Category Archives: Newham council

One year in office for Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz -what next?

Focus E15 campaign and Brimstone House residents made their presence felt at the cabinet meeting on Tuesday 7 May, to mark one year since the Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz came to power and to continue to hold Newham Labour council to account for its housing policies and the high rate of people living in temporary accommodation in the borough and also to witness what our local elected representative are saying.

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Artwork by Andrew Cooper

During the cabinet meeting the Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz commentated that the council ‘will support the delivery of the promises I made to you when I was elected last May’. She hailed her improved transparency and accountability of involving residents in decision-making through citizen assemblies.

However anyone familiar with the politics of Newham understands that Rokhsana Fiaz can only look good following Robin Wales, the former Mayor of Newham. It was the much disliked Robin Wales who was scarred by the Lender Option Borrower Option (LOBO) loans scandal: LOBO loans are long term loans, taken out over 40-70 years. They make money for the banks due to high levels of interest being paid by local councils. Newham took out almost £580m of these risky loans. Rokhsana Fiaz has succeeded in terminating the Royal Bank of Scotland LOBO loans which will save the council £143m.

However, the mayors claims at the cabinet meeting of ‘addressing poverty, tackling inequality and sharing economic prosperity’ ring hollow with many residents that we meet on the streets, including those living in Brimstone House. Brimstone House was formerly the Focus E15 young people’s hostel, now, bought by the council, it is used as temporary and emergency accommodation. Whole families are shoved into cramped spaces for unspecified lengths of time. Residents have joined forces with Focus E15 campaign to demand that they are housed, locally, permanently and decently.

During the cabinet meeting Focus E15 campaigners also highlighted the fate of Carpenters Estate. The campaign remains in contact with those evicted from or still living in the deliberately run down estate. Former residents were bullied out of their homes, they were lied to when they were told they would be able to return, and they still suffer the outrageous indignity of seeing their own fantastic flats laying empty  over a decade later.

As Newham council begins to manoeuvre its way around the existing residents living on the estate it has prepared the ground by releasing an estimate of costs involved in demolition. This document states that full refurbishment of the tower block would cost £70m versus the cost of demolition of all the 3 tower blocks at £17m. This contradicts the painstaking work that Architects for Social Housing has carried out and which demonstrates for those who care to look, that refurbishment is always the cheaper and more environmentally conscious option.

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Document handed to Carpenters Residents at a residents meeting run by the council

The council have also stated they are creating a new residents group for the estate. At the same time The Great Carpenter Neighbourhood Forum who have developed an extensive and well thought out plan for the estate  which does not involve demolition continues to be completely ignored by Newham Council who refuse to meet with them. The forum have been releasing ever more urgent tweets:

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Newham made a successful bid to the Building Council Homes for Londoners programme and received £107m. A further £515m has been allocated by the council towards housing. Rokhsana Fiaz says they will ensure 50% of all homes built are ‘genuinely affordable’. She says ‘tackling the housing crisis has been my priority since I took office’ and she has been ‘delighted to announce that I have exceeded the housing delivery targets I set for my first year in office’ – at least 100 new social homes in the first year and over 1,000 over the four year term. This is woefully inadequate and embarrassing. 1 in 24 people are homeless in Newham, empty homes are in evidence around the borough and Newham has the longest housing waiting list in London. There are over 400 council homes on Carpenters Estate that are still boarded after Rokhsana Fiaz has been in office for a year.

The Lottery of Housing

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Some people in Brimstone House have been rehoused in good quality local housing, some families offered appalling places that are not fit for habitation, some offered places repainted and carpeted and all kitchen items, some offered places with bare concrete floors and no cooker or fridge, some are still languishing in Brimstone House for years, some are still being sent out of London, and those who refuse what the council deem to be suitable still face being labelled intentionally homeless with the council removing their duty to provide housing.

Read Kate Belgrave’s blogpost and follow the links to understand further how brutal the housing situation is and how menacing, threatening and humiliating the current system can be.

The campaign is determined to keep on raising the issues of Brimstone House and Carpenters Estate. Join us on Saturday on The Broadway, Stratford E15 from 12pm and come to Focus E15 campaign meeting on Saturday June 1st 2.30-4.30pm at Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, London E15 4DN where the discussion will be on all the above issues as well as learning about international housing solidarity, with Focus E15 campaigners just back from Palestine and comrades from the Revolutionary Communist Group giving eye witness accounts from their recent solidarity brigade to Cuba.

