Posts Tagged ‘East Thames’

Young Mums Party in Protest

Sunday, January 17th, 2021

One of the more encouraging series of protests it has been my privilege to photograph over recent years has been that begun by young single mothers who when threatened with eviction from their hostel in Stratford with Newham Council intending to disperse them into private rented accomodation often hundreds of miles away from their friends and families stood up and fought for their rights.

The mothers and their supporters met on a street corner close to East Thames Housing

The campaign by the mums from Focus E15 gained a great deal of publicity and support for their cause, and some of them became rather unlikely celebrities, speaking at conferences and other events and appearing in theatre performances. And they were largely successful both in getting the council to rehouse them locally, and also in bringing some of the worst aspects of housing policies, both national and by local authorities to the attention of a wider public. They even got me on stage in 2017.

And made their way into the foyer of East Thames Housing

Their campaign widened to a more general campaign over housing problems, particularly in the London Borough of Newham, but also becoming involved in other campaigns across London and elsewhere. Newham is a borough with huge housing problems, but also one that the local Labour Party has managed to make much worse, with policies that have deliberately left good quality council housing empty for years despite one of the longest housing waiting lists in the country.

They pose for a photograph for the local newspaper

Part of the problem with Newham lies in the creation of a directly elected mayor in 2002, the first such mayor in England. This put more power into the hands of the mayor, Robin Wales, and a small cabal of right-wing Labour members, who pursued policies to increase the economic prosperity of the area with little regard for the poorer members of the community, encouraging businesses and bringing wealthier people into the area into new private developments. Focus E15 accused Robin Wales of being a kind of reverse Robin Hood, robbing the poor to give to the rich through his policies which they labelled as ‘social cleansing’.

And then occupy the East Thames show flat for a party

Focus E15 confronted Wales on a number of occasions, and he reacted angrily at times – and later was forced to apologise. Earlier he had been involved in another fight against local residents when he wanted to replace Queen’s Market with a new development including a 31 storey tower; it was seen as so bad that even then London Mayor Boris Johnson stopped it going ahead. And under Wales, the council made some disastrous investments which have lumbered the council with huge interest payments. Newham is essentially a one-party state, but by 2016 many in the local Labour party had become disillusioned with him and wanted change. Wales managed to rig a vote to prevent other candidates standing for Mayor in 2018, but this was overturned after an outcry in the party, and in 2018 Rokhsana Fiaz was elected as mayor. Wales went off to work for the influential right-wing free-market think tank Policy Exchange.

the air is filled with hearts, stars and other shapes

I’m proud to have done a little to promote the campaigns of Focus E15 through photographing some of their events – though I”ve been unable to do so over the past year. They continued to hold a regular weekly outdoor street stall on Stratford Broadway and socially distanced protests through 2020 and hope to do so this year, despite the increased restrictions. You can read about them on their web site, where they make clear that despite the new mayor in Newham little has changed:

The struggle must go on and Focus E15 campaign enters 2021 determined to continue to build a housing movement, challenge the Labour council, give solidarity to all those fighting for housing justice, and…. Educate! Agitate! Organise! so that we expose this ruthless capitalist system and begin to work in unity together for a better future for everyone.

Focus E15 web site
An East Thames officer comes to discuss their sitation with them

The pictures here are from a protest seven years ago today, on Fri 17 Jan 2014, and I hope illustrate something of why I found them so interesting to photograph. They went into the offices of the housing association that ran the Focus E15 hostel and held a party inside the show flat there. They had good reasons to be angry and protest, and were fearless and imaginative in how made their views clear – and provided great opportunites for photography. Many protests are rather dour occasions which are hard to make interesting though our pictures, but their protests were always lively and never run-of-the-mill.

He gets some tough questioning – and states that although it’s up to the council to rehouse them, East Thames will not evict them.

At the protest they did get an assurance that they would not be evicited, though it was clear than there was a lack of trust from the mothers in this statement. I left them still partying to file my story, and after a while they also left and went to protest at the nearby council housing offices.

More at Focus E5 Mothers Party Against Eviction.


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All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.