Tag Archives: Rokhsana Fiaz

One year in office for Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz -what next?

Focus E15 campaign and Brimstone House residents made their presence felt at the cabinet meeting on Tuesday 7 May, to mark one year since the Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz came to power and to continue to hold Newham Labour council to account for its housing policies and the high rate of people living in temporary accommodation in the borough and also to witness what our local elected representative are saying.

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Artwork by Andrew Cooper

During the cabinet meeting the Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz commentated that the council ‘will support the delivery of the promises I made to you when I was elected last May’. She hailed her improved transparency and accountability of involving residents in decision-making through citizen assemblies.

However anyone familiar with the politics of Newham understands that Rokhsana Fiaz can only look good following Robin Wales, the former Mayor of Newham. It was the much disliked Robin Wales who was scarred by the Lender Option Borrower Option (LOBO) loans scandal: LOBO loans are long term loans, taken out over 40-70 years. They make money for the banks due to high levels of interest being paid by local councils. Newham took out almost £580m of these risky loans. Rokhsana Fiaz has succeeded in terminating the Royal Bank of Scotland LOBO loans which will save the council £143m.

However, the mayors claims at the cabinet meeting of ‘addressing poverty, tackling inequality and sharing economic prosperity’ ring hollow with many residents that we meet on the streets, including those living in Brimstone House. Brimstone House was formerly the Focus E15 young people’s hostel, now, bought by the council, it is used as temporary and emergency accommodation. Whole families are shoved into cramped spaces for unspecified lengths of time. Residents have joined forces with Focus E15 campaign to demand that they are housed, locally, permanently and decently.

During the cabinet meeting Focus E15 campaigners also highlighted the fate of Carpenters Estate. The campaign remains in contact with those evicted from or still living in the deliberately run down estate. Former residents were bullied out of their homes, they were lied to when they were told they would be able to return, and they still suffer the outrageous indignity of seeing their own fantastic flats laying empty  over a decade later.

As Newham council begins to manoeuvre its way around the existing residents living on the estate it has prepared the ground by releasing an estimate of costs involved in demolition. This document states that full refurbishment of the tower block would cost £70m versus the cost of demolition of all the 3 tower blocks at £17m. This contradicts the painstaking work that Architects for Social Housing has carried out and which demonstrates for those who care to look, that refurbishment is always the cheaper and more environmentally conscious option.

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Document handed to Carpenters Residents at a residents meeting run by the council

The council have also stated they are creating a new residents group for the estate. At the same time The Great Carpenter Neighbourhood Forum who have developed an extensive and well thought out plan for the estate  which does not involve demolition continues to be completely ignored by Newham Council who refuse to meet with them. The forum have been releasing ever more urgent tweets:

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Newham made a successful bid to the Building Council Homes for Londoners programme and received £107m. A further £515m has been allocated by the council towards housing. Rokhsana Fiaz says they will ensure 50% of all homes built are ‘genuinely affordable’. She says ‘tackling the housing crisis has been my priority since I took office’ and she has been ‘delighted to announce that I have exceeded the housing delivery targets I set for my first year in office’ – at least 100 new social homes in the first year and over 1,000 over the four year term. This is woefully inadequate and embarrassing. 1 in 24 people are homeless in Newham, empty homes are in evidence around the borough and Newham has the longest housing waiting list in London. There are over 400 council homes on Carpenters Estate that are still boarded after Rokhsana Fiaz has been in office for a year.

The Lottery of Housing

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Some people in Brimstone House have been rehoused in good quality local housing, some families offered appalling places that are not fit for habitation, some offered places repainted and carpeted and all kitchen items, some offered places with bare concrete floors and no cooker or fridge, some are still languishing in Brimstone House for years, some are still being sent out of London, and those who refuse what the council deem to be suitable still face being labelled intentionally homeless with the council removing their duty to provide housing.

Read Kate Belgrave’s blogpost and follow the links to understand further how brutal the housing situation is and how menacing, threatening and humiliating the current system can be.

