Another shocking example of Newham’s poor quality housing in the London borough with the highest number of children living in poverty.
A mother Jennifer and her two children, five months old and eight years old, narrowly missed injury when their ceiling fell in on 29 October 2020.
With no space for a cot, nowhere to sit other than the bed, this room that is called a flat, has been ‘home’ to this family for almost five years, initially having been told that they would be staying there for only four months. It is affecting the health and development of the children and taking its toll on the physical and mental health of their mother.
The council had been told about the damp and humidity in the room and the health visitor had written letters. Most importantly on 1 October 2020, one month ago, the council housing review concluded that this place was NOT SUITABLE for the family and they needed rehousing. Then the ceiling fell in.
After the ceiling fell in, the mother was contacted and told by officials that the flat was safe to return to the next day, but the ceiling is still in a bad state of disrepair and no building inspection had taken place. Only by pressure has the family been placed in emergency accommodation in a hotel for a week. They have had a week with no cooking facilities, no laundry facilities, let alone space for other usual child activities. That week will be up on Friday 6 November 2020.
Newham has the highest number of children living in poverty of all London boroughs according to The End Child Poverty Coalition figures released in mid-October. The cost of housing (and therefore the related lack of council housing) has been identified as being the driver of child poverty in London. Newham, like every borough, has hundreds and hundreds of empty homes while 25% of people in Newham are in overcrowded living situations. In Stratford, shockingly, over 400 council homes still lie empty on the Carpenters Estate.
Labour Mayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz recently announced the council’s Covid19 Recovery and Reorientation Strategy.
In Rokhsana Fiaz’s words, they are concentrating on ‘neighbourhood’, pursuing social justice, and the council wants to create an inclusive economy where everyone benefits and the issues of poverty and inequality are addressed. Rokhsana Fiaz says that the measures of success will be Health, Happiness and Wellbeing.
We say to Newham Labour Council….
Jennifer and her children must NOT go back to that one room with a broken and dangerous ceiling– they must be REHOUSED locally, safely and decently by the end of this week for the health, happiness and wellbeing of this family.Rehouse Jenifer and her children now!
Residents of Brimstone House in Newham are increasingly speaking out about their housing conditions and have been meeting Focus E15 campaign to discuss actions.
This Saturday 10 October join Focus E15 campaign online for a public meeting to discuss the ongoing struggles of the brave residents of Brimstone House, following their recent protests and actions that are documented in the film above.
Hear updates on saving the Carpenters Estate and the ongoing legal battle against Newham Council.
All people who are committed to speaking out against housing injustice and understand the value of building community campaigns are welcome!
Imagine a local government tasked with the housing of vulnerable and homeless people but who has either rejected or systematically failed to provide adequate housing and assistance. Imagine a redress system that on the surface claims to have the best interests of the people at heart, but instead punishes them for daring to challenge poor policy decisions and labels the brave few as intentionally homeless. Now imagine a council that responds to a legal complaint one year late with many inaccuracies in their written reply. Welcome to Newham in Britain in 2020.
It was also in the middle of heatwave in 2019, when I chose to take up the offer from Focus E15 and the Public Interest Law Centre to raise a legal complaint against Newham Council. In the sweltering July heat myself and another 18 residents chose to outline our discontent with the living conditions of Brimstone House now, 10 Victoria Street, and listed demands for a change in Newham’s housing policy in general.
Myself and so many residents felt with the weight of the law now behind us and the public interest surrounding housing conditions, especially for society’s most vulnerable in light of the tragedy at Grenfell, Newham Council would at least make moves to be seen to be doing something to address such injustice. Yet I cannot say entirely that it comes as a surprise to me that they have only chosen to respond to the legal complaint almost a year late and with no signs of change on the horizon.
Our challenge highlighted the damp and mouldy conditions that many residents of Brimstone were living through. Their response was to send council elected environmental officers who to no one’s surprise declared the block was fit for human habitation, and that, in their eyes, concluded the matter.
