Category Archives: Grenfell fire

Fours years on the street and the struggle goes on

Saturday 7 October was a busy day for Focus E15 campaign as we celebrate four years of campaigning for social housing and against social cleansing. 

On our lively weekly stall on the Broadway in Stratford, Focus E15 campaign was joined by members of the Renters Power Project and the London Renters Union, along with Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!

Then we had our monthly campaign meeting (first Saturday of the month, 2.30-4.30pm Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, E15 4DN). The meeting had updates on people working with the campaign and their current housing situation, including the racism of detention and threatened deportation, the isolation of families socially cleansed from Newham when they run into local difficulties, and the threats of people being separated from their children in desperate housing situations despite Section 17 of the Children’s Act regarding keeping children and parents together.

During the campaign meeting we also discussed the following:

The debt crisis of Newham Council

It is clear that Newham council is mired in debt. Recent research from the Money Advice Service, shows that residents of Newham are the most likely to be overburdened with debt: one in four people – approximately 60,000 people in Newham are affected. News has also emerged in the hidden draft accounts (due to be signed off) that a ‘loan’ made to help transform the 2012 Olympic stadium into West Ham United’s new football ground is being written off.

Evidence is also emerging that Newham’s private rents are at a level higher than those set in the wealthy borough of Barnet. This cannot be unrelated to the fact that between 2012 and 2016 there was a 50% rise in people living  in temporary accommodation across London and for that same period there was a 100% rise in Newham.

All hands on board to defend the Carpenters Estate

The Carpenters was once a thriving estate in the heart of Stratford in Newham. It must be seen as a crime that over 400 homes on the estate have been left empty (some for as long as 10 years), because people were forced to move away in the run up to the Olympic Games in 2012. During this time the council has overseen the steady rundown of the estate. In August, Newham council published a notice in the Official Journal of the European Union calling for a private sector joint venture partner for the ‘redevelopment’ of the Carpenters Estate. Now the council wants to demolish 700 existing homes with more decanting and social cleansing and replace them with 3,000 new homes. We can predict that the council and their private sector partners will find a slippery way around the 35% so called ‘affordable’ homes target.  Focus E15 campaigner stated: we would not phrase this as progress, but as an increased push by the council to clear the estate of working class people’, and got this reply from Robin Wales: ‘we strongly refute that there is any kind of social cleansing taking place in Newham – it is an unfair and unfounded allegation.’

This is rich from a borough which continues to send many residents to whom it owes a statutory duty to house, out of borough and out of London. The procurement process for a private sector joint venture partner will close in Autumn 2018 and the preferred bidder will be chosen late 2018 with a view to starting work on the site in 2020. Focus E15 campaign, in the footsteps of CARP and the residents who blocked the previous attempted UCL take-over of Carpenters around the time of the Olympics, is working closely with residents in the areas of the estate already receiving letters and knocks on the door about enforced decanting. Many elderly residents who have been on the estate since the 1970s are clear that they will not be moved. Focus E15 campaign stands in solidarity with them and joins them in their resistance.

In light of this, we discussed Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at the Labour Party conference, his pledge to tackle local Labour councils…. and discussed Robin Wales and Labour in Newham in that context. Below is an analysis by Architects for Social Housing on the Labour Party Conference and Jeremy Corbyn’s speech that makes an interesting read:

 https://architectsforsocialhousing.wordpress.com/2017/09/29/the-labour-party-conference-2017-housing-policy-and-estate-regeneration/

Everyone at the Focus E15 campaign meeting was also excited to hear extracts from a new paper by Paul Watt and would urge people to read it… this is the abstract:

Gendering the right to housing in the city: Homeless female lone parents in post-Olympics, austerity East LondonA paper by Paul Watt of Birkbeck University

This paper assesses how gender, housing, austerity and the right to the city inter-relate with reference to female lone parents from East London, the site of the 2012 Olympic Games. In so doing, the paper draws upon qualitative research undertaken with lone parent mothers living in temporary accommodation. The women’s housing experiences are embedded within a deepening of neoliberal welfare cutbacks and restructuring under what Peck (2012) has called ‘austerity urbanism’. Although the mother’s lives are based in East London where they have extended family and where many of them grew up, they have either been moved, or face the prospect of being moved, out of the area and even beyond the city limits into suburban South East England. Rather than basking in the much trumpeted 2012 Games regeneration ‘legacy’, these women’s right to live in East London, close to their support networks, is being eroded.

The London Renters Union (www.londonrentersunion.org; renterspowerproject@gmail.com) spoke about their ideas and how they are planning to work in Newham, building a union that will stand with and for London’s private renters to fight for decent secure, affordable homes and build the power to transform our housing system.

