”On the 1st of May I decided to make a resistance banner. This is my way to make stand about how I feel living in temporary accommodation/bedsit provided by Newham council. I feel it is the only way to get public attention and for people to understand about living in such conditions in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic.”
”People from deprived and over-populated areas such as Newham are more likely to catch the virus. My thoughts behind making the banner and hanging it up on the balcony of Brimstone House was to simply say I have had enough. I am angry and frustrated that for myself and many other families living in temporary accommodation, we have been disregarded by the Council.
With so many empty homes around Newham such as those on the Carpenters Estate, it is totally inhumane and unacceptable to have families living in one room with children.
We are scared for our lives and our children lives. There is not enough being done by Newham Council to protect us as residents with so many empty flats lying empty.
‘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.
Brimstone house residents in Newham are getting organised. They have had enough of living in ‘long term temporary’ accommodation. 19 residents agreed to be interviewed by the Public Interest Law centre who then submitted a legal complaint to the council with support from Focus E15 campaign. Listen to one amazing resident Egwolo on this report about conditions at the hostel by BBC local news.
Join us to discuss all the latest development with the complaint, now issued to every councillor in Newham at the next campaign meeting on Saturday 3 August from 2.30pm-4.30pm at Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Rd, E15 4DN.
Focus E15 Campaign is posting some of the powerful speeches that were given as part of the deputation to the full Newham council meeting on 15 July 2019. We salute all the residents from Brimstone house who stood together and spoke truth to power at Stratford Town Hall earlier this week, (a large formal venue and a meeting of the full council is an intimidating place to speak).
Dear Madame Mayor, we the current and former residents of Brimstone House have submitted a legal complaint detailing the appalling and unstable conditions of our accommodation. You have heard the testimonies of how the cramp, damp and inadequate ventilation has been a plague on the daily living of Brimstone’s residents. You have just listened to the adverse social and psychological impact such conditions are having on the children of Brimstone. You will also no doubt be aware of Focus E15’s efforts in campaigning for the repopulation of the otherwise habitable Carpenter’s Estate.
Madame Mayor we are here today not only as your constituents, but as mothers, fathers, and residents of a borough that has shaped our lives, to ask that you actively and swiftly take action to rectify the injustice that has been mete on Brimstone’s residents, and so many other families like ours throughout the borough. The Newham Council website talks about building a resilient community. Resilience is defined as the ability to return to the original form or readily recover. As an individual who has grown up in Newham I have seen a lot of changes, but none more so than when the 2012 Olympics announcement was made. In terms of housing, whole communities were shipped out of their homes to accommodate the Olympics. If the original inhabitants of a community are not there to enjoy the benefits of the so called legacy that the Olympics was meant to bring, how can Newham claim to have successfully left a legacy or built a resilient community?
In terms of personal resilience Newham talks about instilling in individuals the ability to respond to challenges and have good relationships. Yet there is an evident lack of either attributes when residents deal with council employees. When residents assert basic rights they are met with hostility, intimidation and are reminded that they are a blight on the council resources so any help given should be received with open arms and undying gratitude. Your council’s website, asserts that ‘every child matters’ and the council is ensuring that access to educational attainment is provided. I put it to you, Madame Mayor, that education begins at home. How can a child learn the social skills they need to interact with friends outside of school of they feel uncomfortable to invite them to their homes? How can children learn about personal boundaries if there are no doors to provide privacy to complete homework or escape family life? Would you, growing up with 3 brothers, have found the confidence to invite friends home if you knew they were coming to an open plan studio apartment with beds for settees?
Our purpose here is not recant past grievances with the council but to plead with all council members that our complaint isn’t pushed into the long-grass. Brimstone House residents have spent months, and years in our current situation and to ask us to wait patiently while another 228 homes are being built goes beyond the resilience required of any individual. The flats and homes standing empty on Carpenter’s Estate are a testament to the legacy that you will leave behind Madame Mayor, one that will not paint you in a good light should nothing be done or they are demolished. You and your fellow councillors have the power to change that and have tangible positive affect on the lives of your constituents at Brimstone House. Please enact our demands as listed in the legal complaint with immediate effect.
My name is Marsha and I am a resident at Brimstone House where I have been living for the past two years with my daughter. I am here today as one of the group of residents, part of this deputation to highlight the complaint compiled by us residents, PILC and Focus E15 campaign. We are representing BH residents, we are a collective of people standing up for our housing rights. The length of stay in BH is absolutely unaccceptable. The conditions at BH are unacceptable. The way we are treated is unacceptable. The place is damp, cramped, overcrowded and unhealthy.
Our children’s physical health and development is being deeply affected.
Our own mental health is suffering. We feel there a bullying and intimidating culture that we have been made a part of. I am speaking for myself and all the other residents of Brimstone House here today, that we are absolutely fed up with hearing how many people are on the housing waiting list. We know that there are empty council homes locally and around the borough. We see the majority of new homes built that are out of our reach. Where does this leave us as residents of Newham?
As we all know, having a decent home is the core to our lives. Having structure, having routines improves stability and maintains good health. We as residents of Brimstone House don’t have that, our children don’t have that. We live in constant worry about when we are going to be rehoused or even where we are going to live. As you now, many of us have been threatened and labelled intentionally homeless because we refused to be ripped away from our community and our families. How do we cope as parents seeing our children being traumatised by the stress that we have to live through and being powerless to even help ourselves. This is not what Newham stands for.
ROMESA (age 12)
(written in note form)
Good evening ladies and gentlemen.
In my opinion, no one pays attention to kids who are young. The lack of freedom we have feels like being captured in a cage with an unbreakable lock. At the end of of the day, we are all the same and we have the same hearts. We don’t feel safe. How would you like it if you were in our situation? How would you like it if we did not listen to your voice and left you alone surrounded by the darkness of Brimestone House?
It is not only us, there are many more lives here, for example, disabled people, pregnant people, single parents. Small children have no space to crawl around when they are in their early stages of learning. Instead of making big flats in other buildings, allow our powerless hearts to be free. If you really are the council, help us all to gain freedom. You are the one with the power, not us.
Thank you for listening.
The very next day
Residents from Brimstone house are being called in for suitability assessments by the council and are being told that they have to accept their fate in the expensive private rented sector otherwise they are making themselves ‘intentionally homeless’ meaning that the council will discharge their duty. As you can see from the issues outlined above by residents -the fight for decent secure housing is urgent. The council must open up the boarded up flats on Carpenters Estate and all other empty properties in the borough. We will be demonstrating for the right to housing in Newham at our regular street stall on Saturday 20 July outside Wilko’s from 12-2pm. Join us to plan the next actions with Brimstone House residents on the street stall.
Residents of Brimstone House formed a powerful woman led deputation to the Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz and the full Labour council meeting at Stratford Town Hall on Monday 15 July. The deputation spoke about their submission of a legal complaint, compiled with the Public Interest Law Centre supported by Focus E15 campaign, regarding the appalling conditions of the temporary and emergency accommodation in the Newham Council-owned building in Victoria Street, Brimstone House.
One Focus E15 campaigner Hannah described what happened during the deputation: “the powerful and eloquent words of mothers, pregnant women and teenagers sent shivers down the spine of even the most hardened. This is no way to treat people, lives of adults and children are being destroyed physically and mentally by the stress of living in temporary accommodation”. One resident from Brimstone House Marsha explained “we live in constant worry about when we are going to be rehoused or even where we are going to live. As you know many of us have been threatened and labelled intentionally homeless because we refused to be ripped away from our community and our families’. Another resident, Egwolo said ‘The homes standing empty on the Carpenters Estate are a testament to the legacy that you will leave behind Madame Mayor, one that will not paint you in a good light should nothing be done or they are demolished.’
Over fifty women supporting the London Black Women’s Project protesting at the vital cuts in services to women in the borough were also present at the council meeting. Everyone stood united, supporting one another as the issues of council cuts to services and housing are linked. The frustration at the lack of action ended with a walk out from the council chamber and chants of “Deeds Not Words” rang out throughout the building. A lively demonstration took place outside in the streets afterwards, the traffic was briefly stopped with banners, placards and more chanting.
Legal Complaint is served
The compliant from Brimstone House residents has been sent to every member of Newham Council. It calls for immediate action to remedy unsuitable housing conditions and to stop the seemingly limitless time that people languish in inappropriate accommodation, many with young children. Residents of Brimstone House are told they will stay for 3-6 months, however the average length of stay is 1.5 years.
The legal complaint is comprised of in-depth witness statements from 19 residents, an architectural report on the suitability of the building and recommendations from residents and Focus E15 Housing Campaign on progressive housing policies in the borough. This complaint also makes public findings from recent Freedom of Information Request to Newham Council on key housing facts such as the average waiting time to access a 4 bedroom property being 9 years and 11 months and that only 164 social houses had been built in the two years preceding the Freedom of Information Request (April 2018).
The legal complaint also notes the fact that the majority of the complainants living in temporary accommodation are from BAME backgrounds and demands equality for all. The complaint calls on the Newham Council to open up the 400+ boarded up homes on Carpenters Estate and to consider setting a protest budget in order to highlight the housing emergency that is still unfolding. Residents will be meeting with the Mayor to discuss their concerns in the next few weeks.
Quotes from the complaint, residents speak out:
“Living in Brimstone Hostel feels like a prison because we cannot go out or leave for too long, even for holidays. I do not feel free as the office monitors when we enter or leave Brimstone House.’’
“There is not enough space for all of us, not even for a cot for my three-week old daughter. Instead I have to fold a travel cot every night….my health visitor says it is not appropriate.”
“There is not enough room in the flat to manoeuvre my son’s wheelchair.’’
“The hygiene situation in Brimstone House is really bad… I am very concerned about my daughter’s health of living there. The flat is really run down, shabby and infested with mice.”
For more information, interviews or access to the legal complaint document, please contact: email@example.com
Join us on our street stall outside Wilko’s on the Broadway every Saturday from 12-2pm. Together we are stronger!
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org (subject heading, Local Plan Review).
The Carpenters Neighbourhood forum have issued the following example below (adapt as you see fit):
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.