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Working class artists say no to property developers

At a recent Focus E15 campaign public meeting held on the half ‘decanted’ Carptenter’s Estate in Stratford the audience were treated to a live puppet show – with handmade puppets made by the artist Andrew Cooper. Andrew writes that:

Focus E15 have consistently worked to form grass roots resistance including in areas of culture where people can develop the power to speak out and act against the massive attacks on people’s right to decent housing in Newham. The group is founded by people that have first hand experience of this brutality. Because of the seriousness of the situation all ways of communicating are experimented with, with a view to increasing the voice of the people and power. The script was added to and developed by members of Focus E15 campaign. Although the characters may seem fantastical all the elements of the story refer to actual recent events happening to people. The events are real but the characters entirely fictitious.

This performance makes use of puppets that have been developed mostly from furniture and domestic timber, they speak back for the proper use of housing.

Ongoing housing injustice in Newham – house Rachel NOW!

Three years ago, a homeless mother and her twin children, were placed by Newham Council in a privately rented house in East Ham. In August 2018, the owner sold the house and Racheal and her twins were told they would have to move out. Anxiously, they sought advice from East Ham housing office. What were they to do now?

Advice was not forthcoming despite the fact that the twins attend a local school in Stratford and Racheal is working in Newham. Racheal says has heard about people being shipped out of the borough for rehousing. She is scared that this will happen to her. The stress of losing everything, her home, her job, the children’s schools and all her friends and connections has been making her ill.

In September last year Racheal received the official notice to quit and she has subsequently been sent a court eviction notice for Monday 18 February 2019.

Racheal went with this information to Bridge House homelessness unit to seek advice, but without an appointment they wouldn’t even let her in the building to ask any questions to assess her options. She has no case worker. The only thing that Rachel was told is that she needs to pack up her stuff, put it all into storage (at her own expense) and on Monday 18 February she should present herself to Bridge House homelessness unit, as she and her children will indeed be homeless.

Leaving housing decision like this to the very last minute causes a huge amount of stress. It was the council that housed this family in the private rented sector and if this home is no longer available, it would seem logical that the council must rehouse this family as soon as possible and before 18 February. But, under the Localism Act, the council discharges its duty when placing people in the private rented sector. This means they won’t help when such a placement goes wrong. A new homelessness application must be submitted.

However under the Homelessness Prevention Act the council should intervene. It is the humane thing to do! We must also stress that every local option for housing must be investigated before the family face social cleansing and potential destitution outside of London.

Racheal has found support for her case and she has not given up!She has an appointment at Bridge house for Friday 15 February.

We demand that Newham Council, Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz and cabinet member for housing John Gray, act swiftly to remedy this situation and house Racheal and her children in Newham with their support networks, family and community, school and job.

Picture from a banner by Andrew Cooper

The future of Carpenters Estate is still on shaky ground as Newham’s housing crisis continues

“I will continue to put housing as one of my top priorities to tackle the housing crisis head on.” This is what Rokhsana Fiaz the Mayor of Newham promised when responding to a report by the housing charity Shelter released in November, which confirmed Newham as having the worst homelessness rate in Britain with over 14,500 people stuck in temporary accommodation. With the reality of homelessness ever present on the streets, the campaign cautiously welcomed the news last month that the new Mayor was putting on hold the tendering out process for Carpenters Estate.

A consultation about the future of the estate has been spearheaded by Rokhsana Fiaz who has stated that she is open to new ideas about estate redevelopment. However Newham council is heading for a PR nightmare with questions mounting about what any possible redevelopment will look like and who will pay. The council has pledged that 50% of any new homes built on the estate will be affordable. Yet according to the Carpenter’s Neighbourhood Forum, demolition of the entire estate looks  likely as the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) who has planning responsibilities for the area has demanded 2,300 homes are built on the site, with ‘either 35% or 50%’ homes for social rent. Note that there is not even a solid commitment to the 50% social rented homes Newham claims will be built. Vague numbers and bewildering prospect for residents who are fed up with being ignored and patronised by arrogant Labour councillors.

