Our demands on May 1st 2023 : All families must be moved from 10 Victoria Street as a matter of urgency , into suitable and long term accommodation.
Rokhsana Fiaz, Mayor of Newham, stated at a council meeting one year ago that by May 2023 “I will be making sure all of those families with children will be moved out of Victoria Street and no other families will be placed there.” However this has not happened , adding to the remaining families sense of ‘moral injustice’ and growing anger. We will not stop campaigning until all the families are moved out of Victoria Street into suitable accommodation.
Open all empty homes in the borough to house homeless individuals and families. We are aware of empty and suitable council homes, in a borough with one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country. This is outrageous – open these council homes now!
Repair, refurbish and repopulate the Carpenters Estate. People need long-term council homes now, not shoddy Temporary Accommodation! In the interests of the community and the planet, we say repair, refurbish and repopulate this estate with long-term council tenants!
End the use of ‘intentional homelessness’. We call on Newham Council to reject the malicious practice of labelling individuals and parents ‘intentionally homeless’. No one is intentionally homeless and the council must stop using this tool to shirk their responsibilities on homelessness. Furthermore, the use of threats by housing officers to parents such as we will rehouse your children and not you must cease immediately.
We say to Newham Council – resist or resign! Join the campaign on the streets next Saturday from 12-2pm outside Wilkos on the Broadway in Stratford to plan the next actions!
Almost a year ago, in June 2022, at a full Newham council meeting in east London, Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz publicly referred to the annual council meeting the previous month, when residents of 10 Victoria Street, Brimstone House bravely stood up to protest against their appalling living conditions. The Mayor’s words at this meeting were:
‘I have provided a clear undertaking and direction to the council that by May 2023 every family will have been moved out to alternative accommodation and we will be stopping the placement of families with children living there from May.’ She added that ‘over the coming months officers will be diligently working on every case’.
Now it is nearing the end of April 2023 and almost 60 families with children are still in the building and the Mayor and Director of Housing have admitted that they will not all be moved out by the end of May. They have gone back on their pledge.
10 Victoria Street is filthy, overcrowded, unfit for families, where toddlers’ development is held back, older children have to do homework on the floor or the bed, children and parents are forced to share the bed to sleep and tiny spaces are labelled one-bedroom flats and therefore don’t qualify as being overcrowded.
The Labour council says it is facing the most challenging housing need. But breaking promises to desperate families who held hope for ten months of something better, hits an all time low.
Labour local authority landlords like Newham have presided over some of the biggest sell offs of council homes, while also overseeing managed decline and demolition of others. While housing associations, who own and manage 60% of social housing stock in England and Wales, repeatedly fail to address damp, mould and disrepair and yet make millions of pounds in profits every year.
Read the recent expose by Michael Buchanan on the BBC’s website about 1000s of children forced to share beds with their parents and the terrible effects that overcrowding has on family life, featuring Focus E15 campaigners and fighters for housing justice: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-65312086
Focus E15 campaign stands with those who raise their voice on behalf of everyone who faces substandard housing. The campaign is working with residents, legal caseworkers and journalists to raise the issue of poor quality housing by taking action, creating political art and giving people the confidence to speak out about what is happening.
Overcrowding is bad for our health!
Newham Labour Council no more broken promises, rehouse the families of 10 Victoria Street, Brimstone House now
Join Focus E15 campaign on our weekly stall in Stratford Broadway E15, 12-2pm every Saturday.
International Women’s Day started over a hundred years ago by the struggle of working class women to form trade unions and fight for the right to vote. There is a rich history of women leading from the front, fighting for their rights. From needle trade workers in New York in 1908, and Clara Zetkin in Germany organising the International Socialist Women’s conference in the same year, to the insurrectionary women of Petrograd in 1917 in Russia demanding Peace and Bread, to the women in China in 1919 fighting for women’s pay and condition and the end of child labour.
