the private rents, when I bid I am lucky to come 500th in line, and the council waiting list is a joke with about 24,000 people in the queue before me.
How can there be a Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz who promised so much three years ago and yet nothing seems to have changed (https://www.rokhsana.org/about/pledges/). It is shocking to think that over 400 two- and three-bedroom flats lie empty on the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, yet families with babies and young children are left to grow up in terrible housing situations just a short walk away from the empty blocks
Refurbish and repopulate all of the council flats on the Carpenters Estate NOW! There are over 200 families in Brimstone House. Let’s get together and organise to challenge this housing situation. Together we are stronger. There’s no time to lose.
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.