The remaining residents of Carpenters Estate are currently left in a state of limbo worrying about the fate of their homes and community. They have spent decades fighting to save their homes whilst the council under the much loathed Robin Wales, harassed and evicted residents, leaving around 400 flats empty.  The current consultation could turn out to be yet another PR exercise. Now is the time for new administration in Newham to be showing firm political leadership and commitment to saving public land from private developers in order to keep our much needed council housing stock in the public domain. The demand for council housing in Newham is high and publicly owned land should not be up for grabs. Look at what happened at Woodberry Down estate in Hackney to see how estate demolition can lead to a loss of homes for social rent.

Close attention must be given to all concerns and new ideas must be found. Architects for Social Housing is doing important work on this issue. The cost effectiveness of demolition needs to be thoroughly interrogated. The council should be honest about what the whole sordid regeneration game is all about– as lining the pockets of private companies is not in the public’s interest.

This story is being repeated around the country as council estates are flattened and councillors shrug their shoulders or rub their hands with glee. This is also a story about  a neglected council estate and a burgeoning housing crisis, plus a national Labour party promising to ensure that no social housing will be lost in any redevelopment schemes if they ever manage to get into power. However The Labour party’s Green paper on housing published in April 2018 doesn’t really promise to save our existing council housing stock and says “where proposed estate regeneration scheme involves demolition of existing homes, a Labour Government will ensure there is support for the proposal through a ballot of residents…” How does this policy begin to tie in with what is happening at a local level in Stratford in Newham?  We can understand this question more when we begin to look at who has been advising Newham council on the future prospects for Carpenters Estate.

Focus E15 Campaign was introduced to Deborah Heenan in October at a meeting to discuss housing issues with the Mayor. Deborah Heenan is the Major Projects Director for Newham Council and is taking a lead on Carpenters Estate redevelopment. She certainly has a significant history in working on housing redevelopment schemes. According to her LinkedIn profile she was Strategy Director at Berkeley Homes in 2007-2008 (the company responsible for providing fewer social rented homes on Woodberry Downs estate in Hackney, see above), from 2012 she has been the Director of Wichelstowe in Swindon which is the largest housing scheme built on public land in Britain and from 2014 she’s been CEO of Forward Swindon, an Arms Length Management Organisation which was handed responsibility by Swindon Conservative council for ‘regenerating’ Swindon town centre.

Does she represent a new kind of thinking?  Will she even consider credible, alternative and cost effective plans to demolition? Will she embody the people centred socialism that the Labour Party professes to represent? We seriously doubt it.

What shall we do now?
The London Legacy Development Coorporation are also carrying out their own consultation. If you are a Carpenters resident or a stakeholder in the area please email, before Sunday 23 December 2018  planningpolicy@londonlegacy.co.uk  (subject heading, Local Plan Review).

The Carpenters Neighbourhood forum have issued the following example below (adapt as you see fit):

Dear LLDC,

As a resident/stakeholder of the Greater Carpenters Neighbourhood Area, I would like to make the representations below in response to the draft changes to the LLDC Local Plan. My response concerns change reference number C301. Site Allocation SA3.4: Greater Carpenters District. Type of Change: Major.

‘The Site Allocation is expected to yield a minimum of 2,300 new homes (gross) with an affordable housing threshold of 35% or 50% on public sector land, in accordance with Policy H.2’

I do not agree with this new site allocation of ‘a minimum of 2,300 new homes (gross)’ for the Greater Carpenters District, as this would mean demolition of existing homes. It seems impossible to build so many new homes in our area without drastically affecting our community for the worse, unnecessarily forcing households to move, destroying many social homes with inadequate replacement and jeopardising the situation of leaseholders and freeholders. We have been fighting as a community for many years to prevent such destructive change and will continue to do so.

Regards

[NAME]
[address]

Together we are stronger. Save Carpenters Estate.

