Residents fight back against evictions – hear directly from Michelle Edwards:
Given a choice, estate regeneration schemes would not have been my natural topic of conversation. Now, I’m so versed in the subject that I could probably achieve academic status. ‘Gentrification.’ ‘Affordable’ housing. Social housing. Displacement. Labour-run boroughs. Investors. MIPIM. Developers and demolition. Those words are used with very great frequency and in a wide range of conversations these days.
My own journey into housing campaigning was triggered between 2010 and 2011 when Waltham Forest Council carried out a review of all its estates to “identify which required investment and intervention beyond planned maintenance and to improve the quality of the stock, deal with issues of underlying tenant dissatisfaction and to reflect council priorities to regenerate local areas and communities.” To that end, their review identified “Marlowe Road as a council estate with the highest priority in the borough for intervention.” A flawed consultation/assessment survey was carried out over five months from September 2012 – January 2013. The aforementioned was nothing more than a box ticking exercise. It is doubtful that any of the views of respondents were taken into account. The end game was likely always going to be ‘demolish and rebuild’ and the all-too-familiar social cleansing that accompanies it.
Out of sheer frustration and in order to debunk the council’s stream of untruths about the development, I pitched a column called ‘Life on the Estate’ to the Waltham Forest Echo. Since December 2016, I have written with forensic detail about the harshness of living through a regeneration project. The links are found below.
(Launch of column. Page 9)
Quote of the Day: ‘Incompetence is often highly regarded
in governmental circles.’ William Wallace
Finally! Robin Wales has been deselected as mayoral candidate for Newham Labour after a tense battle against Rokshana Fiaz, who will now go on to face the electorate in the local elections in May and won by over 350 votes. The news of his deselection was announced on Friday 16 March 2018. It was Robin Wales, who told the original group of 29 mothers from Focus E15 hostel (after cutting the funding to the mother and baby unit) that “if you can’t afford to live in Newham, then you can’t afford to live in Newham”. Robin Wales has been in charge of Newham council for 23 years as he was head of the Council from 1995 and Labour Mayor since 2002. He has been an unpopular and unreachable figure. He spent decades promoting policies that has led to social cleansing, forcing working class people out of the borough whilst leaving homes empty and boarding up Carpenters Estate. Today 1 in 25 people in Newham are homeless as a result.
Focus E15 Campaign will be pleased to see the back of Robin Wales – because he was an advocate of kicking out the poor and most vulnerable, running a council with £563m debt after reckless borrowing from the banks and lately using the equivalent of a staggering 125% of council tax revenue on debt repayment. However the campaign also knows full well that the pressure needs to be applied to the new (very likely Labour) Mayor to promote a sustainable housing policy that benefits and suits the needs of working class residents.
Before the next leg of the campaign is fired up, Focus E15 campaign will be reflecting on the last four years and celebrating Robin Wales’s deselection on Saturday at their street stall in Stratford by having a bit of a party and then carrying on raising awareness of all the above issues by taking an open top bus through the streets of Newham. Focus E15 campaigner Jasmin Stone explains that:
“Robin Wales is out! We have spent, four and a half years fighting his social cleansing and demanding the repopulation of Carpenters estate! So many times being locked out of council meetings, attacked by private security at the Mayor’s show, arrested illegally for protesting against wrongful evictions and now he is out! Good riddance. However the fight is not over. We must make sure that the Newham People’s Charter demands are heard and met. And Robin Wales I think you will need to use Workplace and find a new job… can’t imagine anyone wanting to employ you though….
Watch this and share… More about Robin Wales’ legacy…
Let us not let Newham Labour Party and the new Mayor off the hook -we must hold them to account immediately! Read more about the Newham’s People’s Charter which Focus E15 campaign is endorsing here:
Please do join us in our celebrations to mark an end of a long era for Newham at our weekly stall on Saturday 17 March – 12-2pm outside Wilko’s on Stratford Broadway, London E15 1NG and then afterwards for more adventures on the free Focus E15 bus trip around Newham. Bring children, placards, food and drink!
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.
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!
Don’t make our babies homeless… Children in the housing crisis
People filled the hall in the Carpenters and Dockland Centre on the Carpenters Estate on Saturday 3 February at a public meeting, hosted by Focus E15 Campaign and with invited speakers from Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, the Housing and Mental Health Network and Kate Belgrave, journalist and housing blogger. The meeting was held in the grounds of the Carpenters Estate, where over four hundred homes lie empty in a Labour-run borough which has a rising homeless population and many people sleeping out on the streets.
The meeting was proposed after hearing issues affecting parents in housing need, who are being labelled intentionally homeless and then finding out that the council no longer has a duty of care towards them, but has for their children – meaning that social services may be called to intervene – a frightening prospect for any family in housing need.
This is well documented in the recent post that Kate Belgrave has on her site and was well illustrated by speakers at the meeting, which included a retired social worker who spoke of her battles decades ago to challenge similar situations. Clearly our society is going backwards and we have to take a stand again and challenge any human rights violations, including the right to family life and stand up for the rights of children. Read what Kate Belgrave has to say about this on her excellent blog:
The chair of the meeting set the scene well by describing the 100s of thousands of children in B&B and hostel accommodation in Britain, which is the six richest nation on the planet. Over two million people, including children are living in privately rented homes in England that are so squalid their health is affected and over half of all children in Britain’s poorest areas are now growing up in poverty.
While almost eight months on from the Grenfell Tower fire, in the richest borough in London, 100 households (including hundreds of children) of the 208 made homeless are still in emergency accommodation/hotel rooms.
The speakers from the Housing and Mental Health Network spoke very clearly about the link between housing instability and mental health problems and how people are being asked to parent in situations that are fundamentally not suitable. The end of short term rental tenancies are the biggest reason for people being evicted and forced into temporary accommodation.
From the floor, we heard from and about Newham residents fighting intentional homelessness and fighting to stay in the borough and Libby Liburd, actor and writer, spoke about her play Muvvahood and her next play about temporary accommodation… keep up with her work at .
The speaker from Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! put the current housing situation in the context of austerity and the crisis of capitalism. While Britain wages war abroad, plunders and occupies and destroys, at home it uses racism and attacks on the working class to pursue its policies in the interest of a minority, enriching themselves from the exploitation of working class people. In the words of Sylvia Pankhurst, revolutionary, communist, anti-imperialist fighter in the East End in 1918: ‘One of the election cries of the Lloyd George Coalition was Housing Reform, but with what unsurmountable obstacles are those tinkering reformers faced who are unprepared to abolish the Capitalist system.’
A Newham resident speaks out.
A brave woman spoke to the campaign at the end of the meeting, having been inspired to tell her story to help reach out to others and work collectively to raise the issues and find solutions and support. This illustrates everything and more that was raised in our meeting. She told us:
I am a single mother of three who was in private accommodation for seven years and was evicted when the landlord wanted to sell. The landlord became aggressive, and has currently kept the deposit and tried to sue me for contacting environmental health about the mould. My daughter was born extremely premature and has chronic lung disease. I can’t afford another place in the private sector and the landlord still has my deposit.
I suffer with Anxiety and OCD and both my children have medical problems.
My children are not currently staying with me and are staying with their father and grandparents.
I have chosen to do this because I don’t want them to be in the horrible temporary accommodation I have been given. I can’t cook adequately there.
I am staying at the property in the evening and leave early in the morning to get the children ready for school and to take them to school. I stay with the children until they go to bed and then I go back to the property. The house the children is in is overcrowded.
Newham Council is fully aware of my difficulties and have letters from my psychiatrist detailing how I am currently suffering a significant deterioration in my mental illness due to recent changes in my housing circumstances and made particularly difficult and unbearable due to my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Depressive illness.