We will not forget Sylvia Pankhurst, anti-fascist, communist, feminist, internationalist, in East London who founded the East London Federation of Suffragettes, after being expelled from the Women’s Social and Political Union, for standing in solidarity with the Irish workers in the Dublin Lockout in 1913.
We celebrate the women of Cuba, such as Celia Sanchez who played a leading role in the early revolutionary movement in the 1950s, Vilma Espin who led the setting up of the Cuban Federation of Women in 1960 after the triumph of the Revolution, to Mariela Castro who founded the current National Centre for Sex Education.
To all the anti-imperialist fighters for women’s emancipation with examples like Nawal El Sadawi from Egypt who fought to show how patriarchy and capitalism oppress women. And we stand with the brave steadfast Palestinian women whose daily resistance inspires us.
In Britain today the fight goes on as the cost-of-living crisis disproportionately affects women. Immense pressure is put on women in the home, in terms of childcare and domestic labour, and in the workplace, women have worse pay and conditions than men. The struggle is against domestic violence, racism, sexism, disability discrimination and against the homophobia and transphobia of a capitalist system that benefits from women’s continued oppression.
In 2023, Focus E15 campaign joins residents of Victoria Street, to fight together against a Labour council which continues to give pathetic excuses for the ongoing suffering of families with children, mostly single mothers, housed in rooms built for one young person, where parents and children share beds and there’s no space for growth and development, homework or play. In the fifth richest country in the world, this is truly shameful. Women will continue to fight back.
Join us to celebrate our history of struggle and our continued resistance on the weekly stall Saturdays 12-2pm outside Wilko’s on Stratford Broadway E15 and at our next public meeting on Saturday 1 April.
Newham Council have publicly pledged that all families will be moved out of the cramped, unsuitable building at 10 Victoria Street, Stratford (formerly known as Brimstone House and Focus E15 Foyer) by May 2023. This is after Focus E15 campaign and residents protested and complained, time and time again, about the overcrowded and unsafe living conditions in the building.
This week the campaign learned that back in December 2022, the council presented at an internal meeting, the findings of an Options Appraisal regarding the future of 10 Victoria Street – which included an option to demolish (called redevelopment) as well as an option to refurbish. The crucial point is that the report recommends demolition (known as Option 1: Redevelopment), although the report also states:
“given that the lifecycle environmental impact of a redevelopment is greater than a refurbishment, it may be that a different decision could be made, depending on the political priorities of Members.”
What are the political priorities of Newham Council? And is providing safe and suitable homes for working class communities and organising to protect the planet, mutually exclusive?
A Guardian article published last week declared Britain is addicted to the wrecking ball. It’s trashing our heritage and the planet. The article explains that since 1997, the demolition of at least 161 council and housing association estates has resulted in a loss of around 55,000 homes and the displacement of an estimated 131,000 people. This suits the ruling class parties just fine as more people are pushed into the lucrative private rental market place and more demolition of our public housing occurs, without any concern for the environmental damage taking place. Pro-capitalist political parties have even ensured that any new house building is VAT exempt, meaning it’s automatically 20% more expensive to refurbish than demolish. Carbon emissions occur when demolition takes place and are a leading cause of climate change. Incidentally, the use of ‘carbon offsetting’, so beloved by local authorities up and down the country as a mitigating measure, has largely been debunked.
Newham council says it takes climate change seriously and it has declared a climate emergency. They have stated they want Stratford to be a zero carbon district, and for Newham to be carbon neutral by 2030 and carbon zero by 2050. Already these sentiments seem like words rather than actions, as Newham Council’s plans to demolish the Carpenters Estate mean that demolition and construction activities are predicted to peak by 2028.
Neither our campaign nor residents have been consulted on the future plans for the building at 10 Victoria Street which are leaning towards demolition, when this should be a last resort. Why doesn’t this Labour Council take inspiration from refurbishment projects, such as the award-winning Grand Parc housing estate in Bordeaux?
Focus E15 campaign is engaging with architects to submit alternative plans for Victoria Street to Newham Council which aims to provide suitable secure council housing for those in need whilst refusing to add to the destruction of our planet.
It really is exciting to get back into hosting in person public meetings again, as the campaign’s tenth year approaches. The need for innovative campaigns, built through direct experiences and political commitment, creating new knowledge in the process are vital if we are going to move debates on housing into action on the streets and to inform the political struggles that lie ahead.
We are humans, not numbers! We demand to live in dignity and security. The meeting was attended by current campaigners, loyal supporters and new friends of the campaign. Staunch fighters from Brimstone House Victoria Street were there with their children and we heard a moving dignified account of life in temporary accommodation.
We also cheered and clapped about the campaign’s recent victory – overturning the insulting accusation of intentional homelessness and forcing Newham Labour council to reverse a discharge of housing duty. The important points made about the law and its limitations by guest speaker social justice barrister David Renton, rang true. He states in his recent book,
We pledged to continue to educate, agitate and organise, raise consciousness and stand together with solidarity and support for each other.
A belated Happy New Year to all our comrades and supporters. See you all soon on the street stall and at our next actions and meetings throughout the coming year.
A mother and child, survivors of domestic abuse were labelled by the Council as having made themselves intentionally homeless, and therefore, the council discharged its housing duty to this family.
The family, who are living in an overcrowded hostel, had questioned the Council over an unsuitable offer of housing because the new property was in an area that is local to the perpetrator. What follows from a discharge of housing duty is eviction and often, a referral to social services. The family were extremely frightened and upset.
Due to having no option but to fight back, this mother was involved in collective action with Focus E15 campaign, in a process that culminated in a demonstration outside and inside the full council meeting on 16 January, at the Old Town Hall in Stratford. Council officials responded by offering a face to face meeting.
After this meeting took place on 19 January the council was forced to reverse the decision to discharge their duty. The woman said:
The public support I have been shown since we protested at the Newham Council meeting on Monday has been amazing. On the basis of this pressure, today Newham Council scrapped the decision to discharge their duty to me and I am no longer threatened with intentional homelessness. Protest works.
Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz was also forced by pressure and protest in May 2022 to promise that all families with children would be moved out of the notorious 10 Victoria Street hostel by May 2023 as it is no place for children to grow up in. However, threatening eviction as an exit strategy from this building is a shameful moment for the Council. We must ensure that decent homes are now found.
Stand with all those families still languishing in Victoria Street hostel, and with all those moved out into damp, cold homes with mould that the council has allowed to fall into disrepair.
Housing Justice and Respect! No Evictions! No Excuses! No Threats!
Focus E15 will be celebrating on the street stall outside Wilko’s this Saturday from 12pm.
Newham council has stated that it is discharging its housing duty towards a survivor of domestic violence, a woman and child who are trying to get their lives back on track after Newham placed them in an overcrowded hostel.
Abused first by a perpetrator of domestic violence and then again by Newham council who has discharged its housing duty, this devastating process where survivors are left in inadequate accommodation has been highlighted by the Public Interest Law Centre in a recent report into how councils are failing to house survivors of domestic violence.
This resident is calling for action at a Newham council meeting on Monday 16 January, outside the Old Town Hall in Stratford. She clearly explains:
‘I am taking action because no one should be labelled intentionally homeless! I was instructed by Newham council to move to a property in an area that is unsafe for me and my child to live in due to past domestic violence. I was scared. I couldn’t do it. Now the council has discharged its housing duty towards me.
Is this what Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz had in mind last year when she promised to end the suffering of families in 10 Victoria street, Stratford E15?‘
In May 2022, Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz was forced, under pressure from Focus E15 campaign and residents of 10 Victoria Street, to declare that by May 2023 all families with children would be moved out of the hostel, which is a shoddy, unsuitable, overcrowded building.
There will be no let up in campaigning while these families are still living in the hostel or being moved into damp, overcrowded, substandard homes and being labelled intentionally homeless for even questioning a housing offer.
