Posts Tagged ‘Focus E15’

Vedanta, Tampons, Roma, Monsanto & Mental Health

Saturday, May 21st, 2022

Vedanta, Tampons, Roma, Monsanto & Mental Health – there was a varied array of protests in London on Saturday 21st May 2016, and I was kept busy photographing them. Fortunately most were within walking distance of each other in central London, but I ended the day with a rally and march in Stratford.


Foil Vedanta at Jaipur Literary Festival – Royal Festival Hall, Southbank

I rushed from Waterloo station to the nearby Royal Festival Hall where I found campaigners from Foil Vedanta protesting against Vedanta’s sponsorship of the Jaipur Literature Festival. They say Vedanta, the most hated company on Earth, causing pollution, illness, displacement, poverty and deaths by its mining operations, sometimes criminal, in India, Zambia, South Africa and Australia, is attempting to whitewash its image by sponsorship of the festival.

They briefly interrupted a presentation in the main space of the Clore Ballroom to make their case. Earlier Foil Vedanta and Round Table India had sent an open letter to authors who had agreed to appear, signed by around 50 mainly Indian writers, poets, academics and activists, informing them of Vedanta’s criminal operations, and calling on them to withdraw, and some had done so, with others expected to criticize Vedanta in their presentations.

After the interruption the campaigners withdrew to the rear of the area where they continued to hand out leaflets and brief journalists, watched closely by security who insisted they keep the entrance clear but did not otherwise intervene.

More at Foil Vedanta at Jaipur Literary Festival.


Tampon tax now Osbourne! – Parliament Square

Campaigners met in Parliament Square and then marched to present a letter to Downing St calling on the government to fulfil their pledge to axe the tax on tampons. A massive campaign and lobby resulted in the removal of regulations preventing the removal of tax but it is still being levied.

Prominent in the protest were those from the 50:50 Parliament campaign for equal representation of women and men in Parliament who say that if there were more women in Parliament there would not be taxes like this – and much less of the public-school bickering that often dominates the House of Commons.

More at Tampon tax now Osbourne!


‘Dosta, Grinta, Enough!’ Parliament Square

As the Tampon Tax campaigners left on their march to Downing St, four horse drawn vehicles arrived for the protest by Roma, Gypsies and Travellers against the hardening attacks against their way of life.

Heritage wardens and police told them it was was against bylaws to bring horses on to the square and after a short rally on the grass they led protesters in repeated circuits of the roadway around the square before leaving as the main rally on the corner of the square started.

Changes in the laws have allowed local authorities to stop providing traveller sites, and laws against fly-grazing have made finding places to stay and moving around the country much harder. Alterations in local planning guidance have meant that local planning laws have been used in a discriminatory fashion to prevent them using land even when they own it – as at Dale Farm. The ‘Dosta, Grinta, Enough!’ protest called attention to these attacks by the government on their ethnicity and demanded an end to 500 years of persecution.

More at ‘Dosta, Grinta, Enough!’


March Against Monsanto Rally – Downing St

It was a day of several hundred world-wide protests against Monsanto, but there had been little publicity for the London protest and attendance for disappointing, and although there were good speeches these were to a small group of dedicated activists.

Among the listeners were a couple of bees and this cow

Monsanto dominates the worlds markets for seeds and agrochemicals at the expense of small scale farmers and communities around the world and is forcing harmful pesticides and genetically modified seeds on farmers in their corporate control of the world’s food system. The company has sued thousands of small farmers in the US and elsewhere to protect its patents which cover a wide range of crops and other products.

More at March Against Monsanto Rally.


Housing is a Mental Health Issue – Stratford

From Westminster the Jubilee Line takes a little over 20 minutes to get to Stratford Station, outside which I met Focus E15 housing campaigners who were holding a rally and march. It was Mental Health Awareness Week and they were protesting against Newham council’s policy of social cleansing, highlighting the mental health issues that arise from housing problems.

There is a huge boom in building around Stratford given great impetus by the 2012 Olympics, but as speakers made clear when the march paused in front of some of the the high-rise housing, this is being built largely for the rich – while those unable to afford sky-high market rents are being forced out. They say Newham is causing mental health problems for vulnerable people through evictions and placements with insecure tenancies away from families, friends and support systems in cities and towns across the UK.

