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
Thank you for the following thoughts by our guest blogger Toni Adscheid from Germany, who supported the campaign on the street stall and in meetings when he was in London, and who participated in our online meetings during lockdown. It is through back and forth conversations such as these that we are inspired to carry onwards and take up the fight for housing with greater clarity and awareness of the role campaigning plays in the tremendous struggle that lies ahead. Educate! Agitate! Organise!
The following text is based on a talk, given at a conference on “Decolonizing the curriculum” via zoom, to an audience of university lecturers, schoolteachers and students. The conclusions I draw, derive both from my experiences in teaching undergraduate geography students as well as my observations and interactions with members of Focus E-15 campaign during the weekly street stall in Newham, organisational meetings and personal conversations. I also want to clarify that I regard capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy as inherently intertwined structures of oppression.
Contemporary neoliberal university practices attempt to fix the generation of knowledge through curricula to the university, which is regarded as the only place for study. Moreover, in neoliberal universities, students come to see themselves either as problem, because they need to earn credit to graduate, or as professionals after they graduated. These attempts of fixing the generation of knowledge to the place of the university as well as fixations upon students as either problems or professionals, I argue, are two examples for colonizing knowledge in neoliberal universities around the globe. In this regard, colonization can be understood as the normalization of structures of oppression in which people are defined as problems and offered salvation through institutionalized settings, which supposedly hold the tools that people need to solve their problems. In the face of colonizing the generation of knowledge through attempts of fixing (of students) and fixations (on the university as place for knowledge generation), what would it mean to escape and thus refuse these attempts of fixing the generation of knowledge to the university and attempts to fix students? For me, this entails two things: To acknowledge that, outside of the university, people study all the time and that amateurism should be encouraged rather than sanctioned.
As scholars like Stefano Harney and Fred Moten remind us, when we think about study we ought to think as much about nurses in the smoking room as we are about the university (Harney & Moten 2013: 112). Their argument opens up knowledge generation beyond the walls of the university building as people constantly try to figure out ways to be with one another, despite attempts to keep them apart, either by promises to become better by themselves or by fixing them in place. This mode of study is what Focus E-15 engages in, and what authors like Paul Watt and Penny Bernstock continue to emphasize. If we are truly committed to challenge current ways of colonizing knowledge, we have to look no further than the street corners, the narrow alleys, the council housing estates. Here, in the outside of institutionalized knowledge generation, people constantly try to figure out why they ended up in their current situation but also think and practice how to live otherwise. This is what Focus E-15 continues to highlight. People who are not recognized to have a voice, especially young mothers in so called ‘temporary accommodation’, constantly figure out ways how to escape and thus refuse attempts of being fixed, both in place and as persons. They refuse because there is nothing wrong with them and nothing can hold them; they are already amazing. As Saidiya Hartman wrote in relation to the US:
‘The decades between 1890 and 1935 were decisive in determining the course of black futures. A revolution in a minor key unfolded in the city and young black women were the vehicle. This upheaval or transformation of black intimate life was the consequence of economic exclusion, material deprivation, racial enclosure, and social dispossession; yet it, too, was fueled by the vision of a future world that might be.’ (Hartman 2019: xv).
Young women, especially the young mothers of Focus E-15, are radical thinkers who never fail to imagine how the world might be otherwise; this is what the campaign can teach university students. This is what I convey in my teachings to my students in order to decolonize knowledge generation: You are not the only ones who study, learn to listen to the radical thinkers who continuously study around you. Initiating modes of mutual learning, between in and outside the university, then becomes an imminent task if knowledge is about to be truly decolonized.
My understanding of young mothers as radical thinkers then led me to the realisation that neoliberal institutions, such as universities, fear those who they consider amateurs. Amateurs who supposedly do not fully know what they are talking about, those who refuse to be creditors after graduation, who refuse to graduate because they are committed to study outside of the university. The university tries to get rid of that amateurism through us, people who are involved in teaching. Our task, so we are told, is to enable students to graduate by giving them credit. Hereby, those who do not receive credit are considered to have failed, as they refuse to earn credit. However, as Focus E-15 continues to show, the aim of study is not to become a professional (who supposedly knows everything) but about fostering a kind of collaborative amateurism. This kind of collaborative amateurism in which for example a German PhD-student studies housing issues in the UK, can create openings through which one can be affected by others, dispossessed and possessed by others. It allows students to be opened up to the vast array of knowledge continuously generated around them and to be affected by that knowledge; it helps them to realize that they can never be entirely ready, never fully become professionals.