We also heard about a political art exhibition called Longing and Belonging and we had an introduction to the local heritage project.

The Heritage Lottery Project – Discovering Stratford Village 1890-1990

Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 October 11am to 4pm

Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, London E15 4DN.

An exhibition with photos and oral history researching the lives of past and present residents through archive research and oral history collection, covering streets bordered by Romford Road, West Ham Lane and Vicarage Lane. Charting and celebrating the economic and social history of the area and ensuring its heritage will not be forgotten.

We also heard about the Pavement, a free magazine for homeless people, and about the Economist Children’s Charity for 8 to 16 year olds and their six week project to help teach children about social housing issues with interviews and information being broadcast in 70 schools around the country.

MEANWHILE while some of us were in the meeting, other Focus E15 campaigners were giving talks including at Eyesore talks – London in limbo and celebrating with Clapton Ultras (www.claptonultras.org) to mark their fifth birthday. The club’s slogan is Sometimes anti-social! Always anti-fascist!  With this in mind Clapton Ultras have lent their support to help the revival of one of East London’s last remaining amateur clubs, the Clapton Football Club, currently members of the Essex Senior League, home at The Old Spotted Dog Ground. The games are fun, the crowd is lively, with international songs and chants and solidarity, and banners and flags to match. Campaigners enjoyed marking the occasion of 5 years of community led football.

Don’t miss out on our next meeting on Saturday November 4th. Join us to be part of raising consciousness, sharing information, debating, discussing and challenging Robin Wales and Newham Labour council….Take action to defend people’s rights to homes and safety. 

Join us – email focusE15london@gmail.com or find us every Saturday on The Broadway, London E15 from 12-2pm outside Wilko’s. 

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March of the towers takes off in the East End

On Saturday 12 August Focus E15 campaign, responding to concerns from Newham residents, organised a local ‘march of the towers’. The route of the march encompassed 3 significant tower blocks, starting at a tower block called Ferrier Point in Canning Town, where residents have been shocked and angry to learn that their homes have been covered in the same cladding as Grenfell Tower. The route of the march then went to Tanner Point in Plaistow for a speak out, because this is another tower block covered in flammable material. The last stop was the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, where for 15 years three tower blocks have been left to waste by Newham Labour council who evicted residents leaving 410 flats empty.

Little wonder then that for the whole route this march was noisy, angry and vibrant and passersby and shopkeepers stopped in their tracks to see what was happening in their community. They were met with chants of “the people united will never be defeated” and “social housing is a right, here to stay here to fight”. There were drummers, pot and pan bashers and political speeches. Residents demanded that Newham council provide safe and secure homes for all, and stop social cleansing.

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Excellent observations were made by the many speakers at Tanner Point: that the social murder which happened at Grenfell Tower must not be used by the government as an excuse to destroy our homes and demolish more tower blocks, that organising together in our local community is necessary for building movements of resistance, that the capitalist system will never provide enough secure and safe homes, that housing insecurity is a mental health issue, that women fleeing from domestic violence are being let down by the system as they have nowhere to go and that community action can also be creative and that we all have something that we can bring to a march – including our singing, drumming, chanting, political speech making, our colourful home made banners, and our commitment, solidarity and camaraderie .

At the end of the march on Carpenters Estate a party took place, food was handed out, phone numbers were swapped and children’s games got underway, free haircuts were given courtesy of Fringe Movement and more plans were made to strengthen the movement for housing justice.

Focus E15 campaign would like to thank everyone who took part. The march was supported by residents from all the towers, the Revolutionary Communist Group, Movement for Justice (who kindly supported the march by lending their megaphone when we had a blip with the sound system), the Socialist Party, residents from the Frampton Park Estate, One Housing Tenants Action Group, South Essex Stirrer, East End Sisters Uncut, Whitechapel Anarchists,  Socialist Equality Party, Debt Resistance UK, Housing and Mental Health Network and Journey to Justice.

TOGETHER WE ARE STRONGER.

Why we’re having a knees up on the Carpenters

Resistance is necessary and together it is fun.

On Saturday 12 August, Focus E15 campaign and friends will be marching for safe and secure housing in Newham, east London, and demanding that Newham council repopulate the Carpenters Estate immediately. Newham has more people registered homeless than anywhere else in the country and 25% of people are living in overcrowded conditions. People are being decanted, evicted, abandoned and forced out of their homes at catastrophic rates; in England someone is threatened with eviction every 90 seconds.