The campaign is determined to keep on raising the issues of Brimstone House and Carpenters Estate. Join us on Saturday on The Broadway, Stratford E15 from 12pm and come to Focus E15 campaign meeting on Saturday June 1st 2.30-4.30pm at Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, London E15 4DN where the discussion will be on all the above issues as well as learning about international housing solidarity, with Focus E15 campaigners just back from Palestine and comrades from the Revolutionary Communist Group giving eye witness accounts from their recent solidarity brigade to Cuba.

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The future of Carpenters Estate is still on shaky ground as Newham’s housing crisis continues

“I will continue to put housing as one of my top priorities to tackle the housing crisis head on.” This is what Rokhsana Fiaz the Mayor of Newham promised when responding to a report by the housing charity Shelter released in November, which confirmed Newham as having the worst homelessness rate in Britain with over 14,500 people stuck in temporary accommodation. With the reality of homelessness ever present on the streets, the campaign cautiously welcomed the news last month that the new Mayor was putting on hold the tendering out process for Carpenters Estate.

A consultation about the future of the estate has been spearheaded by Rokhsana Fiaz who has stated that she is open to new ideas about estate redevelopment. However Newham council is heading for a PR nightmare with questions mounting about what any possible redevelopment will look like and who will pay. The council has pledged that 50% of any new homes built on the estate will be affordable. Yet according to the Carpenter’s Neighbourhood Forum, demolition of the entire estate looks  likely as the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) who has planning responsibilities for the area has demanded 2,300 homes are built on the site, with ‘either 35% or 50%’ homes for social rent. Note that there is not even a solid commitment to the 50% social rented homes Newham claims will be built. Vague numbers and bewildering prospect for residents who are fed up with being ignored and patronised by arrogant Labour councillors.

The remaining residents of Carpenters Estate are currently left in a state of limbo worrying about the fate of their homes and community. They have spent decades fighting to save their homes whilst the council under the much loathed Robin Wales, harassed and evicted residents, leaving around 400 flats empty.  The current consultation could turn out to be yet another PR exercise. Now is the time for new administration in Newham to be showing firm political leadership and commitment to saving public land from private developers in order to keep our much needed council housing stock in the public domain. The demand for council housing in Newham is high and publicly owned land should not be up for grabs. Look at what happened at Woodberry Down estate in Hackney to see how estate demolition can lead to a loss of homes for social rent.

Close attention must be given to all concerns and new ideas must be found. Architects for Social Housing is doing important work on this issue. The cost effectiveness of demolition needs to be thoroughly interrogated. The council should be honest about what the whole sordid regeneration game is all about– as lining the pockets of private companies is not in the public’s interest.

This story is being repeated around the country as council estates are flattened and councillors shrug their shoulders or rub their hands with glee. This is also a story about  a neglected council estate and a burgeoning housing crisis, plus a national Labour party promising to ensure that no social housing will be lost in any redevelopment schemes if they ever manage to get into power. However The Labour party’s Green paper on housing published in April 2018 doesn’t really promise to save our existing council housing stock and says “where proposed estate regeneration scheme involves demolition of existing homes, a Labour Government will ensure there is support for the proposal through a ballot of residents…” How does this policy begin to tie in with what is happening at a local level in Stratford in Newham?  We can understand this question more when we begin to look at who has been advising Newham council on the future prospects for Carpenters Estate.

Focus E15 Campaign was introduced to Deborah Heenan in October at a meeting to discuss housing issues with the Mayor. Deborah Heenan is the Major Projects Director for Newham Council and is taking a lead on Carpenters Estate redevelopment. She certainly has a significant history in working on housing redevelopment schemes. According to her LinkedIn profile she was Strategy Director at Berkeley Homes in 2007-2008 (the company responsible for providing fewer social rented homes on Woodberry Downs estate in Hackney, see above), from 2012 she has been the Director of Wichelstowe in Swindon which is the largest housing scheme built on public land in Britain and from 2014 she’s been CEO of Forward Swindon, an Arms Length Management Organisation which was handed responsibility by Swindon Conservative council for ‘regenerating’ Swindon town centre.

Does she represent a new kind of thinking?  Will she even consider credible, alternative and cost effective plans to demolition? Will she embody the people centred socialism that the Labour Party professes to represent? We seriously doubt it.

What shall we do now?
The London Legacy Development Coorporation are also carrying out their own consultation. If you are a Carpenters resident or a stakeholder in the area please email, before Sunday 23 December 2018  planningpolicy@londonlegacy.co.uk  (subject heading, Local Plan Review).

The Carpenters Neighbourhood forum have issued the following example below (adapt as you see fit):

Dear LLDC,

As a resident/stakeholder of the Greater Carpenters Neighbourhood Area, I would like to make the representations below in response to the draft changes to the LLDC Local Plan. My response concerns change reference number C301. Site Allocation SA3.4: Greater Carpenters District. Type of Change: Major.

‘The Site Allocation is expected to yield a minimum of 2,300 new homes (gross) with an affordable housing threshold of 35% or 50% on public sector land, in accordance with Policy H.2’

I do not agree with this new site allocation of ‘a minimum of 2,300 new homes (gross)’ for the Greater Carpenters District, as this would mean demolition of existing homes. It seems impossible to build so many new homes in our area without drastically affecting our community for the worse, unnecessarily forcing households to move, destroying many social homes with inadequate replacement and jeopardising the situation of leaseholders and freeholders. We have been fighting as a community for many years to prevent such destructive change and will continue to do so.

Regards

[NAME]
[address]

Together we are stronger. Save Carpenters Estate.

Will the new Newham Labour Mayor save Carpenters Estate?

Focus E15 campaign hosted a packed meeting on Saturday 10th November and discussed the uncertain fate of the Carpenters Estate in Stratford. The reason the campaign keeps returning to this discussion is because Newham council has left 3 tower blocks empty on the estate for over 10 years. This means almost 400 flats have been left empty during a national housing crisis. The fact that homes have remained empty is a gross injustice felt by those forced to leave their estate and community. Some residents evicted were told they would be given the right of return – but have heard nothing from the council since.

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Banner by Andrew Cooper. See https://andrewcooper-unseen.org/portfolio/banners/

Saving council housing must be an immediate priority for Labour controlled Newham Council, where 1 in 25 people are homeless. Focus E15 campaign upholds the principle that every human being has the right to safe, long term affordable housing which means that council estates need saving from private developers looking to make profits. What is one of the worst thing a council could do to its own residents? Using bullying threats and evicting residents from their own homes and handing estates over to private companies must come close to the top of any list.

With this in mind, campaigners read (with their eyes wide open) in the Newham Recorder last month that the new Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz seems to be signalling a change of direction regarding the future prospects of Carpenters Estate. Is a desperately hoped for sea change really at hand? In the article, Rokhsana Fiaz talks about the “redevelopment” of the estate, explaining that a master-plan will be developed which “means making sure we listen to residents and explore every option”.

Focus E15 campaign awaits to see what the plan will be. Now is the time for courageous, bold and imaginative ideas in order to save and build new council housing on the estate for the people of Newham. This is why the campaign is asking the council to carefully consider the social, financial and environmental costs of demolition. Sensible and financially viable alternatives to demolition do exist, like those the Architects for Social Housing (ASH) are advocating. Their plans include refurbishment and building on disused land. As ASH argue, this would be a far more cost effective option than demolition and if adopted could be a blueprint to follow for councils across the land.

Roksana Fiaz has said that an announcement regarding the estate is imminent. Will the council come up with exciting and humane plans that differ from the wrecking ball model that is causing misery and heartache to council tenants on estates across the country? Will Newham Council break free from the lure of private developers and by doing so offer hope to council tenants everywhere? This could be achieved by treating the estate as valuable, not because of land value or the chance to sell properties to investors but because of the value in community: the mental and physical health of local residents is important and the task of saving future generations from destitution and social cleansing is urgent. A council estate can provide long term security and affordable rent to residents – just part of the remedy needed to help ease the housing crisis in Newham where too many people are shut out of having a decent future. Rokhsana Fiaz and Newham council…. this is your challenge. We also demand an immediate end to all evictions and out of borough/out of London housing placements while housing policies are being addressed.