Practicing amateurism then means to acknowledge that study happens with each other, in conversation with those who never fail to imagine how the world might be otherwise. For those of us who are committed to keep ‘studying as amateurs’ it is important to stay with the trouble; even though we might be in neoliberal universities, we are not of them.
Harney, S., & Moten, F. (2013). The undercommons: Fugitive planning & black study.
At a meeting with families from Brimstone House and Focus E15 campaign with the head of temporary accommodation in Newham, one of the mothers expressed what they are all going through, summarised in the powerful points below. This important piece of writing is going up on our website on 5 May.
This is a very important day in the history of struggle in the east end, as it is the birthday of Sylvia Pankhurst, who was born in 1882, 139 years ago. Sylvia Pankhurst was a courageous fighter for human rights, for working class rights, an internationalist, a communist, an anti-racist and anti-fascist, an anti-imperialist. 100 years ago, in the east end of London, Sylvia Pankhurst was active on the streets, in the meeting rooms and organising to challenge the local council and the government about housing, healthcare, education……
The women of Brimstone House are continuing that fight for their rights and the rights of their children. Please read below and understand that the legacy of Sylvia Pankhurst’s fight goes on and we can still win important and inspiring victories and be part of building resistance by the solidarity of collective action and class struggle.
Long Live Sylvia Pankhurst! All strength to the women and children of Brimstone House!
This is a summary of what it is like Brimstone House, 10 Victoria Street, Newham, as expressed by the current residents:
There is no welcoming process at Brimstone House and no information about how to complete relevant housing application forms in order to move on.
It is not clear who the case worker is for individual families to discuss their applications or housing needs. When a case worker is finally assigned, it is near-impossible to get hold of them resulting in being bounced from one department to another, and having complaints/issues fall in between the cracks in the system.
There are families living in Brimstone House for three years or more without a housing suitability assessment being completed and ongoing struggles to obtain bidding numbers.
The rent for studio rooms in Brimstone House is close to £800 per month, not including bills and council tax. A council home with two bedrooms, two storage units, a kitchen, a living/dining room, is about £500 a month.
Single mothers are having to leave their work/jobs, to depend on benefits, because they are worse off working and becoming more impoverished by having to pay full rent. Universal Credit deducts 63 pence out of every £1 after the first £292.
The studio flats in Brimstone House were designed for the purpose of a single person’s living accommodation, yet the council is now using them for families with three or more children, as well as partners. Families are forced to live, eat, share bunk beds/sofas, in the same living space.
It is shocking to think that anyone should be living in such squalid conditions in Britain, the fifth or sixth richest country in the world. Made worse by Newham’s slogan: ‘People at the heart of everything we do.’
The flats have numerous hazards that also impact on life at Brimstone House, these include mould, bugs, rodents, and other pests (about which letters are frequently circulated). The other main hazard is the frequency with which the lift breaks down. Then single mothers, pregnant women, people with disabilities are seen carrying buggies, pushchairs, shopping, children up and down nine floors.
The water boilers are often broken, faulty, or too small to provide what is needed in a British winter and often there is no answer to the request for plumbers to fix faulty showers. There are occasions when residents have been told to use buckets. Many flats have heaters that are not working, lighting is always faulty both in the corridors and the studio flats – and electricity bills are extortionate, often coming to more than £100 a month. The communal washing machine area is a health hazard with leaks and floods and inefficient machines which are known for recycling household filth.
The bare flooring of wooden floors on many rooms are uneven and adults and children cannot go barefoot. Not being allowed to bring any furniture in means that families are forced to share bunkbeds and sleep on sofas, do not have enough chairs for everyone to even sit together to eat. Requests for more furniture are refused.
