Over the last four years Focus E15 campaign has constantly raised the issue of intentional homelessness and highlighted the vicious policies of Newham Labour Council under Robin Wales, the previous Mayor, who presided over policies whereby if a homeless family refused to be sent out of London and refused what they called a suitable offer, then they had made themselves ‘intentionally homeless’ and the council could discharge their duty to house them.
This frightening process is what happened to Sara and her two young children, one in school in Newham and one preschool age. Sara has been working with Focus E15 campaign since December 2017 and has been determined to get housing justice. Sara has family, friends and support networks in Newham and has employment in Newham as well. Read the latest on this story by journalist Kate Belgrave who rightly asks, ‘when will Labour Councils get stuck in’?
Since December 2017, there have been phone calls to Newham council about Sara’s case, letters, protests, and visits to the housing office as well as challenges to the impending eviction that Sara and her children face and attempts at an appeal on the council’s decision. Now there is a court case in Central London on Thursday 26 July to see if Sara even has the right to appeal.
Meanwhile since the beginning of May, Newham has a new Labour mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz and a relatively new Labour council. We ask the new mayor to support Sara and her children to be housed in Newham, for their long term health and well being.
We urge all supporters of Focus E15 campaign and campaigners for housing justice to join us at court to support Sara on Thursday 26 July. 10am at The County Court, Central London, R.C.J More Building, Royal Court, Strand, London WC2A 2LL
Residents fight back against evictions – hear directly from Michelle Edwards:
Given a choice, estate regeneration schemes would not have been my natural topic of conversation. Now, I’m so versed in the subject that I could probably achieve academic status. ‘Gentrification.’ ‘Affordable’ housing. Social housing. Displacement. Labour-run boroughs. Investors. MIPIM. Developers and demolition. Those words are used with very great frequency and in a wide range of conversations these days.
My own journey into housing campaigning was triggered between 2010 and 2011 when Waltham Forest Council carried out a review of all its estates to “identify which required investment and intervention beyond planned maintenance and to improve the quality of the stock, deal with issues of underlying tenant dissatisfaction and to reflect council priorities to regenerate local areas and communities.” To that end, their review identified “Marlowe Road as a council estate with the highest priority in the borough for intervention.” A flawed consultation/assessment survey was carried out over five months from September 2012 – January 2013. The aforementioned was nothing more than a box ticking exercise. It is doubtful that any of the views of respondents were taken into account. The end game was likely always going to be ‘demolish and rebuild’ and the all-too-familiar social cleansing that accompanies it.
Out of sheer frustration and in order to debunk the council’s stream of untruths about the development, I pitched a column called ‘Life on the Estate’ to the Waltham Forest Echo. Since December 2016, I have written with forensic detail about the harshness of living through a regeneration project. The links are found below.
(Launch of column. Page 9)
Quote of the Day: ‘Incompetence is often highly regarded
in governmental circles.’ William Wallace
Monthly campaign meeting
Saturday 7 April 2.30-4.30pm at Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, London E15 4DN.
Incredible jubilation happened across the borough of Newham when the news that Robin Wales had lost and will no longer be the Labour Party candidate for Mayor of Newham in this May’s elections.
However, Focus E15 campaign knows full well that the fight for decent council housing does not end with Robin Wales’ deselection.
We have signed up to the Newham People’s Charter. We will continue to insist on housing rights of all and we will hold the incoming council and the new Mayor to account. Take part in the debates and discussions at the next meeting and get involved with Focus E15 campaign – which remains independent from all political parties.
Together we are stronger!
Stand with Sara
We continue to emphasise that there is No such thing as Intentional Homelessness and we demand that Sara be housed in Newham.
Newham council has discharged their duty to house Sara since she refused the offer of housing in Birmingham with her two young children. This would mean taking her child out of school, moving away from all the family and friends and support networks that she has in her community. She said no. Newham council says she has refused a reasonable offer. Appeals have not worked. Sara now faces street homelessness or being taken in by friends or family. We must ensure that Sara and all those in similar situation are housed in their communities. Newham has thousands of empty homes. Join us to demand that they are used now!