Demands from Newham residents living in Brimstone house grow louder

Brimstone house in Stratford in Newham East London is the name of the former Focus E15 hostel. Conditions have changed very little since Robin Wales closed down the mother and baby unit there 5 years ago. Families are still living in temporary, overcrowded accommodation, unsure of how long they will be left there and extremely worried about being evicted and being sent out of London altogether by Newham council. Focus E15 campaign believe that residents from Brimstone house need to be rehoused in their community close to their support networks and this is what residents are demanding.

The stressful eviction process should stop- however families must not be left in prison like conditions for years on end! Suitable accommodation must be found (even if that means the Council opening up empty properties in the borough) as big, bold solutions are urgently needed to provide Newham residents with long term housing.

Residents have come up with demands which were discussed and given to the Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz and John Gray, Cabinet Member for Housing at a significant meeting that took place at Stratford Town Hall on Saturday 27 October.

Immediate demands

  • Open the conservatory space in Brimstone House for communal use and open the locked children’s park next door.
  • Review the security procedures so that they protect the residents instead of punishing/hindering them
  • More washing machines should be provided at no extra cost to residents with an aim of creating a community run launderette with an attendant.

Below are wider demands (however residents would still like to see action on these before Christmas!):

  • No more evictions from Brimstone house until safe, suitable accommodation is found in Newham, like  Carpenters Estate
  • To recognise that everyone has the right to refuse accommodation outside of the borough without being labelled as ‘intentionally homeless’ (sic). End the use of this policy!
  • Stop threats from council workers to involve social services (i.e if you made yourself ‘intentionally homeless’ we will rehouse your children but not you).

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Housing should be seen a basic right in a rich country like ours.
Victory to Brimstone house residents in their fight for decent long term housing! 

‘Decanted’ from the Carpenters Estate in Newham – a former resident speaks out

Below are the words of a former resident of the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, Newham, London E15. After decades in her home, she was forced out by the council in the run up to the Olympics. The Labour Council, led by Robin Wales, was champion of gentrification and social cleansing. It is an outrage, that the homes that people were forced to leave have remained empty ever since. The writer below can still look up at the windows of her beloved home in one of three deserted tower blocks on the Carpenters Estate. Shame on Newham. An apology is long overdue, and reparations are still awaited. The pressure is on the new Mayor and her council to immediately refurbish and repopulate the Carpenters Estate.

The decant out of Dennison Point – Carpenters Estate.

I lived at Dennison for many many years, the decant was a sad day for me. Residents were told by the council that after refurbishment of Dennison Point, those who wished to return would be able to do so. I was moved out in one day, there was no time given to think about leaving. I had no cooking appliance for a few weeks because the new location did not have gas. So I phoned someone who told me that there was money allocated for cooking appliances. One would think that these necessities would have been sorted out before I moved in to the flat.

It is plain to see that Dennison Point has no defect and therefore should not be demolished.

I lost my friends.

Many of the committee spoke out and the council did not expect the news to be in the open.

I am standing with Focus E15 campaign, who are passionate about the right for social housing. They are giving a voice to the people who are being pushed out of council homes and out of the area where they have lived with their friends and relatives.

 

 

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A victory in court- but the fight against ‘intentional homelessness’ goes on.

Focus E15 campaigners were thrilled that Sara won her right to appeal against Newham Council after a victorious appearance in court on Thursday 26 July. The council had said that Sara had made herself ‘intentionally homeless’ for refusing to give up her life in Newham where she has a job, where her children go to school and where all her family and support networks are, after she rejected an offer of a place outside of London.  We were very surprised that this case had even gone to court as we have been highlighting this case to Newham council for over 6 months.

Focus E15 campaign strongly believe that families and communities must stay together to be strong and connected. Mental health distress is becoming all too common due to rising levels of housing insecurity and homelessness.  After the court ruling Newham council have promised to review Sara’s case.  If their review is favourable, then the decision to discharge their legal duty to house Sara will be withdrawn. If their review is not favourable, then the discharge decision will stand, but Sara will be entitled to proceed with an appeal against that decision. Focus E15 campaign will continue to support Sara, ensuring that she has access to legal advice and representation. Watch the report on RT below.