Children are the most affected by these living conditions, with an increase in skin allergies, eczema and respiratory infections and wheezy episodes. Their mental and physical wellbeing is compromised. There are children developing obesity because of their confined space. The restrictions being even more in the pandemic. Children’s toys and belongings often have to be left in the corridor as there is no storage space. This leaves parents in fear of possessions being thrown away as letters are circulated warning not to leave things there.
Children in Brimstone House have no space to study, to be free, and to form their own individual personalities in their own private space; Children are ashamed to have no bedroom or to say that they sleep with their mothers.
The fire alarm goes off very frequently, sometimes daily at any time of day of nights. Children are dragged out again, having to negotiate flights of stairs, only to find out it is another false alarm. This causing huge anxiety. Security workers often have no knowledge how to pinpoint the fire alarm location. On 30 March 2021, an exit plan of the building in case of a fire was handed out.
There are ongoing complaints about staff being disrespectful to residents and guests. Guests who are sometimes needed to look after someone who is ill or help with childcare, are often refused entry or there is the complication of an overnight form to be filled in and signed. This is supposed to be our home.
Newham Council! Brimstone House: No place for children
Dear Newham Council, Newham Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz, Director of Housing Darren Levy, Head of Housing Shaban Mohammed and Labour MP Lyn Brown,
The residents of Brimstone House, 10 Victoria Street, E15 need urgent rehousing.
As an emergency situation, it may be considered tolerable, as a living arrangement, it is cruel and punishing.
There is already a legal challenge underway but no action from Newham Labour council and now the residents are speaking out again.
We ask for a meeting with the Head of Housing, the Director of Housing and the Mayor of Newham.
This is how the Labour-run borough of Newham sees itself (https://www.newham.gov.uk/contact-information/vision-1) ‘Newham is a borough with a radical vision to build a better and brighter future. We are a diverse and aspirational place. By putting people at the heart of everything we do, we aim to enable all our residents to reach their potential and thrive.’
Tell that to the mothers struggling up flights of stairs with buggies and babies and toddlers and shopping as the lift is broken again. It is not possible and it is not safe.
Tell that to the mothers who are having to study overnight using their cookers as a table, because they don’t have room to sit in the main room, and don’t want to put on the light as the children are asleep.
Tell that to the mothers who are co-sleeping with one or two children and who have no privacy in front of their children, not appropriate, particular in front of boys.
Tell that to the families with exhausted parents and traumatised anxious children who have to be pulled out and rushed downstairs as the fire alarm in the building keeps going off.
Tell that to the families who can’t wash their clothes or their children’s clothes properly as there are not enough washing machines, they are substandard and very expensive.
Tell that to the families paying very high heating costs in Brimstone House, 10 Victoria Street with an electric key system that consumes large sums of money.
Tell that to the families who can’t all sit down to eat together because Newham Labour council doesn’t allow them more than two chairs in their room or flat.
Tell that to the families who feel dumped and abandoned in Brimstone House, with no knowledge of who their housing officer is, who have their emails unanswered, and who have no bidding numbers.
Tell that to the families who have been offered places out of borough and out of London, when their support networks, their work, their family and their children’s schools are in the borough.
Tell that to the families in the cramped and damp rooms with children who are forced to isolate during the pandemic.
Tell us all why the empty council homes on the Carpenters are not being used while a solution to that estate is being found. And what about all the other empty homes around the borough…
If Newham Labour council wants to be a radical council building a better future, then it must speak out and speak up and defend the rights of all its residents.
As Assata Shakur said: It is our duty to fight for our freedom, it is our duty to to win, we must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.
We ask for a meeting with the Head of Housing, the Director of Housing and the Mayor of Newham.
Thank you from the families of Brimstone House, Victoria Street with full support of Focus E15 campaign
On Sunday 7 February, a mother of two in Brimstone House, 10 Victoria Street, E15, could take it no more and shared very personal photos of her home to illustrate the contempt that Newham council has for families crammed into the shoddy, overcrowded, damp rooms in this building.
