On 25 May at Newham’s Annual Council Meeting, parents and children of Victoria Street, Stratford E15, and members of Focus E15 campaign, stood up with banners and placards to get their voices heard. Fed up of being under the radar, fed up of housing officers not replying to emails, fed up of being fobbed off and left in Victoria Street, sharing beds parents and families, no space for cots, toddlers with nowhere to walk, children doing homework on their beds, no ventilation, no space, mental health trauma, prison-like feeling to the building – we all shouted: We are humans, not numbers. Victoria Street is no place for Children.
The Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz acted promptly to remove heavy handed security and usher everyone to another room, putting the meeting on hold, and apologising to the residents of the building for what they are going through – unacceptable she said. She made a promise, repeated in the chamber afterwards, and recorded for posterity, that by May 2023 no more families with children would be in Victoria Street, no more to be moved in and all those there to be moved out. She spoke of the first year of her tenure, as if this was all news to her. But this is her second term in office as Mayor of Newham, and she knows very well the outrageous and degrading conditions of those who live in Victoria Street.
After years of campaigning with residents of this slum-like, overcrowded, damp, cramped, unsafe building, this is indeed a victory. However, the question remains – how and where will residents be rehoused.
Since 25 May, there has been two meetings with the Mayor, the Director of Housing and their teams. They have also visited Victoria Street. The first meeting coincided with a brutal attack the previous evening on a woman in the doorway of her flat within Victoria Street, with her child present. It transpired that the security door was broken, the intruder had a fob and the CCTV cameras don’t work. The Mayor and Director of Housing are very sorry. It shouldn’t happen.
Monthly meetings have been implemented to address all the issues. The Mayor and the Director of Housing admit that they can’t give a guarantee that everyone will get permanent housing, they are not allowed to implement a rent cap, the Right to Buy has taken away council housing, they are looking at the impact of overcrowding in the private rented sector, especially on children, that the standards of the landlord licensing scheme are not good enough, and repeat again and again and again that there are 34,000 people in Newham on the housing waiting list and the council must act legally and fairly and therefore can’t make everyone in Victoria Street top priority.
The residents are organising and they are angry. There is no rhyme or reason to who is offered what. The bidding system via choice-based lettings system is the only way of getting permanent housing, the allocated resettlement officer is pushing people to take offers that they deem suitable, appropriate and affordable, in the private rented sector. If a resident says no, then they have made themselves intentionally homeless and the council washes its hands of them. This threat leaves families no choice but to accept temporary accommodation, meaning more insecurity, more moves, more school changes for children, often loss of support networks and more mental health pressure.
The latest family to be moved out of Victoria Street; a mother and two school-age children, offered a place out of borough, away from support networks, family and childcare, an hour from the children’s school and no choice but to accept to avoid intentional homelessness. They moved in (unfurnished, only white goods) to find no water in the kitchen, no hot water at all, almost £2,000 unpaid on the gas/electric. They were told by the repair person to not touch the switch on the cooker, told by the housing officer to turn on the red switch – leading to a blast, a bang and smoke from the red switch. This was a terrifying event, and a wholly unsafe and unacceptable situation. Phone calls were made and emails sent in an attempt to contact appropriate people. The outcome: the council is moving the family back to Victoria Street while it sorts out the problems.
Meanwhile, one of the residents shared a photo of the living space she and her nine-year old daughter have in Victoria Street (below). Only one double bed that they share. The bed is also the only place for the child to do homework. This is not only unacceptable, it is criminal and has lasting health effects on families.
The Mayor and the Labour council in Newham may well have inherited a system that they feel is not of their making and are very sorry. But sorry is not enough.
Together the fight must go on to expose what is happening and demand long term, safe and secure, housing for everyone, not just those who can pay for it.
At Newham’s well-attended public Annual Council Meeting on Wednesday 25 May, mothers and children of 10 Victoria Street, Stratford E15 (formerly called Brimstone House and Focus E15 foyer) stood up with banners and placards to make their voices heard about the unacceptable conditions in the building. They were brave and strong acting in solidarity together.
For years residents, supported by Focus E15 campaign, have documented every day life at the hostel – cramped,unlivable for families, appalling accommodation with mattresses that give backache and living conditions that lead to depression, damp and stuffy rooms, no privacy for women forced to change in front of their sons. Parents and children of all ages are forced to share beds together due to lack of space, there is aggressive security on the door and no space for children to play. Children and adults with disabilities live in unsuitable and distressing conditions and fire alarms go off through the night.
This is the horror of emergency accommodation that merges into temporary and can last for years. It is no place for children and families because it is a building designed for single young adults and living like this is effecting everyone’s mental health.
As the interruption of the council meeting began, security ran forward to silence the campaigners and take the banners away, but their voices were heard above the commotion explaining to the large crowd why this was necessary and that the appalling living conditions for so many in the borough must not be below the radar and buried from public view.
The Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz stepped down from the podium and came over. She officially stopped the meeting and took the campaigners downstairs with a few of her entourage to another room. The Mayor apologised for there not being any resolution to Victoria Street since she came into office for her first term in 2018 – embarrassing, shameful and morally unjust were her words. She admitted that housing services are a mess.
Then, significantly, Rokhsana Fiaz, Mayor of Newham, said that she would go back to the main meeting and in her address would announce the ending of the placement of families with children in Victoria Street. She pledged that by the end of the first year of this term, she would work to have all families rehoused from Victoria Street. Residents cheered.
Labour-run Newham council has the highest number of children in the country living in poverty, the highest level of homelessness, the highest number of households in temporary accommodation, more households on its housing waiting list than any other London council, and the worst overcrowding at 25.2% of households. There are also empty homes all around the borough and council homes that have been left to rot.
This is a key moment to note these promises and hold the Mayor firmly to them.
Victory to the families of Victoria Street! Collective action is the way forward. Housing justice for all now!
Join Focus E15 campaign on the weekly stall outside Wilko’s on Stratford Broadway, Saturdays 12-2pm.
Over the last 9 years, Focus E15 campaign has battled with Newham Labour Council about the conditions in Focus E15/Brimstone House/Victoria Street hostel. While the name of the hostel has changed over the years, the appalling living conditions remain the same.
Here we go again. 5 May 2022 and time for local elections. Focus E15 campaign demand that the next lot of elected representatives, actually do something for the most marginalised in our communities and represent those living in overcrowded, shoddy accommodation. In the words of the East London Federation of Suffragettes, one hundred years ago, we demand DEEDS NOT WORDS.
Life in 10 Victoria Street hostel, Newham Stratford, London E15 in 2022
‘This place is like a prison. It is like three people living in a cage.’ Parents of a newborn baby in Victoria Street.
Nine years from the start of the campaign, Focus E15 campaign stands side by side with residents facing the same housing issues due to the same hostel. Parents and children are still being crammed into tiny rooms, with no space for homework or study or privacy. There is damp and mould, no ventilation, parents sharing beds with children, no space for babies to crawl or toddlers to walk. Residents are expected to use laundrettes at higher cost as the washing machines are dirty, with frequently broken lifts, alarms sounding regularly even overnight, case workers/housing officers who say they have too much to take on and to stop contacting them. There is additional suffering and worry about children with disabilities who need space and calm, and very little face to face support.
Focus E15 hostel
Focus E15 campaign emerged from the Mother and Baby Unit of the Focus E15 Foyer hostel over nine years ago. When the young mothers moved in they were told they would be there three to six months and out by the time the baby was crawling. However they were left for years with growing children, less space and eventually an eviction notice with no offer of either permanent, affordable or local housing.
Back when the building was run as a young people’s hostel it was owned and run by East Thames housing association and funded by Newham council. When Newham council withdrew funding and the housing association issued eviction notices, the mothers began to organise and take action to stop them being forced out of London to housing in Hastings, Birmingham and Manchester.