The housing officer said that Newham Council has carried out their duty by giving me a house and that no one can say how long the temporary accommodation will be for.
I am very ashamed of being in this situation and more so having to put my children through it.
We demand housing justice for Newham’s residents.
Join us on our weekly street stalls, Saturdays 12-2pm on the Broadway in Stratford outside Wilko’s and come to the next campaign meeting, Saturday 3 March 2.30-4.30pm at Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, E15 4DN. Robin Wales must go! The Carpenters must be saved!
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
Saturday 7 October was a busy day for Focus E15 campaign as we celebrate four years of campaigning for social housing and against social cleansing.
On our lively weekly stall on the Broadway in Stratford, Focus E15 campaign was joined by members of the Renters Power Project and the London Renters Union, along with Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!
Then we had our monthly campaign meeting (first Saturday of the month, 2.30-4.30pm Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, E15 4DN). The meeting had updates on people working with the campaign and their current housing situation, including the racism of detention and threatened deportation, the isolation of families socially cleansed from Newham when they run into local difficulties, and the threats of people being separated from their children in desperate housing situations despite Section 17 of the Children’s Act regarding keeping children and parents together.
During the campaign meeting we also discussed the following:
The debt crisis of Newham Council
It is clear that Newham council is mired in debt. Recent research from the Money Advice Service, shows that residents of Newham are the most likely to be overburdened with debt: one in four people – approximately 60,000 people in Newham are affected. News has also emerged in the hidden draft accounts (due to be signed off) that a ‘loan’ made to help transform the 2012 Olympic stadium into West Ham United’s new football ground is being written off.
Evidence is also emerging that Newham’s private rents are at a level higher than those set in the wealthy borough of Barnet. This cannot be unrelated to the fact that between 2012 and 2016 there was a 50% rise in people living in temporary accommodation across London and for that same period there was a 100% rise in Newham.
All hands on board to defend the Carpenters Estate
The Carpenters was once a thriving estate in the heart of Stratford in Newham. It must be seen as a crime that over 400 homes on the estate have been left empty (some for as long as 10 years), because people were forced to move away in the run up to the Olympic Games in 2012. During this time the council has overseen the steady rundown of the estate. In August, Newham council published a notice in the Official Journal of the European Union calling for a private sector joint venture partner for the ‘redevelopment’ of the Carpenters Estate. Now the council wants to demolish 700 existing homes with more decanting and social cleansing and replace them with 3,000 new homes. We can predict that the council and their private sector partners will find a slippery way around the 35% so called ‘affordable’ homes target. Focus E15 campaigner stated: ‘we would not phrase this as progress, but as an increased push by the council to clear the estate of working class people’, and got this reply from Robin Wales: ‘we strongly refute that there is any kind of social cleansing taking place in Newham – it is an unfair and unfounded allegation.’
This is rich from a borough which continues to send many residents to whom it owes a statutory duty to house, out of borough and out of London. The procurement process for a private sector joint venture partner will close in Autumn 2018 and the preferred bidder will be chosen late 2018 with a view to starting work on the site in 2020. Focus E15 campaign, in the footsteps of CARP and the residents who blocked the previous attempted UCL take-over of Carpenters around the time of the Olympics, is working closely with residents in the areas of the estate already receiving letters and knocks on the door about enforced decanting. Many elderly residents who have been on the estate since the 1970s are clear that they will not be moved. Focus E15 campaign stands in solidarity with them and joins them in their resistance.
In light of this, we discussed Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at the Labour Party conference, his pledge to tackle local Labour councils…. and discussed Robin Wales and Labour in Newham in that context. Below is an analysis by Architects for Social Housing on the Labour Party Conference and Jeremy Corbyn’s speech that makes an interesting read:
Gendering the right to housing in the city: Homeless female lone parents in post-Olympics, austerity East London. A paper by Paul Watt of Birkbeck University
This paper assesses how gender, housing, austerity and the right to the city inter-relate with reference to female lone parents from East London, the site of the 2012 Olympic Games. In so doing, the paper draws upon qualitative research undertaken with lone parent mothers living in temporary accommodation. The women’s housing experiences are embedded within a deepening of neoliberal welfare cutbacks and restructuring under what Peck (2012) has called ‘austerity urbanism’. Although the mother’s lives are based in East London where they have extended family and where many of them grew up, they have either been moved, or face the prospect of being moved, out of the area and even beyond the city limits into suburban South East England. Rather than basking in the much trumpeted 2012 Games regeneration ‘legacy’, these women’s right to live in East London, close to their support networks, is being eroded.
The London Renters Union (; ) spoke about their ideas and how they are planning to work in Newham, building a union that will stand with and for London’s private renters to fight for decent secure, affordable homes and build the power to transform our housing system.
We also heard about a political art exhibition called Longing and Belonging and we had an introduction to the local heritage project.
The Heritage Lottery Project – Discovering Stratford Village 1890-1990
Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 October 11am to 4pm
Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, London E15 4DN.
An exhibition with photos and oral history researching the lives of past and present residents through archive research and oral history collection, covering streets bordered by Romford Road, West Ham Lane and Vicarage Lane. Charting and celebrating the economic and social history of the area and ensuring its heritage will not be forgotten.
We also heard about the Pavement, a free magazine for homeless people, and about the Economist Children’s Charity for 8 to 16 year olds and their six week project to help teach children about social housing issues with interviews and information being broadcast in 70 schools around the country.
MEANWHILE while some of us were in the meeting, other Focus E15 campaigners were giving talks including at Eyesore talks – London in limbo and celebrating with Clapton Ultras () to mark their fifth birthday. The club’s slogan is Sometimes anti-social! Always anti-fascist! With this in mind Clapton Ultras have lent their support to help the revival of one of East London’s last remaining amateur clubs, the Clapton Football Club, currently members of the Essex Senior League, home at The Old Spotted Dog Ground. The games are fun, the crowd is lively, with international songs and chants and solidarity, and banners and flags to match. Campaigners enjoyed marking the occasion of 5 years of community led football.
Don’t miss out on our next meeting on Saturday November 4th. Join us to be part of raising consciousness, sharing information, debating, discussing and challenging Robin Wales and Newham Labour council….Take action to defend people’s rights to homes and safety.
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.
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.
Have a Nag Robin…
The Newham Nag is a spoof magazine, put together by Focus E15 campaign and Debt Resistance UK to bring some truth to the streets of Newham and to challenge the Labour Council’s in house magazine,The Newham Mag, which unfortunately pops through people’s doors every two weeks. The latter publication is full of pictures of smiling Mayor Robin Wales telling us all what an inspiring borough Newham is, when in reality, Newham faces huge debts from LOBO loans, instigates ongoing social cleansing and has residents living in towers with cladding that has failed recent safety tests. Newham also owns many empty council homes like those on the Carpenters Estate where 410 homes are still boarded up and remaining residents there now face eviction and are worried about where they will live. The borough has a rising number of homeless people sleeping rough or living in temporary accommodation. Plenty of reasons then to Nag Newham!
At the annual Newham Mayor’s Show in July this year, Focus E15 campaign spoke to local residents and ran an open mic outside, demanding safe, secure, long term housing for all and distributed the Newham Nag for free. The campaign set up outside the show grounds because Newham council will not allow anyone to hand out their own literature inside. Our campaigners and supporters made sure everyone got a copy of the Nag as they came out.
We thought you might like this photo taken of the Mayor at ‘his’ show…
If you feel concerned about housing safety standards and the rising number of residents sleeping rough or living in inadequate accommodation then join us on the streets, 12-2pm every Saturday on The Broadway in Stratford for a public speak out and stall with open mic.
Please also join the campaign on Monday 23 July at 1pm at Bridge House in Stratford to demand Newham Labour council saves the Carpenters Estate and that it is repopulated immediately.