For two years, she has put up with damp, with mould, with inadequate and expensive heating appliances, with a cramped situation whereby she has to share a bed with her children, with no bedroom for her children to sleep in, no room to study for the older one now of school age, no privacy for her.
Then came the rain and in it came. Now the children’s books were ruined, now the mattress was all wet and all their bedding affected. She packed up the room into boxes and bags to safeguard what was left and she asked a family also living in similar conditions in the building if they could take her children overnight, which they kindly did. The next night, she found space on the kitchen floor to put the children down to sleep.
Being an active part of Focus E15 campaign, this brave, resilient mother put out the message to others. Tweeting Newham council got a response, she was contacted and there was a promise of a visit to see and sort out the problems….
But this mother of two is clear, you can sort out the leak but you cannot fix the endemic problems of Brimstone House. The only way to reverse the negligence of extended stays in this appalling living situation, is to move people out to decent homes. Until then, the huge toll on adults’ and children’s mental and physical health will continue.
Focus E15 campaign knows that there are empty homes around Newham, and shockingly, has to repeat again and again and again what everyone, including Rokhsana Fiaz, Mayor of Newham, knows only too well – there are over 400 empty council homes on the Carpenters Estate, deliberately left empty for well over a decade, less than a mile from Brimstone House.
Residents of Brimstone House have voiced their issues loud and clear over and over again. In a recent exchange, mothers of young children expressed some of the issues they are struggling with in Brimstone House, in lockdown and with extreme difficulty getting replies from housing officers now that Bridge House and other housing offices are shut.
The constant merry-go-round of temporary and emergency housing:‘Moving again with my child….we have been living in a hotel, then a friend’s house and then various shared houses. It’s been a physically exhausting year living in London, we have been moved five times already.’
The lack of security: ‘It’s really hard to see a way out of this … and then the empty horrible threats that they will remove our children. All this is magnified by constant insecurity, knowing we’re at their mercy and they really can do what they want. If the council was someone’s partner, they would say it’s an abusive relationship.’
Being forced into tiny spaces in lockdown in a pandemic: ‘It’s so narrow and the ceiling is very low, I feel boxed in. You can see the end of my feet is where the TV is supposed to go, glued to our eyes!’
Knowing there are empty homes nearby:‘There is no way they can possibly justify not opening the Carpenters Estate and many others during this pandemic, I hope at some point we see someone held accountable for purposely keeping houses shut whilst knowing that we have been having a housing crisis for many many years.’
Being at the mercy of a system riven by division and discrimination:‘And they purposely trap us in the illusion of their ‘fair’ system. If we don’t have jobs, they call us lazy, when we do get a job or try to pursue our education, they make it nearly impossible…Unfortunately a lot of people are either dismissive or insensitive, they don’t actually see just how oppressing and soul destroying this system is.’
The women show their strength and resilience: ‘Persevering in adversity is one of the many life skills we are passing down to our kids simply by living the best we can in these situations…’
The conversation ends on a positive note:‘All they want is to distract us and make our lives not meaningful, they do not want us to achieve our goals because they know we are coming back to fight. All we need is NOT to keep quiet, we should continue to use our voice, and I believe with the support of Focus E15 campaign together we will win, they will hear our voice!’
As 2020 came to a close, Brimstone House residents and Focus E15 campaign showed that resistance to the callousness of the council has not gone away. We stood distanced and Covid-aware outside the hostel with banners explaining what is happening to families in the building. These are some of the issues that residents want you to be aware of:
the family in such a small room that the television takes up the only window space
the mother of two children told by the council to put her three-year-old on a sofa as no room for a bed
the young boy who asks why he has no space to do his homework
the threat of eviction on 21 December of a family with two young children, told they have made themselves intentionally homeless – under campaign pressure that date has been changed to 4 January – but then what?
This is not an acceptable way to treat anyone and the campaign is ongoing.
Focus E15 continues to campaign closely with residents of Brimstone House. Mostly mothers and children, courageous in speaking up about their situation, on behalf of many more than just themselves, to highlight the outrageous situation of families forced to live, and isolate, in tiny, badly-ventilated, often mouldy and damp, overcrowded rooms with children.