News from Focus E15 Campaign

Come to the campaign meeting this Saturday to make plans for 2019.
Saturday 8 December 2.30-4.30pm
Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, London E15 4DN
Hear about the effects of poor housing and insecure conditions on children and young people. A young speaker, who has recently been supported by our campaign will talk about her experience of standing up for her right to be housed near to her school. A speaker from Housing and Mental Health Network provides the bigger context, and also hear report of research on anger and how this affects us in housing.
Plus more on the Labour council, the Carpenters Estate and plans for 2019….

RESIDENTS FROM BRIMSTONE HOUSE STAND TOGETHER

Residents of Brimstone House have maintained pressure on John Gray, Newham’s Cabinet representative for Housing, to hold him to his word that the conservatory within the building will be cleared out and returned to a children’s play area, and the locked park outside the building will finally be opened up for the children to play in.

It is grotesque to think of the unsuitable and cramped conditions that families with young children are being forced into in Brimstone House while the play areas are kept locked up.

Therefore, on 1 December, residents of Brimstone House and Focus E15 campaign entered the opened park and the children played. Then we went to visist the conservatory in the building….. it was cleared out, but still boarded up and locked…. the next day however, the boarding had been taken down….this is a step forward and now it must stay  open and be filled  with toys and fun activities for the children.

Remember that Brimstone House is formerly Focus E15 hostel/foyer where the campaign started five years ago, when young mothers and pregnant women refused to be moved out of London.

Five years on, with a change in council and mayor, that fight is still going on, as families who refuse out of area housing are outrageously labelled intentionally homeless and face the real possibility of the council discharging their duty to house them, this is in the context of Newham as one of the poorest boroughs in London with worsening homelessness, overcrowding and social cleansing.

Read about this struggle here:
https://focuse15.org/2018/12/03/stuck-in-limbo-at-brimstone-house-newham/

And put it in the context of the ongoing revelations of financial mismanagement of immense proportions in the borough. Expose this rotten system….
https://www.newhamrecorder.co.uk/council-investment-properties-1-5804846

It is clear that unless we fight back and resist, more and more people will be forced into unsafe, overcrowded, slum accommodation or made homeless.
We must fight for a world where land is held as a common good and housing as a human right. Which is also why we are campaigning for every new home on the Carpenters Estate to be a council home at council rent.

Capitalism is theft!
Stand with Focus E15 campaign on the streets, in action and at the meeting this Saturday and join the resistance!

 

Stuck in limbo at Brimstone House, Newham.

A young mother has been living at Brimstone House Hostel in Newham for over a year. We wrote about her predicament of being labelled with ‘intentional homelessness’ in September. 3 months on she is finding it difficult to manage this uncertainty and insecurity. These are her words:

I am a single mother living in a bedsit for the last 15 months. I have been on a emotional roller-coaster back and forth with the council with still no solution in sight. When will all the emotional stress be over? Despite showing documented evidence of my connection with the local area, the Council does not take this into account and have made me two out-of-borough offers of accommodation which I have had to refuse due to medical reasons and the need for my local connections and support.

I then realised that the council’s ‘solution’ to this was to discharge their duty of care to me, a decision which would put me and my daughter out on the streets. I was told I had the right to a suitability review, which was kinda pointless because the council had already made the decision to end their duty of care even before the suitability request was reviewed.

After a week’s consideration, the review officer sent an email saying the review was unsuccessful (no surprises there). I feel that the review officer did not follow appropriate inquiries into my reasons regarding why I needed to stay living in Newham. He then made the decision that I had to leave the property at a particular date (that didn’t exist!) so after a few emails back and forth to clarify the actually day and date I had to leave, I was finally given a date of Wednesday 28th of November…

It was so heartbreaking to have to tell my daughter we are moving but not knowing where we are going – it makes me feel so bad as a mother the fact that I can’t find a decent, suitable and affordable home for my child to live an ordinary life like any normal family …three days prior to my eviction date the manager for the building called to say my eviction is on hold and she will be in touch over the next few weeks …but what does this really mean? I’m stuck in a limbo! At the moment I’m just not sure about what is going on with my case. I am really confused as to what this all means and I am not sure if I still have to leave, I just don’t know.

This mother attends college in Newham and has her child enrolled in a local Newham school. They need to be housed in their community. Say no to social cleansing!

Come and discuss how to take this case forward at our next public meeting on Saturday 8 December at Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Rd, E15 4DN 2.30pm.

Former Labour Mayor Works For Right Wing Thinktank #spotthedifference

The previous Labour Mayor of Newham, Robin Wales, is now working for a leading right wing thinktank called the Policy Exchange who advertise themselves on Twitter with the strap line: Prosperity • People • Place • Patriotism. The Guardian reported on the influential link between the Conservative government and the Policy Exchange in 2010:

To understand Conservative thinking on housing policy, it is worth scrutinising some of the reports produced by their favourite thinktank, Policy Exchange. A 2010 report on making housing affordable argued that “social housing increases child poverty, mental health issues and inequality of opportunity and wealth”. It described the future of social housing as one that should focus primarily on the long-term severely disabled, with the rest of social housing let solely on the basis of residence and time spent on a waiting list. The report also called for new tenants in social housing to be denied a lifetime tenancy but put on “path to ownership”…

Focus E15 campaign is not all all surprised to learn that the mayor who tried to kick out working class pregnant mothers from a hostel has ended up working for such an establishment. It seems as if this man really has no shame: whilst failing to win the last mayoral election earlier this year, he had the gall to describe himself, in an article in the Huffington Post as a socialist and described Labour in Newham as being a ‘radical council’. The reality, as the campaign highlighted on this blog in March, is that Robin Wales is:

…an advocate of kicking out the poor and most vulnerable, running a council with £563m debt after reckless borrowing from the banks and…using the equivalent of a staggering 125% of council tax revenue on debt repayment. 

Therefore when Focus E15 campaign was alerted to the fact that Robin Wales was listed to speak at a housing event the Policy Exchange was hosting, it was clear that campaign objections needed to be heard. A demonstration took place outside the event on 19/11/2018 with people on the mic, banners laid out and placards held high. People going to the event were handed campaign leaflets.

Inside the event Robin Wales brazenly explained to the room:

….community is a really important… build places where communities can be created & people will see it as beautiful…

Let’s be clear. This man is responsible for ripping the heart out of the Carpenters Estate in Stratford which was a beautiful home to Newham residents for many years. He has no right talking about the meaning of community. During his time in office Robin Wales and Newham Labour party thought nothing of decanting residents, boarding up their homes and leaving 400 flats empty for over 10 years. These vicious attacks on residents will have life long damaging consequences – an outrage when considering the fact that these are the people whom the council is elected to serve.

The campaign also notes with great interest that details of corruption under Robin Wales’s administration in Newham have yet to be fully unearthed- according to a recent report in Private Eye about links between the council and organised crime, which is why the campaign says:

Robin Wales We Are Watching You – Still!

Will the new Newham Labour Mayor save Carpenters Estate?

Focus E15 campaign hosted a packed meeting on Saturday 10th November and discussed the uncertain fate of the Carpenters Estate in Stratford. The reason the campaign keeps returning to this discussion is because Newham council has left 3 tower blocks empty on the estate for over 10 years. This means almost 400 flats have been left empty during a national housing crisis. The fact that homes have remained empty is a gross injustice felt by those forced to leave their estate and community. Some residents evicted were told they would be given the right of return – but have heard nothing from the council since.

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Banner by Andrew Cooper. See https://andrewcooper-unseen.org/portfolio/banners/

Saving council housing must be an immediate priority for Labour controlled Newham Council, where 1 in 25 people are homeless. Focus E15 campaign upholds the principle that every human being has the right to safe, long term affordable housing which means that council estates need saving from private developers looking to make profits. What is one of the worst thing a council could do to its own residents? Using bullying threats and evicting residents from their own homes and handing estates over to private companies must come close to the top of any list.

With this in mind, campaigners read (with their eyes wide open) in the Newham Recorder last month that the new Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz seems to be signalling a change of direction regarding the future prospects of Carpenters Estate. Is a desperately hoped for sea change really at hand? In the article, Rokhsana Fiaz talks about the “redevelopment” of the estate, explaining that a master-plan will be developed which “means making sure we listen to residents and explore every option”.

Focus E15 campaign awaits to see what the plan will be. Now is the time for courageous, bold and imaginative ideas in order to save and build new council housing on the estate for the people of Newham. This is why the campaign is asking the council to carefully consider the social, financial and environmental costs of demolition. Sensible and financially viable alternatives to demolition do exist, like those the Architects for Social Housing (ASH) are advocating. Their plans include refurbishment and building on disused land. As ASH argue, this would be a far more cost effective option than demolition and if adopted could be a blueprint to follow for councils across the land.

Roksana Fiaz has said that an announcement regarding the estate is imminent. Will the council come up with exciting and humane plans that differ from the wrecking ball model that is causing misery and heartache to council tenants on estates across the country? Will Newham Council break free from the lure of private developers and by doing so offer hope to council tenants everywhere? This could be achieved by treating the estate as valuable, not because of land value or the chance to sell properties to investors but because of the value in community: the mental and physical health of local residents is important and the task of saving future generations from destitution and social cleansing is urgent. A council estate can provide long term security and affordable rent to residents – just part of the remedy needed to help ease the housing crisis in Newham where too many people are shut out of having a decent future. Rokhsana Fiaz and Newham council…. this is your challenge. We also demand an immediate end to all evictions and out of borough/out of London housing placements while housing policies are being addressed.

Demands from Newham residents living in Brimstone house grow louder

Brimstone house in Stratford in Newham East London is the name of the former Focus E15 hostel. Conditions have changed very little since Robin Wales closed down the mother and baby unit there 5 years ago. Families are still living in temporary, overcrowded accommodation, unsure of how long they will be left there and extremely worried about being evicted and being sent out of London altogether by Newham council. Focus E15 campaign believe that residents from Brimstone house need to be rehoused in their community close to their support networks and this is what residents are demanding.

The stressful eviction process should stop- however families must not be left in prison like conditions for years on end! Suitable accommodation must be found (even if that means the Council opening up empty properties in the borough) as big, bold solutions are urgently needed to provide Newham residents with long term housing.

Residents have come up with demands which were discussed and given to the Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz and John Gray, Cabinet Member for Housing at a significant meeting that took place at Stratford Town Hall on Saturday 27 October.

Immediate demands

  • Open the conservatory space in Brimstone House for communal use and open the locked children’s park next door.
  • Review the security procedures so that they protect the residents instead of punishing/hindering them
  • More washing machines should be provided at no extra cost to residents with an aim of creating a community run launderette with an attendant.

Below are wider demands (however residents would still like to see action on these before Christmas!):

  • No more evictions from Brimstone house until safe, suitable accommodation is found in Newham, like  Carpenters Estate
  • To recognise that everyone has the right to refuse accommodation outside of the borough without being labelled as ‘intentionally homeless’ (sic). End the use of this policy!
  • Stop threats from council workers to involve social services (i.e if you made yourself ‘intentionally homeless’ we will rehouse your children but not you).

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Housing should be seen a basic right in a rich country like ours.
Victory to Brimstone house residents in their fight for decent long term housing! 

‘Decanted’ from the Carpenters Estate in Newham – a former resident speaks out

Below are the words of a former resident of the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, Newham, London E15. After decades in her home, she was forced out by the council in the run up to the Olympics. The Labour Council, led by Robin Wales, was champion of gentrification and social cleansing. It is an outrage, that the homes that people were forced to leave have remained empty ever since. The writer below can still look up at the windows of her beloved home in one of three deserted tower blocks on the Carpenters Estate. Shame on Newham. An apology is long overdue, and reparations are still awaited. The pressure is on the new Mayor and her council to immediately refurbish and repopulate the Carpenters Estate.

The decant out of Dennison Point – Carpenters Estate.

I lived at Dennison for many many years, the decant was a sad day for me. Residents were told by the council that after refurbishment of Dennison Point, those who wished to return would be able to do so. I was moved out in one day, there was no time given to think about leaving. I had no cooking appliance for a few weeks because the new location did not have gas. So I phoned someone who told me that there was money allocated for cooking appliances. One would think that these necessities would have been sorted out before I moved in to the flat.

It is plain to see that Dennison Point has no defect and therefore should not be demolished.

I lost my friends.

Many of the committee spoke out and the council did not expect the news to be in the open.

I am standing with Focus E15 campaign, who are passionate about the right for social housing. They are giving a voice to the people who are being pushed out of council homes and out of the area where they have lived with their friends and relatives.

 

 

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