Clip from the start of the campaign
See a clip of Chris Woodhead from East Thames Housing Association in 2014 stating the hostel is ‘not suitable’.
The young mothers were fighting to stay local, be rehoused adequately, and acting to highlight the unliveable, dangerous and brutally depressing conditions Newham Labour council had placed them in – in the Focus E15 hostel, later named Brimstone House and now known as 10 Victoria Street.
The battle for housing justice went up a gear in 2013/14, once residents knew of the empty homes all around the borough and over 410 empty council homes on the Carpenters Estate. Having destroyed them by leaving them empty for over a decade, now the council are on-track to demolish these council homes and replace them with various types of housing, none of it council.
In the last nine years, Focus E15 campaign has been a thorn in the side of Newham council, seeing off the Mayor Robin Wales and now taking on Rokhsana Fiaz. There has been a weekly stall, marches, occupation of empty homes on the Carpenters Estate less than a mile away from Victoria Street. Residents have spoken in deputations to the Mayor in full council meetings and with the support of the Public Interest Law Centre there has been a formal complaint with testimonies of residents in Victoria Street. Shamefully, the council dragged its heels, replied a year later inadequately, and the ombudsman refused to take it further.
The Labour council promises much but delivers little. People are still facing evictions, labelled intentionally homeless, moved out of borough or out of London, away from family and support networks. Rokshana Fiaz came into power in 2018 promising to tackle homelessness and poverty – shame on the council for the conditions still facing families in 10 Victoria Street.
At the peak of the pandemic, Newham Council has the highest number of children in the country living in poverty, the highest level of homelessness, one out of every 24 people, the worse level of air pollution in the whole of Britain, the worst overcrowding at 25.2% of dwellings. Newham has over 4,500 households in temporary accommodation and over 27,000 households on its housing waiting list. By June 2020, Newham had the second-worst Covid19 death rate in the country.
There is resistance in Newham from all sorts of groups and campaigns and this includes Focus E15 campaign and the parents in 10 Victoria Street.
Focus E15 campaign has a clear message for Newham Labour Council – Victoria Street is no place for children! Rehouse residents now!
We will continue to organise together as collective action is what achieves the most and empowers us all.It is how we learn together and fight for a better future.
Join us on Saturday outside Wilkos on the Broadway in Stratford from 12pm-2pm with residents from Victoria Street hostel to campaign for decent homes for all and to
Brimstone House, 10 Victoria Street, E15 is a notorious temporary and emergency accommodation building owned and run by Newham Labour council.
Built as a young people’s foyer, it is not suitable for couples let alone families with children.
Listen to the interview below of a young person who has spent all of his teenage years in Brimstone House. The toll on the parents and young person, now 18 years old, is huge, physically and emotionally. The pandemic years and lockdowns have made it even harder.
This family is facing eviction – the bailiffs are coming on Thursday 10 February.
It’s too late to stop it says Newham Council.
It can’t be stopped say the lawyers.
Where do the family go?
Stand with Focus E15 campaign to say NO EVICTIONS.
Oppose and expose this cruel system that punishes the vulnerable and strips people of their dignity.
Newham Council advertises itself with the words People at the Heart of Everything We Do….
However 25.2% of all housing is overcrowded in Newham, well over the London average of 14.6% in social housing and 12.6% in the private rented sector. Newham Council has just spent hundreds of thousands of pounds to get a Yes vote in the Carpenters Estate ballot on regeneration, which means a substantial number of council homes will be demolished.
Two million council houses have been lost through the Right to Buy policy since 1981 in Britain, and in the past decade only 147,000 ‘social rent’ houses have been built in England, while over 282,000 have been sold or demolished. Almost 2 million people are on the housing waiting list.
Publicly-owned housing on a mass scale is the only way to address the housing crisis and we will have to fight for it.