Newham has the highest number of children in the country living in poverty, the highest level of homelessness – one out of every 24 people, the worst level of air pollution in the whole of Britain, the worst overcrowding at 25% of homes, and the highest number in the country of households in temporary accommodation, currently 4,500. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Newham had the second worse Covid19 death rate in the country by June 2020.
Those raising the issues of Brimstone House, in temporary and emergency housing, are raising the issues of housing in the east London borough of Newham, and challenging the Labour council to start delivering rather than just promising. In this dire situation, there are still over 400 empty council homes on the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, These flats must be immediately refurbished and repopulated. We say to the council – stuff the constant consultation processes and get on with the work at hand and use those empty homes.
As we end 2020, Focus E15 campaign would like to thank all those who have taken part in campaigning for housing justice over this year and given time and energy to the campaign. This year has been very challenging, living through a pandemic, many people in the most difficult of situations, emotionally, practically and financially, struggling with inappropriate housing. Our thoughts go out to everyone, especially those grieving for friends and relatives who have died, and for Focus E15 campaign, we think of Ella and Chelsie, so central to our campaign and so missed.
The struggle must go on and Focus E15 campaign enters 2021 determined to continue to build a housing movement, challenge the Labour council, give solidarity to all those fighting for housing justice, and…. Educate! Agitate! Organise! so that we expose this ruthless capitalist system and begin to work in unity together for a better future for everyone.
A Newham resident who lives in Brimstone house has been working with the campaign and has this to say about her living situation:
I am a 20 year old woman with a young baby. I grew up in Newham and am now a registered carer for my older brother who has a disability and cannot live independently. We both lived with my mum who is in full time work. I shared a bedroom with my brother. When I got pregnant the arrangement was still manageable but once my baby was born it was not possible to share the bedroom anymore. I had to move out.
I approached Newham council and explained the situation. No one will believe what happened next, but it is true. They offered to send a mediator to speak to my brother and my mother to negotiate me and my baby saying in the same bedroom as him. My brother’s disability means that he would not be able to cope with being woken several times in the night. It was embarrassing that the council worker thought it appropriate to offer this. My mother clearly turned this down but they didn’t take no for an answer and sent someone round to the house to talk to my brother. It felt like they didn’t care about or try to understand our situation.
So they placed me and my baby in a hotel room as an emergency. I continued to care for my brother and, apart from my period of maternity leave, planned to resume my studies and my work. Then Newham offered me a place in Tilbury. I said no because I could not fulfil my caring duties with that distance to travel and a young baby.
I am probably lucky the council didn’t accuse me of intentional homelessness and discharge duty to house me, like they do to so many people. Just before the March 2020 lockdown they gave me and my baby a room in Brimstone House, Victoria Street in Stratford, at least I am in Newham. But it is now nearly ten months. It seems like I have the smallest room in the block, my television obscures the window, it is no place for a child. I can’t afford the private rents, when I bid I am lucky to come 500th in line, and the council waiting list is a joke with about 24,000 people in the queue before me.
How can there be a Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz who promised so much three years ago and yet nothing seems to have changed (https://www.rokhsana.org/about/pledges/). It is shocking to think that over 400 two- and three-bedroom flats lie empty on the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, yet families with babies and young children are left to grow up in terrible housing situations just a short walk away from the empty blocks
Refurbish and repopulate all of the council flats on the Carpenters Estate NOW! There are over 200 families in Brimstone House. Let’s get together and organise to challenge this housing situation. Together we are stronger. There’s no time to lose.
A mother and two children living in Brimstone House, 10 Victoria Street, Stratford E15, has taken the brave step of speaking out about the unbearable conditions they are forced to live in. Focus E15 campaign stands with her and all those facing these issues.
Brimstone House is no place for children to grow up in, yet hundreds of families with children are languishing there in overcrowded rooms, labelled temporary accommodation, for years. Less than a mile down the road, four hundred council homes lie empty on the Carpenters Estate, and all around luxury apartments continue to be built.
In October 2020, when Rukaya asked about the difficulty with the space and the bed provision as the baby is too big for the cot, she was told her three-year-old could sleep on the sofa. When she challenged this, the options included getting her a bigger, better sofa and/or putting some of their belongings into storage….
