On Saturday 5 September Brimstone House hostel residents threatened to camp out next to the empty towers blocks on Carpenters Estate as they walked out of their hostel accomodation in disgust at being left in overcrowded accommodation for months and years. They marched down the street to see the boarded up flats on the estate with the full support of Focus E15 campaign as they chanted “Repopulate Carpenters Estate” and “we need homes now”.
It was very moving to stand at the foot of almost-totally-empty tower block on the Carpenters Estate with residents from Brimstone House. The children loved playing in the playground, outrageously the one outside Brimstone House is still locked up (despite this campaign highlighting this almost two years ago). Women and children from Brimstone House spoke about the shoddy, cramped, overcrowded conditions they suffer, while we stood in the shadow of empty council homes on an estate with play facilities and green space.
No more anti working class excuses from this Labour council. Give residents grants to do up the flats and let residents build a beautiful community once again. There are 400 flats in the 3 empty tower blocks being purposely locked up by the council.
No deals to dodgy developers, no more phony consultations!
Shame on Newham Labour council! Refurbish and repopulate the Carpenters Estate now! We are sick of your lame excuses.
Focus E15 campaign organised a physically distanced action on Saturday 27 June which linked the 1km from an overcrowded hostel in Newham (known as Brimstone House) to the 400 empty flats on a council estate (Carpenters Estate) and highlighted the fact that the 3 tower blocks on the estate have been deliberately abandoned by Newham Labour Council for over 13 years whilst people struggle to live in the cramped hostel.
The human solidarity ‘chain of power’ marked out the 1km distance by placing people on temporary markings along the way and by chanting political slogans up and down the line, urging everyone not to forget about the empty homes on Carpenters Estate which was originally built for the people of Newham as life long secure housing.
Egwolo, a former resident of Brimstone House who has recently been moved onto Carpenters Estate after protesting about the lack of space in Brimstone House hostel explained:
It is important to use our democratic right to safely protest against the clear injustice of having 28,000 people on a council housing waiting list, whilst leaving 400 plus Council homes empty. Families have been forced to isolate for months in one room. Refurbish these empty flats and open up the homes so people can have long term housing security and enough space to live safely.
Ayesha, a Focus E15 campaigner went on to say:
’Newham council has the worst record on homelessness in the country and one of the highest mortality rates for COVID 19 – how dare Newham Labour council leave homes empty during a pandemic. The tower blocks should be opened up as 100% council housing as that is what the people need’’.
Social media platforms shared our video of the action which you can watch below:
Let’s get organised!
Many who took part in the ‘chain of power’ event were chanting ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’. Newham’s deprivation and diversity makes it particularly vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. More than half of children live in poverty, while the rate of households in temporary accommodation is one of the highest in England. Newham also has the most diverse population profile of any local authority in the country: 78% of residents are from minority ethnic communities and many live in inter-generational households. There are longstanding health inequalities across the borough.
Therefore there is no time to lose and our remaining council housing must be saved and put to good use. Refurbish the empty flats on Carpenters Estate and open up the homes, so people can have long term housing security and enough space to live safely.
Join Focus E15 campaign every Saturday outside Wilko’s on the Broadway in Stratford from 12-2pm, bring your mask, stay safe and stand up for housing justice for all. Together we are stronger. More pictures of the demonstration can be found in the slide show below.
On Sunday 19th April at 6pm London / 10am California join us for this meeting co-hosted by Focus E15 Campaign in London, England and Moms 4 Housing in Oakland, California, USA https://moms4housing.org/
There are four times as many empty homes in Oakland as there are people without homes, and in the UK there are double the amount of empty homes as homeless people.
The Covid-19 crisis has escalated the need for action to allow everyone to be housed and live in dignity and safety.
This session will hear from grassroots organisations either side of the Atlantic who are taking action against this same problem. We are using this time of crisis to share experience, education and ideas for action.
‘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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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:
Take back ownership of empty properties in Dublin.
35 Summerhill Parade is a property owned by Pat and PJ O’Donnell (owners of POD, and sponsors of the Clare GAA team). It is part of a cluster of properties on Summerhill Parade owned by the O’Donnell family. All properties have issues with overcrowding, insecure tenancies and dodgy cash in-hand dealings. A total of 120 tenants were housed in just five properties, each paying between €350-€450 for a bed in a shared room with 6-8 people in each room. In May, mass evictions occurred resulting in 120 tenants being illegally evicted over the duration of a week.
The O’Donnell’s bought Aldborough House, a derelict Georgian mansion in 2016 and have recently been granted approval to develop it into office spaces. No consideration was given to the needs of the local community. Instead, there has been a push from the owners to create slum conditions in the area as a means to get housing prices down and buy up bargain properties to redevelop – after all, the workers in the O’Donnell’s new, plush office spaces are going to need equally plush places to live. It’s a fine example of gentrification in action. Since the evictions in May, properties have sat empty while the housing crisis in Dublin worsens.
Rents across Ireland have risen by 70% since 2008 and Dublin is particularly being effected. The average rent across Ireland during the first three months of this year was €1,261, a monthly increase of €232 compared to the previous peak in 2008. This is why housing and community activists have taken decisive action and occupied the property of Summerhill Parade because enough is enough! Pat O’Donnell should not be allowed to leave potential homes empty.
