Category Archives: public action

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!

Advertisements

Solidarity with the Summerhill Occupation! 

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!

A victory in court- but the fight against ‘intentional homelessness’ goes on.

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.

IMG-20180728-WA0014.jpg
Brimstone house residents having fun with Focus E15 campaigners

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).

IMG-20180728-WA0010.jpg
Brimstone house residents live in temporary accommodation whilst at the same time 3 tower blocks down the road, on Carpenters Estate have remained empty for over 10 years.

Campaigners call for a ‘People’s Newham’ as Robin Wales is voted out.

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 focuse15london@gmail.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:

  1. Kevin Blowe
  2. Focus E15 Campaign
  3. Newham People’s Alliance
  4. Unite for Change
  5. Newham for Change
  6. The People’s Revolt
  7. East London Revolutionary Communist Group
  8. Newham Green Party
  9. Sasha Das Gupta
  10. Nadia Johnson
  11. Valerie Johnson
  12. Joseph Johnson

Newham People's Charter final

Sara made ‘Intentionally Homeless’ by Newham Council

The following blog post is taken directly from a report written for the Revolutionary Communist Group’s website. Thank you for allowing  Focus E15 Campaign to reprint this report in full below.

No such thing as intentional homelessness – Sara must stay in Newham

Robin Wales, head of Newham Labour Council since 1995 and Labour Mayor of Newham since 2002 is facing the end of his reign. Rokhsana Fiaz is standing against him for the Labour mayoral candidacy and the results will be announced on Friday 16 March after local Labour members have voted. This situation came about after a trigger democracy process which has forced Wales to accept a challenger for the first time. All Newham wards voted for someone to stand against him. Wales is running scared and after decades of vicious treatment of working class people in the borough, he now proclaims himself a socialist leading a radical council. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Focus E15 Campaign has been working with Sara, a mother of two young children in Newham. Her story is outlined on the Focus E15 website here. Since she refused to be moved to Birmingham, Newham Council says she has made herself ‘intentionally homeless’ and has discharged their duty to house her.

On International Women’s Day, Thursday 8 March, Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! stood with Sara and Focus E15 Campaign, alongside children and parents from Sara’s son’s school, Museum of Homelessness, Streets Kitchen and Newham Green Party,  as we challenged Robin Wales at the Mayoral Proceedings. This meeting is where Robin Wales rubber stamps anything he likes surrounded by his hand-picked cronies from the council. Usually an hour long, on 8 March Robin Wales looked shifty and nervous as the public gallery filled up and he raced through proceedings. After only 22 minutes he and his colleagues made a swift exit. They saw and they heard but not one stopped to look at the messages on the banners or placards nor listen to the speeches and chants from the gallery, as we demonstrated our solidarity with Sara. There is no such thing as intentional homelessness and Sara must be housed in Newham, near her family and support networks, in her community and where her children go to school.

With news of the protest spreading on social media, the local press took interest and Wales’ challenger Rokhsana Fiaz asked to meet with Sara and Focus E15 Campaign. Newham Council was forced to issue a statement defending their callous treatment of Sara and her children and standing by their decision to refuse her any further housing support.

The pressure is on, but we must all remember that Sara is just one of thousands of people and families who are facing social cleansing in Newham and at the hands of rotten Labour boroughs all around London. We must also be aware that replacing Robin Wales, while a huge victory after his years of abuse of working class people, migrants and the most vulnerable in our communities, will not solve the problems of capitalism. Rokhsana Fiaz says that housing is first of her top three priorities. It is up to us to hold her to account. Focus E15 Campaign has pledged to do this. Join us!

photo1

photo2

 

 

photo(3).jpg

Newham People’s Charter drawn up as Robin Wales faces deselection.

Newham People's Charter finalRobin Wales, head of Newham Labour Council since 1995 and Labour Mayor of Newham since 2002 is facing the possibility of deselection by the end of this coming week. Rokhsana Fiaz is standing against him for the Labour mayoral candidacy and the results will be announced on Friday 16 March after local Labour members have voted. Robin Wales is running scared and after decades of promoting policies of social cleansing of working class people, forcing them out of the borough, he now proclaims himself a socialist and a radical. We know that nothing could be further from the truth.

If this is the end of the reign of Robin Wales, now is the right time for community groups and campaigns to put maximum pressure on the new Mayor and not let the Labour council off the hook.   Focus E15 campaign is endorsing a people’s charter for Newham. It is a work in progress and is intended to spark debate and discussion about what kind of Newham we, the people, want.

Focus E15 campaign presented this idea of drawing up a people’s Charter to the prospective Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz on Saturday 10 March 2018 at her surgery in Custom House. If your group or community would like to endorse the People’s charter please email the campaign and we will add you onto a list focuse15london@gmail.com.