Listen to to the interview from a young person, describing life growing up in a hostel and the threat of being evicted :
Join Focus E15 campaign on the streets every Saturday 12-2pm on Stratford Broadway outside Wilko’s.
This morning, Sunday 23 January, Focus E15 campaigners and Carpenters Estate residents in Stratford, London were on the BBC Politics TV show, to bring further attention to the recent estate ballot process that took place on Carpenters Estate last month. Not only did Newham Council spend at least £350k to secure a ‘yes’ vote, but they tied temporary accommodation residents right to a secure tenancy to the ‘yes’ vote for demolition (of almost 60% of the estate!)
If the Mayor of Newham was really concerned with residents rights, then why move anyone into a council estate on a temporary contract? All the residents currently in temporary accommodation should be given secure council tenancies now! No demolition of the Carpenters Estate!
Focus E15 campaign will be back in Stratford this Saturday from 12pm-2pm on the Broadway outside Wilkos. If you support the campaign, please watch and share the video below.
This is an URGENT message for anyone interested in human rights, women’s rights, children’s rights and the ruthless cruelty of a Labour council.
Newham Council has discharged its homelessness duty to a pregnant woman who has a toddler and is due to deliver her second baby in February (therefore anytime now). She is currently living in Brimstone House, where families languish in emergency and temporary overcrowded accommodation in rooms built for one.
This piece is being published on Monday 10 January, the day that Newham Council’s responsibility for providing further temporary accommodation to this family ends.
The council housing officers have emailed to clarify and confirm there is no intention to evict this family on 10 January, but make it clear that this could happen if the council applies to the courts for possession. The council officer casually adds in the email that there will be more than sufficient notice if this happens.
HOW CAN THIS BE?
At the end of September 2021, this family was offered a move from Brimstone House, Victoria Street, E15, to another temporary accommodation. It was not a great place for various reasons including an insecure door that was a worry about safety, and she felt it not appropriate for her and her 21-month-old child and baby to come. She refused the offer and immediately Newham Council discharged its housing duty to the family. Within a few days, knowing the consequences, frightened about eviction and homelessness, struggling with her mental and physical health, she changed her mind and contacted the council. But too late for Newham Council, who don’t recognise a change of mind, and clearly would rather see families homeless than reverse their callous decisions.
A review was undertaken by another housing officer who concluded that they are satisfied that she refused a reasonable offer and will be able to manage in the private-rented sector and that there are no exceptional circumstances and the council will not be exercising any discretion. Therefore the reviewing officer upholds the decision that the council has no duty to secure this family with accommodation.
This is disgraceful. But it is also terrifying, because to say that someone can manage in the private-rented sector is to assume that they have money for a deposit and several months’ rent and a rich guarantor.
If Newham Labour Council insists the discharge of housing duty stands, they will proceed to evict this family and she will go into labour homeless and once she has delivered her baby, she must make another homeless application and has to be provided with emergency housing. Or perhaps the council expects her to make an application to court and challenge this situation in the last few days or weeks of her pregnancy. Neither are a satisfactory way to treat a family in need.
Court-mandated evictions have increased by 207% after the pandemic-related ban was lifted. In England there are 95,450 homeless households, two thirds of them with children, living in cramped and unsuitable temporary accommodation.
Focus E15 campaign stands with all those struggling for decent housing. We challenge Newham Labour Council to do the right thing and start 2022 by showing this family some compassion and humanity.
No such thing as intentional homelessness! No discharge of housing duty! No eviction!
Join us at the Focus E15 street stall on Saturday 15 January at 12pm outside Wilkos to make a stand for housing justice for all!
Saturday 18 December 2021. People gathered on the Carpenters Estate in Stratford E15 to challenge Newham Labour council and Mayor Rokshana Fiaz after the local ballot returned a Yes vote for the council’s regeneration plan. A Yes vote means demolition of almost 60% of the estate.