Join us at 12 midday at Ferrier Point, Forty Acre Lane, Canning Town E16, marching, dancing, singing, drumming our way to Tanner Point, Pelly Road, Plaistow E13 for 1pm for a speak out, and then making our noisy militant way to the Carpenters Estate in Stratford E15 by 2.30pm for a knees up with the residents. Come to the whole event or at any place along the way. By 2.15pm we will be at Stratford Old Town Hall for the last bit of the march to the Carpenters Estate.We are marching because rough-sleeping and homelessness is on the rise and social cleansing is a daily reality. Luxury apartments continue to be built and council homes are being demolished.This is making people ill and it is a national mental health emergency. The fire that ripped through Grenfell Tower on 14 June was not an accident but the devastating consequence of housing policies marked by systematic degrading of council estates that are being demolished or ‘regenerated’ for profit.

In Newham, Ferrier Point, Canning Town, Tanner Point, Plaistow and Nicholls Point, Stratford all have cladding that has failed fire-safety tests. Newham council said it was the higher quality cladding than that used on Grenfell Tower, but at the end of June announced that contractors are assessing to see how quickly it can be removed. While extra security patrol these blocks, and smoke alarms and fire doors are in place, there has been no move to inform residents of the next steps. Ferrier Point’s cladding was fitted in a £3.5m contract with Rydon as part of an overall £8.5m refurbishment in 2015. Rydon subcontracted the work to Harley Facades Ltd. Rydon and their subcontractors were involved in refurbishing the Grenfell Tower.

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Meanwhile, in Stratford, in the shadow of the Olympic stadium, three other tower blocks on the Carpenters Estate lie almost empty. The estate has over 400 empty homes, due to people decanted by the council over the last decade, a case of Olympic regeneration for the rich, eviction for the poor. This is the reality of Robin Wales’s Labour borough of Newham, now spending the staggering equivalent of 125% of council tax on debt repayment, after reckless acquisition of LOBO loans and borrowing from the banks has left the council with £563m debt. The Carpenters Estate is marked for regeneration or demolition or both. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the resistance of the residents.

Join us at any point  on Saturday 12 August to raise all these issues in the sixth richest nation in the world! We must be clear that adults and children should not be left to rot in substandard overcrowded slum-like housing, in temporary or emergency accommodation. We must demand safe and secure housing for all.

Please share our Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1951128301839783/

Public housing not private profit, social housing not social cleansing!

 

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Newcastle Residents demand safety first!

Focus E15 campaign have been contacted by tenants in Newcastle. This is what they have told us.

We, a group of tenants and local people, are campaigning to your Your Homes Newcastle and Newcastle City Council to make changes to their fire prevention and procedures in high rise blocks, like many other local authorities have across the country recently. We are demanding ALL blocks are fitted with sprinklers and adequate fire safety measures are in place and followed through in ALL their buildings.

Following the recent disaster at Grenfell Tower, it was brought to attention that residents concerns and demands regarding fire safety in the building were ignored by their local council. We, tenants of Your Homes Newcastle (YHN) are hoping to highlight ours and demand upgrades to fire prevention in ALL Your Homes Newcastle tower blocks.

Questions being asked about fire safety in Grenfell Tower include;
Why were sprinklers not installed? Why was fireproof cladding not installed? What happened to fire alarms? Why were fire safety demands ignored?
These, are all questions which are applicable for blocks like the ones we live in. There is a seriously concerning number of fire regulations and policies which YHN fail to enforce. For example:-

  • All flat doors in their Riverside Dene properties (and others) fail to meet fire safety regulations. It states a gap no bigger than 8mm under doors, however some have gaps up to an inch.
  • Despite regulations introduced in 2007 (stating sprinklers should be fitted in all buildings over 30m) and the knowledge that sprinklers are one of the most effective ways to prevent fire spreading in high rise buildings, over 3800 council tower blocks are still without them, including YHNs.
  • YHN have made claims they “do not allocate families with young children in multi-stories and hasn’t done so since the turn of the century”. This is false, YHN tower blocks are FULL of families. YHN also house elderly and disabled in their tower blocks, their ability to easily escape the block in case of emergency is a serious worry. Occasionally, lifts are out of service for long periods of time with little/no explanation why or when they are coming back on.
  • Bin chutes are poorly maintained. Chute drawers must automatically shut close after use and have an air tight seal to prevent the spread of smoke, some floors actually have no chute door or door to the chute room!
  • In a leaflet, “concierge service news,” which YHN posted through SOME doors, stated replacement windows within stairwells were fitted with a smoke detector which will automatically open the top window for smoke ventilation – this is just outright false.
  • YHN have stated their all of their high rises are built on the principle of ‘compartmentalisation’. After a refurbishment some YHN Riverside Dene (duplex) flats are now open plan.

