Monday 22 May, Newham’s annual full council meeting in the Old Town Hall Stratford.
Focus E15 campaign joined members of London Renters Union (LRU) and PEACH outside the town hall. With placards, banners and flags flying there were speeches and chants on the megaphone. It was lively and militant. Every councillor who went in got a leaflet about the LRU campaign SafeHomesNow. Newham council must take action against landlords who rent unsafe homes, who don’t respond to tenants’ issues and who share details with the Home Office of a tenant who is a migrant.
We are now near the end of May 2023 – the month when the Labour Mayor and council promised that every family with children would have moved out of 10 Victoria Street. But no, over 50 families are still stuck in the substandard overcrowded inappropriate accommodation, sharing beds, no space to play, and with no space to do homework.
So we decided to go in to the meeting to make sure all the councillors and members of the public present are up to date with this matter. They would have preferred to have continued the chats in the corridor but we thought it time to go in with people directly effected by housing insecurity and living in overcrowded housing misery.
As instructed, members of the town hall security staff were heavy-handed and pushed pulled and dragged the protesters out. After the meeting resumed, Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz was forced to comment, reaffirming her commitment to move families with children out from Victoria Street, with all the excuses the council repeatedly gives as to why it is so difficult, and then spoke of the millions of pounds the council is going to spend for ‘option appraisals’ and the ‘reconceptualising of the building’ at 10 Victoria Street.
We chanted Deeds not Words as we left the council chamber, our heads held high, determined to fight on for housing justice for all.
If you want to take action on housing, join Focus E15 campaign on the weekly Saturday stall 12-2pm outside Wilko’s on Stratford Broadway, follow us on facebook for the latest information about meetings and events.
Our demands on May 1st 2023 : All families must be moved from 10 Victoria Street as a matter of urgency , into suitable and long term accommodation.
Rokhsana Fiaz, Mayor of Newham, stated at a council meeting one year ago that by May 2023 “I will be making sure all of those families with children will be moved out of Victoria Street and no other families will be placed there.” However this has not happened , adding to the remaining families sense of ‘moral injustice’ and growing anger. We will not stop campaigning until all the families are moved out of Victoria Street into suitable accommodation.
Open all empty homes in the borough to house homeless individuals and families. We are aware of empty and suitable council homes, in a borough with one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country. This is outrageous – open these council homes now!
Repair, refurbish and repopulate the Carpenters Estate. People need long-term council homes now, not shoddy Temporary Accommodation! In the interests of the community and the planet, we say repair, refurbish and repopulate this estate with long-term council tenants!
End the use of ‘intentional homelessness’. We call on Newham Council to reject the malicious practice of labelling individuals and parents ‘intentionally homeless’. No one is intentionally homeless and the council must stop using this tool to shirk their responsibilities on homelessness. Furthermore, the use of threats by housing officers to parents such as we will rehouse your children and not you must cease immediately.
We say to Newham Council – resist or resign! Join the campaign on the streets next Saturday from 12-2pm outside Wilkos on the Broadway in Stratford to plan the next actions!
Newham Council have publicly pledged that all families will be moved out of the cramped, unsuitable building at 10 Victoria Street, Stratford (formerly known as Brimstone House and Focus E15 Foyer) by May 2023. This is after Focus E15 campaign and residents protested and complained, time and time again, about the overcrowded and unsafe living conditions in the building.
This week the campaign learned that back in December 2022, the council presented at an internal meeting, the findings of an Options Appraisal regarding the future of 10 Victoria Street – which included an option to demolish (called redevelopment) as well as an option to refurbish. The crucial point is that the report recommends demolition (known as Option 1: Redevelopment), although the report also states:
“given that the lifecycle environmental impact of a redevelopment is greater than a refurbishment, it may be that a different decision could be made, depending on the political priorities of Members.”
What are the political priorities of Newham Council? And is providing safe and suitable homes for working class communities and organising to protect the planet, mutually exclusive?
A Guardian article published last week declared Britain is addicted to the wrecking ball. It’s trashing our heritage and the planet. The article explains that since 1997, the demolition of at least 161 council and housing association estates has resulted in a loss of around 55,000 homes and the displacement of an estimated 131,000 people. This suits the ruling class parties just fine as more people are pushed into the lucrative private rental market place and more demolition of our public housing occurs, without any concern for the environmental damage taking place. Pro-capitalist political parties have even ensured that any new house building is VAT exempt, meaning it’s automatically 20% more expensive to refurbish than demolish. Carbon emissions occur when demolition takes place and are a leading cause of climate change. Incidentally, the use of ‘carbon offsetting’, so beloved by local authorities up and down the country as a mitigating measure, has largely been debunked.
Newham council says it takes climate change seriously and it has declared a climate emergency. They have stated they want Stratford to be a zero carbon district, and for Newham to be carbon neutral by 2030 and carbon zero by 2050. Already these sentiments seem like words rather than actions, as Newham Council’s plans to demolish the Carpenters Estate mean that demolition and construction activities are predicted to peak by 2028.