Focus E15 campaign along with residents, decanted residents, local people, Brimstone House residents and comrades from Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! Newham Resists! and Newham Socialist Labour, spoke out with a clear message that council homes should be refurbished not demolished, that the council’s agenda is one of pursuing maximum profit, not housing those most in need, and that the local Labour councillors are part of the problem not the solution. As one speaker said, if they stand on the right side of history, they should resist or resign.
For two decades the council has been chipping away at the community and leaving homes empty and watching them fall into disrepair. As part of this current phase, the council has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds to secure a Yes vote in the ballot, now rubbing their hands with glee that they have the green light to destroy more council housing. A resident from the estate was clear – how dare the council keep families cooped up in Brimstone House, overcrowded and unsuitable for families and children, while over 400 council homes lie empty on the Carpenters Estate.
A former resident of 40 years on the estate, decanted in 2011, with empty promises of the right of return, said, people know they are being lied to and the fight is not over. As Thomas Sankara, African revolutionary from Burkina Faso, said in the 1980s:To those who have acquired houses and land through corruption, we say: Start to tremble!
Expose the corruption of the Labour council in Newham! Refurbish, Don’t Demolish the Carpenters Estate! Stand together to demand housing justice!
Focus E15 campaign sends solidarity greetings to all at the end of this complex year, thank you to all those who have supported the campaign through the lockdowns and restrictions. Let us move forward together in 2022.
A resident of the Carpenters Estate, Stratford, Newham, London E15, speaks out:
From the day I was born, I have lived on the Carpenters Estate. It was also home to my Mother, Grandfather, Grandmother and Great Grandmother, along with Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, childhood friends and so on.
It has been a special place for me and my past generations, so you can see why the place means so much to me.
I reached many milestones on Carpenters, I learnt to ride a bike on this estate, had my first kiss (cringe), began nursery and even took my first steps here. Carpenters had and still has a great community of elderly and young people.
A lot of us went to Carpenters primary school and then would all play out afterwards on the beautiful green spaces we have on the estate, plus the park and cage, where we would arrange some serious football matches and the different blocks would go up against each other.
We never had any trouble around here, we was like one big family that all looked out for each other.
Summer-times were the best, because all us kids will play outside until the street lights came on, one of our favourite activities being our 100m races down the slope at the back of Dennison point.
These are beautiful memories of an estate that Newham council now wants to demolish. Like we are now seeing with many inner London boroughs, they want to take away the authenticity of our great East End and get rid of beautiful homes to replace them with new-builds. The homes they are proposing are nowhere near the standard of homes that we already have here.
Newham is already very populated as it is, and the council want to overcrowd Stratford even more, shelving people on top of each other between plasterboard, where the walls are so thin, you can literally hear your neighbours farting next door. There are many over 60s still residing on the estate, and after a life of working hard, they do not want the stress and pressure of having to leave a place that many have called home for there whole life. Tragically a lot of residents have died from the uncertainty and stress that they will have to move from their beloved homes and it is unacceptable.
It is very sad that in this day and age profit is more valuable than a human life. Not to mention the horrendous carbon footprint this will have on our already crippled environment, that the pollution from demolition and rebuilding will produce. With Newham having one of the highest pollution levels in the country, it is very concerning that Newham council’s proposed plans have no consideration towards making the global climate crisis any better. Yes I do believe we have to move with the times, but what I don’t believe in is liveable durable homes that are already here being knocked down to build new ones. I don’t believe in the elderly being forced to move, or stressed to death, and The Carpenters Estate being demolished to make way for more overcrowding and pollution. I vote for refurbishment over demolition and community over capitalism.
So I will be voting NO to demolition and hope others will too.
We must fight for the people, the planet and our beloved Carpenters Estate.
The resident ballot for the demolition of the Carpenters Estate has been announced. Focus E15 encourages residents to vote NO and calls on all housing campaigners to reject the demolition of these council homes!
The ballot for the future of the Carpenters Estate will run from Friday 29 October 2021 to Tuesday 23rd November 2021. Should a ‘yes’ vote be returned, at least 60% of the estate will be demolished over a period of 15-20 years. There will inevitably be a loss of secure council housing.