This is a shocking story, but not an isolated one.
Newham’s Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz said recently, ‘The scale of the challenge has never been greater. But together with my cabinet, which I’m proud is one of the most diverse in the country, I am leading a hugely ambitious programme that sets out how we will improve residents’ lives now and well beyond the pandemic.’
Rokhsana Fiaz and her council have set out their housing policy. She said ‘We’ll continue prioritising housing delivery as we scale up our plans and meet promised targets. The housing strategy is another crucial milestone in our efforts to drive forward through all the instruments of the Council to deliver for local residents.’
In the tradition of Sylvia Pankhurst and the working class struggles of the east end of London and the East London Federation of Suffragettes, we say Deeds Not Words…
This is an emergency, for Rukaya, her children and all of those in Brimstone House.
Even more urgent in a pandemic and lockdown conditions, in Newham which has the biggest percentage of children living in poverty of any borough in London, 25% of residents living in overcrowded housing, and in the first few months of the pandemic suffered the highest death rate in London from Covid19.
Rukaya and her two children need Newham Council to deliver on housing now, a proper solution – decent long-term housing with space for children to grow and develop and for Rukaya to take her life off hold and continue to study, to work and to be active in her community.
Together we are stronger!
Solidarity with all those fighting for housing justice!
There is no excuse while there are empty homes.
Resources for the people and not for the property developers!
Imagine a local government tasked with the housing of vulnerable and homeless people but who has either rejected or systematically failed to provide adequate housing and assistance. Imagine a redress system that on the surface claims to have the best interests of the people at heart, but instead punishes them for daring to challenge poor policy decisions and labels the brave few as intentionally homeless. Now imagine a council that responds to a legal complaint one year late with many inaccuracies in their written reply. Welcome to Newham in Britain in 2020.
It was also in the middle of heatwave in 2019, when I chose to take up the offer from Focus E15 and the Public Interest Law Centre to raise a legal complaint against Newham Council. In the sweltering July heat myself and another 18 residents chose to outline our discontent with the living conditions of Brimstone House now, 10 Victoria Street, and listed demands for a change in Newham’s housing policy in general.
Myself and so many residents felt with the weight of the law now behind us and the public interest surrounding housing conditions, especially for society’s most vulnerable in light of the tragedy at Grenfell, Newham Council would at least make moves to be seen to be doing something to address such injustice. Yet I cannot say entirely that it comes as a surprise to me that they have only chosen to respond to the legal complaint almost a year late and with no signs of change on the horizon.
Our challenge highlighted the damp and mouldy conditions that many residents of Brimstone were living through. Their response was to send council elected environmental officers who to no one’s surprise declared the block was fit for human habitation, and that, in their eyes, concluded the matter.
We highlighted the insufficient provision of laundry facilities within the block. The Council’s response? To claim there was no space for more machines and that it was out of their hands as the service was contracted out to a third party. This is despite the addition of at least 10 more properties to the block and a fire that took place in the laundry room in January this year. If that alone was not enough to bring the service back into the Council’s hands I fail to see what would be.
A long running theme within Brimstone House was the anti-social and prison like environment the Council has actively fostered via the presence of a security detail, numerous CCTV cameras and the imposition of curfews. To counter this residents have long requested that the only unused space left in the block, the conservatory, be opened up for communal gatherings and socialising with neighbours. The Council has claimed in their response to the legal complaint, that it has been available for use since September 2019 and has held an 8-week English language course. Residents have pointed out that they have never been notified that the conservatory space was ever open to them and the course only ran for 4 weeks in January 2020.
Focus E15 campaign is not blind to the challenges that a decades worth of cuts and a government wholly opposed to the idea of a welfare state faces. We acknowledge that Newham faces its own unique set of challenges being a Borough with the highest proportion residents in temporary and emergency accommodation. Yet you cannot deny the fact for 63 years Newham has been a Labour run council. What challenges or even alternative to unpopular government policies did our councillors bring to the table to elevate the standing of their residents? I am essentially saying the situation Newham finds itself in right now is not the fault of external, emotionless government policies.
