A mother living in a hostel is doing her best for her children by trying to keep up with her education. She wants to get ahead and move on with her life by studying, but the cramped living conditions make this difficult. She has to allow the children to play in one bit of the space and then is forced to learn and study in the tiny kitchen area by using the cooker as a work table. There is no other space available as she has two children – in a space that was originally designed for one single person. The hostel known as Brimstone House in 10 Victoria street in Stratford, Newham, is no place for a family to grow and learn.
Families have had to also endure months of living on top of each other throughout lockdown. It is claustrophobic. Why should she and her children be forced to live like this, in one of the richest countries in the world? Mothers have every right to be students and a decent society would ensure that everyone could access childcare and further education and fully contribute to society to the best of their abilities.
Watch and share the video below to understand how some are forced to live. We are demanding that Newham Council rehouse all the families in Brimstone house for the sake of the children’s future – they need to put down roots, to attend the same school, to become part of a neighborhood. Instead they are left at the mercy of the private rented sector, which often means short term tenancies, constant moving and overpriced accommodation. The families living in the hostel have had enough!
Come and help organise the campaign for decent housing in Newham by joining the regular street stall on Saturday’s from 12-2pm outside Wilko’s on the Broadway.
Newham council, give us a future! Give us a chance!
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!’
As 2020 came to a close, Brimstone House residents and Focus E15 campaign showed that resistance to the callousness of the council has not gone away. We stood distanced and Covid-aware outside the hostel with banners explaining what is happening to families in the building. These are some of the issues that residents want you to be aware of:
the family in such a small room that the television takes up the only window space
the mother of two children told by the council to put her three-year-old on a sofa as no room for a bed
the young boy who asks why he has no space to do his homework
the threat of eviction on 21 December of a family with two young children, told they have made themselves intentionally homeless – under campaign pressure that date has been changed to 4 January – but then what?
This is not an acceptable way to treat anyone and the campaign is ongoing.
Focus E15 continues to campaign closely with residents of Brimstone House. Mostly mothers and children, courageous in speaking up about their situation, on behalf of many more than just themselves, to highlight the outrageous situation of families forced to live, and isolate, in tiny, badly-ventilated, often mouldy and damp, overcrowded rooms with children.
Newham has the highest number of children in the country living in poverty, the highest level of homelessness – one out of every 24 people, the worst level of air pollution in the whole of Britain, the worst overcrowding at 25% of homes, and the highest number in the country of households in temporary accommodation, currently 4,500. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Newham had the second worse Covid19 death rate in the country by June 2020.
Those raising the issues of Brimstone House, in temporary and emergency housing, are raising the issues of housing in the east London borough of Newham, and challenging the Labour council to start delivering rather than just promising. In this dire situation, there are still over 400 empty council homes on the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, These flats must be immediately refurbished and repopulated. We say to the council – stuff the constant consultation processes and get on with the work at hand and use those empty homes.
As we end 2020, Focus E15 campaign would like to thank all those who have taken part in campaigning for housing justice over this year and given time and energy to the campaign. This year has been very challenging, living through a pandemic, many people in the most difficult of situations, emotionally, practically and financially, struggling with inappropriate housing. Our thoughts go out to everyone, especially those grieving for friends and relatives who have died, and for Focus E15 campaign, we think of Ella and Chelsie, so central to our campaign and so missed.
The struggle must go on and Focus E15 campaign enters 2021 determined to continue to build a housing movement, challenge the Labour council, give solidarity to all those fighting for housing justice, and…. Educate! Agitate! Organise! so that we expose this ruthless capitalist system and begin to work in unity together for a better future for everyone.
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.
Following the Chain of Power demonstration from Brimstone House hotel to Carpenters Estate on 27 June 2020, more people have come forward to tell their story and speak out. Alone our voices are often lost, but together we are stronger, louder and we are heard.
Below is an example of someone who wants to remain anonymous but who knows that her story is not an isolated one.