Focus E15 campaign loudly endorses a ‘No’ vote.
Read the details below for all the background… and join the resistance!
A history of struggle
The Carpenters Estate was built in the 1970s on a 23-acre site in the London Borough of Newham. Consisting of 100% council housing, it provided badly needed low-cost housing in London’s East End.
The estate consists of 710 homes; 434 in three high rise blocks (James Riley Point, Lund Point and Dennison Point), and 276 in low rise blocks and terraced houses. Newham Council is the majority freehold owner of the estate, with part being owned by the Worshipful Company of Carpenters. The estate also has non-residential uses in the form of a primary school, a crafts college, community centre, pub and local shop. The estate was previously managed by a Tenant Management Organisation (TMO), with management transferred back to Newham Council in 2015.
This estate now houses residents who are secure council tenants, temporary accommodation tenants, private tenants as well as some leaseholders and freeholders.
Today this land is seen as prime London real estate, sitting in the shadow of the London Stadium and neighbouring Westfield shopping centre and Stratford International train station. At the same time, it belongs to a borough suffering a catastrophic housing crisis. It has the highest rate of homelessness in the country, one out of every 24 people. It has over 5,500 families with children living in temporary accommodation – more than the entire North of England combined. There is in excess of 27,000 on the waiting list for council housing. The potential of losing council housing due to redevelopment is particularly brutal in this borough. A borough which pre-pandemic had the highest number of children in the country living in poverty (39,638 or 52%), the worst level of air pollution in the whole of Britain, the worst overcrowding, at 25% of dwellings. By June 2020, Newham had the second-worst Covid19 death rate in the country.
The struggle to save the estate has already been a long one. Over the past 20 years, various plans have been laid before residents and later retracted as the community have mobilised, and local council administrations and funding options have changed. 2001 saw regeneration options firstly ‘explored’. 2012 saw a significant unity of students and residents in opposing a UCL campus being built on the estate. In 2014 Focus E15 held an occupation of empty homes which received national attention. A community plan was even submitted by the Greater Carpenters Neighbourhood Forum in May 2019, but was later rejected by the London Legacy Development Corporation, the Planning Authority for the estate.
Yet the decanting of the residents has continued from 2004/2005 until today. A report to the Newham cabinet meeting of 4 December 2018 makes clear why:
“‘4.19 The purpose of continuing the decant programme at this time is to continue to prepare the site for redevelopment as soon as possible”.
In fact, in a report to Cabinet on 18 February 2020, the Council forcast a spend of £700,000 for extra security costs on the estate. Of this spend the report notes:
“‘This is mainly to protect the estate from squatters pending the redevelopment proposals of which discussions are ongoing”
It is clear the intention of Newham Council has barely changed, no matter if Mayor Robin Wales or Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz is in charge.
What are the plans?
Plans include the demolition and rebuild of new homes and buildings at Dennison Point, Gibbins Road, Doran Walk, Jupp Road, Kennard Road, Rosher Close, Warton Road and Wilmer Lea Close, and the refurbishment of existing homes at James Riley Point, Lund Point and the tenanted terrace houses on Biggerstaff Road. 60% of the estate will be demolished. At least 50% of refurbished/new built homes will be private. The others aim to be ‘genuinely affordable’ (more on this below).
Who is involved in the regeneration?
Populo Living is Newham Council’s solely owned housing company, previously called Red Door Ventures (RDV). RDV’s strategic aims were ‘investment value and dividend return’. They were a one stop gentrification shop. Is the re-branded version, Populo Living, any different?
In the The Carpenters newsletter of October 2021, Newham Council claim:
“Vote YES for a plan created in Newham, for Newham, with no outside developers involved and all profits going back into the community.”
