On Friday 28 October, residents from Boundary House in Welwyn Garden City and residents of other Theori-run housing, supported by Focus E15 campaign, took their outrage and anger to Theori Housing Management offices in Leyton, Waltham Forest, east London to protest at appalling living conditions.
The demonstration highlights the unfolding tragedy of London’s housing crisis and the fact that Labour-run Waltham Forest council continues to send vulnerable people out of the borough. Many single mothers and families with young children have been transported miles from their children’s schools, jobs, families and friends to Boundary House in Welwyn Garden City. The council uses companies such as Theori to facilitate this process.
Boundary House was originally built for single nurses, but is now home to displaced families crammed into tiny inappropriate, mouldy rooms, with cockroaches and other infestations. The windows without child safety locks are a grave hazard for inquisitive toddlers and children are now miles from their schools. Assistant director of Housing, John Knight, who said that a degree of overcrowding was to be expected, recently concluded that Boundary House meets Waltham Forest council’s required standards and is happy to continue the relationship with Theori. Meanwhile people suffer.
So who are Theori? Theori Housing Management Ltd describe themselves as specialists in the property sector with a portfolio in excess of £500m and growing. Theori is used by at least 21 London councils.They have the gall to say on their website that ‘The team at Theori pride themselves on being specialists in the industry and therefore have an understanding of the factors that affect homeless families’. What an insult to the families displaced into Theori-run housing.The stress and isolation that comes from poor housing and social cleansing is causing a mental health crisis, with people forced into situations that are making them ill, as they are cut off from the support networks that keep them healthy.
When the protest began, Theori locked its doors and hastily brought down the shutters in fear of those coming to tell their stories and in contempt for the residents of their properties who have just had enough of living in such unsuitable accommodation.
Closing the shutters did not shut out the protest and a lively demonstration spread out on the streets outside the locked office. It was colourful, noisy and militant with games for children and speakers on the mic helping passers-by to understand the issues. Protesters dressed up as cockroaches to illustrate the grim conditions residents are forced into. Home made placards got the message clearly across – Theori puts children’s lives at risk – horrible in Theori, horrible in practice and Waltham Forest and Theori benefit from residents’ misery. One single mother, resident of Boundary House, told Focus E15 campaign that:
‘We are fed up, our phone calls and email ignored, our questions not answered and always told by Theori to contact the council and by the council to contact Theori. In Boundary House, nothing has been done to make the windows safe for toddlers and young children.’
Protesters stuck pictures of poor housing conditions to the front of the office and constructed a makeshift house of horrors on the street. The action was supported by Haringey Housing group and the Revolutionary Communist group.
Stories of forced displacement by Boundary House residents ring alarm bell to the young mothers who lived in the Focus E15 hostel in the neighbouring borough of Newham and faced eviction themselves in 2013. The council told them they would be moved to Manchester, Birmingham or Hastings, into private-rented accommodation. The mothers of Focus E15 hostel stood together and said no to being sent away and the Focus E15 campaign began.
It is interesting to note that the day after the demonstration at Theori’s offices, Boundary House residents woke to the presence of Theori housing officers knocking on their doors asking if there are any problems. As one resident told them, ‘don’t ask, you know the problems, just do something about them!’
Expose the councils and the housing management companies!
Decent homes for all!
Stop social cleansing!
Repopulate the empty houses and stop demolishing council blocks!
Come to the next Focus E15 Campaign meeting on Saturday 5 November 2.30pm Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, E15 4DN to hear more about Boundary House, Newham council and all the campaign news.