Repopulate the Carpenters Estate
Urgent time now for the estate – Robin Wales has gone! Now let’s join with all those who demand the refurbishment of the homes and filling them up immediately with all those who need them. Come to the meeting to find out the latest.
Journey to Justice
Don’t miss the travelling exhibition in Newham at the Beckton Globe Library in Newham till 30 April, and find out local history and the struggle for human rights and social justice.
Support Focus E15 campaign
We need your ongoing support to run Sylvia’s Corner and continue to develop it as a community hub.
Find out how to book the space, take part in the users group and spread the word.
All donations to the campaign are very welcome. Please see:
Sylvia’s Corner was named after Sylvia Pankhurst – suffragette and socialist and campaigner for working class rights in the east end of London. Join our reading group and learn about her life and the history of struggle for justice in east London. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Find out more, sign up and add to the discussion about the Newham People’s Charter
Let’s join forces to make sure that the incoming council and Mayor in Newham are doing what’s right for the people they are elected to represent. No to racism! No to social cleansing! Read more about it on our website:
As usual we will be outside Wilko’s this Saturday at our weekly street stall from 12-2pm in Stratford before the public meeting, join us there and let us go on to the meeting together!
On Saturday 17 March, Focus E15 campaigners celebrated the news of Robin Wales’ deselection by riding through the streets of Newham in a open-topped bus. The bus was draped with placards, banners and flags displaying clear political messages about the lack of social housing in the borough. Campaigners sang out the good news that the Mayor had been deselected, chanting in unison ‘Robin Wales has gone -so long so long’ and received many thumbs up and happy waves from Newham residents amazed at the sight of a bus load of campaigners. There were many joyful beeps and hoots from supportive motorists. Back on board the bus, exhilarating live drumming kept the freezing temperatures at bay as did the constant chanting of ‘Robin Wales is Out’ all set to the sound of popping champagne corks and loud cheering.
This celebratory mood is understandable as the Labour Mayor Robin Wales has been in power for 23 years, leaving behind him a rotten legacy of 1 in 25 people homeless. Focus E15 campaign has been a constant thorn in the side of Robin Wales for the past four years by protesting at the lack of council housing in the borough at many Mayoral proceedings and full council meetings, as well as leading an occupation on the boarded up Carpenters Estate back in 2014, when the Mayor was forced to issue a public apology for the way he had treated the original 29 mothers from Focus E15 hostel.
However Focus E15 campaign knows full well that the fight for decent council housing does not end with Robin Wales’s deselection.
With this in mind, Focus E15 campaign is already placing demands on the Labour Mayoral candidate Rokhsana Fiaz and demanding that Carpenters Estate is saved for all existing residents and is maintained as 100% council housing.
With the news of Robin Wales’ defeat, groups in Newham have started to push for a People’s Charter which has already been presented to Rokhsana Fiaz. It is printed in full below. We will continue to raise the rights of all residents of Newham and hold the incoming council and the next Mayor to account.
Join us at our public meeting on 7 April at 2.30pm at Sylvias Corner, 97 Aldworth Rd E15 4DN to discuss more.
The charter has so far been signed by the following groups and individuals:
- Kevin Blowe
- Focus E15 Campaign
- Newham People’s Alliance
- Unite for Change
- Newham for Change
- The People’s Revolt
- East London Revolutionary Communist Group
- Newham Green Party
- Sasha Das Gupta
- Nadia Johnson
- Valerie Johnson
- Joseph Johnson
Finally! Robin Wales has been deselected as mayoral candidate for Newham Labour after a tense battle against Rokshana Fiaz, who will now go on to face the electorate in the local elections in May and won by over 350 votes. The news of his deselection was announced on Friday 16 March 2018. It was Robin Wales, who told the original group of 29 mothers from Focus E15 hostel (after cutting the funding to the mother and baby unit) that “if you can’t afford to live in Newham, then you can’t afford to live in Newham”. Robin Wales has been in charge of Newham council for 23 years as he was head of the Council from 1995 and Labour Mayor since 2002. He has been an unpopular and unreachable figure. He spent decades promoting policies that has led to social cleansing, forcing working class people out of the borough whilst leaving homes empty and boarding up Carpenters Estate. Today 1 in 25 people in Newham are homeless as a result.