Sarah Gaventa previously sat on the board of Populo Living. Gaventa has a history of working for Berkeley Group and Lendlease, two of the most prominent private property developers in the country. In fact, she was also previously on Lendlease’s payroll as the public space champion for their Elephant & Castle regeneration project and had chaired the Community Forum for the Elephant and Castle for the last three years. The nightmarish development of Elephant and Castle which has torn working class families from their homes, and replaced them with luxury towers for the rich has been one of the most heated battlegrounds for any housing campaigner. Can Newham Council really claim there are “no outside developers involved” when Populo has a history of board members who are also working for property developers?
Who is funding the development?
In February 2019 Newham Council were awarded £107m as part of the Greater London Authority The Mayor of London’s Building Homes for Londoners scheme. The Carpenters Estate development will receive at least part of this funding. What this means is that the Council is expected to adhere to Greater London Authority and Mayor of London guidelines (and if not the money will be retracted). These include the following:
The Mayor (of London) believes that for estate regeneration to be a success there must be resident support for proposals, based on full and transparent consultation from the very start of the process, and meaningful ongoing involvement of those affected.
The Mayor (of London) also wishes to seethe level of affordable housing – particularly homes where rents are based on social rent levels – maintained and, wherever possible, increased through estate regeneration schemes. He believes plans must be developed through full and transparent consultation and resident involvement.
However, when considering the option of demolishing and rebuilding homes, councils, housing associations and should always consider alternative options to demolition first.
It is also important to positively engage with: elected local councillors and Members of Parliament; residents, businesses and other stakeholders who may not be located within the boundaries of an estate but who will be affected by the process of regeneration’.
Let’s take these in turn.
What does full and transparent consultation look like?
Source Partnership is the ‘independent’ body appointed by Newham Council to do the consultation. Previous clients include none other than Southwark Council – including work on the Aylesbury regeneration. Like Elephant & Castle, the social cleansing and destruction of the Aylesbury estate is viewed by housing campaigners as a disaster.
Although there have been many newsletters sent, door knocking and even the opening of the Dovetail space on the estate, offering gardening, art and exercise classes, it is highly questionable if the Council and Source Partnership’s interactions have been full and transparent. Take, for example, the October 2021 newsletter sent to residents. It does not use the word demolition once, despite a proposal of 60% demolition. It also includes the following:
>Vote YES for a plan created in Newham, for Newham, with no outside developers involved and all profits going back into the community.
>We’re ready to start building a new future, all we need is the green light from you. The vote is completely independent – not run by the council.
>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.
>What will happen if residents vote “No”? The Council will not be able to proceed with current proposals, will not be able to build new homes, and will have to re-consider how it is able to restore the estate.
So it’s yes…or nothing…?!
Well, not quite. According to a Planning submission report to Cabinet in March 2021  upon a no vote the Council would:
“then consider a programme of refurbishment across the estate to bring units back into use”
This doesn’t seem to have been made clear to residents. This deliberate lack of clarity is continued in door knocking exercises to ‘sell’ the yes vote. In scripts from September 2021 written by Source Partnership and edited by Newham Council, the following is included:
“If most residents vote ‘YES’ we are ready to start building a new future for the estate for generations to come, all we need is the green light from you.”
“Vote ‘YES’ if you agree with the proposals and you want a new home on the new Carpenters Estate.”
“Vote ‘YES’ if you are overcrowded and want a new home which is the right size for your family.”
“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.”
“To support the plan put together by Carpenters residents, who have the neighbourhood’s best interests at heart.”
“Vote YES for fast progress after 15 years of waiting: we’re ready to start work in early 2022.”
“What happens if the ballot is unsuccessful?If you vote NO, this regeneration won’t go ahead. We won’t have the funding to build new homes or refurbish the existing ones. We’ll have to go back to the drawing board and it might take years before a new plan can be agreed. “
The above has been drafted by Source Partnership, the Independent Tenants’ and Residents’ Advisor with the input of Newham Council. It does not include the word demolition once.
This is not full and transparent consultation – this is propaganda to push through a ‘yes’ vote.