Please show your support in sharing our concerns and demands for a safe place to live by signing and sharing our petition and joining our Facebook group ‘Your Homes Newcastle make your tower blocks fire safe!’

 

Riverside Dene

Grenfell contractor Rydon makes millions via public sector contracts

Rydon is the company that led the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower during 2015-16 which resulted in external cladding being installed onto the face of the tower block. Metropolitan Police have launched a criminal investigation into the fire and have said that the cladding and installation fitted at Grenfell had failed “all safety tests”.

Rydon has spent the last 40 years developing its business via public sector contracts. Thank you to Trevor Rayne from the newspaper Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism who has discovered more information about this little known British-based company. We have reprinted some of his research below.

Rydon employs over 750 staff and paid out £8.4m to shareholders in 2016. Rydon’s chief executive is Robert Bond who received a salary of £424,000 last year and as a shareholder received an estimated £1.4m in dividend payments.

Other Rydon shareholders include two Jersey firms registered in the offshore tax haven of Jersey, including one set up by Lloyds Bank. HBOS put up money for a management buyout in 2005. HBOS is now owned by Lloyds.

  • In 1997 Rydon was registered as a provider to housing associations, local authorities, NHS Trusts and the education sector.
  • 2002 Rydon entered the Public Private Partnership market with the PFI scheme for the Chalcots Estate in Camden.
  • 2004 Rydon secured the largest mental health PFI contract in the country for the Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust.

The Royal Borough of Kensignton and Chelsea are also under intense scrutiny due to negligence over fire safety standards as the Grenfell Action Group blog painstakingly points out. Focus E15 campaign will be supporting the forthcoming demands of this housing campaign.

People of East London!  Join Focus E15 on the street stall on Saturday July 1st at 12pm – 2pm in Stratford outside Wilkos to demand:

PUBLIC HOUSING NOT PRIVATE PROFIT
Social Housing, not social cleansing!
Justice for Grenfell!

 

 

All eyes on Newham council as fire safety concerns continue to mount

The disaster at Grenfell Tower, is a heart wrenching and unbearable ‘social murder’ on a devastating scale. Focus E15 campaign have been responding to this atrocity and politically charged moment by organising speak outs in the community and attending residents meetings. The campaign is urging tenants across the country to take immediate action and organise together to put pressure on local councils to ensure the safety of all tenants in their neighbourhoods.

We also know full well the frustrations of dealing with councils who refuse to listen to their tenants concerns and understand how worried people will be about the safety of their homes.

On Thursday 22  June a BBC radio programme called World Tonight investigated a tower block in Newham in east London called Ferrier Point. A BBC reporter called Andrew Hosken took two fire experts,  Professor Arnold Dix and Arnold Tarling into this particular tower block because Ferrier Point is covered in cladding similar to that used on Grenfell Tower and was worked on by the same contractors, Rydon Ltd. Both experts on the programme were horrified by what they saw regarding the lack of fire safety standards in the block and voiced serious concerns over residents safety.

One expert said, ‘already my hair is standing on end’, after noticing that the windows could not offer a potential escape route. Residents would be trapped behind fully fixed double-glazing that they would be unable to open in the event of a fire. As they moved inside to check the boiler, one of the fire surveyors exclaimed, ‘crikey;’ as it dawned on him that flammable plywood was connected to the boiler and went into every single flat, essentially meaning that there is a fire route into each living quarter. He also observed that it would be impossible for fire services to access the boiler in order to stop a fire. A resident in the building claimed that she hadn’t even used her boiler for three years as she was worried about a potential gas leak.

When asked if the building would pass a fire inspection, the surveyors replied that Ferrier Point was ‘an absolutely unequivocal fail’, and ‘a failure with capital letters in neon flashing signs’.

Focus E15 campaign therefore urge Newham council to take immediate action over Ferrier point. We demand that they  put people before profit! The council must act and remove  flammable cladding from all buildings in Newham to ensure the safety of residents. We also urge the council to inform the public of their immediate plans in light of the fire at Grenfell Tower and to take urgent and effective action. It is disturbing to note that Newham council have not yet announced on the council website what they intend to do.

Focus E15 campaign are also clear that the Grenfell tower fire should not become part of a cynical excuse to get rid of remaining social housing stock in the false name of regeneration (as it was this cosmetic tinkering and lack of overall quality control that certainly caused the fire to spread so fast at Grenfell Tower). Social housing is not the problem here but must be part of the desperately needed solution to the escalating housing crisis – after all Newham has recently been shown to have the highest amount of homeless people in the whole of the UK.