We say loud and clear that there is NO such thing as intentional homelessness!
………………
What is happening at Brimstone house?

Focus E15 campaign have been continuing to highlight the unsuitable living conditions at the former Focus E15 hostel, now owned by Newham council and renamed as Brimstone house.  GRIMstone house may be a more fitting name for it because so many vulnerable adults and children are living in cramped and overcrowded conditions.

The stories we heard from residents on Saturday 28 July at an organised campaign fun day were alarming.  One women we spoke to is being evicted imminently.  She has a daughter who is disabled. The only advice she has been given is to go to the charity Shelter upon eviction.  She has no idea what will happen.

Another man we spoke to who is in a wheelchair is living in a flat that is not designed in an accessible manner – so much so that he cannot wash in his bathroom and travels to a disabled centre in Newham to take a shower. This is not on and surely cannot be even legal?

There has been no change to the prison-like atmosphere of visitors having to sign in to see friends and being vetted. Outrageously, the other issues are the continuous difficulties for disabled occupants to gain access to their own accommodation as the door entry system requires fob access.  As there is still restrictions placed on friends’ or relatives’ visits, they can not stay overnight even when essential for support.

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Brimstone house residents having fun with Focus E15 campaigners

We have alerted the Mayor and relevant councillors who promise that a site visit will take place and that a meeting will be held to listen to residents concerns.  The council may need to provide free legal advice in order for these residents to get the housing justice that they deserve.

We can’t help thinking that the best long term security for these residents would be on the Carpenters Estate. Watch this space for updates on resident meetings over the next few weeks and stay tuned for further updates on Sara’s case. In the meantime, see you on the streets in August outside Wilko’s on Saturday’s between 12-2pm (NB no street stall on 4th August).

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Brimstone house residents live in temporary accommodation whilst at the same time 3 tower blocks down the road, on Carpenters Estate have remained empty for over 10 years.

A day in the life of Focus E15 housing campaign 

Focus E15 campaign split forces on the morning of Saturday 14 July. Our street stall was set up on Stratford Broadway by some, whilst others went to meet Newham’s new Mayor, Roksana Fiaz, at her surgery in East Ham library. Our determined group comprised of campaigners and residents from the hostel Brimstone House in Stratford, residents from the tower block Ferrier Point in Canning Town as well as local families facing eviction, all coming together to raise concerns.

We bartered a collective meeting with Roksana Fiaz and she listened to everyone’s concerns in turn which meant the meeting lasted over 1 hour. This was quite a difference from the Robin Wales experience we had been use to, where young mothers were treated with utter contempt and disdain.

Roksana Fiaz and the councillor Susan Masters who was also present were both updated about the dehumanising and prison-like security at Brimstone House, the ongoing battle against intentional homelessness, the fight against poor housing conditions and the horror of bailiffs, the inadequate housing provision for people with disabilities and children, and the way in which people are treated in the council housing offices. The message was clear, that people want permanent and appropriate housing in their communities. Roksana Fiaz instructed her staff about the issues that need following up urgently and said that her officers and the councillors need to meet with residents to hear these problems first hand. Focus E15 campaigners also raised the issue of the empty homes on Carpenters estate and she said that in the Autumn she will meet with Carpenters residents and others with updates and plans.

Focus E15 campaign will be following up all these pledges and promises.
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Meanwhile, at our stall we were joined by a very worried resident of Ebury Bridge Estate in Pimlico as Westminster Council has just voted to demolish their estate. We discussed our experience of campaigning and suggested the next steps and tactics – watch this space for an upcoming meeting in Pimlico which everyone is welcome to support!

As we ate some lunch after the street stall and the meeting, we were found by a group of housing activists from Denmark who had come to make links with Focus E15 campaign. They are part of an important new housing campaign in Copenhagen, fighting against the ‘Ghetto List’ – part of a shocking new Danish policy whereby areas are becoming known as ghettos, rights are being denied to those living in those areas – the people who live there are predominately non-western European and working class. Under the new law, children will be forced to attend day-care centres to learn ‘Danish values’, residents can receive lower welfare benefits than elsewhere, and punishments for crimes committed in the area could potentially be given double the amount of a normal sentence. Our new Danish friends said that they would be writing a blog for our website addressing their struggle, but in the meantime, see an article about this issue here: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/isolation-not-integration-minorities-targeted-danish-ghetto-policy-denmark-1826345568
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We finished our Saturday marching for Grenfell – the most shocking symbol of all the struggles in the housing crisis. We will stand with the Grenfell community until there is justice.
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Please join our housing campaign on the streets next Saturday – and remember there is a place for everyone!