A woman and her young child have been in Brimstone House hostel for over a year. She was placed there by Newham council as she was homeless. Very little support from her caseworker despite repeated attempts by her to get in touch. She kept bidding for secure housing with no success. A new caseworker was suddenly assigned, who was aggressive and demeaning, saying that she had not done enough to find accommodation in the private-rented sector. Threatening conversations: if you refuse what the council deems to be a suitable offer, this can result in being labelled intentionally homeless, no more help for housing and possible referral to social services. This led to great feelings of anxiety as it is also implied that if not enough evidence of searching for accommodation, then the council may give up its duty to house her and her child.
Legal advice was taken, it is illegal to threaten the end of housing duty on basis that the search for private accommodation is inadequate. During this time however this woman had many feelings of insecurity at the thought of being sent out of London, away from support networks, family and friends. Feelings of being undermined as a parent. Huge negative mental health implications. Effect on physical health.
This is just one example of the 1000s and 1000s of others and THIS HAS TO STOP.
Focus E15 campaign says to Newham Labour Council:
Stop the harassment!House people decently!No more excuses, no more time wasting – open up the empty council homes on the Carpenters Estate now!
Focus E15 campaign organised a physically distanced action on Saturday 27 June which linked the 1km from an overcrowded hostel in Newham (known as Brimstone House) to the 400 empty flats on a council estate (Carpenters Estate) and highlighted the fact that the 3 tower blocks on the estate have been deliberately abandoned by Newham Labour Council for over 13 years whilst people struggle to live in the cramped hostel.
The human solidarity ‘chain of power’ marked out the 1km distance by placing people on temporary markings along the way and by chanting political slogans up and down the line, urging everyone not to forget about the empty homes on Carpenters Estate which was originally built for the people of Newham as life long secure housing.
Egwolo, a former resident of Brimstone House who has recently been moved onto Carpenters Estate after protesting about the lack of space in Brimstone House hostel explained:
It is important to use our democratic right to safely protest against the clear injustice of having 28,000 people on a council housing waiting list, whilst leaving 400 plus Council homes empty. Families have been forced to isolate for months in one room. Refurbish these empty flats and open up the homes so people can have long term housing security and enough space to live safely.
Ayesha, a Focus E15 campaigner went on to say:
’Newham council has the worst record on homelessness in the country and one of the highest mortality rates for COVID 19 – how dare Newham Labour council leave homes empty during a pandemic. The tower blocks should be opened up as 100% council housing as that is what the people need’’.
Social media platforms shared our video of the action which you can watch below:
Let’s get organised!
Many who took part in the ‘chain of power’ event were chanting ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’. Newham’s deprivation and diversity makes it particularly vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. More than half of children live in poverty, while the rate of households in temporary accommodation is one of the highest in England. Newham also has the most diverse population profile of any local authority in the country: 78% of residents are from minority ethnic communities and many live in inter-generational households. There are longstanding health inequalities across the borough.
Therefore there is no time to lose and our remaining council housing must be saved and put to good use. Refurbish the empty flats on Carpenters Estate and open up the homes, so people can have long term housing security and enough space to live safely.
Join Focus E15 campaign every Saturday outside Wilko’s on the Broadway in Stratford from 12-2pm, bring your mask, stay safe and stand up for housing justice for all. Together we are stronger. More pictures of the demonstration can be found in the slide show below.
On Sunday 19th April at 6pm London / 10am California join us for this meeting co-hosted by Focus E15 Campaign in London, England and Moms 4 Housing in Oakland, California, USA https://moms4housing.org/
There are four times as many empty homes in Oakland as there are people without homes, and in the UK there are double the amount of empty homes as homeless people.
The Covid-19 crisis has escalated the need for action to allow everyone to be housed and live in dignity and safety.
This session will hear from grassroots organisations either side of the Atlantic who are taking action against this same problem. We are using this time of crisis to share experience, education and ideas for action.