2. What types of homes are proposed for the Estate?
The Council says they are “working towards providing 50% genuinely affordable homes”. The wording shows there is no certainty of achieving this. In any case, what is ‘genuinely affordable’ rent compared with traditional council rent?
As per the Mayor of London’s website ‘genuinely affordable homes’ funded by the Mayor (GLA) includes London Living Rent, Social Rent, London Affordable Rent and London Shared ownership.
In plans, those residents already on secure council tenancies will keep the same rent levels. Those in Temporary Accommodation (who will be given a secure tenancy if the demolition goes ahead) will be on London Affordable Rent. The London Affordable rent benchmark is £161.71 per week for a bedsit or 1-bed flat. Currently, a council tenant in the Carpenters Estate pays just over £92 per week. Therefore all ‘new’ council tenancies on the estate will pay almost 45% increase on traditional council rents. Anyone moved onto the estate from Newham Council’s waiting list will also be on this higher rent rate.
Furthermore, leaseholders and freeholders on the estate report that they will not receive enough money (including added compensation) for the sale of their properties to be able to purchase again on the new development. Their only option would be shared ownership, which is itself widely criticised.
3. Have the council considered all options but demolition first?
The Greater Carpenters Neighbourhood Forum (launched 2015) created a genuine neighbour led plan consisting of refurbishment of existing homes and ‘sensitive infill’. No demolition.
On 27 June 2017, then Director of Regeneration and Planning for NC wrote to Janiz Murray, Secretary of the GCNF: ‘Overall, LBN Planning conclude that while the plan has marshalled a range of ideas, much hangs off its central presumption of retention rather than demolition and redevelopment, which, due to lack of contextual analysis, is somewhat tenuous in itself and in relation to higher tiers of policy.’
At best, Newham Council were unenthusiastic of GCNF’s plans. But this feeling hasn’t changed and the Forum feels that their plans have been pushed aside and not considered by the council as a real option for the estate.
4. Has the Council engaged with other stakeholders outside the boundaries of the estate?
Focus E15 campaign has been named as a ‘community stakeholder’ in a council document regarding the estate, along with Architects for Social Housing (ASH). Yet, we do not believe we have been specifically consulted by the council or their reps about the future of the estate. Any information and discussion we have had with Newham Council on the Carpenters Estate has been a result of lobbying and demonstrating.
We believe everyone in borough has the right to decide if council homes will be demolished!
….And the future?
We have only scratched the surface. We have had reports from those who have a Right-of-Return to the estate not being given ballot information. We have heard concerns about there not being enough school spaces on the estate when new families arrive. We have heard from residents who feel they are not genuinely being listened to, and in fact feel bullied or exhausted into voting ‘Yes’ as they have suffered long term disrepairs.
If nothing else, residents have the right to be made aware that no matter what the Council tells them now, in estate regeneration, ‘the market’ always dictates:
Carpenters Estate: Landlord Offer and proceeding to a Residents Ballot (Report to Newham Cabinet meeting on 20 July 2021)
“In the event of a significant long-term recession or other economic factors impacting on viability then more difficult options might have to be considered, such as looking at the specification of the built environment or, in a worst-case scenario, reducing the proportion of affordable housing.”
Newham Council and their subsidiaries cannot be allowed to control the narrative and future of the Carpenters Estate. We must endorse a genuine community-led plan such as that submitted by the Greater Carpenters Neighbourhood Forum. Homes should be refurbished, opened and rent be set at council level.
 LLDC was established in April 2012 under the Localism Act, responsible for delivering the Olympic Legacy promise ‘transforming and integrating one of the most challenged areas in the UK into world-class, sustainable and thriving neighbourhoods’.
 Carpenters Estate Joint Venture Procurement – Update (Report to 4th December 2018 Cabinet meeting)
Overall Financial Position 2019/20 (section 7 of report to Cabinet meeting on 18 Feb 2020)
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.