IMG-20180310-WA0034.jpg

Focus E15 campaigners presenting a People’s Charter for Newham to the prospective Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz.

 

Don’t make our babies homeless!

Public meeting happening  on Saturday 3rd February

Carpenters and Docklands Centre, 98 Gibbins Rd, E15, Stratford, 2.30pm

The number of children living in temporary accommodation in Britain has been steadily increasing since 2011, from 80,000, to an estimated 128,000 by December 2017. In England alone, at the end of 2017, 85,000 children, of which about 26,000 were under-fives, were stuck in temporary accommodation. Tower Hamlets had the highest number of under-fives in temporary accommodation last year, followed by Newham. This instability is damaging our children’s physical and mental health.

Come to our public meeting to have your say, discuss and debate these issues, educate ourselves, agitate in our communities, schools, workplaces, and organise to hold our local councils to account. Homeless children? NO WAY!
Speakers: Focus E15 campaign, Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, Kate Belgrave (journalist and blogger), The Magpie Project, the Housing and Mental Health Network.

 Sara and her children must stay in Newham!

No eviction on  Monday 11 December

Sara is the mother of two children, forced to move out of where she was living when her second child was born, due to overcrowding. She was given emergency accommodation by Newham Labour council, in Brimstone House in Stratford. That was six months ago.

In the last two weeks, Newham council offered Sara and her children a property to consider in Birmingham…. She was scared and she was brave …. all her family, support networks, and her oldest child’s education, is in Newham… so she said no. She explains to Focus E15 campaign that she is facing eviction from Brimstone House on Monday 11 December. Sara says that Newham council is:

 ‘asking me to leave the property because I rejected what they call a suitable offer and they are discharging their duty of care to me. I have lived in this borough for 12 years and all my local connections are in Newham as my family is the only support system I have.’

Followers of Focus E15 campaign will see an irony here…. Brimstone House is what was formerly Focus E15 hostel for young people and where the Mother and Baby Unit was based and it was the young single mothers living there in 2013 who stood together to say no to Newham council who told them to pack their bags and move to  Manchester, Hastings and yes… Birmingham. That is what launched the campaign against social cleansing and exposed Newham’s rotten record of sending people out of borough and out of London. 

Four years on, the council behaviour hasn’t changed and we will stand with Sara and her children to prevent their social cleansing, to prevent their eviction and to demand that they be housed in Newham, in accommodation suitable for them as a family.

20 years ago, in 1997, Labour Mayor Robin Wales made his priorities clear when he was leader of the council and said:

‘There are too many people, those currently living in Newham and those attracted from other London boroughs, who survive on low incomes or who present themselves as homeless. Whilst we will offer support and carry out our legislative duties, our aim will be to increase Newham’s property values, and raise the income profile of all our residents’.

Within Newham Labour Council, 46 councillors own or control almost 100 properties and one has 19 properties with combined estimated value of over £4.5m and collective monthly rent of over £20,000.  When the young mothers from Focus E15 hostel challenged Robin Wales in 2013, he had the arrogance to say: ‘If you can’t afford to live in Newham, you can’t afford to live in Newham’. How can such people represent our interests?

Recent vital research by Debt Resistance UK  has shown that Newham now has 12,000 homeless people, one in every 25 residents,  the highest number in England. Newham also has the highest number of residents in temporary accommodation in London, and is among the councils moving the highest number of people out-of-borough and indeed out of London altogether. 

Despite housing being a top priority for Newham residents, the council is spending significantly less money on housing than it is on debt repayments to banks for dodgy loans, known as Lender Option Borrower Option loans (LOBO). These are short-term, variable rate loans taken out by councils from the banks (when they should have secured safer fixed-rate 50-year loans from central government). Between 2001 and 2010, Newham took out £563m worth of loans from Barclays Bank and RBS. The teaser interest rates started low but continue to escalate and Newham is now paying  back 7.5% interest on these loans.  Interest repayments increased from £54m (2010) to £83m 2017. The upshot of this scandalous financial wrongdoing is that in 2015, Newham paid the equivalent of 70% of its council tax as debt servicing and in 2016/17, this has risen to 125% – the highest in England – meaning that more than all of what comes in as council tax payments, goes straight out to the banks. 

Whilst cutting services to residents and pleading ‘Tory austerity’, Newham Labour council has sat on an ever-growing pot of money: ‘usable reserves’ increased from £77m in 2010 to £434m currently, a staggering rise of 560%. 

If you sickened by any of this, come to our campaign stall and meeting on Saturday 9 December. Join us in our demand that Sara and her children must stay in Newham!

No more evictions! No social cleansing! 

The campaign stall runs from 12-2pm on the Broadway in Stratford, outside Wilkos.