Rent hikes, evictions, poor housing conditions, people stuck in overcrowded homes, people sleeping in bunkbeds, or packed into their relative’s homes; couch-surfing, sleeping rough, living in hostels or upset by poor quality council provision – we hear about horrendous housing situations every day now, we all know somebody who is affected by housing insecurity. And yet, those in power sit on their hands. There is no political will to make real, meaningful change to the housing crisis we face.
This is why we send our solidarity greetings to the occupation in Dublin. Our immediate demand: houses owned by Pat O’Donnell on Summerhill Parade must be compulsory purchased by Dublin City Council and given back to the local community. Private, vacant properties can and should be put into public ownership. We call on people to take action and get involved in building a housing movement that demands homes for all! People before profit! Victory to the Summerhill occupation!
Those interested in setting up similar occupations, please get in touch. The housing crisis is not a natural disaster and we do not need to accept that this is simply the way it is. Things just won’t get better on their own – action is needed, by people and for people. Everyone needs a home!
Focus E15 campaigners were thrilled that Sara won her right to appeal against Newham Council after a victorious appearance in court on Thursday 26 July. The council had said that Sara had made herself ‘intentionally homeless’ for refusing to give up her life in Newham where she has a job, where her children go to school and where all her family and support networks are, after she rejected an offer of a place outside of London. We were very surprised that this case had even gone to court as we have been highlighting this case to Newham council for over 6 months.
Focus E15 campaign strongly believe that families and communities must stay together to be strong and connected. Mental health distress is becoming all too common due to rising levels of housing insecurity and homelessness. After the court ruling Newham council have promised to review Sara’s case. If their review is favourable, then the decision to discharge their legal duty to house Sara will be withdrawn. If their review is not favourable, then the discharge decision will stand, but Sara will be entitled to proceed with an appeal against that decision. Focus E15 campaign will continue to support Sara, ensuring that she has access to legal advice and representation. Watch the report on RT below.
We say loud and clear that there is NO such thing as intentional homelessness!
……………… What is happening at Brimstone house?
Focus E15 campaign have been continuing to highlight the unsuitable living conditions at the former Focus E15 hostel, now owned by Newham council and renamed as Brimstone house. GRIMstone house may be a more fitting name for it because so many vulnerable adults and children are living in cramped and overcrowded conditions.
The stories we heard from residents on Saturday 28 July at an organised campaign fun day were alarming. One women we spoke to is being evicted imminently. She has a daughter who is disabled. The only advice she has been given is to go to the charity Shelter upon eviction. She has no idea what will happen.
Another man we spoke to who is in a wheelchair is living in a flat that is not designed in an accessible manner – so much so that he cannot wash in his bathroom and travels to a disabled centre in Newham to take a shower. This is not on and surely cannot be even legal?
There has been no change to the prison-like atmosphere of visitors having to sign in to see friends and being vetted. Outrageously, the other issues are the continuous difficulties for disabled occupants to gain access to their own accommodation as the door entry system requires fob access. As there is still restrictions placed on friends’ or relatives’ visits, they can not stay overnight even when essential for support.
We have alerted the Mayor and relevant councillors who promise that a site visit will take place and that a meeting will be held to listen to residents concerns. The council may need to provide free legal advice in order for these residents to get the housing justice that they deserve.
We can’t help thinking that the best long term security for these residents would be on the Carpenters Estate. Watch this space for updates on resident meetings over the next few weeks and stay tuned for further updates on Sara’s case. In the meantime, see you on the streets in August outside Wilko’s on Saturday’s between 12-2pm (NB no street stall on 4th August).
On Saturday 17 March, Focus E15 campaigners celebrated the news of Robin Wales’ deselection by riding through the streets of Newham in a open-topped bus. The bus was draped with placards, banners and flags displaying clear political messages about the lack of social housing in the borough. Campaigners sang out the good news that the Mayor had been deselected, chanting in unison ‘Robin Wales has gone -so long so long’ and received many thumbs up and happy waves from Newham residents amazed at the sight of a bus load of campaigners. There were many joyful beeps and hoots from supportive motorists. Back on board the bus, exhilarating live drumming kept the freezing temperatures at bay as did the constant chanting of ‘Robin Wales is Out’ all set to the sound of popping champagne corks and loud cheering.
This celebratory mood is understandable as the Labour Mayor Robin Wales has been in power for 23 years, leaving behind him a rotten legacy of 1 in 25 people homeless. Focus E15 campaign has been a constant thorn in the side of Robin Wales for the past four years by protesting at the lack of council housing in the borough at many Mayoral proceedings and full council meetings, as well as leading an occupation on the boarded up Carpenters Estate back in 2014, when the Mayor was forced to issue a public apology for the way he had treated the original 29 mothers from Focus E15 hostel.
However Focus E15 campaign knows full well that the fight for decent council housing does not end with Robin Wales’s deselection.
With this in mind, Focus E15 campaign is already placing demands on the Labour Mayoral candidate Rokhsana Fiaz and demanding that Carpenters Estate is saved for all existing residents and is maintained as 100% council housing.
With the news of Robin Wales’ defeat, groups in Newham have started to push for a People’s Charter which has already been presented to Rokhsana Fiaz. It is printed in full below. We will continue to raise the rights of all residents of Newham and hold the incoming council and the next Mayor to account.
Join us at our public meeting on 7 April at 2.30pm at Sylvias Corner, 97 Aldworth Rd E15 4DN to discuss more.
If your group would like to sign the charter please send an email to email@example.com or send the campaign a message on Facebook or twitter @focuse15.
The charter has so far been signed by the following groups and individuals: