A local resident speaks to Focus E15 campaign about what Carpenters Estate means to her.
When I reminisce about my best moments growing up, I always think of the Carpenters estate. I can’t imagine growing up in a more fulfilling community.
Across all generations we supported one another. You had the over 65s, some who had known each other since the 2nd World War. They had grown up together and then raised their children together. It was a very close, caring and supportive community that felt more like a family. Us children would all attend Carpenters primary school and play together afterwards in the lovely green spaces and park. There was so many different cultures too, I tried so many different cuisines and learned a lot by being around different ethnicities and religions. I actually believed the whole world was multicultural like the estate I grew up on, because to me Carpenters was the only world I knew.
Over the years we have seen people be moved away and relocated. It started with the Olympics. So many people were paid off and moved on. The place was becoming more and more deserted and neglected. There was never a problem to start with on Carpenters, it was just an inconvenience to Newham council and the London Olympics to have ‘common people’ so close to the games and the new Westfield. They were creating a new Stratford and we were an inconvenience to that image.
Now they are proposing to regenerate the whole area! That will mean 60% of homes being demolished. That includes my Grandmothers house which she worked her whole life to own, just to be told in her early 80s that she is at risk of losing it, because they need the land now for their new plans. It’s all what works for them and they never consider the people they are affecting. My Grandmother had been very stressed due to thinking she had to move. Carpenters estate is all she knows and she loves her home and didn’t want to move. Also she was worried about decorating or changing carpets in case she is forced to move.
The council have said that the residents of the estate supports demolition which is a lie. Why would we want our homes destroyed? If they want to support residents, why not improve the conditions on this estate right now? We had already voted for refurbishment over redevelopment but now they are saying something completely different. They have been trying to degrade the estate to make it seem that they have the solution, which is to demolish, because in the long run, it’s what’s makes them the most profit, they do not care about the welfare and health of the elderly and the stress and affects on mental health of local residents.
We must Vote No to keep Carpenters alive and rebuild a community that they demolished years ago. Choose refurbishment over demolition. Community over Capitalism. Everyone deserves a place to live and to stay in their homes that they love and feel content in.
What can you do to help?
Join the Focus E15 campaign street stall outside Wilkos in Stratford from 12pm and then on the Carpenters Estate near the shop this Saturday 20 November from 1pm.
A resident of the Carpenters Estate, Stratford, Newham, London E15, speaks out:
From the day I was born, I have lived on the Carpenters Estate. It was also home to my Mother, Grandfather, Grandmother and Great Grandmother, along with Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, childhood friends and so on.
It has been a special place for me and my past generations, so you can see why the place means so much to me.
I reached many milestones on Carpenters, I learnt to ride a bike on this estate, had my first kiss (cringe), began nursery and even took my first steps here. Carpenters had and still has a great community of elderly and young people.
A lot of us went to Carpenters primary school and then would all play out afterwards on the beautiful green spaces we have on the estate, plus the park and cage, where we would arrange some serious football matches and the different blocks would go up against each other.
We never had any trouble around here, we was like one big family that all looked out for each other.
Summer-times were the best, because all us kids will play outside until the street lights came on, one of our favourite activities being our 100m races down the slope at the back of Dennison point.
These are beautiful memories of an estate that Newham council now wants to demolish. Like we are now seeing with many inner London boroughs, they want to take away the authenticity of our great East End and get rid of beautiful homes to replace them with new-builds. The homes they are proposing are nowhere near the standard of homes that we already have here.
Newham is already very populated as it is, and the council want to overcrowd Stratford even more, shelving people on top of each other between plasterboard, where the walls are so thin, you can literally hear your neighbours farting next door. There are many over 60s still residing on the estate, and after a life of working hard, they do not want the stress and pressure of having to leave a place that many have called home for there whole life. Tragically a lot of residents have died from the uncertainty and stress that they will have to move from their beloved homes and it is unacceptable.
It is very sad that in this day and age profit is more valuable than a human life. Not to mention the horrendous carbon footprint this will have on our already crippled environment, that the pollution from demolition and rebuilding will produce. With Newham having one of the highest pollution levels in the country, it is very concerning that Newham council’s proposed plans have no consideration towards making the global climate crisis any better. Yes I do believe we have to move with the times, but what I don’t believe in is liveable durable homes that are already here being knocked down to build new ones. I don’t believe in the elderly being forced to move, or stressed to death, and The Carpenters Estate being demolished to make way for more overcrowding and pollution. I vote for refurbishment over demolition and community over capitalism.
So I will be voting NO to demolition and hope others will too.
We must fight for the people, the planet and our beloved Carpenters Estate.
The resident ballot for the demolition of the Carpenters Estate has been announced. Focus E15 encourages residents to vote NO and calls on all housing campaigners to reject the demolition of these council homes!
The ballot for the future of the Carpenters Estate will run from Friday 29 October 2021 to Tuesday 23rd November 2021. Should a ‘yes’ vote be returned, at least 60% of the estate will be demolished over a period of 15-20 years. There will inevitably be a loss of secure council housing.
Focus E15 campaign loudly endorses a ‘No’ vote.
Read the details below for all the background… and join the resistance!
A history of struggle
The Carpenters Estate was built in the 1970s on a 23-acre site in the London Borough of Newham. Consisting of 100% council housing, it provided badly needed low-cost housing in London’s East End.
The estate consists of 710 homes; 434 in three high rise blocks (James Riley Point, Lund Point and Dennison Point), and 276 in low rise blocks and terraced houses. Newham Council is the majority freehold owner of the estate, with part being owned by the Worshipful Company of Carpenters. The estate also has non-residential uses in the form of a primary school, a crafts college, community centre, pub and local shop. The estate was previously managed by a Tenant Management Organisation (TMO), with management transferred back to Newham Council in 2015.
This estate now houses residents who are secure council tenants, temporary accommodation tenants, private tenants as well as some leaseholders and freeholders.
Today this land is seen as prime London real estate, sitting in the shadow of the London Stadium and neighbouring Westfield shopping centre and Stratford International train station. At the same time, it belongs to a borough suffering a catastrophic housing crisis. It has the highest rate of homelessness in the country, one out of every 24 people. It has over 5,500 families with children living in temporary accommodation – more than the entire North of England combined. There is in excess of 27,000 on the waiting list for council housing. The potential of losing council housing due to redevelopment is particularly brutal in this borough. A borough which pre-pandemic had the highest number of children in the country living in poverty (39,638 or 52%), the worst level of air pollution in the whole of Britain, the worst overcrowding, at 25% of dwellings. By June 2020, Newham had the second-worst Covid19 death rate in the country.
The struggle to save the estate has already been a long one. Over the past 20 years, various plans have been laid before residents and later retracted as the community have mobilised, and local council administrations and funding options have changed. 2001 saw regeneration options firstly ‘explored’. 2012 saw a significant unity of students and residents in opposing a UCL campus being built on the estate. In 2014 Focus E15 held an occupation of empty homes which received national attention. A community plan was even submitted by the Greater Carpenters Neighbourhood Forum in May 2019, but was later rejected by the London Legacy Development Corporation, the Planning Authority for the estate.
Yet the decanting of the residents has continued from 2004/2005 until today. A report to the Newham cabinet meeting of 4 December 2018 makes clear why:
“‘4.19 The purpose of continuing the decant programme at this time is to continue to prepare the site for redevelopment as soon as possible”.
In fact, in a report to Cabinet on 18 February 2020, the Council forcast a spend of £700,000 for extra security costs on the estate. Of this spend the report notes:
“‘This is mainly to protect the estate from squatters pending the redevelopment proposals of which discussions are ongoing”
It is clear the intention of Newham Council has barely changed, no matter if Mayor Robin Wales or Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz is in charge.