Campaigners call for a ‘People’s Newham’ as Robin Wales is voted out.

On Saturday 17 March, Focus E15 campaigners celebrated the news of Robin Wales’ deselection by riding through the streets of  Newham in a open-topped bus. The bus was draped with placards, banners and flags displaying clear political messages about the lack of social housing in the borough. Campaigners sang out the good news that the Mayor had been deselected, chanting in unison ‘Robin Wales has gone -so long so long’ and received many thumbs up and happy waves from Newham residents amazed at the sight of a bus load of campaigners. There were many joyful beeps and hoots from supportive motorists.  Back on board the bus, exhilarating live drumming kept the freezing temperatures at bay as did the constant chanting of ‘Robin Wales is Out’ all set to the sound of popping champagne corks and loud cheering.

This celebratory mood is understandable as the Labour Mayor Robin Wales has been in power for 23 years, leaving behind him a rotten legacy of 1 in 25 people homeless. Focus E15 campaign has been a constant thorn in the side of  Robin Wales for the past four years by protesting at the lack of council housing in the borough at many Mayoral proceedings and full council meetings, as well as leading an occupation on the boarded up Carpenters Estate back in 2014, when the Mayor was forced to issue a public apology for the way he had treated the original 29 mothers from Focus E15 hostel.

However Focus E15 campaign knows full well that the fight for decent council housing does not end with Robin Wales’s deselection.

With this in mind, Focus E15 campaign is already placing demands on the Labour Mayoral candidate Rokhsana Fiaz and demanding that Carpenters Estate is saved for all existing residents and is maintained as 100% council  housing.

With the news of Robin Wales’ defeat, groups in Newham have started to push for a People’s Charter which has already been presented to Rokhsana Fiaz. It is printed in full below. We will continue to raise the rights of all residents of Newham and hold the incoming council and the next Mayor to account.

Join us at our public meeting on 7 April at 2.30pm at Sylvias Corner, 97 Aldworth Rd E15 4DN to discuss more.

If your group would like to sign the charter please send an email to focuse15london@gmail.com or send the campaign a message on Facebook or twitter  @focuse15.

The charter has so far been signed by the following groups and individuals:

  1. Kevin Blowe
  2. Focus E15 Campaign
  3. Newham People’s Alliance
  4. Unite for Change
  5. Newham for Change
  6. The People’s Revolt
  7. East London Revolutionary Communist Group
  8. Newham Green Party
  9. Sasha Das Gupta
  10. Nadia Johnson
  11. Valerie Johnson
  12. Joseph Johnson

Newham People's Charter final

Newham People’s Charter drawn up as Robin Wales faces deselection.

Newham People's Charter finalRobin Wales, head of Newham Labour Council since 1995 and Labour Mayor of Newham since 2002 is facing the possibility of deselection by the end of this coming week. 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. Robin Wales is running scared and after decades of promoting policies of social cleansing of working class people, forcing them out of the borough, he now proclaims himself a socialist and a radical. We know that nothing could be further from the truth.

If this is the end of the reign of Robin Wales, now is the right time for community groups and campaigns to put maximum pressure on the new Mayor and not let the Labour council off the hook.   Focus E15 campaign is endorsing a people’s charter for Newham. It is a work in progress and is intended to spark debate and discussion about what kind of Newham we, the people, want.

Focus E15 campaign presented this idea of drawing up a people’s Charter to the prospective Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz on Saturday 10 March 2018 at her surgery in Custom House. If your group or community would like to endorse the People’s charter please email the campaign and we will add you onto a list focuse15london@gmail.com.

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Focus E15 campaigners presenting a People’s Charter for Newham to the prospective Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz.