Posts Tagged ‘Housing for All’

Grenfell, Idlib, Sudan – 15 June 2019

Wednesday, June 15th, 2022

Grenfell, Idlib, Sudan – 15 June 2019 – Another day I photographed several protests in Central London.


Grenfell Solidarity March – Westminster

The previous evening I’d photographed the silent march from close to Grenfell Tower remembering the victims of the disaster on the second anniversary of the disastrous fire which killed 72 and left survivors traumatised, and came up to London the following day, Saturday 15 June, for a rather noisier solidarity march, starting and finishing at Downing St, organised by Justice4Grenfell.

My journey up to London had been much slower than usual as there were engineering works on the railway and no trains from my station, and I decided to take a bus the five miles or so to my nearest Underground station for a train to London. On the way the bus passed a recently closed fire station, a reminder of the cuts made by Boris Johnson to the fire services which had contributed to the severity of the Grenfell disaster – though this fire station had been closed by Surrey County Council.

Banners from several branches of the Fire Brigade Union were prominent on the march, which was also supported by other trade unionists and housing activists, including the Construction Safety Campaign, the Housing For All campaign, Defend Council Housing and the Global Womens Strike, as well as others from the Grenfell community.

Yvette Williams demands Truth and Justice For Grenfell

From a rally opposite Downing Street the campaigners marched to the Home Office in Marsham St, now also home to he Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, for more speeches. The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea is one of the richest bouroughs in the country, but it is dominated by Tory councillors representing the wealthy areas of the borough who seem to have little regard for poorer residents.

They signed off through their housing organisation the penny-pinching use of unsuitable highly flammable cladding, failed to properly oversee its installation, made other changes that threatened the safety of the residents and arranged for inadequate fire safety inspections, and dismissed the warnings of residents who they labelled as trouble-makers.

RBKC’s reaction after the fire was also severely lacking, and often showed little understanding or concern for the survivors, and their record over rehousing them was abysmal – and remains so now.

Among the speakers outside the Ministry of Housing were Moyra Samuels of Justice4Grenfell and Eileen Short of Defend Council Housing. After the speeches the protesters marched back to Downing St where there was to be a further rally, but I left to go elsewhere.

Grenfell Solidarity March


‘We are the Love’ for Idlib – Parliament Square, London

The Black Eyed Peas song ‘Where’s the love?’ was the inspriation for a protest which was part of an international non partisan campaign to raise awareness about the massacre currently unfolding in the province of Idlib in Syria. It called for an end to the violence in Idlib, the opening up a the supply of humanitarian aid to the people of the city and for those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity to be brought to justice.

Campaigners stood in a line holding posters which spelt out the message ‘#we are the love’ but this was difficult to photograph, partly because of its length, but also because of the drummer and bagpiper marching in front of it. Bagpipes in my opinion are best heard from the opposite side of the glen and I didn’t stay long.

‘We are the Love’ for Idlib


Hands off Sudan march, Hyde Park Corner

I left Parliament Square to look for a protest march over the massacre of 124 peaceful protesters by Janjaweed militias (Rapid Support Forces) in Khartoum and other cities in Sudan.

They were marching from the United Arab Emirates Embassy in Belgrave Square, and going to protest at the Egyptian and Saudi embassies, as all three countries had been visited by Sudan’s ruling military council and they were thought to be opposing a democratic Sudan and the movement which had led to the removal of corrupt president al-Bashir in April 2019.

From the timings I had for the event I expected them to be at the Egyptian embassy in Mayfair, but when I rushed there from Parliament Square found only a small group of supporters waiting for the protest.

I didn’t know the exact route of the march, but walked back along what seemed to be the its most obvious path, and was very pleased when I got to Hyde Park Corner to see and hear them just emerging from Grosvenor Crescent around a hundred yards away.

They stopped on the pavement just before crossing the road there and there was a lot of loud chanting, mainly led by women at the front of the protests, before crossing the road towards Hyde Park. They stopped again there and there seemed to be some arguments between protests and there was much more loud shouting and chanting, none of which I could understand.

Fortunately many of the posters and placards were in English, and as well the many Sudanese there were also some supporters of English left groups marching with them.

Hands off Sudan march


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Tottenham, Kilburn and Ponders End

Tuesday, March 29th, 2022

Tottenham, Kilburn and Ponders End – I travelled to Tottenham and Kilburn to photograph protests but fortunately the people from Ponders End had come to protest at Westminster. All three protests I photographed on Saturday 29th March 2014 were about the inhumane policies of the Tory Government.


Mothers march for justice – Tottenham

Rev Paul Nicolson
Rev Paul Nicolson

Rev Paul Nicolson of Taxpayers Against Poverty, an indefatigable lifelong campaigner on behalf of the poor died in 2020, aged 87. His first job after National Service in the Army had been with the family firm selling champagne around London, but after a dozen years until he discovered a vocation to become a worker-priest and was ordained as a deacon in 1967 and then a priest in 1968. Around 1981 he became a parish priest in Turville, the location chosen for The Vicar of Dibley, making his priority the support of the poor in a area of extremes of wealth.

He resurrected the practice, now common of being a McKenzie Friend, which allowed him to stand with and represent those brought to court over debts, particularly those unable to pay the Poll Tax. His revelations on the activities of bailiffs enforcing debts lead to a Code of Practice which, at least when enforced, gives some protection to the vulnerable, and it was his initiative in commissioning the Family Budget Unit to investigate the actual costs of living that led the the UK and London Living Wage being established.

Tottenham, Kilburn and Ponders End
Spiderman led the march

His work in later years was largely about housing and homelessness, and I met and photographed him on many protests. He set up the charity Zacchaeus 2000 (Z2K) but then resigned as its chair so he could campaign politically through Taxpayers Against Poverty.

Tottenham, Kilburn and Ponders End
Carole Duggan, the aunt of Mark Duggan, murdered by police in front of a banner with his picture

The march in Tottenham on 29th March 2014 organised by the Rev Paul Nicolson of Taxpayers Against Poverty demanded living incomes and decent truly affordable homes and rejected the unfair Tory bedroom tax, the housing benefit cap, unfair taxes, which were the cause of hunger and cold homes. He spoke before the march and walked on it with a placard hanging from a string around his neck: ‘We march for Freedom from Hunger, Cold, Outrageous Rents – Fight for a Living Wage’.

Tottenham, Kilburn and Ponders End

The march was smaller than hoped, several hundred rather than the hoped for ‘1000 Mothers March for Justice’, though more were expected to turn up at Tottenham Green East for the rally at its end, unfortunately after I had left. Those on the march included representatives from many local groups as well as others around London, and they carried an impressive number of banners.

Mothers march for justice


Kilburn Uniform Day – Kilburn Square

A few miles to the west, the Counihan Battlebus Housing For All campaign, along with the TUSC Against Cuts and Unite Community was holding a two hour protest in Kilburn Square on the main Kilburn High Road over child hunger and housing problems, calling for rents to be capped and for everyone to have a home.

In 2010 food banks were rare things in the UK, used over the year by around 60,000 people. After ten years of Tory policies this had increased to around 2.5 million, around 40 times as many. Much of that increase is a direct result of government policies, including its inhuman sanctions policy against benefit claimants, as well as of poverty wages and unfair employment practices such as zero hours contracts.

Moving people onto Universal Credit resulted in many being without resources for five weeks, sometimes considerably longer. As I wrote “Our government appear to be completely out of touch with how many people in the country live. They simply cannot comprehend what it means to be without money, or without friends or family you can rely on for a few thousand when you have a problem. Many people on low income simply don’t have any such resources – all they have is debts and bills to pay.”

Things have got worse since 2014, and soaring energy prices along with the additional National Insurance payments coming in next month will again put more families into desperate levels of poverty – and increase those evicted as they cannot pay the rent. It isn’t that the country doesn’t have the money – we are still one of the richest countries in the world – but that increasingly the already wealthy are getting richer while the poor sink into more desperate poverty.

And it’s successive governments – including New Labour – that are to blame, with a failure to build sensible amounts of social housing, the encouragement of high cost private housing and buy to rent. The wealthy have got tax breaks while many working full-time have been finding it harder and harder to make ends meet. And tax avoidance has reached huge levels thanks to a failure to plug silly loopholes and face up to the problems caused by off-shoring. We should have a zero-avoidance policy not one that encourages it.