Focus E15 Campaign will be pleased to see the back of Robin Wales – because he was an advocate of kicking out the poor and most vulnerable, running a council with £563m debt after reckless borrowing from the banks and lately using the equivalent of a staggering 125% of council tax revenue on debt repayment. However the campaign also knows full well that the pressure needs to be applied to the new (very likely Labour) Mayor to promote a sustainable housing policy that benefits and suits the needs of working class residents.
Before the next leg of the campaign is fired up, Focus E15 campaign will be reflecting on the last four years and celebrating Robin Wales’s deselection on Saturday at their street stall in Stratford by having a bit of a party and then carrying on raising awareness of all the above issues by taking an open top bus through the streets of Newham. Focus E15 campaigner Jasmin Stone explains that:
“Robin Wales is out! We have spent, four and a half years fighting his social cleansing and demanding the repopulation of Carpenters estate! So many times being locked out of council meetings, attacked by private security at the Mayor’s show, arrested illegally for protesting against wrongful evictions and now he is out! Good riddance. However the fight is not over. We must make sure that the Newham People’s Charter demands are heard and met. And Robin Wales I think you will need to use Workplace and find a new job… can’t imagine anyone wanting to employ you though….
Watch this and share… More about Robin Wales’ legacy…
Let us not let Newham Labour Party and the new Mayor off the hook -we must hold them to account immediately! Read more about the Newham’s People’s Charter which Focus E15 campaign is endorsing here:
Please do join us in our celebrations to mark an end of a long era for Newham at our weekly stall on Saturday 17 March – 12-2pm outside Wilko’s on Stratford Broadway, London E15 1NG and then afterwards for more adventures on the free Focus E15 bus trip around Newham. Bring children, placards, food and drink!
The following blog post is taken directly from a report written for the Revolutionary Communist Group’s website. Thank you for allowing Focus E15 Campaign to reprint this report in full below.
Robin Wales, head of Newham Labour Council since 1995 and Labour Mayor of Newham since 2002 is facing the end of his reign. Rokhsana Fiaz is standing against him for the Labour mayoral candidacy and the results will be announced on Friday 16 March after local Labour members have voted. This situation came about after a trigger democracy process which has forced Wales to accept a challenger for the first time. All Newham wards voted for someone to stand against him. Wales is running scared and after decades of vicious treatment of working class people in the borough, he now proclaims himself a socialist leading a radical council. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Focus E15 Campaign has been working with Sara, a mother of two young children in Newham. Her story is outlined on the Focus E15 website here. Since she refused to be moved to Birmingham, Newham Council says she has made herself ‘intentionally homeless’ and has discharged their duty to house her.
On International Women’s Day, Thursday 8 March, Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! stood with Sara and Focus E15 Campaign, alongside children and parents from Sara’s son’s school, Museum of Homelessness, Streets Kitchen and Newham Green Party, as we challenged Robin Wales at the Mayoral Proceedings. This meeting is where Robin Wales rubber stamps anything he likes surrounded by his hand-picked cronies from the council. Usually an hour long, on 8 March Robin Wales looked shifty and nervous as the public gallery filled up and he raced through proceedings. After only 22 minutes he and his colleagues made a swift exit. They saw and they heard but not one stopped to look at the messages on the banners or placards nor listen to the speeches and chants from the gallery, as we demonstrated our solidarity with Sara. There is no such thing as intentional homelessness and Sara must be housed in Newham, near her family and support networks, in her community and where her children go to school.
