Rumours of Robin Wales’s resignation have been squashed!

Robin Wales is NOT out. The past 24 hours social media has been going crazy with rumours of the Mayor of Newham Robin Wales stepping down!

We should have seen this was too good to be true and that he would never have done the right thing… it isn’t in his nature. Robin Wales thinks he has a chance of winning the mayoral selection. Robin has a history of using sneaky tactics to buy more time.

Wales has served as Mayor of Newham since 2002 and had leading roles in the council since 1995. The gentrifier of Newham has recently let £52.5 million slip away from tax payers money from the sell off of the Olympic stadium. The equivalent of 125% of our council tax is spent on paying back the interest on LOBO loans the council has taken out.
Wales’s agenda is clear. In 1997 he 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”.

In more recent years Robin Wales said to Focus E15 campaigners “if you cant afford to live in Newham you can’t afford to live in Newham”. Social cleansing is happening across Newham. We must stop all this housing misery now.

We have seen Red Door ventures coming into the borough, private insecure renting increasing and social council housing demolished and left empty. These are few examples of the many corrupt schemes introduced and supported by the Mayor as homelessness increases every day. One in 25 people in  Newham are homeless – the highest in Britain. This makes 13,607 people. The number of people homelessness in Newham has increased by 1,361 from 2016 to 2017. (Source: Shelter).

We all had the feel for celebration when we heard the news yesterday; if you for one moment said oh finally he is out -then we need to be working together! We must demand Wales steps down! We must demand the end of this dictatorship and we must be united! Join Focus E15 every Saturday 12-2pm, Stratford Broadway (outside Wilkos) and  join us at our next meeting, where we will be discussing the Mayoral selection procedure and the all next steps of the campaign. The meeting is at Sylvia’s corner, 97 Aldworth road E15 4DN at 2.30pm on Saturday 3rd March. 
Robin Wales get out!

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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.

Newham council we are watching you

Focus E15 campaigners started the new year as we mean to go on, as thorns in the side of Newham Labour Council. This is because Newham council continue to prevaricate about dangerous cladding, keeps hundreds of homes empty on the Carpenters Estate and continues to move people out of the borough and out of London, with no regard for the health and well being of adults or children.

On Thursday 11 January, Mayoral Proceedings were held at East Ham Town Hall. Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham, due to contest his seat in May this year, opened by saying what a fair place Newham borough is, giving an example that all children, rich and poor, receive free school meals. He didn’t mention that 1 in 25 people in Newham are classified as homeless and many poor, vulnerable and immigrant families are being sent out of Newham and out of London for housing – which is not fair at all and just shows the corrupt mismanagement of the borough’s housing stock.

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With vocal campaigners in the public gallery, and some fine umbrella-messages, these contradictions were pointed out and the proceedings were forced to end early with one very irate Robin Wales. Campaigners then made their way to a second meeting, The Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which heard (with a section on fire safety), superficial and inconsequential ramblings about safety in clad towers (seemingly satisfied with only having ‘fire marshals’ sitting by the front door), how important it is to engage with residents (clearly councils have to remind themselves of this regularly) and how most people are happy with their housing situation (allegedly 80% of people asked said the council are doing a good job). Yet every week on our street stall campaigners meet residents who are struggling with housing and are fed up and furious with Robin Wales and Newham Labour council.

It was at this point campaigners got to their feet with the new propaganda weapon. Impassioned speeches were made about the political reality of what is happening in Newham and the councillors were forced to adjourn to another room.  Our intervention ended with a chant of ‘Newham Council, we are watching you’. We certainly are and will continue to do so.

Join Focus E15 campaign on the streets, in the meetings rooms, in the council chambers, and stand in solidarity with us to build a movement for decent, safe, secure housing for all.

The next campaign meeting, open to all, is on Saturday 3 February 2.30pm – What about the rights of children…their rights and the councils wrongs in the housing crisis. Come and discuss and make plans together.

Repopulate the Carpenters Estate!
Stop social cleansing!
Make our homes safe now!

The Olympic Stadium Debacle

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Cllr Conor McAuley

Councillor Conor McAuley has written to all members of the council about the Olympic stadium disaster.

Prior to 2014, Cllr McAuley sat in Sir Robin’s cabinet as Executive Member for Regeneration & Strategic Planning. He was also on the planning committee of the Olympic Delivery Authority and the planning decisions committee of the London Legacy Development Corporation.

Colleagues,

I cannot be the only Council member appalled at the loss of £52.2 million invested by this Council into the Olympic Stadium.

To make matters worse, the statements and press releases from Newham Council on the matter have only sought to mislead both elected members of the Council and the public.

Mayor Wales tells us that he is “angry that the deals and decisions made by the former Mayor of London and his administration have left the stadium finances in such a dreadful mess”. 

This is an outrageous attempt by Robin Wales to…

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Focus E15 campaign meetings: finding ways to educate and organise

Every month Focus E15 campaign holds a public meeting at Sylvia’s Corner in Stratford. Public meetings are where Focus E15 campaigners network with other groups, share information and meet local residents engaged in fighting for secure housing. The campaign is always trying to find ways to bring  housing issues out into the public domain and challenge the local power structures in Newham by exposing the council’s appalling record of social cleansing and finding opportunities to take direct action.

It is always such a pleasure to welcome outside guests to these meetings. At the last meeting of the year in December 2017 the campaign was fortunate to have a presentation from Taisa Sanches who gave a talk about the housing situation in Brazil  and the large squatters movement in Rio de Janeiro as she shared her PhD research. We thought followers of this blog would appreciate reading about what we learnt at the campaign meeting. Here are just some of the facts that Taisa presented to us:

  • In Brazil 6.2 million families (more then 20 million people) do not have a secure home. This number includes people who live on the street as well as those who pay rent which is higher then their wage or where more than one family live in the same house.
  • In Brazil there was a military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985. Social movements bravely fought to end the dictatorship.
  • In 1988 the first constitution was written after the fall of the dictatorship. There was a lull in the amount of social activism but soon new movements appear – housing was soon on the agenda again!
  • During the 1990’s neo-liberal and privatisation policies set in, worsening conditions for the poor. There are a number of growing social movements.
  • During 1990’s there was the Favela-Barrio program which saw new policies of  urbanisation of the poorest areas of the city – but only those close to tourist places. Social movements demanded more urbanisation of the favelas as a way of improving the condition of poor quality housing.
  • 1997 MTST – national movement of homeless workers emerges.
  • 2000’s – increasing violence against favela dwellers is justified by the government in the name of ‘public security’.
  • 2014 World cup and 2016 Olympic games saw the removal of 67,000 people from the poorest areas of Rio. Housing campaigns emerge to resist evictions.

We were struck by some of the similarities of what happens to areas which host the Olympic games as ‘regeneration’ is used as the buzz word to clear away social housing (in East London the second largest housing coop in Europe was bulldozed to make way for the Olympic Village, which was then sold off to a Qatari ruling family in 2011). We then had a discussion about learning from other struggles, the meaning of effective solidarity and the importance of having a  platform to organise from during the savage housing crisis in London. Campaigners from East London were inspired by the active resistance shown by campaigners in Rio and thought that sharing tactics and ideas is an important way of raising  awareness of  housing struggles that occur internationally. At the end of the meeting we made a video with a message of solidarity to housing campaigners in Rio.

Our next public campaign meeting will be at Sylvia’s Corner, 96 Aldworth Rd, Saturday 6 January 2018 at 2.30pm. If you would like to speak at our campaign meeting please send an email to focuse15london@gmail.com

 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

Not meeting expectations

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By Iain Aitch

Those attending Newham’s full council last night (4 December) may have been expecting fireworks, given that the loss of £52m of public funds in the London Stadium debacle had just been confirmed. But, in the end, any protest by councillors was limited to a whimper, rather than a bang.

In truth, it was all over bar the shouting by the time the meeting began. Only there was no shouting.

A cowed Labour group had, prior to full council, voted against instituting a judge-led inquiry by a margin of 34 to eight. And, with no elected opposition in the one-party borough, only a few Labour councillors dared to mutter any disquiet in public.

There had been whispers of calls for Mayor Sir Robin Wales’s resignation and even a #RobinWalesMustGo campaign on Twitter, backed by some councillors. Rumours abound that the Mayor was asked to step down at Labour…

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Threatened with eviction when grieving: housing association turns its back on tenants

East Thames Housing Association in the limelight again….
Every week on the street stall Focus E15 campaigners meet people in housing need. We have recently met residents of  East Thames Housing association who are worried about being evicted. Focus E15 campaign have had extensive dealings with this housing association in the past because it was East Thames that wanted to evict young mothers,  when Newham council cut funding to the mother and baby unit in an East Thames managed hostel. These bullying and vicious threats  gave rise to the Focus E15 campaign  in 2013.

In December 2016, East Thames Housing Association joined forces with London&Quadrant Housing Association. Together they manage over 90,000 homes across Britain and pledge to build 100,000 new homes, 50% of which will be ‘affordable’ (we all know that that means 80% of market rent and this is not affordable). Their website states that they ‘combine [their] social purpose and commercial drive, investing all profits back into creating homes and neighbourhoods people can be proud of’. When you read the story below you are left to wonder what  their social purpose is and whose interests are being represented.

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Please read the story below which shows how East Thames Housing Association tenants are  treated. Be ready to join us in the coming weeks to challenge East Thames in their shocking treatment of this grieving family.

East Thames tenants speak out

We have lived at our East Thames home for over 20 years. Sadly, our dad, the sole tenant, passed away before the summer unexpectedly. In the aftermath of his death we have gone through the correct channels and reported the sad news to East Thames.

We applied for succession of the tenancy but this has been declined due to their policy.

It has taken East Thames over four months to tell us something that is policy. We now have 28 days to pack up over 20 years of memories, forcing us to deal with our fathers belongings whilst we are still grieving.

Receiving this result from the housing association felt like a kick in the teeth especially for our parents who are both deceased. They have been London&Quadrant and East Thames tenants since 1982. All parents work hard to keep a safe place for their children growing up and in their absence hope the family home can remain.

East Thames did not present us with any other alternatives for housing just the news that we must vacate.’

Focus E15 campaign believes that these tenants must stay in their long term family home! There is no need for the housing association to evict them. Join with us on the Focus E15 campaign street stall every Saturday from 12-2pm on the Broadway in Stratford, outside Wilkos to discuss this case and make further plans for action.

Fours years on the street and the struggle goes on

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:

 https://architectsforsocialhousing.wordpress.com/2017/09/29/the-labour-party-conference-2017-housing-policy-and-estate-regeneration/

Everyone at the Focus E15 campaign meeting was also excited to hear extracts from a new paper by Paul Watt and would urge people to read it… this is the abstract:

Gendering the right to housing in the city: Homeless female lone parents in post-Olympics, austerity East LondonA 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 (www.londonrentersunion.org; renterspowerproject@gmail.com) 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 (www.claptonultras.org) 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. 

Join us – email focusE15london@gmail.com or find us every Saturday on The Broadway, London E15 from 12-2pm outside Wilko’s. 

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.

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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.