Kilburn Uniform Day


Fellow Students Fight for Yashika – Parliament Square

The final event I photographed was a lively protest by fellow students and supporters at Parliament urged then Home Secretary Theresa May to abandon the planned deportation of 19 year old model A-level student Yashika Bageerathi to Mauritius due to take place on Mothers Day.

She came here with her family who claimed asylum after physical abuse from a relative in Mauritius in 2012, but the claim was rejected and the whole family are under threat of eviction – and as she is now 19 they decided to deport her alone weeks before she was due to take her A levels in Ponders End.

We continue to see “a ‘tougher than you’ shift to the right over immigration played out by both government and opposition over the past years, each trying to outdo each other … So we get foolish and desperate measures like the immigration vans, and raids at tube stations and other public places by the Border Force based unlawfully on racial profiling.”

Migrants, including many who are here without legal right to remain, play an important part in keeping London running despite government attempts to identify and remove them. Estimates in 2014 were that there were around half a million in the city and without them, “London would grind to a halt. They do mainly the low paid dirty jobs no one else would want for pay that isn’t enough to live properly on in London – often at below the minimum wage because of their immigration status.”

The protests and a petition with over 170,000 signatures failed to have any effect on the heartless Home Office and Yashika was deported. But good news came later. Perhaps because of the huge publicity around her case she was welcomed and supported back in Mauritius and was able to take her exams there. Despite her studies having been interrupted by spells in Yarl’s Wood immigration prison she was able to gain her A levels and go on to university – and keep out of the media limelight.

Fellow Students Fight for Yashika


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2015 March for Homes – Shoreditch to City Hall

Monday, January 31st, 2022

2015 March for Homes – Shoreditch to City Hall. A year before the march Against the Housing and Planning Bill featured in yesterday’s post there was another march about housing at the end of January, the March For Homes.

Outside Shoreditch Church

The event called by Defend Council Housing, South London People’s Assembly and Unite Housing Workers Branch involved two separate marches, one coming from Shoreditch in north-east London and the other from the Elephant & Castle in south London converging on London’s City Hall close to Tower Bridge for a final rally.

Max Levitas, a 100 year old communist veteran of Cable St

I couldn’t be in two places at once and chose to go to Shoreditch, partly because I knew people from several groups I had photographed at a number of housing struggles would be marching from there. The event was certainly enlivened by the arrival of activists who had marched from Bethnal Green, including supporters of Class War, Focus E15 and other groups.

Many couldn’t get into the churchyard

The Shoreditch Rally was held in a crowded area in Shoreditch churchyard at the front of St. Leonard’s, Shoreditch, the ancient parish church of Shoreditch, and I took the opportunity to go inside and have a look at the church before the rally. The list of speakers there showed the wide range of community support for fairer housing policies, including more social housing desperately needed in London and included Jasmine Stone of Focus E15, Lindsey Garratt from New Era, Paul Turp, vicar of St Leonards, Nick from Action East End, Paul Heron of the Haldane Society of Socialist Laywyers, Max Levitas, a 100 year old communist veteran of Cable St, a speaker from the ‘Fred and John Towers’ in Leytonstone and Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman.

Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman

Tower Hamlets benefits from having been formed from some of the London Metropolitan Boroughs with the best records of social housing – such as Poplar, where in the 1920s councillors went to jail to retain more money for one of London’s poorest areas. Unfortunately Rahman, the borough’s first directly elected mayor was removed from office in April 2015 after he was found personally guilty of electoral fraud in his 2014 re-election. Many of the other charges made against him in the media were dismissed by police after investigation.

It was raining slightly as over a thousand marchers set off for City Hall behind the March For Homes banner.

As the march came to the junction with Aldgate High St, Class War split off for a short protest at One Commercial St, where they had held a lengthy series of weekly ‘Poor Doors’ protests against separate entrances for residents owning or leasing at market rates and the smaller section of social housing tenants who had to enter through a door down a side alley. Class War had suspended their 20 weeks of protest for talks with a new owner of the building a month or so earlier, but these had broken down without a satisfactory resolution and the protests there restarted the following week.

As the march approached the Tower of London it was met and joined by Russell Brand riding a bicycle,

and on Tower Bridge, Class War came up to lead the march.

I rushed ahead to meet the South London march as it turned into Tooley Street for the last few yards of its march.

The rally in front of City Hall was large, cold and wet. By now the rain was making it difficult to take photographs, with drops falling on the front of my lenses as I tried to take pictures, and my lenses beginning to steam up inside. But I persisted and did the best I could, though the rain-bedraggled speakers in particular were not looking their best.

The rally was still continuing when some of the activists, including Class War and the street band Rhythms of Revolution decided they needed to do something a little more than standing in the rain listening to speeches. They moved onto Tooley Street and blocked the road. More police arrived and blocked the road even more effectively as the activists moved eastwards to protest at One Tower Bridge, a new development mainly for the over-rich next to Tower Bridge and then left for a long walk to the occupied Aylesbury Estate. But I decided it was time to go home.

More on My London Diary:
March for Homes: After the Rally
March for Homes: City Hall Rally
March for Homes: Poor Doors
March for Homes: Shoreditch to City Hall
March for Homes: Shoreditch Rally


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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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Hunger, Housing and Injustice

Monday, March 29th, 2021

My work on Saturday 29th March 2019 began in north London at Bruce Castle Park in Tottenham, where the indefatigable Rev Paul Nicolson of Taxpayers Against Poverty had organised a march demanding living incomes and decent truly affordable homes, calling for an end to the bedroom tax, the housing benefit cap, unfair taxes, hunger and cold homes.

The Reverend Paul Nicolson who died peacefully on Thursday 5th March 2020 aged 87 had long campaigned on these issues, and had commissioned the work on poverty that helped groups such as London Citizens and Unison to persuade the Mayor of London Ken Livingstone to introduce the London Living Wage.

His Christian principles led Nicolson to found the Zacchaeus Trust, an anti-poverty charity providing frontline services on Social Security benefits, housing and homelessness as well as the campaigning organisation TAP, and he supported and spoke at many protests calling for justice for disabled and others on low wages and often inadequate benefits.

I left the march as it passed Tottenham Police Station on its way to a rally at Tottenham Green to make my way to Kilburn, where the Counihan Battlebus Housing For All campaign, along with the TUSC Against Cuts and Unite Community were holding a protest in Kilburn Square over child hunger and housing problems, calling for rents to be capped and for everyone to have a home.

Children played a large part in the protest and were having fun, but also making a serious point, with placards “Going to school hungry is not fair!” As I pointed out in my rather long article on the protest:

Children going to school hungry is a direct result of government policy and its inhumane (they call it ‘tough’ to make it sound positive) sanctions policy. What we need is not this kind of vindictive approach but more jobs and an end to poverty wages. And it would be far more productive to attack the huge sums involved in tax evasion and tightening up the rules on tax avoidance than the relatively small amounts of benefit fraud or the largely mythical workshy.

The journey from Kilburn to Parliament Square was fortunately a simple one on the tube and I arrived as students and staff from Oasis Academy Hadley came from Enfield to protest against the planned deportation of one of their students, 19-year-old Yashika Bageerathi. She had come to the UK with her family in 2011 to escape a dangerous situation in Mauritius and was in the final year of her A level course, in which she was expected to get high grades.

The Home Office decided that since she was 19 she could be deported without her family, and had already detained her in Yarl’s Wood ten days earlier. Two deportation attempts failed when both British Airways and Air Mauritius refused to fly her to Mauritius, possibly because of the huge public campaign to allow her to stay and complete her exams.

It was impossible to see why Home Office minister Theresa May was so keen on this deportation – other than wanting to seem to have a tough policy on immigration, and as I wrote, morally their position seemed indefensible. But deport her they finally did.

Despite spells in Yarl’s Wood which disrupted here education and the deportation which took place six weeks before her A Level exams, she was able to take the exams and passed with straight A grades. She then issued a statement thanking everyone – both in the UK and on her return in Mauritius for their support, and clearly stating “I have no desire for a life in the public eye any longer” and that she wished to begin a new chapter in her life.

More at:
Fellow Students Fight for Yashika
Kilburn Uniform Day
Mothers march for justice