With news of the protest spreading on social media, the local press took interest and Wales’ challenger Rokhsana Fiaz asked to meet with Sara and Focus E15 Campaign. Newham Council was forced to issue a statement defending their callous treatment of Sara and her children and standing by their decision to refuse her any further housing support.
The pressure is on, but we must all remember that Sara is just one of thousands of people and families who are facing social cleansing in Newham and at the hands of rotten Labour boroughs all around London. We must also be aware that replacing Robin Wales, while a huge victory after his years of abuse of working class people, migrants and the most vulnerable in our communities, will not solve the problems of capitalism. Rokhsana Fiaz says that housing is first of her top three priorities. It is up to us to hold her to account. Focus E15 Campaign has pledged to do this. Join us!
Robin Wales, head of Newham Labour Council since 1995 and Labour Mayor of Newham since 2002 is facing the possibility of deselection by the end of this coming week. Rokhsana Fiaz is standing against him for the Labour mayoral candidacy and the results will be announced on Friday 16 March after local Labour members have voted. Robin Wales is running scared and after decades of promoting policies of social cleansing of working class people, forcing them out of the borough, he now proclaims himself a socialist and a radical. We know that nothing could be further from the truth.
If this is the end of the reign of Robin Wales, now is the right time for community groups and campaigns to put maximum pressure on the new Mayor and not let the Labour council off the hook. Focus E15 campaign is endorsing a people’s charter for Newham. It is a work in progress and is intended to spark debate and discussion about what kind of Newham we, the people, want.
Focus E15 campaign presented this idea of drawing up a people’s Charter to the prospective Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz on Saturday 10 March 2018 at her surgery in Custom House. If your group or community would like to endorse the People’s charter please email the campaign and we will add you onto a list email@example.com.
Focus E15 campaigners presenting a People’s Charter for Newham to the prospective Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz.
Rebecca Morris from Focus E15 Campaign gives a personal reflection on International Women’s Day.
On March 8 Focus E15 Campaign will be marking International Women’s Day by joining the International Women’s Strike, and singing with Rebel Choir in Russell Square from 1pm. The Rebel Choir is an activist-community choir. Together we will be singing songs in solidarity with victims of abuse, UCU strikers, mothers in Colchester who are protesting at the introduction of Universal Credit, and with women and non-binary people the world over. Then at 5pm, we are going to make a din at the mayoral proceedings in Newham, in solidarity with a single mother of two who is about to be evicted by the council for refusing to be relocated to Birmingham: https://www.facebook.com/events/2037697086489971/
I want to talk about why I think it is still important to participate in the Women’s Strike and why I am a Focus E15 campaigner. I am not a Focus E15 Campaigner because I am a mother. I am not a Focus E15 Campaigner because I identify as a woman. I am part of Focus E15 Campaign because we campaign for a society where all, regardless of gender, background, race or familial attachments have an adequate home – a place to feel safe and comfortable. This is not the reality for many people. Every week on the Focus E15 stall horror stories are heard: evictions from rogue landlords, the awful, cramped conditions of temporary accommodation, where some families share just one room for lengthy periods of time, making it seem as if we really have gone back in time.
A hundred years ago, Sylvia Pankhurst’s campaigned for decent housing in the East End and her writings discuss the inadequacies of housing for the working class. The following outlines what she considered to be essential for every family home:
“A moment’s thought conjures up many requirements which should be considered essential to every home, but which in almost every working-class home are lacking. Each adult member is surely entitled to at least one room of his or her own (and whoever works or studies all day at home should have two rooms). There should be a place, to sit in, a place to meet friends in, a place to read and be quiet in, a place out of doors where the children can play in fine warm weather, and a place indoors for wet, cold weather, furnished with toys and childish things. These are essential, but the problem of cleaning and tidying must be taken into account, for the housewife must not be an overworked slave.”
