Category Archives: housing struggles

Victory! Newham Council forced to reinstate housing duty

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.

Solidarity with the Wyndford Rise occupation!

Focus E15 campaign in London send solidarity and strength to the Wyndford Residents and the Young Communist League for the Wyndford High Rise occupation in Glasgow.

What a victory this is and we salute your courage.

This action will shine a spotlight on the barbaric practices of councils up and down Britain, Labour, Tory, SNP, who sell off every bit of land and demolish homes at the expense of people’s lives.

In its drive for profit, capitalism will stop at nothing.

Focus E15 occupied boarded up flats on the Carpenters Estate in east London in 2014. The residents had been battling with the Labour council for years at that point and the battle is ongoing as over four hundred flats still lie empty on the estate in a borough where 25% of households are overcrowded and 1 in 12 children are homeless.

Last year Newham council paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to get the resident ballot they wanted on the Carpenters Estate and now ‘regeneration’ is about to start. But as you say in your statement, this is gentrification and social cleansing and the erasing of working class communities.

All power to the occupation of Wyndford High Rise.

A victory for one is a victory for all! Together we are stronger!

Stop false promises and electioneering – we demand deeds not words!

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

Educate! Agitate! Organise!

Watch as Focus E15 Campaign calls out estate ballot process

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.

We want council housing and homes for life!

Another family has been moved into the hostel Brimstone House in Victoria Street in Stratford during the last eight weeks. This means that Newham Labour council and Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz still think that rooms built for single young people are adequate to house families. This has to stop! People need to be housed in decent housing. Shame on the council and those in local government who sit by and let the housing crisis in Newham escalate whilst people suffer and homes remain empty. 

This family is a father, a mother and a four month old baby. There is just about space for a double bed and a sofa. Currently the father sleeps on the sofa while the mother sleeps with the baby in the bed, which is against the advice from midwives, health visitors and GPs about safe sleeping for babies. It is just not appropriate for an adult to sleep all night on a sofa.

There is little or no ventilation, the room is quickly filled with cooking smells which can be overpowering, and the toilet flush does not work properly despite repeated requests for it to be fixed, it has not been repaired. The alarm continues to go off in the building and there is drilling early in the morning. It is no wonder that these parents are distressed, tearful and unwell. There is no space and nowhere to put their belongings. It is clear that Brimstone House is no place to raise a child and the housing is not suitable.  

Meanwhile, the roomy council flats around the corner on Carpenters estate remain empty and there are trees growing out of them! What a waste. We want to save every single council flat on this estate because this housing offers the chance for long term stability, community and cheap rent. A chance for a decent life.

Please join us on Saturday 18 December 12-2pm on the Carpenters Estate where over 400 home have stood empty for over a decade, where currently a ballot is underway and where the council is spending hundreds of thousands of pounds to secure a yes vote to its regeneration scheme which will mean demolishing 60% of the estate.

We need more council homes, not fewer!
We need families like the one above from Brimstone House, and the thousands of others on the housing waiting list and those in temporary and emergency accommodation, to be housed decently.

Join us on Saturday 18 December at 12 noon in the middle of Carpenters Estate in Stratford (near the shop) to fight for housing, to make a stand against capitalism, against racism in housing and to restore people’s dignity.

Please share and join the facebook event

Decolonizing knowledge -young mothers as radical thinkers

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!

Toni writes:

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 oppressio
n.


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.

Watch as Newham mother is forced to study on cooker top

A mother living in a hostel is doing her best for her children by trying to keep up with her education. She wants to get ahead and move on with her life by studying, but the cramped living conditions make this difficult. She has to allow the children to play in one bit of the space and then is forced to learn and study in the tiny kitchen area by using the cooker as a work table. There is no other space available as she has two children – in a space that was originally designed for one single person. The hostel known as Brimstone House in 10 Victoria street in Stratford, Newham, is no place for a family to grow and learn.