What are the plans?
Plans include the demolition and rebuild of new homes and buildings at Dennison Point, Gibbins Road, Doran Walk, Jupp Road, Kennard Road, Rosher Close, Warton Road and Wilmer Lea Close, and the refurbishment of existing homes at James Riley Point, Lund Point and the tenanted terrace houses on Biggerstaff Road. 60% of the estate will be demolished. At least 50% of refurbished/new built homes will be private. The others aim to be ‘genuinely affordable’ (more on this below).
Who is involved in the regeneration?
Populo Living is Newham Council’s solely owned housing company, previously called Red Door Ventures (RDV). RDV’s strategic aims were ‘investment value and dividend return’. They were a one stop gentrification shop. Is the re-branded version, Populo Living, any different?
In the The Carpenters newsletter of October 2021, Newham Council claim:
“Vote YES for a plan created in Newham, for Newham, with no outside developers involved and all profits going back into the community.”
Sarah Gaventa previously sat on the board of Populo Living. Gaventa has a history of working for Berkeley Group and Lendlease, two of the most prominent private property developers in the country. In fact, she was also previously on Lendlease’s payroll as the public space champion for their Elephant & Castle regeneration project and had chaired the Community Forum for the Elephant and Castle for the last three years. The nightmarish development of Elephant and Castle which has torn working class families from their homes, and replaced them with luxury towers for the rich has been one of the most heated battlegrounds for any housing campaigner. Can Newham Council really claim there are “no outside developers involved” when Populo has a history of board members who are also working for property developers?
Who is funding the development?
In February 2019 Newham Council were awarded £107m as part of the Greater London Authority The Mayor of London’s Building Homes for Londoners scheme. The Carpenters Estate development will receive at least part of this funding. What this means is that the Council is expected to adhere to Greater London Authority and Mayor of London guidelines (and if not the money will be retracted). These include the following:
The Mayor (of London) believes that for estate regeneration to be a success there must be resident support for proposals, based on full and transparent consultation from the very start of the process, and meaningful ongoing involvement of those affected.
The Mayor (of London) also wishes to seethe level of affordable housing – particularly homes where rents are based on social rent levels – maintained and, wherever possible, increased through estate regeneration schemes. He believes plans must be developed through full and transparent consultation and resident involvement.
However, when considering the option of demolishing and rebuilding homes, councils, housing associations and should always consider alternative options to demolition first.
It is also important to positively engage with: elected local councillors and Members of Parliament; residents, businesses and other stakeholders who may not be located within the boundaries of an estate but who will be affected by the process of regeneration’.
Let’s take these in turn.
What does full and transparent consultation look like?
Source Partnership is the ‘independent’ body appointed by Newham Council to do the consultation. Previous clients include none other than Southwark Council – including work on the Aylesbury regeneration. Like Elephant & Castle, the social cleansing and destruction of the Aylesbury estate is viewed by housing campaigners as a disaster.
Although there have been many newsletters sent, door knocking and even the opening of the Dovetail space on the estate, offering gardening, art and exercise classes, it is highly questionable if the Council and Source Partnership’s interactions have been full and transparent. Take, for example, the October 2021 newsletter sent to residents. It does not use the word demolition once, despite a proposal of 60% demolition. It also includes the following:
>Vote YES for a plan created in Newham, for Newham, with no outside developers involved and all profits going back into the community.
>We’re ready to start building a new future, all we need is the green light from you. The vote is completely independent – not run by the council.
>The future of The Carpenters is up to you – if you want to build a stronger estate, you need to vote YES in the ballot at the end of October.
>What will happen if residents vote “No”? The Council will not be able to proceed with current proposals, will not be able to build new homes, and will have to re-consider how it is able to restore the estate.
So it’s yes…or nothing…?!