Neither our campaign nor residents have been consulted on the future plans for the building at 10 Victoria Street which are leaning towards demolition, when this should be a last resort. Why doesn’t this Labour Council take inspiration from refurbishment projects, such as the award-winning Grand Parc housing estate in Bordeaux?
Focus E15 campaign is engaging with architects to submit alternative plans for Victoria Street to Newham Council which aims to provide suitable secure council housing for those in need whilst refusing to add to the destruction of our planet.
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.
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
Brimstone House, 10 Victoria Street, E15 is a notorious temporary and emergency accommodation building owned and run by Newham Labour council.
Built as a young people’s foyer, it is not suitable for couples let alone families with children.
Listen to the interview below of a young person who has spent all of his teenage years in Brimstone House. The toll on the parents and young person, now 18 years old, is huge, physically and emotionally. The pandemic years and lockdowns have made it even harder.
This family is facing eviction – the bailiffs are coming on Thursday 10 February.
It’s too late to stop it says Newham Council.
It can’t be stopped say the lawyers.
Where do the family go?
Stand with Focus E15 campaign to say NO EVICTIONS.
Oppose and expose this cruel system that punishes the vulnerable and strips people of their dignity.
Newham Council advertises itself with the words People at the Heart of Everything We Do….
However 25.2% of all housing is overcrowded in Newham, well over the London average of 14.6% in social housing and 12.6% in the private rented sector. Newham Council has just spent hundreds of thousands of pounds to get a Yes vote in the Carpenters Estate ballot on regeneration, which means a substantial number of council homes will be demolished.
Two million council houses have been lost through the Right to Buy policy since 1981 in Britain, and in the past decade only 147,000 ‘social rent’ houses have been built in England, while over 282,000 have been sold or demolished. Almost 2 million people are on the housing waiting list.
Publicly-owned housing on a mass scale is the only way to address the housing crisis and we will have to fight for it.
Listen to to the interview from a young person, describing life growing up in a hostel and the threat of being evicted :
Join Focus E15 campaign on the streets every Saturday 12-2pm on Stratford Broadway outside Wilko’s.
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.
This is an URGENT message for anyone interested in human rights, women’s rights, children’s rights and the ruthless cruelty of a Labour council.
Newham Council has discharged its homelessness duty to a pregnant woman who has a toddler and is due to deliver her second baby in February (therefore anytime now). She is currently living in Brimstone House, where families languish in emergency and temporary overcrowded accommodation in rooms built for one.
This piece is being published on Monday 10 January, the day that Newham Council’s responsibility for providing further temporary accommodation to this family ends.
The council housing officers have emailed to clarify and confirm there is no intention to evict this family on 10 January, but make it clear that this could happen if the council applies to the courts for possession. The council officer casually adds in the email that there will be more than sufficient notice if this happens.
HOW CAN THIS BE?
At the end of September 2021, this family was offered a move from Brimstone House, Victoria Street, E15, to another temporary accommodation. It was not a great place for various reasons including an insecure door that was a worry about safety, and she felt it not appropriate for her and her 21-month-old child and baby to come. She refused the offer and immediately Newham Council discharged its housing duty to the family. Within a few days, knowing the consequences, frightened about eviction and homelessness, struggling with her mental and physical health, she changed her mind and contacted the council. But too late for Newham Council, who don’t recognise a change of mind, and clearly would rather see families homeless than reverse their callous decisions.
A review was undertaken by another housing officer who concluded that they are satisfied that she refused a reasonable offer and will be able to manage in the private-rented sector and that there are no exceptional circumstances and the council will not be exercising any discretion. Therefore the reviewing officer upholds the decision that the council has no duty to secure this family with accommodation.
This is disgraceful. But it is also terrifying, because to say that someone can manage in the private-rented sector is to assume that they have money for a deposit and several months’ rent and a rich guarantor.
If Newham Labour Council insists the discharge of housing duty stands, they will proceed to evict this family and she will go into labour homeless and once she has delivered her baby, she must make another homeless application and has to be provided with emergency housing. Or perhaps the council expects her to make an application to court and challenge this situation in the last few days or weeks of her pregnancy. Neither are a satisfactory way to treat a family in need.
Court-mandated evictions have increased by 207% after the pandemic-related ban was lifted. In England there are 95,450 homeless households, two thirds of them with children, living in cramped and unsuitable temporary accommodation.
Focus E15 campaign stands with all those struggling for decent housing. We challenge Newham Labour Council to do the right thing and start 2022 by showing this family some compassion and humanity.
No such thing as intentional homelessness! No discharge of housing duty! No eviction!
Join us at the Focus E15 street stall on Saturday 15 January at 12pm outside Wilkos to make a stand for housing justice for all!