We highlighted the insufficient provision of laundry facilities within the block. The Council’s response? To claim there was no space for more machines and that it was out of their hands as the service was contracted out to a third party. This is despite the addition of at least 10 more properties to the block and a fire that took place in the laundry room in January this year. If that alone was not enough to bring the service back into the Council’s hands I fail to see what would be.
A long running theme within Brimstone House was the anti-social and prison like environment the Council has actively fostered via the presence of a security detail, numerous CCTV cameras and the imposition of curfews. To counter this residents have long requested that the only unused space left in the block, the conservatory, be opened up for communal gatherings and socialising with neighbours. The Council has claimed in their response to the legal complaint, that it has been available for use since September 2019 and has held an 8-week English language course. Residents have pointed out that they have never been notified that the conservatory space was ever open to them and the course only ran for 4 weeks in January 2020.
Focus E15 campaign is not blind to the challenges that a decades worth of cuts and a government wholly opposed to the idea of a welfare state faces. We acknowledge that Newham faces its own unique set of challenges being a Borough with the highest proportion residents in temporary and emergency accommodation. Yet you cannot deny the fact for 63 years Newham has been a Labour run council. What challenges or even alternative to unpopular government policies did our councillors bring to the table to elevate the standing of their residents? I am essentially saying the situation Newham finds itself in right now is not the fault of external, emotionless government policies.
2018 promised to be a year of hope and change for its residents with the inception of Rokshana Fiaz as new mayor. We were promised ‘more transparency, accountability and [greater involvement from] residents in decision making’. With genuinely affordable housing and the ‘safety of our young people’ being the priority. Yet in 2020 Focus E15 is still receiving reports of unfair evictions, cramped and inadequate housing conditions, dismissive and threatening council officers and the adverse impact these conditions are having on the children of residents living through this nightmare.
Below are a two more testimonials from the residents of Brimstone house hostel who expect to see changes to their living situation.The living conditions in Brimstone House are difficult and the cause of physical illness and emotional distress. We have protected the identities as per their request.
Mother of two, referred to as R
This mother has been living in a small room in Brimstone House since September 2019. R was told she would be there 56 days maximum when she moved in but she is still there with no news, no contact from the council and no idea how long this nightmare situation will go on for. Her children are three years old and ten months old. She has had no contact with a housing officer since the day they moved in. It is hard to look for work and arrange childcare when the staff at the hostel question everyone who come in and out of the building. Her room is small, the heat is intense and due to difficulty with the washing machines she has been hand washing all their clothes but told she couldn’t hang them outside to dry.
Mother of two referred to as H
This mother has been in Brimstone House since November 2018. She has a seven year old and a 14 month old. She has no housing officer and has not been allowed to bid for council housing. Like many other residents in the building, H has confirmed that the conservatory is closed-another place that young children could have for recreation and play if the council kept to their word. John Gray, deputy Mayor and head of housing in Newham, promised to open the conservatory for children to use in Summer 2018. H has been coming to the street stall and has told us that: “it is not acceptable how we have to live, we can not take this anymore!” During the heatwave the safety windows could only open a tiny bit making it impossible to sleep at night. Now her kitchen light has gone, the council haven’t responded to her contact about this essential repair and she has bought a little lamp to have light in the evening so she can cook food for her family.
Many of our campaigners and followers will know Marsha, who caused a justifiable stir at the height of lockdown during an international day of action – May Day – highlighting the unreasonable aspects of the housing crisis. With a banner hung from her balcony in Brimstone House, pointing out the injustice of isolating with children in a tiny room while 400 homes on Carpenters Estate, ten minutes’ walk away lie empty, Marsha highlighted the dreadful reality of being forced to isolate in hostel accommodation. Where is the urgency from the council to solve these issues? Three months on from the May Day protest and Marsha is still languishing with her child in Brimstone House.
As more and more articles appear that make the link between COVID19 deaths and overcrowding, and diverse communities – you would think that Newham Labour Council and Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz would be rushing to solve some people’s situation as fast as possible. However, there are still over 400 council homes still lying empty on the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, Newham, London E15. Now into the fourteenth year of being empty, and with a timeline for doing something about them that extends beyond this Mayor’s tenure, it is becoming clear that the value of the land is more important than housing the people.
To top up the roller-coaster ride the mayor and the council have put residents at Brimstone House through, along will 28,000 people on the housing waiting list the council’s legal team has rejected campaigners from speaking as a deputation at a online council meeting stating that that this is because there is an ongoing legal complaint between Focus E15 campaign, Public Interest Law Center and the council. When you look on the council’s website the slogan ‘people at the heart of everything we do’ is plastered everywhere. Yet it seems when people power takes action the furious foot of autocracy is there to kick us to curb. Help us publicise the raging injustice of the council’s response to our legal complaint, the many stories behind the brave people fighting for housing justice and take action to make a change and demand that the Labour Council in Newham starts by refurbishing and repopulating the Carpenters Estate now. No more lengthy processes involving exhibitions and form filling. The answer is yes – those towers should be full of people now. A local forum even came up with their own plan for the estate but it was rejected by the council. Why?
Whilst the council gloss over the legal complaint submitted over a year ago by Public Interest Law Center, we say that the fight for decent living conditions for all those stuck at Brimstone House must go on. The more we stand together, the stronger we are. Together we can challenge Newham Council and demand immediate decent housing and reopening of Carpenters Estate for the people of Newham.
At the end of June and after lockdown restrictions eased, Focus E15 campaign went back out on the streets. At the weekly street stall we have met many people struggling with overcrowding living and poor quality housing – made much harder to sort out due to the pandemic and the closure of services. This stress has been compounded by the knowledge that Newham, a very diverse borough where over 70% of residents are Black, Asian and people of colour, is the borough with the second highest death rate in England from COVID19 . Many campaigners have been making the connection between poor housing, poor health and increased risk of illness.
The residents of Brimstone House are organising. Fed up of isolating with children in box rooms, with windows that don’t open in the sweltering heat wave and no answers from the council about what their housing future is, they are planning to take action. In addition to this one hostel block there are also thousands of other people in Newham struggling with housing in a borough where over 25% of people live in overcrowded situations. Try and explain to them why over 400 homes lie empty on the Carpenters Estate and have done for years and years and years.
We know that if we organise together we are stronger and we have a voice.
In order to illustrate this please take a look at Mary’s story below. She has been trying for over a decade to sort out her living conditions, one of thousands of people who feel abandoned by Newham and for whom, having a new Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, for the last two years, has changed nothing.
Mary and her 21 year-old son and 18 year-old daughter are living in a two bedroom council home. For over ten years, Mary has been trying to ensure that there is enough space for the children growing up who need separate bedrooms as stated in all guidance and legislation on sex of children and overcrowding. She has been on the housing waiting list for over 12 years, it is in fact longer but the council lost her original application. She bids regularly, and she is on a council and private swap register.
Mary has been to see her local MP Lyn Brown, has been to see her councillor, has even been to Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz’s surgery. Everyone listens but does nothing. She has told these elected representatives very personal details of her family’s history that explain the urgency of her situation. But still no action, no replies, no follow up.
During lockdown in the pandemic, this stressful situation has been magnified and relationships have become very strained. Mary, who sleeps in the living room anyway and hasn’t had a proper bed for years, is now also working from home. Her son also returned from university due to lockdown and has been trying to study from home. Mary explained that the physical and mental health strains are ‘exacerbated by the lack of space for everyone’.
Thank you Mary for getting involved with Focus E15 campaign and sharing your story. The more we stand together, the stronger we are. Newham Labour Council must act to alleviate the housing injustice in the borough.
The East London Federation of Suffragettes were active 100 years ago in east London, but they remain totally relevant today. We echo their sentiments when we say that we need Deeds Not Words when we encounter the brick wall that Mary and others have come up against when dealing with the council. https://www.eastlondonsuffragettes.com/
Join us on the street outside Wilko’s every Saturday on the Broadway from 12-2pm and help educate, organise and mobilise for our right to long term housing that is safe and secure.