It is depressing that nowadays this vision seems impossible for so many. Yet we must not give in for our struggle for decent secure homes for all.
Focus E15 campaign was started by 29 young mothers who were about to be evicted from their hostel by Newham council, they stood together and refused to leave their communities. Over 4 years on, Focus E15 continues the weekly street stall on the Stratford Broadway. It is a multi-gendered campaign that would not have been able to win countless victories without the support of so many from the community.
In Paul Watt’s recent article, Gendering the right to housing in the city: Homeless female lone parents in post-Olympics, austerity East London, he breaks down how Newham council and our neighbouring council of Waltham Forest used the greater powers councils received to allocate council houses after the 2011 Localism act. Waltham Forest slashed 11,925 applicants off its waiting list, the largest reduction in England, while Newham sliced 5000 off its list, the eighth largest reduction. They began prioritising applicants in paid employment and ex-members of the armed forces. As Watt argues, “this prioritisation has had considerable, albeit under-appreciated, gendered effects. Newham and Waltham Forests’ housing allocations’ policies effectively discriminate against women who have a small presence in the armed forces and are also less likely than men to be in paid employment, not least because of caring responsibilities.”
Watt uses personal case studies with single mothers to further outline the disadvantages women and children experience in temporary accommodation. These mothers have the right to be in safe public housing yet their “safety was jeopardised by their experiences of living in temporary accommodation where they had to share communal areas with strangers, including men who could be intimidating and even violent.” Moreover, Watt argues the huge disadvantages to mothers being re-housed out of borough, and the fact that particularly in the time of austerity they rely heavily on support and services of the city. The campaign believes it is vital that we support and give solidarity to the most vulnerable. If lone parents struggle to find a safe home for their children, then our society has failed.
Yet herein lies another issue that Focus E15 have had to contend with: the dichotomy of mothers and women who consider themselves activists being labelled as ‘victims’. It sometimes feels as if no matter how clued up and radical we are as campaigners, the mainstream media and those in power will only listen, or lend us a voice if we are presented as victims, or fragile women who only went the radical route when all other options failed. When the campaign started, the mothers did not give in, and who knows what might have happened to them if they had. They fought back and responded quickly. They did this simply by knocking on each other’s doors; by organising together with other political groups; keeping each other’s spirits up; supporting each other; going out onto the streets and talking to people and asking them to sign a petition.
I truly believe that Focus E15 Campaign is challenging traditional power structures through collective organising. Involved in the campaign are a fantastic and creative collective of people; pooling resources to create dynamic publicity stunts; generating memes; sourcing local news about the council; sharing inspiring quotes, videos and raising political awareness. There is so much power in this style of organising. We look out for each other. And we are not victims.
We want to inspire other people, women, mothers, children to start a campaign. You are never too young or too old – there is a diversity of ages represented in our campaign, and children have always played a huge part, always present at the weekly street stall in Stratford.
To conclude, I would like to recall a moment that stood out to me at an open meeting we recently had on children and homelessness. A member of Focus E15, the housing activist and single mother of three who has been re-located to Basildon, stood up, and brushing angry tears away from her eyes, told a silent room how as a result of her displacement she had suffered racism in her local area, as well as mental health issues, yet maintained that no matter how she is treated by the council and her neighbours, she will stay determined to fight until she sees victory, and that she has been able to do this with the support of Focus E15. This put me in mind of a quote by Sylvia Pankhurst, one that we have had stitched onto a banner by activist and artist, Andrew Cooper: “I am going to fight capitalism even if it kills me. It is wrong that people like you should be comfortable and well fed while all around you people are starving”.
Don’t make our babies homeless… Children in the housing crisis
People filled the hall in the Carpenters and Dockland Centre on the Carpenters Estate on Saturday 3 February at a public meeting, hosted by Focus E15 Campaign and with invited speakers from Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, the Housing and Mental Health Network and Kate Belgrave, journalist and housing blogger. The meeting was held in the grounds of the Carpenters Estate, where over four hundred homes lie empty in a Labour-run borough which has a rising homeless population and many people sleeping out on the streets.