RESIDENTS ACCUSE NEWHAM LABOUR COUNCIL OF SPENDING PUBLIC MONEY TO FORCE THROUGH A VOTE FOR DEMOLITION
On Tuesday 14 December 2021, a resident ballot on the Carpenters Estate in Newham, East London, returned a Yes vote in favour of the council’s regeneration plans, meaning almost 60% of the estate will be demolished for ‘regeneration’. This is a deep blow for residents who want to refurbish and save the existing estate as it is.
Residents have called out the whole of the ballot process as being deeply biased in favour of the council’s plans. Newham council and the council’s housing company, Populo Living have spent at least £350,000 on campaigning for a Yes vote, whilst campaigners had no access to public funds.
Throughout the consultation and ballot process, Carpenters’ residents and supporters of Focus E15 campaign have complained of underhand tactics used by Newham Council and Populo Living. Blatant propaganda posed the council’s plans as the only viable option.
For example, Populo Living’s newsletter of October 2021, states:
The future of The Carpenters is up to you – if you want to build a stronger estate, you need to vote YES in the ballot at the end of October.
‘Vote Yes’ graphics have been seen on billboards, newsletters, community spaces and in the Landlord Offer document which the vote was based on. Residents have told of continual door-knocking on the estate by both Populo Living and Source Partnership employees who are the Independent Resident and Tenants Advisors.
A huge amount of public money has been spent in the process of canvassing for a yes vote. A Freedom of Information request found out that at least:
£146,275 has been spent by Newham Council on running consultancy services
£224,000 has been sent by Populo Living on running consultancy services
£4,400 was spent on a Community fun day
Newham Council has followed the GLA’s Good Guide to Estate Regeneration in order to secure funding for future development.
However from July 2018 to March 2020, all of the ballots held on estates in London have resulted in ‘Yes’ votes for regeneration – in every case this resulted in demolition.
Councillors in Haringey have been so outraged by this process that they have called for an independent inquiry into the regeneration ballot carried out on the Love Lane Estate, following allegations of pressure put on residents.
Under GLA guidance, neither Newham Council nor Populo Living is required to put forward a balanced argument and they are allowed to lobby with huge resources for their preferred position. Residents who wish to lobby against the council have no resources made available to them.
Such one-sided campaigning and clear inequality are unlawful in referendums and elections.
The Greater London Authority and Local Authorities’ ballots are a cover, using the voting and the notion of democracy for ultimately destroying council homes. This corrupt and unequal process must end.
Focus E15 campaign and residents will be meeting on the Carpenters Estate, Newham, London E15, from 12-2pm on Saturday 18 December (next to the shop in the middle of the estate) to discuss the next steps in our campaigning, to shine a spotlight on housing issues in East London and say to the council and Populo Living:
Hands off the Carpenters Estate!Join us and residents to make more planson Saturday 18 on the estate. Together we are stronger.
A local resident speaks to Focus E15 campaign about what Carpenters Estate means to her.
When I reminisce about my best moments growing up, I always think of the Carpenters estate. I can’t imagine growing up in a more fulfilling community.
Across all generations we supported one another. You had the over 65s, some who had known each other since the 2nd World War. They had grown up together and then raised their children together. It was a very close, caring and supportive community that felt more like a family. Us children would all attend Carpenters primary school and play together afterwards in the lovely green spaces and park. There was so many different cultures too, I tried so many different cuisines and learned a lot by being around different ethnicities and religions. I actually believed the whole world was multicultural like the estate I grew up on, because to me Carpenters was the only world I knew.
Over the years we have seen people be moved away and relocated. It started with the Olympics. So many people were paid off and moved on. The place was becoming more and more deserted and neglected. There was never a problem to start with on Carpenters, it was just an inconvenience to Newham council and the London Olympics to have ‘common people’ so close to the games and the new Westfield. They were creating a new Stratford and we were an inconvenience to that image.
Now they are proposing to regenerate the whole area! That will mean 60% of homes being demolished. That includes my Grandmothers house which she worked her whole life to own, just to be told in her early 80s that she is at risk of losing it, because they need the land now for their new plans. It’s all what works for them and they never consider the people they are affecting. My Grandmother had been very stressed due to thinking she had to move. Carpenters estate is all she knows and she loves her home and didn’t want to move. Also she was worried about decorating or changing carpets in case she is forced to move.
The council have said that the residents of the estate supports demolition which is a lie. Why would we want our homes destroyed? If they want to support residents, why not improve the conditions on this estate right now? We had already voted for refurbishment over redevelopment but now they are saying something completely different. They have been trying to degrade the estate to make it seem that they have the solution, which is to demolish, because in the long run, it’s what’s makes them the most profit, they do not care about the welfare and health of the elderly and the stress and affects on mental health of local residents.
We must Vote No to keep Carpenters alive and rebuild a community that they demolished years ago. Choose refurbishment over demolition. Community over Capitalism. Everyone deserves a place to live and to stay in their homes that they love and feel content in.
What can you do to help?
Join the Focus E15 campaign street stall outside Wilkos in Stratford from 12pm and then on the Carpenters Estate near the shop this Saturday 20 November from 1pm.