Well, not quite. According to a Planning submission report to Cabinet in March 2021  upon a no vote the Council would:
“then consider a programme of refurbishment across the estate to bring units back into use”
This doesn’t seem to have been made clear to residents. This deliberate lack of clarity is continued in door knocking exercises to ‘sell’ the yes vote. In scripts from September 2021 written by Source Partnership and edited by Newham Council, the following is included:
“If most residents vote ‘YES’ we are ready to start building a new future for the estate for generations to come, all we need is the green light from you.”
“Vote ‘YES’ if you agree with the proposals and you want a new home on the new Carpenters Estate.”
“Vote ‘YES’ if you are overcrowded and want a new home which is the right size for your family.”
“The future of The Carpenters is up to you – if you want to build a stronger estate, you need to vote YES in the ballot at the end of October.”
“To support the plan put together by Carpenters residents, who have the neighbourhood’s best interests at heart.”
“Vote YES for fast progress after 15 years of waiting: we’re ready to start work in early 2022.”
“What happens if the ballot is unsuccessful?If you vote NO, this regeneration won’t go ahead. We won’t have the funding to build new homes or refurbish the existing ones. We’ll have to go back to the drawing board and it might take years before a new plan can be agreed. “
The above has been drafted by Source Partnership, the Independent Tenants’ and Residents’ Advisor with the input of Newham Council. It does not include the word demolition once.
This is not full and transparent consultation – this is propaganda to push through a ‘yes’ vote.
2. What types of homes are proposed for the Estate?
The Council says they are “working towards providing 50% genuinely affordable homes”. The wording shows there is no certainty of achieving this. In any case, what is ‘genuinely affordable’ rent compared with traditional council rent?
As per the Mayor of London’s website ‘genuinely affordable homes’ funded by the Mayor (GLA) includes London Living Rent, Social Rent, London Affordable Rent and London Shared ownership.
In plans, those residents already on secure council tenancies will keep the same rent levels. Those in Temporary Accommodation (who will be given a secure tenancy if the demolition goes ahead) will be on London Affordable Rent. The London Affordable rent benchmark is £161.71 per week for a bedsit or 1-bed flat. Currently, a council tenant in the Carpenters Estate pays just over £92 per week. Therefore all ‘new’ council tenancies on the estate will pay almost 45% increase on traditional council rents. Anyone moved onto the estate from Newham Council’s waiting list will also be on this higher rent rate.
Furthermore, leaseholders and freeholders on the estate report that they will not receive enough money (including added compensation) for the sale of their properties to be able to purchase again on the new development. Their only option would be shared ownership, which is itself widely criticised.
3. Have the council considered all options but demolition first?
The Greater Carpenters Neighbourhood Forum (launched 2015) created a genuine neighbour led plan consisting of refurbishment of existing homes and ‘sensitive infill’. No demolition.
On 27 June 2017, then Director of Regeneration and Planning for NC wrote to Janiz Murray, Secretary of the GCNF: ‘Overall, LBN Planning conclude that while the plan has marshalled a range of ideas, much hangs off its central presumption of retention rather than demolition and redevelopment, which, due to lack of contextual analysis, is somewhat tenuous in itself and in relation to higher tiers of policy.’
At best, Newham Council were unenthusiastic of GCNF’s plans. But this feeling hasn’t changed and the Forum feels that their plans have been pushed aside and not considered by the council as a real option for the estate.
4. Has the Council engaged with other stakeholders outside the boundaries of the estate?
Focus E15 campaign has been named as a ‘community stakeholder’ in a council document regarding the estate, along with Architects for Social Housing (ASH). Yet, we do not believe we have been specifically consulted by the council or their reps about the future of the estate. Any information and discussion we have had with Newham Council on the Carpenters Estate has been a result of lobbying and demonstrating.
We believe everyone in borough has the right to decide if council homes will be demolished!
….And the future?
We have only scratched the surface. We have had reports from those who have a Right-of-Return to the estate not being given ballot information. We have heard concerns about there not being enough school spaces on the estate when new families arrive. We have heard from residents who feel they are not genuinely being listened to, and in fact feel bullied or exhausted into voting ‘Yes’ as they have suffered long term disrepairs.
If nothing else, residents have the right to be made aware that no matter what the Council tells them now, in estate regeneration, ‘the market’ always dictates:
Carpenters Estate: Landlord Offer and proceeding to a Residents Ballot (Report to Newham Cabinet meeting on 20 July 2021)
“In the event of a significant long-term recession or other economic factors impacting on viability then more difficult options might have to be considered, such as looking at the specification of the built environment or, in a worst-case scenario, reducing the proportion of affordable housing.”
Newham Council and their subsidiaries cannot be allowed to control the narrative and future of the Carpenters Estate. We must endorse a genuine community-led plan such as that submitted by the Greater Carpenters Neighbourhood Forum. Homes should be refurbished, opened and rent be set at council level.
 LLDC was established in April 2012 under the Localism Act, responsible for delivering the Olympic Legacy promise ‘transforming and integrating one of the most challenged areas in the UK into world-class, sustainable and thriving neighbourhoods’.
 Carpenters Estate Joint Venture Procurement – Update (Report to 4th December 2018 Cabinet meeting)
Overall Financial Position 2019/20 (section 7 of report to Cabinet meeting on 18 Feb 2020)
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.
If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor. We are not neutral and we will not be silent.
Israel is again waging open warfare on the Palestinian people, dispossessing and evicting people from their homes in illegally-occupied East Jerusalem, fuelling violence against Palestinians in the West Bank and threatening a full-scale war on Gaza. Already there is mounting death toll and injury and people throughout the world are horrified to learn of Israel’s attacks on children and civilians.
Focus E15 campaign recognises that Britain, arming and funding Israel, is complicit and active in these atrocities committed against the Palestinians. We stand in solidarity with those fighting dispossession, military occupation and the onslaught by one of the world’s biggest military powers, the Israeli Apartheid State.
Since 1917, the British government has supported the Zionist project in Palestine – the settler colonial project that expelled Arab Palestinians from their land, culminating in the Nakba of 1948 when 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly removed, and the setting up of the State of Israel that continues to dispossess the Palestinians of their homes, their land, their history.
Gaza has been under a siege imposed by Israel and Egypt for 14 years which has crippled the economy and health care provision, they have been devastated by the Covid19 pandemic and denied vaccines by Israel.
As we write, the people of Gaza are being bombed with Israeli ground troops amassing at the border – Gaza where half the population are children, and the median age is 18, one of the most densely populated regions on earth.
In January this year, the prominent Israeli human rights group B’Tselem published a report declaring Israel not a democracy but overseeing an apartheid regime from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
Israel has one of the largest military arsenals in the world and points its full might at the Palestinians. Britain and the USA, fund and arm Israel. Britain is the second biggest arms exporter in the world – with £11bn worth of orders. Between 2014 and 2018, Britain increased its Single Individual Export Licenses for arms sales to Israel to a value of £361 million. In December 2020, the US Government provided Israel with $3.3 billion in ‘security assistance’ and $500 million for US-Israel missile defence cooperation.
In Britain, a rich imperialist country, the capitalist crisis is evident with increasing food bank need, homelessness and poverty. The British government that imposes this austerity at home, continues its support for Israel and its racist war against the Palestinian people.
If you can not get to the central London demoon Saturday, join Focus E15 campaign on the streets of Stratford east London on Saturday 15 May 12-2pmoutside Wilko’sto raise the issue of Palestine in our communities.
No War on Gaza!No War on the West Bank!
No dispossessions and evictions from East Jerusalem!
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
On Saturday 17 April we marched, with noise and energy, from Brimstone House to the Carpenters Estate. It is shocking and enraging to see the almost empty tower blocks on the Carpenters Estate – council flats left empty for over ten years, whilst we know that families with children in Brimstone House are crammed into unsuitable accommodation which is unfit and unhealthy for children.
At the same time as the residents from Brimstone House were on the march and demanding to be moved, the Mayor of Newham, in a parallel universe was patting herself on the back and sharing a tweet from Populo living, Newham council’s housing company:
11 families! How insulting, when tens of thousands are left to languish on the housing waiting list, and in Brimstone House alone, over 200 families are stuck in shoddy, cramped accommodation. Families living in hostels across the borough do not care about pomp and awards, they need the council to do their job and provide decent homes for residents. The council should start immediately by saving every home that is boarded up on Carpenters Estate and refurbish the estate for the people of Newham!
Great to have the support from Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism, The Socialist Party, Newham Trades Council, Social Housing Action Campaign, East London People Before Profit .
We hope to see you all at the next action led by residents from Brimstone House on Saturday 8 May. We will be meeting outside 10 Victoria Street at 2.30pm. We will not stop until Carpenters Estate is saved!
A mother living in a hostel is doing her best for her children by trying to keep up with her education. She wants to get ahead and move on with her life by studying, but the cramped living conditions make this difficult. She has to allow the children to play in one bit of the space and then is forced to learn and study in the tiny kitchen area by using the cooker as a work table. There is no other space available as she has two children – in a space that was originally designed for one single person. The hostel known as Brimstone House in 10 Victoria street in Stratford, Newham, is no place for a family to grow and learn.
Families have had to also endure months of living on top of each other throughout lockdown. It is claustrophobic. Why should she and her children be forced to live like this, in one of the richest countries in the world? Mothers have every right to be students and a decent society would ensure that everyone could access childcare and further education and fully contribute to society to the best of their abilities.
Watch and share the video below to understand how some are forced to live. We are demanding that Newham Council rehouse all the families in Brimstone house for the sake of the children’s future – they need to put down roots, to attend the same school, to become part of a neighborhood. Instead they are left at the mercy of the private rented sector, which often means short term tenancies, constant moving and overpriced accommodation. The families living in the hostel have had enough!
Come and help organise the campaign for decent housing in Newham by joining the regular street stall on Saturday’s from 12-2pm outside Wilko’s on the Broadway.
Newham council, give us a future! Give us a chance!
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
Thank you to Piero Corcillo for this guest blog post based on his research on the housing developments that were built on land cleared for the hosting of the Olympic games in 2012. Piero kindly spoke about this research to a public meeting to Focus E15 campaigners at the end of last year. The knowledge that we gained from the facts in his talk has further empowered us and shows that the fight for the Carpenters Estate to be even more urgent.
Social Mixing and the London East Village: Exclusion, Habitus and Belonging in a Post-Olympics Neighbourhood
This research is based on fieldwork conducted in the London 2012 Athletes’ Village – now East Village – in Stratford (a Newham Borough’s district located in East London). The thesis argues that various processes, practices and actors come together to produce an environment that prioritises and valorises the perceptions and preferences of white middle-class individuals. East Village, which was presented as a key element of the Olympic Legacy objective “Homes for All”, is a space that actively reproduces the exclusion of working-class and BAME individuals who make up the majority of Stratford and Newham population. Therefore, the intentions of social mixing are not met in practice.
In 2009, Triathlon Homes (TH) – a consortium between East Thames, Southern housing Group housing associations, and developer First Base – purchased 1,379 flats that were set to be affordable and social housing. In 2011, Qatari Royal family’s sovereign fund Qatari Diar, and British developer Delancey (QDD) purchased the remaining 1,439 properties, together with the public and retail space, as well as the freehold. QDD have set up Get Living London (GLL) as their housing management arm to let their luxury apartments on the Private Rented Sector.
TH is a private provider. Nevertheless, it was able to obtain a £110 million public grant from the UK government’s Home and Community Agency (HCA), and purchase socially rented apartments at the East Village. 675 of TH’s properties are available for social rent, while the remaining 704 are a mix of so-called affordable housing: shared ownership and intermediate market rent. Shelter charity and authors such as Paul Watt and Penny Bernstock have raised concerns about the effective affordability of these properties, which are not affordable for East London low to middle-income households. Concerns have emerged even with respect to social rent. In fact, TH’s social housing allocation policy is to prioritise in-work applicants and disabled people. TH also reserves the right to reject an application for affordability reasons, if a prospective tenant has got insufficient financial means to afford the rent and service charge. Triathlon also reserves the right to terminate a tenancy for antisocial behaviour. A private entity such as TH acts like a judge that questions prospective tenants about their financial capacity, entitlements and attitudes to demonstrate their fit in the neighbourhood. The result is that the most marginal applicants are rejected.
When a new social tenancy starts, the combination between rent and service charge is capped at the maximum social rent level allowable by the HCA. However, after the first year, rent and service charge increase annually, such that social rent levels become higher than what is prescribed by the HCA for registered landlords in receipt of public grants. Being privately owned, TH’s social housing units become subject to market logics, and they are no longer a form of welfare support for those who experience housing need.
Tenure Mix, Security and Design
Despite policy-makers claims, there is a sense that a real mix of tenures within East Village was not a genuine part of the plan, given that QDD and TH blocks are separated. Moreover, socially rented flats tend to be concentrated in different blocks. Even in the buildings where there is a mix of shared ownership, intermediate rent and social housing, the various tenures are often located in different floors, and socially rented flats tend to be concentrated on the lower levels. One is therefore left with the impression that the aim was to set the tenure distribution in a way that kept the most affluent residents separated from the least affluent ones. Such a separation has not facilitated social interaction between neighbours with different socio-economic backgrounds. On the contrary, it has fostered the identification of “us”, the hardworking and well behaving home owners, and “them”, the lazy and unruly social renters; with housing tenure becoming a synonymous of class and ethnic divisions. While Triathlon claims that it would be “near impossible” to know which flat is for social housing and which one is not, the residents know very well where social housing is. “The people who live downstairs” to point to social renters’ “antisocial behaviour” was a recurrent expression in the interviews with shared owners.
East Village’s design has been elaborated in collaboration with Secured by Design, a police initiative that specialises in security features and crime prevention projects. The various plots are equipped with secured entry doors and gates.
East Village’s Secured Doors and Gates
(Source: Piero Corcillo)
Moreover, the landlords have set up the East Village Management Company (EVML), which operates 24/7 CCTV, and employs security guards to patrol the public ground. Building gated communities serves the need to capture and defend social space, especially when white middle-class enclaves like East Village are built near lower-end areas. This vicinity fosters fear of crime and Mixophobia, which, according to Bauman means anxiety and discomfort about diversity.
EVML employs private security to protect residents from real and perceived external threats. However, the security also “protects” them from each other. The East Villagers are encouraged to refer to EVML if there is an issue with some neighbours. This could be viewed as an interference with the private sphere of interpersonal relationships. However, affluent residents approve this policy and they are happy to minimise contact with the neighbours, especially with social renters.
Residential Space and Lifestyle
The spatial dimension of Pierre Bourdieu’s field theory suggests that the Habitus of white middle-class individuals influences their residential trajectory. As Michaels Benson has attested, they look for neighbourhoods congruent with their lifestyle, preferences and perceptions. QDD’s branding strategy is to stimulate affluent home seekers’ pre-existing dispositions. Words and photos representing local parks, gardens, waterscapes and local shops are very frequent in their advertising material. The area is branded as a green island that offers a healthy retreat from the chaos of London.
The Village’s environment requires high levels of maintenance. QDD understands the importance of living near nature and in an aesthetically pleasing environment for the white middle classes. They reproduce glimpses of wildlife, and EVML employs gardeners and streetcleaners to work on a daily basis to maintain the East Village public realm on a high standard of aesthetically pleasing, tidy and clean space. Contact with nature becomes a product for visual consumption. Residents interiorise the landlord’s branding strategy. The idea of East Village as a holiday place, a retreat from the stress of urban life is a recurrent theme in the interviews.