Please join the campaign to speak out and make plans to work together in the community to put more political pressure on Newham council regarding our housing needs. Join us on the street stall every Saturday from 12-2pm outside Wilkos on the Broadway to say:

Justice For Grenfell!

SOCIAL HOUSING NOT SOCIAL CLEANSING!

Justice for Grenfell residents must be a priority

Focus E15 campaign sends condolences to everyone affected by those who died in the fire at Grenfell Tower and offers our solidarity and support to the residents. We will continue to fight alongside you in the struggle for decent long-term secure safe housing for all.

In November 2016, Grenfell Action Group said:

‘It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the KCTMO, and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders. We believe that the KCTMO are an evil, unprincipled, mini-mafia who have no business to be charged with the responsibility of looking after the every day management of large scale social housing estates and that their sordid collusion with the RBKC Council is a recipe for a future major disaster.’

Follow Grenfell Action Group, Focus E15 campaign, Radical Housing Network and others for details of coming events, meetings and actions.

Demonstrate:  Justice for Grenfell

Friday 16 June 6pm
Department for Communities and Local Government
2 Marsham Street, SW1P 4DF

We reprint below the press statement by Radical Housing Network and urge readers to look at the blog pieces of the Grenfell Action Group, who for years have campaigned and written about the criminal inadequacies of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) and the estate landlord Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation (KCTMO).

Justice for Grenfell Tower
‘Managed decline’ of council housing and contempt for tenants contributed to fire.
Radical Housing Network, a London-wide alliance of groups fighting for housing justice, said the Grenfell fire was a tragic consequence of systematic disinvestment in council housing alongside disregard for council tenants safety and their concerns – and called for #JusticeforGrenfell.
The catastrophe at Grenfell Tower was foreseen by a community group on the estate. Just 7 months ago, Grenfell Action Group, a member of Radical Housing Network, warned that failings in the estate management organisation’s health and safety practices and attitude were a “recipe for a future major disaster”. These warnings were dismissed by Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (RBKC) council.
It’s been revealed that Gavin Barwell, Conservative Chief of Staff and ex-Minister for Housing, ‘sat on’ a report warning that tower blocks were vulnerable to fire. Last year, Barwell was one of 312 Tory MPs who voted against making properties ‘fit for human habitation’.
Radical Housing Network called the fire a horrendous example of the consequences of a combination of government cuts, local authority mismanagement, and sheer contempt for council tenants and the homes they live in – and an indictment of London’s housing inequality.

A spokesperson for the Radical Housing Network said:
“The fire at Grenfell is a horrific, preventable tragedy for which authorities and politicians must be held to account. Grenfell’s council tenants are not second class citizens – yet they are facing a disaster unimaginable in Kensington’s richer neighbourhoods.
“This Government, and many before it, have neglected council housing, and disregarded its tenants as if they were second class. Nationally and locally, politicians have subjected public housing to decades of systematic disinvestment – leaving properties in a state of disrepair, and open to privatisation. Regeneration, when it has come, has been for the benefit of developers and buy-to-let landlords, who profit from the new luxury flats built in place of affordable homes. Across London, regeneration has meant evictions, poor quality building work, and has given tenants little meaningful influence over the future of their estates.
“The chronic underinvestment in council housing and contempt for tenants must stop. It is an outrage that in 21st Britain, authorities cannot be trusted to provide safe housing, and that people in council properties cannot put children safely to bed at night.
“We support demands for a public inquiry into this disaster – there must be Justice for Grenfell. We call for the immediate resignation of Gavin Barwell, Theresa May’s Chief of Staff, alongside anyone else whose negligence has contributed to this tragedy.
“All Grenfell Tower residents must be offered secure, long-term local housing by RBKC, and the estate must be fully rebuilt so that no social housing is lost – this should not be an opportunity for the council to privatise homes, or for someone to make a quick buck.”

 Radical Housing Network is a London-wide network of campaigns fighting for housing justice. Grenfell Action Group is a member group of RHN.
@radicalhousing
Read the blogs from Grenfell Action Group

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/fire-safety-scandal-at-lancaster-west/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/kctmo-playing-with-fire/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/more-on-fire-safety/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/another-fire-safety-scandal/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/kctmo-feeling-the-heat/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/why-are-we-waiting/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/05/29/grenfell-tower-from-bad-to-worse/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/more-trouble-at-grenfell-tower/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/the-disempowered-of-grenfell-tower/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/tmo-still-asleep-at-the-wheel