The Focus E15 campaign was established to challenge Newham Council’s policies of expelling the poor and vulnerable of London to towns and cities hundreds of miles away. The Labour-run council claim that there is no housing in Newham. This is a lie. Thousands of properties lie empty and boarded up in this borough of east London. The campaign began in September 2013 after Newham Council withdrew funding from the Focus E15 young people’s hostel and its mother and baby unit. East Thames Housing Association initially threatened to evict the young mothers and have since extended this threat to some of the single residents as well.
Focus E15 is a hostel in Stratford, east London, run by East Thames Housing Association to accommodate young people under 25. On 20 August 2013, mothers and their babies received eviction notices ordering them to be out of their flats by 20 October. The young mothers were referred to a Newham Council housing office and were registered as officially homeless. They were told to look for private rented accommodation, but soon found that almost none accepted people on benefits or that the flats they did find were already gone by the time the council could intervene to help secure the property. It became clear that the young mothers and babies would be offered properties in Manchester, Birmingham or Hastings and if they said no they would be deemed to be making themselves “intentionally homeless”.
In the words of Jasmin Stone, one of the mothers who started the campaign: “This meant we would have no support network… our children wouldn’t know their families. We decided to fight for what’s right. We began an active campaign gathering signatures for our petition and wrote to the council. We met with Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! who have helped from the beginning, standing side by side with us every week at our Saturday stall.”
The campaign is vibrant and exciting, making links with individuals and groups, housing activists and anti-austerity campaigners. We have occupied Newham Council’s Bridge House housing office, held a party in the East Thames Housing association show flat, taken an open air bus to central London to deliver petitions to Boris Johnson and organised a march through Newham. We have repeatedly challenged Labour Mayor of Newham, Robin Wales; in his surgery, at a public council meeting and at the annual Newham Mayor’s show (where he became very abusive at being challenged on his policies). Our message was loud and clear: that Newham’s Labour council is operating a policy of social cleansing – which forces young vulnerable homeless people, including mothers and children, out of London, while council properties in the borough remain boarded up.
Since September 2013 the Focus E15 campaign has held a weekly Saturday street stall with open mic, petitioning and leafleting. We’ve collected stories from the hundreds of people who have stopped at the stall who are also facing social cleansing and the insecurity and unaffordability of the private-rented sector.
A big victory of the campaign has been that all the mothers and babies have been housed in Newham with not one family being sent out of London. However, these are all short-term tenancies in the private rented sector – insecure and expensive housing, and by February 2015 all the mothers will be faced with the possibility of having to move again.
Jasmin Stone says: “The campaign has grown majorly and we have noticed it isn’t just mothers being affected. We have decided to widen the campaign for everyone. We are fighting for everybody with housing problems and offer our full support. We will fight for as long as it takes to stop the privatisation of London and stop social cleansing. We are fighting for social housing for all, a home that everyone can afford, where they feel comfortable and have the support network that we all need!”
Last year Robin Wales was in Cannes in the south of France where he attended the world’s biggest annual property fair, MIPIM (Marche International des Professionels d’Immobilier – the International Market of Real Estate Professionals). Twenty thousand people attended this jamboree, at the cost of €1,600 each, where government representatives alongside multinational companies and property developers from all over the world come together to further their financial interests and work out how to make the most money out of housing with no regard for those who actually need somewhere to live. Robin Wales defends his attendance, claiming that “it’s not costing the public purse a penny, it’s all paid for by our development partners.” Companies present included LendLease who bought the Heygate Estate in south London, where 1,000 council homes have been lost and just 71 of the new homes being built will be for council/social housing. This October, MIPIM came to London.
Newham has the highest overcrowding rate in the country at 25%, the third highest child poverty rates in London, the second highest unemployment rates and one third of its residents are in low paid work – the highest proportion of any London borough. Newham has been exporting their vulnerable residents for years. Prior to the Olympics in 2012, they attempted to move 500 families claiming housing benefit to Stoke-on-Trent. Meanwhile, housing built for the Olympics remains empty. This lengthy track record of anti-working class practices establishes the importance of Focus E15 continuing to pressure the council and make local Labour leaders accountable.
Jasmin Stone says: “Newham is becoming a place for only the rich! We need to stop this happening. Homes should be for living, not for profit. The council oversees the building of luxury apartments which not even working people on an average wage can afford. East London was originally a place for the poor, now the poor are being shunted out of London. Council homes are being deliberately abandoned and damaged by the council leading to demolition. Carpenters estate in Stratford is an example of this happening with decent homes being left empty for years on end.”
Opened in 1970, Carpenters Estate occupies 23 acres of land in Stratford and constitutes 2000 houses and flats with a shop, a pub and lots of green space. It is a lovely place which has been home to generations of families, young people and elderly people, couples and single residents. Now, it is home to only a couple of hundred people as Newham Council continues its attempt to empty the homes, remove their residents and demolish the estate leaving thousands of empty flats in the tower blocks and boarded up maisonettes and flats in the low rise sections.
In May 2013, University College London was forced to withdraw its controversial plans, negotiated with Newham Council, to build a £1 billion campus overlooking the Olympic Park in Stratford on the Carpenters Estate site. The deal was defeated by a militant and dedicated campaign made up of residents from the estate called Carpenters Against Regeneration Plans (CARP), alongside students from UCL. Focus E15 campaigners met Mary Finch, central to CARP, who has lived on the estate since it was built. She told Focus E15 that the future remains uncertain. Carpenters Estate sits on prime land that Newham Council wants for commercial and money-making purposes and doesn’t care about working class communities, their homes or their security.
People in hostels such as Focus E15, those in B&B accommodation, those falling into rent arrears because of soaring private rents and consequently facing eviction, are being forced out of London into insecure and expensive accommodation while homes lie empty and should be filled with those who need them. What an Olympic legacy after billions of pounds were pumped into the borough.
In one of the richest countries in the world, with an increasingly divided society where inequality is growing and the vulnerable and poor are treated with contempt, where apathy flourishes and fear is instilled in most people, the Focus E15 campaign is showing that collective inclusive action with an imaginative and brave agenda, weekly street events and regular public organising meetings can challenge the status quo and achieve results.
Join us! Keep up the pressure! Make common cause with all those fighting the cuts!
By @FocusE15 | Focus E15 recently made national news when campaigners occupied an empty property on the Carpenter’s Estate in East London. They have since left the occupation which yet again revealed the abusive and anti-democratic behaviour of Newham Council and mayor Robin Wales. The group continues to campaign for the repopulation of the estate