The campaign meeting is at Sylvia’s Corner on Aldworth Road, Stratford, E15 4DN at 2.30pm

March of the towers takes off in the East End

On Saturday 12 August Focus E15 campaign, responding to concerns from Newham residents, organised a local ‘march of the towers’. The route of the march encompassed 3 significant tower blocks, starting at a tower block called Ferrier Point in Canning Town, where residents have been shocked and angry to learn that their homes have been covered in the same cladding as Grenfell Tower. The route of the march then went to Tanner Point in Plaistow for a speak out, because this is another tower block covered in flammable material. The last stop was the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, where for 15 years three tower blocks have been left to waste by Newham Labour council who evicted residents leaving 410 flats empty.

Little wonder then that for the whole route this march was noisy, angry and vibrant and passersby and shopkeepers stopped in their tracks to see what was happening in their community. They were met with chants of “the people united will never be defeated” and “social housing is a right, here to stay here to fight”. There were drummers, pot and pan bashers and political speeches. Residents demanded that Newham council provide safe and secure homes for all, and stop social cleansing.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Excellent observations were made by the many speakers at Tanner Point: that the social murder which happened at Grenfell Tower must not be used by the government as an excuse to destroy our homes and demolish more tower blocks, that organising together in our local community is necessary for building movements of resistance, that the capitalist system will never provide enough secure and safe homes, that housing insecurity is a mental health issue, that women fleeing from domestic violence are being let down by the system as they have nowhere to go and that community action can also be creative and that we all have something that we can bring to a march – including our singing, drumming, chanting, political speech making, our colourful home made banners, and our commitment, solidarity and camaraderie .

At the end of the march on Carpenters Estate a party took place, food was handed out, phone numbers were swapped and children’s games got underway, free haircuts were given courtesy of Fringe Movement and more plans were made to strengthen the movement for housing justice.

Focus E15 campaign would like to thank everyone who took part. The march was supported by residents from all the towers, the Revolutionary Communist Group, Movement for Justice (who kindly supported the march by lending their megaphone when we had a blip with the sound system), the Socialist Party, residents from the Frampton Park Estate, One Housing Tenants Action Group, South Essex Stirrer, East End Sisters Uncut, Whitechapel Anarchists,  Socialist Equality Party, Debt Resistance UK, Housing and Mental Health Network and Journey to Justice.

TOGETHER WE ARE STRONGER.

Newcastle Residents demand safety first!

Focus E15 campaign have been contacted by tenants in Newcastle. This is what they have told us.

We, a group of tenants and local people, are campaigning to your Your Homes Newcastle and Newcastle City Council to make changes to their fire prevention and procedures in high rise blocks, like many other local authorities have across the country recently. We are demanding ALL blocks are fitted with sprinklers and adequate fire safety measures are in place and followed through in ALL their buildings.

Following the recent disaster at Grenfell Tower, it was brought to attention that residents concerns and demands regarding fire safety in the building were ignored by their local council. We, tenants of Your Homes Newcastle (YHN) are hoping to highlight ours and demand upgrades to fire prevention in ALL Your Homes Newcastle tower blocks.

Questions being asked about fire safety in Grenfell Tower include;
Why were sprinklers not installed? Why was fireproof cladding not installed? What happened to fire alarms? Why were fire safety demands ignored?
These, are all questions which are applicable for blocks like the ones we live in. There is a seriously concerning number of fire regulations and policies which YHN fail to enforce. For example:-

  • All flat doors in their Riverside Dene properties (and others) fail to meet fire safety regulations. It states a gap no bigger than 8mm under doors, however some have gaps up to an inch.
  • Despite regulations introduced in 2007 (stating sprinklers should be fitted in all buildings over 30m) and the knowledge that sprinklers are one of the most effective ways to prevent fire spreading in high rise buildings, over 3800 council tower blocks are still without them, including YHNs.
  • YHN have made claims they “do not allocate families with young children in multi-stories and hasn’t done so since the turn of the century”. This is false, YHN tower blocks are FULL of families. YHN also house elderly and disabled in their tower blocks, their ability to easily escape the block in case of emergency is a serious worry. Occasionally, lifts are out of service for long periods of time with little/no explanation why or when they are coming back on.
  • Bin chutes are poorly maintained. Chute drawers must automatically shut close after use and have an air tight seal to prevent the spread of smoke, some floors actually have no chute door or door to the chute room!
  • In a leaflet, “concierge service news,” which YHN posted through SOME doors, stated replacement windows within stairwells were fitted with a smoke detector which will automatically open the top window for smoke ventilation – this is just outright false.
  • YHN have stated their all of their high rises are built on the principle of ‘compartmentalisation’. After a refurbishment some YHN Riverside Dene (duplex) flats are now open plan.

Please show your support in sharing our concerns and demands for a safe place to live by signing and sharing our petition and joining our Facebook group ‘Your Homes Newcastle make your tower blocks fire safe!’

 

Riverside Dene