”On the 1st of May I decided to make a resistance banner. This is my way to make stand about how I feel living in temporary accommodation/bedsit provided by Newham council. I feel it is the only way to get public attention and for people to understand about living in such conditions in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic.”
”People from deprived and over-populated areas such as Newham are more likely to catch the virus. My thoughts behind making the banner and hanging it up on the balcony of Brimstone House was to simply say I have had enough. I am angry and frustrated that for myself and many other families living in temporary accommodation, we have been disregarded by the Council.
With so many empty homes around Newham such as those on the Carpenters Estate, it is totally inhumane and unacceptable to have families living in one room with children.
We are scared for our lives and our children lives. There is not enough being done by Newham Council to protect us as residents with so many empty flats lying empty.
We may be locked down at the moment but groups and campaigns are turning their thoughts to the political situation this Mayday by putting out messages of anti capitalist resistance at home and on billboards and bus stops. Here are a selection of some messages both inspiring and angry. Check out lockdown banners on Facebook for loads more! Happy mayday comrades.
Following our online meeting with Moms 4 Housing, Focus E15 have decided to call for action on Friday 1st May, in the form of creating and displaying banners to demand that empty homes are opened because housing should be a human right.
Get creative and make your banner – walk down the street with it, hang it out a window, whatever you prefer. But make sure to take a picture and hashtag: #OpenEmptyHomes and #HousingIsAHumanRight
Our friends and comrades in the USA and around the world will also be doing action to highlight the same message. Follow Moms4Housing here: https://moms4housing.org/
On Sunday 19 April 2020 Focus E15 campaign in Britain and Moms4Housing in the USA organised an online webinar to discuss tactics during the Covid19 pandemic. Focus E15 campaign have edited the audio and are releasing it as a podcast which you can find below. During the meeting attention was turned towards ways to take action on May 1st to mark international workers day and to take our campaigns for decent long term secure housing onto the streets.
On Sunday 19th April at 6pm London / 10am California join us for this meeting co-hosted by Focus E15 Campaign in London, England and Moms 4 Housing in Oakland, California, USA https://moms4housing.org/
There are four times as many empty homes in Oakland as there are people without homes, and in the UK there are double the amount of empty homes as homeless people.
The Covid-19 crisis has escalated the need for action to allow everyone to be housed and live in dignity and safety.
This session will hear from grassroots organisations either side of the Atlantic who are taking action against this same problem. We are using this time of crisis to share experience, education and ideas for action.
Focus E15 campaign sends love and solidarity to those who are suffering under the Coronavirus emergency – whether physically, mentally, or economically. We salute all key workers and give our gratitude to them for working to keep us safe and well.
During this crisis, housing campaigners need to be heard, we will not stay silent as the gross inequalities and cracks in the system are laid bare for all to see. Housing is a public health emergency. Our demands are as follows:
Open all empty homes now: families living in crowded temporary accommodation need long term stability and the space to get well. We know of countless cases of families surviving in single rooms, like the families stuck in Brimstone House hostel. We have been saying for 6 years to Newham Council -open all homes on Carpenters Estate now!
Provide long-term housing for those in temporary accommodation and for those who are street homeless. To stay safe and well people need secure housing.
Give all our key workers the protective equipment they need – it is urgent to keep all our friends and families safe and protected.
It is important that we are stay connected to our local communities at this difficult time. We encourage you to join a Mutual Aid group to find support near you: https://covidmutualaid.org/
Educate, Agitate Organise!
Focus E15 Campaign is committed to politically organising and taking action during the lockdown in the following ways:
EDUCATION and ORGANISING: We are running a program of weekly political discussions, which we are calling ‘virtual street stalls’, where we can stay in touch with each other and be up to date with the key issues around housing and Covid 19, in order to educate ourselves. Every week we will try and have an invited speaker, share an article or short video clip and discuss a different topic. We will also be hosting virtual special political meetings and online monthly campaign meetings. Please join us and spread the word!