Join us on Monday 16 January at 6.30pm onwards to protest and demonstrate outside the council meeting at Stratford Old Town Hall in Newham:
Old Town Hall 29 The Broadway Stratford E15 4BQ
Bring your placards and anger because this council makes mothers and children homeless! Shame on Newham Labour council! Homes not harassment!
In May 2022, Labour Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz, under pressure from Focus E15 campaign, was forced to say that all families with children will be moved out of Brimstone House, Victoria Street by May 2023.
Victoria Street is a building designed for single young people and now those same rooms/flats are being used by Newham Labour council to house families with children in emergency and temporary accommodation.
Those living in Victoria Street with children are struggling. Those families who have been moved out are also experiencing the appalling conditions of the private rented sector, the poorly-maintained council sector and the ongoing issues of temporary accommodation with insecurity and anxiety about the future and long term stability, job, support networks, schooling.
Currently more than a quarter of all renters in Britain, overwhelmingly the poorest families, live in substandard, badly insulated homes, vulnerable to cold damp and mould. With the rising fuel costs and the impossibility of adequately heating homes, the impact on children’s heath and development will be devastating.
Below a resident speaks about what it means to live in a cramped overcrowded space with a child in Brimstone House, Victoria Street. Readers will see the aerial drawing of the space that this mother and her nine year old child live in, forced to share a bed, and with no place to do homework and no space to play, while the tiny table they eat off, is also the mother’s workspace as she works from home. These small rooms are called one-bedroom flats, meaning families don’t count as being overcrowded and get nowhere on the bidding system.
Interview with the resident with Focus E15 campaign follows:
What is it like living in such a cramped place?
There is no space in the box bedroom to put in a chest of drawers for our clothes, so it is in the kitchen and then they call it a lounge/living area and tell me legally I have two rooms to sleep in. That is what they said when I challenged the fact that I have to share a double bed with my daughter. What a ridiculous story this is. My kitchen is a corridor. No way is this a one-bedroom flat.
There is no storage, how do you manage with your belongings?
One chest of drawers, one tiny wardrobe, not enough for two people. That is only enough if you are on holiday for a few days with summer clothes. We are not allowed to bring in any of our own furniture, not that it would fit anyway, so we have my stuff and my daughter’s stuff – including clothes, towels, toiletries, shoes, school books, school work, pencil and pens, toys, everything – in boxes. All our household is in boxes, all around the place, making it even more difficult to walk around the tiny space.
Describe the psychological effect of living in such a cramped place in Victoria Street.
I feel so anxious every time I have to ask my daughter to move away from the kitchen table so that I can pass and reach some of my clothes. She will move to the room full of boxes and then I need to reach something else and have to ask her to move again. She is upset, thinks she is always in the way, as if her presence is a problem for me. It is so hard to explain and she is tired of living like this. I feel so down and depressed. I don’t know how long I can cope without stability and without space for living.
Can you say something about the past and the future?
I feel like the council is not telling me the whole truth and hiding important information and in general it feels like they work against me rather than with me. Being homeless is stressful and scary and with so many other issues such as being a single parent, financial insecurity, health issues, relationship difficulties. No one asks to be homeless, but then when it happens you feel you are a burden. I feel powerless. We have had to move around for years. This all seems ignored by the council. Priority on the bidding system is random. They are playing with our lives.
A mother at Victoria Street hostel is sharing a double bed with her two year old child. There is no space in the one room she has been allocated by Newham Labour council for her soon to be born baby and cot. She is due to give birth in 10 days and is extremely worried about how her baby will sleep.
Paediatric advice clearly states that a new born baby should not share a double bed and should be sleeping in a cot or moses basket.
We demand that this family are immediately moved into long term safe and affordable accommodation where there is space for a cot and room for the family to live. Moving is the only course of action that will provide the safety and security the children and mother so desperately need. Otherwise the baby will be in a dangerous situation.
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.