The meeting was proposed after hearing issues affecting parents in housing need, who are being labelled intentionally homeless and then finding out that the council no longer has a duty of care towards them, but has for their children – meaning that social services may be called to intervene – a frightening prospect for any family in housing need.
This is well documented in the recent post that Kate Belgrave has on her site and was well illustrated by speakers at the meeting, which included a retired social worker who spoke of her battles decades ago to challenge similar situations. Clearly our society is going backwards and we have to take a stand again and challenge any human rights violations, including the right to family life and stand up for the rights of children. Read what Kate Belgrave has to say about this on her excellent blog:
The chair of the meeting set the scene well by describing the 100s of thousands of children in B&B and hostel accommodation in Britain, which is the six richest nation on the planet. Over two million people, including children are living in privately rented homes in England that are so squalid their health is affected and over half of all children in Britain’s poorest areas are now growing up in poverty.
While almost eight months on from the Grenfell Tower fire, in the richest borough in London, 100 households (including hundreds of children) of the 208 made homeless are still in emergency accommodation/hotel rooms.
The speakers from the Housing and Mental Health Network spoke very clearly about the link between housing instability and mental health problems and how people are being asked to parent in situations that are fundamentally not suitable. The end of short term rental tenancies are the biggest reason for people being evicted and forced into temporary accommodation.
From the floor, we heard from and about Newham residents fighting intentional homelessness and fighting to stay in the borough and Libby Liburd, actor and writer, spoke about her play Muvvahood and her next play about temporary accommodation… keep up with her work at .
The speaker from Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! put the current housing situation in the context of austerity and the crisis of capitalism. While Britain wages war abroad, plunders and occupies and destroys, at home it uses racism and attacks on the working class to pursue its policies in the interest of a minority, enriching themselves from the exploitation of working class people. In the words of Sylvia Pankhurst, revolutionary, communist, anti-imperialist fighter in the East End in 1918: ‘One of the election cries of the Lloyd George Coalition was Housing Reform, but with what unsurmountable obstacles are those tinkering reformers faced who are unprepared to abolish the Capitalist system.’
A Newham resident speaks out.
A brave woman spoke to the campaign at the end of the meeting, having been inspired to tell her story to help reach out to others and work collectively to raise the issues and find solutions and support. This illustrates everything and more that was raised in our meeting. She told us:
I am a single mother of three who was in private accommodation for seven years and was evicted when the landlord wanted to sell. The landlord became aggressive, and has currently kept the deposit and tried to sue me for contacting environmental health about the mould. My daughter was born extremely premature and has chronic lung disease. I can’t afford another place in the private sector and the landlord still has my deposit.
I suffer with Anxiety and OCD and both my children have medical problems.
My children are not currently staying with me and are staying with their father and grandparents.
I have chosen to do this because I don’t want them to be in the horrible temporary accommodation I have been given. I can’t cook adequately there.
I am staying at the property in the evening and leave early in the morning to get the children ready for school and to take them to school. I stay with the children until they go to bed and then I go back to the property. The house the children is in is overcrowded.
Newham Council is fully aware of my difficulties and have letters from my psychiatrist detailing how I am currently suffering a significant deterioration in my mental illness due to recent changes in my housing circumstances and made particularly difficult and unbearable due to my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Depressive illness.
The housing officer said that Newham Council has carried out their duty by giving me a house and that no one can say how long the temporary accommodation will be for.
I am very ashamed of being in this situation and more so having to put my children through it.
We demand housing justice for Newham’s residents.
Join us on our weekly street stalls, Saturdays 12-2pm on the Broadway in Stratford outside Wilko’s and come to the next campaign meeting, Saturday 3 March 2.30-4.30pm at Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, E15 4DN. Robin Wales must go! The Carpenters must be saved!