Brimstone house residents in Newham are getting organised. They have had enough of living in ‘long term temporary’ accommodation. 19 residents agreed to be interviewed by the Public Interest Law centre who then submitted a legal complaint to the council with support from Focus E15 campaign. Listen to one amazing resident Egwolo on this report about conditions at the hostel by BBC local news.
Join us to discuss all the latest development with the complaint, now issued to every councillor in Newham at the next campaign meeting on Saturday 3 August from 2.30pm-4.30pm at Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Rd, E15 4DN.
Residents of Brimstone House formed a powerful woman led deputation to the Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz and the full Labour council meeting at Stratford Town Hall on Monday 15 July. The deputation spoke about their submission of a legal complaint, compiled with the Public Interest Law Centre supported by Focus E15 campaign, regarding the appalling conditions of the temporary and emergency accommodation in the Newham Council-owned building in Victoria Street, Brimstone House.
One Focus E15 campaigner Hannah described what happened during the deputation: “the powerful and eloquent words of mothers, pregnant women and teenagers sent shivers down the spine of even the most hardened. This is no way to treat people, lives of adults and children are being destroyed physically and mentally by the stress of living in temporary accommodation”. One resident from Brimstone House Marsha explained “we live in constant worry about when we are going to be rehoused or even where we are going to live. As you know many of us have been threatened and labelled intentionally homeless because we refused to be ripped away from our community and our families’. Another resident, Egwolo said ‘The homes standing empty on the Carpenters Estate are a testament to the legacy that you will leave behind Madame Mayor, one that will not paint you in a good light should nothing be done or they are demolished.’
Over fifty women supporting the London Black Women’s Project protesting at the vital cuts in services to women in the borough were also present at the council meeting. Everyone stood united, supporting one another as the issues of council cuts to services and housing are linked. The frustration at the lack of action ended with a walk out from the council chamber and chants of “Deeds Not Words” rang out throughout the building. A lively demonstration took place outside in the streets afterwards, the traffic was briefly stopped with banners, placards and more chanting.
Legal Complaint is served
The compliant from Brimstone House residents has been sent to every member of Newham Council. It calls for immediate action to remedy unsuitable housing conditions and to stop the seemingly limitless time that people languish in inappropriate accommodation, many with young children. Residents of Brimstone House are told they will stay for 3-6 months, however the average length of stay is 1.5 years.
The legal complaint is comprised of in-depth witness statements from 19 residents, an architectural report on the suitability of the building and recommendations from residents and Focus E15 Housing Campaign on progressive housing policies in the borough. This complaint also makes public findings from recent Freedom of Information Request to Newham Council on key housing facts such as the average waiting time to access a 4 bedroom property being 9 years and 11 months and that only 164 social houses had been built in the two years preceding the Freedom of Information Request (April 2018).
The legal complaint also notes the fact that the majority of the complainants living in temporary accommodation are from BAME backgrounds and demands equality for all. The complaint calls on the Newham Council to open up the 400+ boarded up homes on Carpenters Estate and to consider setting a protest budget in order to highlight the housing emergency that is still unfolding. Residents will be meeting with the Mayor to discuss their concerns in the next few weeks.
Quotes from the complaint, residents speak out:
“Living in Brimstone Hostel feels like a prison because we cannot go out or leave for too long, even for holidays. I do not feel free as the office monitors when we enter or leave Brimstone House.’’
“There is not enough space for all of us, not even for a cot for my three-week old daughter. Instead I have to fold a travel cot every night….my health visitor says it is not appropriate.”
“There is not enough room in the flat to manoeuvre my son’s wheelchair.’’
“The hygiene situation in Brimstone House is really bad… I am very concerned about my daughter’s health of living there. The flat is really run down, shabby and infested with mice.”
For more information, interviews or access to the legal complaint document, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Join us on our street stall outside Wilko’s on the Broadway every Saturday from 12-2pm. Together we are stronger!