East Village Greenery
(Source: Piero Corcillo)
Moreover, with an awareness of the importance that local sport classes and events, such as markets and outdoor cinemas, have for affluent individuals, QDD organises these activities as part of the complete East Village package that they offer. Residents are not permitted to organise events independently. Everything that happens in the neighbourhood’s public realm must be planned and supervised by QDD. When events take place, seldom they foster active participation or interactions between neighbours. Yet, they convey a sense of belonging and localness.
East Village Events
(Source: Piero Corcillo)
However, the processes described above, happen in contrast to an outside world – the Stratford area and its residents. The residents’ narratives of belonging draw clear socio-spatial boundaries between the cleanliness, vibrancy and beautiful landscapes of East Village, and the dirt, disorder and ugliness of the wider Stratford area. A sense of Mixophobia emerges in relation to the “other” that lives in Stratford. Residents highlight that East Village has a totally different atmosphere from the rest of East London. These feelings demonstrate the fallacy of the promise to deliver an Olympic Legacy “for the direct benefit of everyone who lives there” as the London 2012 bidding team claimed. Even the presence of Stratford children in the Chobham Academy – the East Village public primary and secondary school – generates animosity. They are held responsible for the problems that the East Village children experience at school.
The Retail Infrastructure
For middle-class individuals, artisanal products and locally-produced goods have a high cultural value. The East Villagers describe the shops in the neighbourhood as independent, in the sense that there are no chains. They are tailor-made for young, white middle-class residents. The shops are mostly food-based and they are there to complete the environment that the greenery and aesthetics of community have created, and that is intentionally cultivated by GLL on behalf of QDD. In reality, these shops are not independent. They are purposely selected to comply with QDD’s aspirations for the area.
The retail infrastructure becomes a symbol of the middle-class character of the place. The shop keepers act as social and cultural entrepreneurs. When I spent time in one of the Village’s cafés, I saw the managers and staff systematically building relationships with customers. They offer free bread to new customers, so that they come back, they talk to them, and babysit their children. This goes beyond the average staff-customer relationship. However, this is another product for the consumption of an idea of community that QDD offers.
The working-class and BAME residents who do not possess sufficient amounts of economic and cultural capital to afford and frequent the East Village shops are alienated from their middle classed and westernised eateries and atmosphere. QDD pushes back ethnically diverse and low-cost shops, by requiring unaffordable financial conditions to those who would like to open them. They are deemed to threaten public order and the place’s respectability. The affluent East Villagers develop a sense of moral ownership over the neighbourhood’s retail infrastructure. The healthy food restaurants and trendy shops belong “here”, in the Village; downscale shops and unhealthy restaurants as well as their BAME and working-class customers – belong “over there” in the Stratford area.
Despite being unable to afford the prices, several social renters agree with the landlord and their affluent neighbours. They become unconsciously complicit with the unequal power relations, norms and values that become hegemonic in the area, and perceive them as fair and just; a process that Pierre Bourdieu describes as symbolic violence. They claim that East Village is meant to be an upper-class area of Stratford, where they feel privileged to live. Again, this goes to the heart of the Olympic promise. The residents experience the neighbourhood as something very different from what was supposed to be: a 50-50 affordable-private, socially mixed development. Particularly damning is the fact that QDD and TH allowed the East Village’s community café – arguably the only place designed to be truly inclusive of all socio-ethnic groups in the space – to be shut down due to lack of funds to keep it running.
Despite the presence of many master-planned communities in London, seldom can we observe this level of micromanagement. QDD captures part of the sovereignty that public authorities exercise over urban space, and uses its authority to tell residents how to behave, as well as deciding who belongs and who does not. A state that aims at delivering socially mixed neighbourhoods and affordable housing through mega-events and partnerships with large housing corporations legitimises instead the logics of social inequalities.