Good homes on the Carpenters Estate have been kept empty by Newham for over 10 years

The new tall blocks also produce a hostile micro-climate at ground level, and when the march approached one of the most recent, gusts of wind tore one of the banners in two. The march ended on the pavement outside Wilco’s in Stratford Broadway, where Focus E15 hold their regular Saturday morning street stall.

More at Housing is a Mental Health Issue.


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Focus E15 Mums at City Hall 2014

Monday, February 21st, 2022

Focus E15 Mums at City Hall 2014. Focus E15 mothers and children, threatened with eviction from the Mother and Baby Unit at the Focus E15 hostel in Stratford came on a decorated bus to City Hall, holding a party outside and trying to hand in a petition and card to then city Mayor Boris Johnson.

I’d met the Focus E15 Mums the previous month when they partied inside the Stratford offices of East Thames Housing Association who run the hostel, but the eviction notices had come in October 2013 because Newham Council had decided to cut the funding for the hostel.

Newham was then at the centre of a post-Olympic housing boom, with both private developers and East Thames building large blocks of flats around the area. But the great majority of these are for sale or rent at market prices, and many were being bought not to live in but by overseas investors keen to cash in on the steeply rising prices of housing in London. Even housing associations build mainly for those on good salaries who can afford shared ownership schemes, with minimal homes at council-level rents.

Newham Council Mayor Robin Wales told the mothers there were no properties available in the area at council rents. He made it clear than if you are poor, Newham doesn’t want you, and they were offered rented accommodation far outside of London, in Birmingham, Manchester, Hastings and even Wales – “expensive, sometimes poor quality, insecure one year private rents” – with the threat that anyone who turned down the offers would be regarded as having made themselves intentionally homeless and get no help from the council.

The mothers in the hostel decided to stand together and fight the council, demanding they be placed within suitable socially rented accommodation in Newham. Among other areas they point out that there is good quality council-owned housing on the Carpenters Estate, a short walk from their hostel, which Newham council have left empty, in some cases for ten years, as they try to sell off the area for development – despite having the highest waiting list for social housing in London.

As I wrote in 2014, London Mayor Boris Johnson Boris Johnson “has made it clear that he is opposed to the gentrification of London, stating: ‘The last thing we want to have in our city is a situation such as Paris where the less well-off are pushed out to the suburbs’ and promising ‘I’ll emphatically resist any attempt to recreate a London where the rich and poor cannot live together…’ But these turned out to be typically Johnsonian empty words and during his time as London Mayor he did nothing to help those in housing need and stop those cleared from council estates having to move miles further out.

The card Boris Johnson wouldn’t accept

On the day of the protest the mothers tried to deliver a card to him, but his office simply refused to take it. The assistant director of the affordable homes programme in London, Jamie Ratcliff did come down to meet them and took their petition, but had little to say to them, giving them his card and telling them to email him.

Mothers go in to deliver the card but no-one would accept it

More on the event on My London Diary at Focus E15 Mums at City Hall.

The Focus E15 Campaign eventually got all or most of the mothers and children rehoused locally, and they continue to compaign in Newham for Fair Housing For All, holding a street stall despite harassment from council and police every Saturday on Stratford Broadway, helping homeless families get proper treatment from the council, protesting for those in terrible conditions in temporary accomodation and stopping evictions, and taking part in protests and campaigns for social housing in London and elsewhere.


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Focus E15 Mothers Party Against Eviction 2014

Monday, January 17th, 2022

Focus E15 Mothers and children party in the show flat – 17th January 2014

Focus E15 Mothers Party Against Eviction 2014
Housing remains one of London’s larger problems, with sky-high house prices and market rents. At the start of 2022 the average flat rent in London is over £360 per week – around £19,000 per year, while the average property price according to Zoopla is £681,427.

Housing has always been a problem in London, but in the 1950s, 60s and 70s things were beginning to improve, largely due to both Labour and Conservative councils building council houses and flats. By the 1960s over 500,000 new flats were added in London and nationally around a third of UK households lived in social housing.

The government’s minimum wage for 2022 will be £9.50 per hour from April – an on that rate you would need to work for around 38 hours a week just to pay for a flat – and of course would have no chance of ever buying a flat or house. Things have got considerably worse since 2010, and in boroughs like Newham average rents now are 65% of average wages.

The building programme slowed down in the 1970s as governments made it more difficult for councils to build, but the real watershed came with Margaret Thatcher’s 1980 Housing Act which gave council tenants the right to buy their properties at between 33-50% of market value – and stopped councils from using the proceeds to built more properties.

Further housing acts under Thatcher led to the transfer of much social housing to housing associations, which were allowed to access private finance while councils were very much restricted in their borrowing. Housing associations continue to build some new properties, but the numbers are small in relation to demand, and much lower than those built by councils in the 1950s-70s. Official figures for 2019 show only 37,825 new homes built for letting at below market rents while over 1.1 million households are on housing waiting lists – around 30 times as many.

So it is not surprising that councils such as Newham have a huge housing problem, and the council says it has the highest levels of overcrowded housing in the country, one of the highest proportion of people living in insecure private rented homes and in houses of multiple occupation and the largest number of homeless people – including those in temporary accommodation.

Newham was one of the first councils to get an elected Mayor in 2002, and Robin Wales held that post until 2018 when he was deselected as candidate. Many blame him for the particular failures over housing in the borough and point to properties on the Carpenters Estate in particular, some of which have been deliberately left empty for around 15 years.

The first group to organise and call out the council on their failures over housing were young single mothers who were threatened with eviction after Newham Council removed funding from East Thames Housing Association’s Focus E15 Foyer in Stratford. Newham Council had tried to get them to move well away from London, in Hastings, Birmingham and elsewhere, away from friends, families, colleges, nurseries and support networks. These offers were for private rented accommodation, with little or no security of tenure and would leave them at the mercy of often unscrupulous or uncaring landlords.

For once the group stood together and determined – helped by friends – to fight the council, not just for their own cases, but also for others whom Newham is failing to provide accommodation. Though they attracted national publicity and won their fight to stay in the London they continue to hold a weekly protest and advice stall in central Stratford every Saturday – I visited it again in late 2021. Their fight exposed the failures of Robin Wales and was certainly one of the factors in his losing support in the borough.

You can read more about the protes when a group of the mothers with their children went into the East Thames offices and held a party in their show flat on on My London Diary in Focus E5 Mothers Party Against Eviction. The East Thames staff who came to talk with them were generally sympathetic and attempted to reassure them but told them it was the responsibility of the council and not the housing association to rehouse them.


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A Table, Climate Red Lines, Refugees & Santas

Sunday, December 12th, 2021

Free the Focus E15 Table

Housing activists Focus E15 had been an irritant to Newham Council and its mayor Robin Wales ever since the group of young mothers fought the threat to close their hostel and scatter them across the country away from family and friends. Their high profile campaign with direct actions gained national coverage and admiration and after their succesful fight they continued as a ‘Housing For All’ campaign giving support to others with housing problems, particularly in their London borough of Newham.

Every Saturday the group hold a street stall on Stratford Broadway on a wide area of pavement outside Wilko every Saturday for over 2 years offering advice to those with housing problems and drawing attention to the failure of Newham Council to sensibly address the acute housing problem in the borough.

In 2015 there were around 5,000 people living in temporary accommodation despite 400 homes in good condition empty on the Carpenters Estate close to the centre of Stratford which the council began clearing around ten years previously in the hope of selling the site for development. They continue to oppose the council policy of attempting to force those needing housing out of London and into private rented property in towns and cities across the country- Hastings, Birmingham, Manchester etc – and even in Wales, socially cleansing the borough which now has large new developments of expensive high rise flats.

A week earlier, Newham Council’s Law Enforcement officer came with police to continue their harassment of the street stall, telling them they were not allowed to protest and threatening to seize their stall, sound system, banners and other gear. Focus E15 resisted but police seized the table and threw it into the back of their van. A few days later, the council having realised the seizure was illegal wrote to the campaign asking them to reclaim their table. Focus E15 asked for it to be delivered back to where it had been taken, and had already organised this ‘Free The Table’ rally with people coming to defend the right to protest. That table didn’t arrive but others had come with them for a ‘tablegate’ protest.

Free the Focus E15 Table

Climate Activists Red Line protest

Back in Westminster, the Campaign Against Climate Change was protesting against the inadequacy of the COP21 Paris deal, which sets the target temperature rise too high and has no way to enforce the measures needed by carrying a ‘red line’ banner across Westminster Bridge.

The protest with a 300 metre length of red cloth and the short rally beforehand emphasized that “the world needs to take urgent action to keep fossil fuels – including shale oil, with fracking now shown to be as dirty as coal – in the ground, or at least only to be extracted as chemical feedstock rather than fuel, and an increased urgency in the transition to renewable energy. While a few years ago that might have seemed expensive and not feasible, the economics of energy generation have changed rapidly with green energy rapidly becoming the cheaper source. But huge vested interests still lie behind the dirty fuel lobby.”

Climate Activists Red Line protest

Christmas Solidarity Vigil for Refugees

As darkness fell, refugees, solidarity campaigners and Syrian activists at a Downing St vigil demanded justice for refugees, opening of EU borders to those fleeing war and terrorism and a much more generous response from the UK government. Six years later many of us remain ashamed and disgusted at the miserable response of the Tory government to refugees from Syria and more recently from Afghanistan. The UK has been so much less generous than many other countries and is increasingly adopting a more hostile attitude to asylum seekers, particularly now those attempting to cross the English Channel.

A strong wind made it difficult to keep the candles for this vigil alight, and though eventually this was solved by using plastic cups as wind shields it made the candles less photogenic.

Christmas Solidarity Vigil for Refugees

Santas in London

While I was photographing the climate protest on Westminster Bridge, a large group of Santas on BMX bikes rode across and I rushed to photograph them. Later I found this was an annual BMX Life Christmas ‘Santa Cruise’ in aid of ECHO, a small charity helping kids with heart conditions.

Later as I walked through Trafalgar Square on my way to catch a bus I came across more Santas, coming to the end of the their ‘Santacon’ which I described a few posts back as a “day-long alcohol-fuelled crawl through London”. I’d been too busy to bother with going to photograph the event earlier in the day, but spent a few minutes taking pictures before seeing my bus approach and running to the stop.

Santas in London


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Halloween Housing Protest 2016

Thursday, October 28th, 2021

Focus E15 and their cockroaches try to enter the offices of Theori Housing Management

Local authorities have a statutory duty to provide accommodation for families who are homeless or threatened with homelessness, which is described under the 1996 Housing Act and subsequent measures. Many housed under this are placed in temporary accommodation, and this currently includes around 95,000 households across the UK, of which roughly 60% are families with children. Local authorities now spend over a billion pounds a year on this mainly to private providers.

Protesters dressed as cockroaches which infest rooms at Boundary House

Much of this money is spent on accommodation that is unsatisfactory for various reasons, and it often involves placing people outside their local areas, particularly for London boroughs, who currently have over 21,000 households in this situation. The numbers have increased significantly (partly due to Covid) since 2016 when Focus E15 took this action on behalf of families living in rooms in Boundary House, a hostel in Welwyn Garden City which have leaking roofs and mould on the walls, are infested with cockroaches, have upper floor windows that children could easily fall out of and dangerous faulty appliances.

Boundary House in Welwyn Garden City is managed by Theori Housing Management

Theori Housing Management, a private limited company incorporated in 2000 is one of a number of companies which local authorities including including Waltham Forest and Newham make use of to provide temporary accommodation. The campaigners call on boroughs to stop using companies like Theori who provide sub-standard housing and fail to keep it in good order, and say councils should house Londoners in London where they have schools, friends and jobs.

Several residents and former residents of Boundary House were at the protest, but others are scared of being evicted or cannot afford to travel – the return off-peak adult rail fare in 2016 was almost £15. This and the time the journey takes make it almost impossible for those with jobs in London to continue to work. Residents in Boundary House who contact Theori Housing Management with complaints say they are hung up on, placed on hold for hours and called liars, ignored, insulted and patronised.

The door of Theori Housing Management is firmly closed against the protesters

They accuse Waltham Forest Council of adopting what can only be called the ‘Nelson’ approach, refusing to see any of the problems at Boundary House and similar properties. Housing departments are hard-pressed by anti-social government policies and cuts in funding, but this is no excuse for their failure to provide decent accommodation – and certainly not for using management companies that fail to provide decent housing and proper customer service.

Protesters with posters and photographs showing the terrible condition of Boundary House

It isn’t about money but about competence, and about a lack of care for those most in need in the community, the people that councils and mayors like Newham’s Robin Wales (now replaced) are on record as saying should not be living in the borough, where vast luxury housing developments are welcome, but social housing is hardly on the agenda.

As well as speeches and leafleting there was also a Halloween Party outside the Theori Housing Management office

Focus E15 also point to the Carpenters Estate in Newham, where hundreds of properties in better condition than Boundary House have been empty and boarded up for ten years or more as the council has explored various schemes to sell off what was a popular estate. They say Newham has taken out ill-advised loans which have resulted in incredible repayments of interest.

Five years later most of those properties on the Carpenters Estate remain empty, some since 2005, and Newham Council have recently announced a ballot of the remaining residents on a redevelopment scheme which would involve demolition of around 710 existing homes. The Planning Inspector’s report on the Local Plan to the London Legacy Development Corporation published in April 2020 stated “most residents in the Greater Carpenters area are expressing the wish to remain where they live now and would resist comprehensive redevelopment and the inevitable disruption and community displacement, even if those with a ‘right to remain’ would be invited back later to live in the area”.

More on the 2016 protest at Cockroaches at Theori Housing Management and more about Focus E15 campaigns and the Carpenters Esatate on their web site.


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Housing in Crisis – Newham 2015

Sunday, September 19th, 2021

Six years ago I posted about a march through Stratford on Saturday 19th September against social cleansing in Newham, where the council has been rehousing people in private rented properties outside the borough, sometimes as far away as Wales or Liverpool. The directly elected Mayor of this almost monolithically Labour borough until 2018, Robin Wales, made clear his views that if people couldn’t afford to live in London they shouldn’t expect to live there, and council policies appear to reflect this. But Newham – and London generally – needs large numbers of relatively low paid workers – and Covid has helped us appreciate their contribution. Many, even those in jobs well above the London Living Wage, can’t afford market rents and certainly not to buy homes.

Local people, many of whom have lived in the area for years and have developed connections in the area – friends, families, schools etc – who for any reason become homeless want to be rehoused close to these people and services and demand that local resources be used to house local people.

Newham currently in 2021 has 27,000 people on its housing waiting list and 7,000 children in temporary accommodation. Until very recently the few social homes that were available were allocated using a system that gave priority to those in work and the new system will instead focus on health, need and overcrowding.

But the real problem that there is simply not enough social housing remains, and this is more the fault of national government policies over the years, under both Tory and New Labour. The most obvious and and damaging was of course Thatcher’s ‘right to buy’ which has drastically reduced to number of social housing homes, and in particular removed many of the more desirable properties, but councils have also been largely prevented by successive governments from building new and much needed social housing, as well as being starved of the cash needed to properly maintain existing properties and estates.

Many existing council estates were transferred to housing associations, which increasingly seem to be catering for those able to afford the very high ‘market’ rents in London. Councils too, thanks to New Labour housing policies have been demolishing council estates and developing the sites together with private developers to produce mainly homes for sale at high market prices, with often a great reduction in the number of social housing homes available.

Newham has seen a huge amount of building housing in recent years, both on the former Olympic site and elsewhere, with more tower blocks every time I visit the area, but almost all are high rent properties suited to young professionals, mainly working outside the borough, residencies for wealthier students, or expenive investment properties – usually bought with no intention of being lived in but simply to benefit from the increases in London property prices.

In 2013, Newham announced it was going to close a hostel for young single mothers who would then be dispersed in rented flats across England. The women decided to fight and the Focus E15 campaign began. Backed by members of the Revolutionary Communist Group and others who supported them in direct actions that often gained media coverage their fight succeeded and they became well-known nationally and developed into a much wider campaign for proper housing, particularly supporting others in the area with housing problems. As well as holding a street stall in the centre of Stratford every Saturday they accompanied people to the housing offices, gathered to prevent evictions and more.

The march in 2015, two years after the start of their campaign attracted the support of over 40 other organisations, mainly small local groups from around London and the South-East also fighting housing problems. Fortunately not all of them had speakers at the rally before the march but there were quite a few before it moved off from Stratford Park to march around the Town Centre.

As the ‘Housing for All’ march passed Foxton’s estate agency in the centre of Stratford, Class War rushed inside with their ‘New Homes for the Rich’ banner and staged a brief occupation while most of the marchers supported them from outside. They caused no damage and left after a few minutes for the march to continue.

There was another brief halt outside LB Newham’s Housing Office at Bridge House, which was closed. The marchers held banners and posed for photographs and Focus E15 spoke briefly about how their interventions here have prevented homless people from being sent to unsuitable private rented accomodation hundreds of miles away, getting them re-housed in London.

The march ended in the square on the Carpenters Estate in front of the block of four flats which Focus E15 occupied for four weeks as a protest a year earlier. This had made the national news and had ended with the council promising to bring some homes back into occupation – though a year later only 28 of around the 400 empty homes had been re-let. There were a few more speeches and then a party began.


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.


Fire Risk Tower Blocks

Thursday, August 12th, 2021

Newham 12 August 2017

Ferrier Point, Canning Town

In the now over four years since the disastrous Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017 there has been little change and no reckoning, with a tediously slow inquiry taking place that began by shifting blame unfairly onto the firefighters but is at last making clear some of the deliberate failures by local government, manufacturers and installers of the fatal cladding and others with a complete disregard for the safety of those living in the tower.

Cladding was not of course the only issue, and there were many other failings that led to the terrible loss of life. Most basic was the attitude of governments of both parties towards health and safety issues, describing essential safety regulations as “red tape” and dismantling what were essential checks to increase the profitability of builders and developers and reduce the liabilities of building owners. It was a system that needed reforming and strengthening, perhaps learning from practice in other countries to provide effective control and not abandoning to commercial whim.

Most of what has emerged in the inquiry only reinforces what was already made clear from informed reports – such as that by Architects for Social Housing – within weeks of the fire, adding truly shameful detail to the broader outline. It surely should have come out in courts within months of the fire and some of those responsible might well be behind bars and companies charged with massive fines, and the main point of the inquiry seems to be to prevent the course of justice.

A resident of Tanner Point speaking

Local authorities and building owners have been forced to inspect their high-rise properties, and the government has provided at lest some of the money it promised to replace unsafe cladding in the public sector. But little has been done for those living in private blocks who are still living in fear and now pay increased charges for extra fire safety provisions. A parliamentary briefing paper estimates the total cost of replacement of unsafe cladding at around £15m, and so far government has come up with a third of that. Government policy has changed from the initial promise to fund “remediation of historical safety defects, to a suggestion that leaseholders should be protected from unaffordable costs” and even the provision for a low interest scheme to ensure they would not pay more than £50 a month has failed to materialise despite the promise in the current Building Safety Bill.

In August 2017, a number of tower blocks in the London borough of Newham were found to have unsafe cladding. Housing activists Focus E15 Mothers led a demonstration putting pressure on the council to act urgently to make the blocks safe. The council came to a decision the following month to remove the cladding though work to do so only began in April 2018.

The march began at Ferrier Point in Canning Town, with other groups including East End Sisters Uncut, Movement for Justice, the Socialist Party, the Revolutionary Communist Party, One Housing campaigners and Whitechapel Anarchists joining Focus E15 and some tower block residents.

From there they marched to Tanner Point in Plaistow North for a longer rally outside, including some speeches from tower residents. Then came another long march to Stratford and the Carpenters Estate.

The Carpenters Estate was a popular estate, close to Stratford station and the town centre, and was viewed by the council as a prime opportunity for highly profitable redevelopment schemes, wanting to demolish the estate which is well-planned and in good condition. Focus E15 led opposition that in 2013 ended plans for UCL to set up a new campus here and have constantly urged the council to bring back people to the estate where despite a critical housing shortage in the borough, 400 good homes had been kept empty for over 10 years. The march ended with a ‘hands around the Carpenters Estate’ solidarity event against decanting, demolition and social cleansing.

More pictures at Fire Risk Tower Blocks.


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.


Housing: Focus E15 – Newham Show 2016

Saturday, July 10th, 2021

Housing remains a major problem, with many people and families in London still having to live in inadequate and often dangerous conditions. It isn’t that there is a shortage of homes, as many lie empty. There is a shortage, but it is of homes that people can afford to live in.

What London desperately needs is more low-cost housing. Council housing used to provide that, and by the late 1970s almost a third of UK households lived in social housing provided on a non-profit basis. Post-war building programmes, begun under Aneurin Bevan, the Labour government’s Minister for Health and Housing led to the building of estates both in major cities and the new towns that provided high quality housing at low rents, attempting to provide homes for both the working classes and a wider community.

Successive Conservative governments narrowed the scope of public housing provision towards only providing housing for those on low income, particularly those cleared from the city slums, reducing the quality of provision and also encouraging the building of more high-rise blocks, something also favoured by new construction methods of system building. Housing became a political battle of numbers, never mind the quality.

It was of course the “right to buy” brought in under Mrs Thatcher that was a real death blow for social housing. As well as losing many of their better properties, councils were prevented from investing the cash received from the sales in new housing – and the treasury took a cut too. Tenants seemed to do well out of it, getting homes at between half and two thirds of the market price, but often having bought their homes found the costs involved were more than they could afford, particularly when repairs were needed. Many of those homes were later sold and became “buy to let” houses.

Around ten years ago I passed an uncomfortable 25 minutes of a rail journey into London when a young student with a loud public-school voice explained to two friends what a splendid scheme “buy to let” was. He was already a landlord and profiting from it. You didn’t he told them actually have to have any money, as you could borrow it against the surety of your existing property – or a guarantee from Daddy – at a reasonable rate. You then bought a house and let it out, through an agency to avoid any hassle of actually dealing with tenants. Even allowing for the agent’s fees the rents you charged would give you a return on your investment roughly twice you were paying on your loan. It was money for nothing. And so it was for those who could get banks and others to lend them money, though recent changes have made it a little less profitable.

New Labour did nothing to improve the situation, and even made things worse through encouraging local councils to carry out regeneration schemes, demolishing council estates and replacing them with a large percentage of private properties, some largely unaffordable “affordable” properties and usually a token amount of actual social housing. The situation has been was still worsened since then, both by extending the right to buy to Housing Association properties and also by changes in tenure for those still in social housing. Successive governments have also driven up both house prices and rents by various policies, particularly the subsidies for landlords provided by Housing Benefit.

I’ve written before about Focus E15, a small group based in Newham whose activities have prompted some national debate. Begun to fight council moves to close their hostel for single mothers and disperse them to privately rented accommodation across the country (like Katie in ‘I, Daniel Blake who gets sent to Newcastle), having succeeded in their fight to stay in London they widened their scope to help others fight for decent housing – particularly in Newham, where the Labour council under Mayor Robin Wales was failing to deal with some of the worst housing problems in the country – while keeping large numbers of council properties empty.

Eventually Newham got rid of Robin Wales (and their campaign almost certainly helped) but the housing problems remain. A few days ago Focus E15 tweeted

Brimstone house in Stratford is the former FocusE15 hostel, now run by Newham Council as temporary and emergency accommodation.

One of Robin Wales’ big PR operations was the annual ‘Mayor’s Newham Show’ held in Central Park. Focus E15 were stopped from handing out leaflets inside or outside the show and on 1oth July 2016 set up a stall and protest on the main road a few hundred yards away. After handing out leaflets to people walking to the show for an hour or so, they briefly occupied the balconies of the empty former Police Station opposite Newham Town Hall on the road leading to the show ground in a protest against the Mayor’s housing record and policies.

Housing Awards – 2016

Wednesday, June 16th, 2021

A resident of the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark speaks about the council’s terrible record

Most people have never heard of the annual Municipal Journal Local Authority Awards, a kind of self-congratulatory back-slapping beanfeast for local authorities on the lines of the Oscars and a dinner at the Hilton, doubtless on our council tax.

Protesters ignore hotel staff and police who tell them they must move

The news in 2016 that two of London’s councils with the worst records for housing were nominated for awards angered London housing protesters and Focus E15, the Revolutionary Communist Group, Class War, Architects 4 Social Housing and others organised a protest outside the Park Lane Hilton including a rather different awards ceremony.

Protesters from Newham blame Labour Mayor Robin Wales ‘Robin the poor’

They pointed out that Southwark had by 2016 demolished 7,639 units of social housing, sold off public land to developers, and evicted people unlawfully and accuse Newham of social cleansing, rehousing people in distant parts of the country while council properties remain empty, and of causing mental health problems through evictions, homelessness and failure to maintain properties.

Simon Elmer of Architects for Social Housing objects to being assaulted by a police officer.

Police tried to move the protesters away from the hotel entrance and across the service road, but most resisted and held their ground, with police keeping the entrance clear, A few did move across the road were they could hand out flyers people arriving by taxi. There were a a few minor incidents when police pushed a protester holding a banner and again when several protesters held banners and placards in front of the restaurant windows.

Class War had brought their banner with a quote from US anarchist Lucy Parsons “We must devastate the avenues where the wealthy live” particularly appropriate for a protest in Mayfair and outside the Hilton. Police made a rather unwise and ineffectual attempt grab this from them but soon gave up.

People continued to arrive for the event and to walk past the protesters. Many had come from towns and cities across the UK for the event and where probably not particularly away of the situation in London boroughs.

I played around a little with the reflections in the polished metal canopy above the Hilton entrance, which was doing a good job in keeping the light rain off most of the protesters, though I was getting a little wet.

Looking up from the service road we could see those attending the awards ceremony talking and drinking before the dinner, while outside the protesters were beginning their own awards.

There were quite a few speeches from various of the activists, and Southwark won the award as London’s worst council, with Newham a close second.

House The Homeless In Empty Properties

Wednesday, June 9th, 2021

We don’t actually have a housing shortage in the UK. There are more than enough homes to go round. What we have is mainly a failure to get homeless people into empty homes. A failure to provide homes that people can afford.

Of course there will always be a few empty homes, as people move or die and it takes a little time to sell the empty properties. But the latest official figures for homes that have been empty for more than six months in England is 268,385 – and the figures are growing. According to Crisis, “more than 200,000 families and individuals in England alone will be … finding themselves sleeping on the streets, hunkered down in sheds and garages, stuck in unsuitable accommodation or sofa surfing.”

Covid will make homelessness worse, with huge numbers of people now threatened by eviction as they have been unable to keep up with rent payments. There were various extensions to a ban on bailiff-enforced evictions, but this ban came to an end in England on 31 May – but continues until 30 June 2021 in Wales and 30 September 2021 in Scotland.

As well as making people homeless, evictions also increase the number of empty properties, and those who are evicted are unlikely to be able to afford new tenancies.

There are various reasons why properties remain empty. They may simply be in places where people don’t want to live, and while there is huge pressure on housing in some areas – and we have seen house prices leap up 10% in a month – there are others where houses are difficult to sell – and even some new build houses remain empty for long periods.

Covid has meant that many holiday lets – conventional and Airbnbs – have stayed empty, and demand may be slow to pick up. People with two homes, one close to their place of work, may now have decided they can work from their more distant home and abandon the other. But even when taking these factors into account there seems to be an underlying rise in empty homes.

But housing in England has become a dysfunctional system, and we need changes so that people who need homes can afford them. To put it simply we need some way to provide more social housing. And the best way to provide these is for councils to be given the resources to build this – and to take some of those empty properties into public ownership – including some of those sold off on the cheap under ‘right to buy’, many of which are now ‘buy to let’ properties from which people are facing eviction.

Newham Council, under the then Mayor Robin Wales, began emptying people from the Carpenters Estate in the early 2000s. Many perfectly good properties on the estate have remained empty for years as the council has looked for ways to sell off the area close to the Olympic site, despite the huge waiting list for housing in Newham.

Focus E15 Mums, young mothers facing eviction from a hostel in Stratford, were offered private rented properties hundreds of miles away with little or no security of tenure and relatively high rents. It’s difficult for one person to stand up to the council, but they decided – with support from others – to join together and fight, with remarkable success – which gained them national recognition. And they continue to campaign for others facing housing problems.

Seven years ago on Monday 9th June 2014 they came to the Carpenters Estate to expose the failure of Newham Council pasting up posters on deliberately emptied quality social housing vacant for around ten years on what had been one of Newham’s most popular council estate and called for it to be used to house homeless families.


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.