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!
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!
Dear Newham Council, Newham Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz, Director of Housing Darren Levy, Head of Housing Shaban Mohammed and Labour MP Lyn Brown,
The residents of Brimstone House, 10 Victoria Street, E15 need urgent rehousing.
As an emergency situation, it may be considered tolerable, as a living arrangement, it is cruel and punishing.
There is already a legal challenge underway but no action from Newham Labour council and now the residents are speaking out again.
We ask for a meeting with the Head of Housing, the Director of Housing and the Mayor of Newham.
This is how the Labour-run borough of Newham sees itself (https://www.newham.gov.uk/contact-information/vision-1) ‘Newham is a borough with a radical vision to build a better and brighter future. We are a diverse and aspirational place. By putting people at the heart of everything we do, we aim to enable all our residents to reach their potential and thrive.’
Tell that to the mothers struggling up flights of stairs with buggies and babies and toddlers and shopping as the lift is broken again. It is not possible and it is not safe.
Tell that to the mothers who are having to study overnight using their cookers as a table, because they don’t have room to sit in the main room, and don’t want to put on the light as the children are asleep.
Tell that to the mothers who are co-sleeping with one or two children and who have no privacy in front of their children, not appropriate, particular in front of boys.
Tell that to the families with exhausted parents and traumatised anxious children who have to be pulled out and rushed downstairs as the fire alarm in the building keeps going off.
Tell that to the families who can’t wash their clothes or their children’s clothes properly as there are not enough washing machines, they are substandard and very expensive.
Tell that to the families paying very high heating costs in Brimstone House, 10 Victoria Street with an electric key system that consumes large sums of money.
Tell that to the families who can’t all sit down to eat together because Newham Labour council doesn’t allow them more than two chairs in their room or flat.
Tell that to the families who feel dumped and abandoned in Brimstone House, with no knowledge of who their housing officer is, who have their emails unanswered, and who have no bidding numbers.
Tell that to the families who have been offered places out of borough and out of London, when their support networks, their work, their family and their children’s schools are in the borough.
Tell that to the families in the cramped and damp rooms with children who are forced to isolate during the pandemic.
Tell us all why the empty council homes on the Carpenters are not being used while a solution to that estate is being found. And what about all the other empty homes around the borough…
If Newham Labour council wants to be a radical council building a better future, then it must speak out and speak up and defend the rights of all its residents.
As Assata Shakur said: It is our duty to fight for our freedom, it is our duty to to win, we must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.
We ask for a meeting with the Head of Housing, the Director of Housing and the Mayor of Newham.
Thank you from the families of Brimstone House, Victoria Street with full support of Focus E15 campaign
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!’
A Newham resident who lives in Brimstone house has been working with the campaign and has this to say about her living situation:
I am a 20 year old woman with a young baby. I grew up in Newham and am now a registered carer for my older brother who has a disability and cannot live independently. We both lived with my mum who is in full time work. I shared a bedroom with my brother. When I got pregnant the arrangement was still manageable but once my baby was born it was not possible to share the bedroom anymore. I had to move out.
I approached Newham council and explained the situation. No one will believe what happened next, but it is true. They offered to send a mediator to speak to my brother and my mother to negotiate me and my baby saying in the same bedroom as him. My brother’s disability means that he would not be able to cope with being woken several times in the night. It was embarrassing that the council worker thought it appropriate to offer this. My mother clearly turned this down but they didn’t take no for an answer and sent someone round to the house to talk to my brother. It felt like they didn’t care about or try to understand our situation.
So they placed me and my baby in a hotel room as an emergency. I continued to care for my brother and, apart from my period of maternity leave, planned to resume my studies and my work. Then Newham offered me a place in Tilbury. I said no because I could not fulfil my caring duties with that distance to travel and a young baby.
I am probably lucky the council didn’t accuse me of intentional homelessness and discharge duty to house me, like they do to so many people. Just before the March 2020 lockdown they gave me and my baby a room in Brimstone House, Victoria Street in Stratford, at least I am in Newham. But it is now nearly ten months. It seems like I have the smallest room in the block, my television obscures the window, it is no place for a child. I can’t afford the private rents, when I bid I am lucky to come 500th in line, and the council waiting list is a joke with about 24,000 people in the queue before me.
How can there be a Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz who promised so much three years ago and yet nothing seems to have changed (https://www.rokhsana.org/about/pledges/). It is shocking to think that over 400 two- and three-bedroom flats lie empty on the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, yet families with babies and young children are left to grow up in terrible housing situations just a short walk away from the empty blocks
Refurbish and repopulate all of the council flats on the Carpenters Estate NOW! There are over 200 families in Brimstone House. Let’s get together and organise to challenge this housing situation. Together we are stronger. There’s no time to lose.
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!
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.
Following the Chain of Power demonstration from Brimstone House hotel to Carpenters Estate on 27 June 2020, more people have come forward to tell their story and speak out. Alone our voices are often lost, but together we are stronger, louder and we are heard.
Below is an example of someone who wants to remain anonymous but who knows that her story is not an isolated one.
A woman and her young child have been in Brimstone House hostel for over a year. She was placed there by Newham council as she was homeless. Very little support from her caseworker despite repeated attempts by her to get in touch. She kept bidding for secure housing with no success. A new caseworker was suddenly assigned, who was aggressive and demeaning, saying that she had not done enough to find accommodation in the private-rented sector. Threatening conversations: if you refuse what the council deems to be a suitable offer, this can result in being labelled intentionally homeless, no more help for housing and possible referral to social services. This led to great feelings of anxiety as it is also implied that if not enough evidence of searching for accommodation, then the council may give up its duty to house her and her child.
Legal advice was taken, it is illegal to threaten the end of housing duty on basis that the search for private accommodation is inadequate. During this time however this woman had many feelings of insecurity at the thought of being sent out of London, away from support networks, family and friends. Feelings of being undermined as a parent. Huge negative mental health implications. Effect on physical health.
This is just one example of the 1000s and 1000s of others and THIS HAS TO STOP.
Focus E15 campaign says to Newham Labour Council:
Stop the harassment!House people decently!No more excuses, no more time wasting – open up the empty council homes on the Carpenters Estate now!
Our dear friend and comrade Ella Bradbury (known more widely as Ellie), died on Friday 6 September at the age of 29 in Mexico City. This deeply sad news is a great shock and immense loss to Focus E15 campaigners. We send our love and condolences to Ella’s parents, her three brothers and to her wider family and friends, and welcome anyone at any point to our weekly Saturday street stall 12-2pm on Stratford Broadway to remember Ella together.
Ella first made contact with Focus E15 campaign in May 2015 when she was studying for her Masters in International Politics and Human Rights at City University in London. She was researching the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo from Buenos Aires in Argentina, a group of mothers that stood up to the 1976-1983 military dictatorship under which 30,000 people disappeared. These women refused to give up their fight to establish the truth about what had happened to their ‘disappeared’ children, who had been taken by force by the military and brutally murdered for being leftists. Ella was interested in exploring the links between the construction of motherhood, resistance and the fight against punitive governments by way of a comparative study between the group of mothers from Argentina and the Focus E15 mothers in London. After writing a warm and enthusiastic introduction about her research, Ella came along to meet the campaign at the street stall.
Ella’s integrity was immediately apparent and she gained the trust of campaigners and began the task of undertaking first hand research through the use of informal interviews, participant observation and by regularly attending street stalls, actions and meetings. She ensured that those at the heart of her research were always treated with the utmost dignity and respect. Her final MA, for which she won the prize for the best dissertation on her course, was entitled Mothers that Misbehave: An anarchist approach to explore the significance of ‘motherhood’ in two social movements; the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo and the Focus E15 Mothers.
Ella’s dissertation explores two different struggles, at different times, in different continents and she highlights some similarities, for example unpolitical actors turning into political actors, initial campaign demands that were neither contentious nor extreme but relate to basic human rights, the lack of appropriate response from those in authority, the regular presence on the streets, the growth and widening of the struggle, the fight against negative stereotypes about motherhood and women, and the growing understanding that a change of government or elected leaders of this current system may not provide solutions and can bring disappointment.
After she finished her research Ella took the principled decision to stay fighting with the campaign. Her commitment and passion led to her to being asked to join the campaign’s organising body where she took a lead role in working with those at the forefront of the housing crisis, supporting mothers who had been sent out of London to Welwyn Garden City. She took part in several key actions against corruption in Newham council and stood against the racist media stereotyping of blaming migrants for the housing crisis. Ella also dedicated time to the less glamorous tasks of campaigning, recognising that submitting funding applications, answering emails, sorting out finance were also important to keeping a campaign going. Ella was centrally involved in fundraising which ensured the campaign could develop an office base in East London – and Sylvia’s Corner is still going strong.
Ella used her warmth, friendliness and sense of fun to bond with children and young people. She recognised that if mothers were to be consistently involved with political work then childcare had to be seen as a political necessity. She pushed the idea of the campaign having an ‘inclusivity fund’ so that no one struggling due to a lack of money was turned away from campaigning.
Unbeknownst to herself, Ella Bradbury showed us all the meaning of the word comrade in a myriad of ways. She was disciplined, accountable, collective and reliable, and together we shared enthusiasm and fun in the serious struggle for a more just society. She always did what she said she would do, was always where she said she would be, attended meetings and actions, helped organise and educate, and Ella demonstrated to everyone the strength of her convictions which inspired others to emulate her.
Ella’s determination and principled spirit will be called upon time and time again and will be with us in every significant struggle and fight for justice that lies ahead. We raise our voices to say – Long live Ella! Viva Ella! A true friend, comrade and warrior woman.
Below is a slide show of pictures of Ella, many of which show her involvement with the campaign and a personal note from our campaigner Jasmin.
A personal note from Jasmin to Ella
You fought the hard fight and gave everything you had whilst beaming with beauty and a smile so benevolent.
You cared with every bone in you body, every word word you spoke and breath you took.
You made me laugh, held me as I cried the love from your presence, made it all OK.
Your laugh was absolutely contagious!
Our laughs together sounded like the kinda noises you would expect to hear from a zoo -we would laugh to the point of wetting ourselves.
I loved dancing with you whether it be a nice bit of salsa or the regular cha cha slide.
Hearing you speak was so inspirational, your amazing ability to capture people’s attention and show your compassionate ways and informing people with the utmost intelligence that you had.
Your fight against injustice was so powerful, it has left an impact forever and I promise you we will fucking go on!
You were a misbehaving rebellion, a fighter.
Ella you were and are so loved, more loved than you could ever see and since losing you my admiration only grows stronger. I’ve seen how many lives you have touched.
And how loved you are
You are an absolute hero
You are Ella
I truly will
‘If anything happens to me, it’s on Newham (council). I’ve told you my situation!’
A mother of two young children with a third on the way, shook the walls of Stratford Town Hall last Monday evening as she addressed the full Cabinet meeting of Newham Council and outlined her increasingly dangerous and unmanageable housing situation. She is due to give birth in little over a month.
Newham council left this expectant mother and her children stranded and isolated when they forced the family to move from temporary accommodation in Newham in Brimstone House to Southend on Sea by threatening her with ‘intentional homelessness’ if she did not accept an offer of accommodation out of London. She states:
‘’I cannot describe this as a choice, as a mother cannot choose to make their children ‘intentionally homeless’. So I was forced to accept this offer and have been in Southend-on-Sea since July 2018.”
She further explains that:
“The flat I am in is on the second floor and the building has no lift. I have to climb 30 stairs with my two young children, as well as my shopping and with my double buggy, in an advanced stage of pregnancy. I regularly injure myself because of this, and I fear that something worse could happen. I feel scared to leave my children in my flat (when I leave to go get my shopping & buggy from downstairs) as they are very young. This will become even more difficult after the birth of my 3rd child.
I have absolutely no support networks in Southend-on-Sea, and when I go into labour I worry that I have nobody who can stay at home with my young children. All my support networks are in Newham where I lived for 6 years.’’
After trying to contact Newham Council and getting little response, she reached out to Focus E15 Campaign as an ex-resident of Brimstone House and joined forces with current Brimstone House residents who have just submitted a legal complaint to Newham Council about the awful living conditions in the hostel.
However, a worrying development is that following her speech at the cabinet meeting, she was contacted by a housing officer in Newham the next day, and told that ‘she would have to be moved even further than Southend to find affordable housing’. This is threatening and abhorrent.
We call on the Mayor and the Council to immediately move this mother and her children back to Newham. She is asking for her right to be housed in her community for the long term benefit of her children. A pregnant mother should not be left to give birth alone or be cast out. She needs to be back in her community so that she can get the support she needs at this vulnerable time in her life just before she goes into labour. The issues of class, race and gender are present in this case and Newham have left her in a very precarious situation far away from all those she knows and trusts.
Focus E15 Campaign says:
Newham council bring this mother and her children back home to Newham!
Stop making women and children isolated, depressed and afraid.
Keep our communities together!
Social housing, not social cleansing!
Join us on the street stall this Saturday from 12-2pm outside Wilko’s on the Broadway in Stratford, London E15.
Marsha, a brave single mother who has been living in temporary accommodation in Brimstone House for over a year with her 6 year old daughter, was yesterday contacted by Housing Options and told that she would be offered housing in Woolwich. She was informed in a threatening manner that this would be the last time she would be offered housing, and that she had to view and accept the property today.
Marsha managed to get some pictures when viewing the property. These speak for themselves.
The Agent who was showing the property agreed he would never house his family in this flat.
This is private accommodation offered by Newham Council. What a disgrace from a Council that prides itself on tackling slum private landlords.
Marsha has not only suffered Council threats in relation to her housing, but has been verbally threatened by social services in relation to her child being rehoused without her.
Journalist Kate Belgrave has documented Marsha’s full story in more detail. Please read about this here:
Do Councils actually try to drive homeless mothers to breakdown so they can remove their kids?