Families have had to also endure months of living on top of each other throughout lockdown. It is claustrophobic. Why should she and her children be forced to live like this, in one of the richest countries in the world? Mothers have every right to be students and a decent society would ensure that everyone could access childcare and further education and fully contribute to society to the best of their abilities.

Watch and share the video below to understand how some are forced to live. We are demanding that Newham Council rehouse all the families in Brimstone house for the sake of the children’s future – they need to put down roots, to attend the same school, to become part of a neighborhood. Instead they are left at the mercy of the private rented sector, which often means short term tenancies, constant moving and overpriced accommodation. The families living in the hostel have had enough!

Video shows the cramped conditions of a hostel and how one mother is forced to study on top of her cooker

Come and help organise the campaign for decent housing in Newham by joining the regular street stall on Saturday’s from 12-2pm outside Wilko’s on the Broadway.

Newham council, give us a future! Give us a chance!

A banner describing the cramped living conditions on Brimstone House hostel, March 2021

Move families out of Brimstone House NOW!

On Sunday 7 February, a mother of two in Brimstone House, 10 Victoria Street, E15, could take it no more and shared very personal photos of her home to illustrate the contempt that Newham council has for families crammed into the shoddy, overcrowded, damp rooms in this building.

For two years, she has put up with damp, with mould, with inadequate and expensive heating appliances, with a cramped situation whereby she has to share a bed with her children, with no bedroom for her children to sleep in, no room to study for the older one now of school age, no privacy for her.

Then came the rain and in it came. Now the children’s books were ruined, now the mattress was all wet and all their bedding affected. She packed up the room into boxes and bags to safeguard what was left and she asked a family also living in similar conditions in the building if they could take her children overnight, which they kindly did. The next night, she found space on the kitchen floor to put the children down to sleep.

Being an active part of Focus E15 campaign, this brave, resilient mother put out the message to others. Tweeting Newham council got a response, she was contacted and there was a promise of a visit to see and sort out the problems….

But this mother of two is clear, you can sort out the leak but you cannot fix the endemic problems of Brimstone House. The only way to reverse the negligence of extended stays in this appalling living situation, is to move people out to decent homes. Until then, the huge toll on adults’ and children’s mental and physical health will continue.

Focus E15 campaign knows that there are empty homes around Newham, and shockingly, has to repeat again and again and again what everyone, including Rokhsana Fiaz, Mayor of Newham, knows only too well – there are over 400 empty council homes on the Carpenters Estate, deliberately left empty for well over a decade, less than a mile from Brimstone House.

Residents of Brimstone House have voiced their issues loud and clear over and over again. In a recent exchange, mothers of young children expressed some of the issues they are struggling with in Brimstone House, in lockdown and with extreme difficulty getting replies from housing officers now that Bridge House and other housing offices are shut.

The constant merry-go-round of temporary and emergency housing: ‘Moving again with my child….we have been living in a hotel, then a friend’s house and then various shared houses. It’s been a physically exhausting year living in London, we have been moved five times already.’

The lack of security: ‘It’s really hard to see a way out of this … and then the empty horrible threats that they will remove our children. All this is magnified by constant insecurity, knowing we’re at their mercy and they really can do what they want. If the council was someone’s partner, they would say it’s an abusive relationship.’

Being forced into tiny spaces in lockdown in a pandemic: ‘It’s so narrow and the ceiling is very low, I feel boxed in. You can see the end of my feet is where the TV is supposed to go, glued to our eyes!’

Knowing there are empty homes nearby: ‘There is no way they can possibly justify not opening the Carpenters Estate and many others during this pandemic, I hope at some point we see someone held accountable for purposely keeping houses shut whilst knowing that we have been having a housing crisis for many many years.’

Being at the mercy of a system riven by division and discrimination: ‘And they purposely trap us in the illusion of their ‘fair’ system. If we don’t have jobs, they call us lazy, when we do get a job or try to pursue our education, they make it nearly impossible…Unfortunately a lot of people are either dismissive or insensitive, they don’t actually see just how oppressing and soul destroying this system is.’

The women show their strength and resilience: ‘Persevering in adversity is one of the many life skills we are passing down to our kids simply by living the best we can in these situations…’

The conversation ends on a positive note: ‘All they want is to distract us and make our lives not meaningful, they do not want us to achieve our goals because they know we are coming back to fight. All we need is NOT to keep quiet,  we should continue to use our voice, and I believe with the support of Focus E15 campaign together we will  win, they will hear our voice!’

Together we will win, they will hear our voice!

Get families out of Brimstone House now!

Resist! Reclaim! Repopulate!

Use the empty homes!

Telling the truth about what has been said, expressing ourselves on the street stall.
Mould growing inside a bedroom in Brimstone House
Where the TV is meant to go, no space for children to grow inside the flats in Brimstone House

Our lives and our future: resistance has not gone away

As 2020 came to a close, Brimstone House residents and Focus E15 campaign showed that
resistance to the callousness of the council has not gone away. We stood distanced and
Covid-aware outside the hostel with banners explaining what is happening to families in
the building. These are some of the issues that residents want you to be aware of: 

  • the family in such a small room that the television takes up the only window space
  • the mother of two children told by the council to put her three-year-old on a sofa as no room for a bed
  • the young boy who asks why he has no space to do his homework
  • the threat of eviction on 21 December of a family with two young children, told they have made themselves intentionally homeless – under campaign pressure that date has been changed to 4 January – but then what?

This is not an acceptable way to treat anyone and the campaign is ongoing.

Focus E15 continues to campaign closely with residents of Brimstone House. Mostly mothers and children, courageous in speaking up about their situation, on behalf of many more than just themselves, to highlight the outrageous situation of families forced to live, and isolate, in tiny, badly-ventilated, often mouldy and damp, overcrowded rooms with children.

On the streets at our weekly stall where we find out what is happening to people and their housing situations.

Newham has the highest number of children in the country living in poverty, the highest level of homelessness – one out of every 24 people, the worst level of air pollution in the whole of Britain, the worst overcrowding at 25% of homes, and the highest number in the country of households in temporary accommodation, currently 4,500. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Newham had the second worse Covid19 death rate in the country by June 2020.

Those raising the issues of Brimstone House, in temporary and emergency housing, are raising the issues of housing in the east London borough of Newham, and challenging the Labour council to start delivering rather than just promising. In this dire situation, there are still over 400 empty council homes on the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, These flats must be immediately refurbished and repopulated. We say to the council – stuff the constant consultation processes and get on with the work at hand and use those empty homes.

As we end 2020, Focus E15 campaign would like to thank all those who have taken part in campaigning for housing justice over this year and given time and energy to the campaign. This year has been very challenging, living through a pandemic, many people in the most difficult of situations, emotionally, practically and financially, struggling with inappropriate housing. Our thoughts go out to everyone, especially those grieving for friends and relatives who have died, and for Focus E15 campaign, we think of Ella and Chelsie, so central to our campaign and so missed.

The struggle must go on and Focus E15 campaign enters 2021 determined to continue to
build a housing movement, challenge the Labour council, give solidarity to all those fighting for housing justice, and…. Educate! Agitate! Organise! so that we expose this ruthless capitalist system and begin to work in unity together for a better future for everyone.

Residents outside Brimstone House Hostel in Stratford as 2020 comes to a close

Book Review: Michael Romyn, London’s Aylesbury Estate – An Oral History of the ‘Concrete Jungle’

Michael Romyn, London’s Aylesbury Estate: An Oral History of the Concrete Jungle (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020) The estate was like a shiny new penny. It was lovely. It was really lovely. It’s hard for me to paint a picture for you but it was a beautiful place to live … The community side of it, you […]

Book Review: Michael Romyn, London’s Aylesbury Estate – An Oral History of the ‘Concrete Jungle’