2018 promised to be a year of hope and change for its residents with the inception of Rokshana Fiaz as new mayor. We were promised ‘more transparency, accountability and [greater involvement from] residents in decision making’. With genuinely affordable housing and the ‘safety of our young people’ being the priority. Yet in 2020 Focus E15 is still receiving reports of unfair evictions, cramped and inadequate housing conditions, dismissive and threatening council officers and the adverse impact these conditions are having on the children of residents living through this nightmare.
Below are a two more testimonials from the residents of Brimstone house hostel who expect to see changes to their living situation.The living conditions in Brimstone House are difficult and the cause of physical illness and emotional distress. We have protected the identities as per their request.
Mother of two, referred to as R
This mother has been living in a small room in Brimstone House since September 2019. R was told she would be there 56 days maximum when she moved in but she is still there with no news, no contact from the council and no idea how long this nightmare situation will go on for. Her children are three years old and ten months old. She has had no contact with a housing officer since the day they moved in. It is hard to look for work and arrange childcare when the staff at the hostel question everyone who come in and out of the building. Her room is small, the heat is intense and due to difficulty with the washing machines she has been hand washing all their clothes but told she couldn’t hang them outside to dry.
Mother of two referred to as H
This mother has been in Brimstone House since November 2018. She has a seven year old and a 14 month old. She has no housing officer and has not been allowed to bid for council housing. Like many other residents in the building, H has confirmed that the conservatory is closed-another place that young children could have for recreation and play if the council kept to their word. John Gray, deputy Mayor and head of housing in Newham, promised to open the conservatory for children to use in Summer 2018. H has been coming to the street stall and has told us that: “it is not acceptable how we have to live, we can not take this anymore!” During the heatwave the safety windows could only open a tiny bit making it impossible to sleep at night. Now her kitchen light has gone, the council haven’t responded to her contact about this essential repair and she has bought a little lamp to have light in the evening so she can cook food for her family.
Many of our campaigners and followers will know Marsha, who caused a justifiable stir at the height of lockdown during an international day of action – May Day – highlighting the unreasonable aspects of the housing crisis. With a banner hung from her balcony in Brimstone House, pointing out the injustice of isolating with children in a tiny room while 400 homes on Carpenters Estate, ten minutes’ walk away lie empty, Marsha highlighted the dreadful reality of being forced to isolate in hostel accommodation. Where is the urgency from the council to solve these issues? Three months on from the May Day protest and Marsha is still languishing with her child in Brimstone House.
As more and more articles appear that make the link between COVID19 deaths and overcrowding, and diverse communities – you would think that Newham Labour Council and Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz would be rushing to solve some people’s situation as fast as possible. However, there are still over 400 council homes still lying empty on the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, Newham, London E15. Now into the fourteenth year of being empty, and with a timeline for doing something about them that extends beyond this Mayor’s tenure, it is becoming clear that the value of the land is more important than housing the people.
To top up the roller-coaster ride the mayor and the council have put residents at Brimstone House through, along will 28,000 people on the housing waiting list the council’s legal team has rejected campaigners from speaking as a deputation at a online council meeting stating that that this is because there is an ongoing legal complaint between Focus E15 campaign, Public Interest Law Center and the council. When you look on the council’s website the slogan ‘people at the heart of everything we do’ is plastered everywhere. Yet it seems when people power takes action the furious foot of autocracy is there to kick us to curb. Help us publicise the raging injustice of the council’s response to our legal complaint, the many stories behind the brave people fighting for housing justice and take action to make a change and demand that the Labour Council in Newham starts by refurbishing and repopulating the Carpenters Estate now. No more lengthy processes involving exhibitions and form filling. The answer is yes – those towers should be full of people now. A local forum even came up with their own plan for the estate but it was rejected by the council. Why?
Whilst the council gloss over the legal complaint submitted over a year ago by Public Interest Law Center, we say that the fight for decent living conditions for all those stuck at Brimstone House must go on. The more we stand together, the stronger we are. Together we can challenge Newham Council and demand immediate decent housing and reopening of Carpenters Estate for the people of Newham.