Posts Tagged ‘Newham’

Housing Crisis & the Carpenters Estate

Thursday, June 9th, 2022

Housing Crisis & the Carpenters Estate: Like many other areas, the 1945 Labour government laid the foundations of a sensible policy on housing which has now been lost. Among other things the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act brought in the need for planning permission and included a charge on developers which was assessed as the difference between the cost of the undeveloped land and its value after it had been developed. It gave local authorities the power to use compulsory purchase and either develop land themselves or lease it for private developers, and provided government grants to authorities for major redevelopment.

Housing Crisis & the Carpenters Estate
Focus E15 Mums protest at empty properties on the Carpenters Estate

Times were hard after the war, and there were shortages of material with so much needing to be done. Even so around 600,000 new council homes were built in the first five years, and built to high standards. One of the election-winning pledges made by the Conservatives for the 1951 election was that they would build 300,000 houses a year – something they managed under Housing Minister Harold Macmillan in 1953, including both private and council houses, but it was achieved in part by reducing the standards of properties.

Housing Crisis & the Carpenters Estate
All pictures in this post come from the Focus E15 Mums protest on 9th June 2014

The Tories made other changes, including removing the development charge and limiting government subsidies, which in 1956 became limited to the building of high rise flats. While Labour had seen council housing as a way to provide good quality housing affordably to all, the Conservatives increasing limited its scope to providing only for the least well off, with private development and private leasing providing good profits for building firms and private landlords at the expense of house buyers and tenants of private rented properties.

Housing Crisis & the Carpenters Estate
The Focus E15 mothers had brought life-size colour portraits of themselves

Although it was Labour who had first proposed the idea of ‘right to buy’ it was of course Thatcher who made it policy and introduced it in a way which was intended to severely reduce the amount of council housing, in particular forbidding the use of the receipts from sales to
build new council homes. Cash-starved local authorities were often unable to keep up proper maintenance of their housing stock and much was allowed to deteriorate.

Jessica

Labour under Blair and Brown continued the Tory policies, including the transfer of council run properties to housing associations, and amplified their effects with their programme of ‘regeneration’ which led to the wholesale replacement of large council estates – most still in sound condition which could have cheaply been repaired and brought up to current standards. But developers profited hugely from demolition and redevelopment for private sale and councils hoped also to cash in, though in some cases they made a significant loss, as at the Heygate in Southwark, where around 1200 council homes were demolished, the tenants and leaseholders displaced largely outside the area, and the two and a half thousand new properties built included only around 80 at social rents. Other Labour policies, including the disastrous Private Finance Initiative also worsened the housing crisis.

You can read very much more detail on the history of council housing on the website Municipal Dreams and in the book by the site’s author Municipal Dreams: the Rise and Fall of Council Housing published in 2019 which presents a detailed and balanced view.

The young mothers of Focus E15 came up against the the housing crisis when their Labour Council in Newham decided they should be evicted from their hostel. Most were told they had to move into private rented properties with little or no security of tenure miles away from families, friends and facilities in the Stratford area, some in Wales or the north of England. They got together and decided to fight the council, then run by elected Mayor Robin Wales and its policy of removing the poor from the area – social cleansing.

Newham is a borough with one of the worst housing problems in the country, and although there has been a huge building programme, partly around the 2012 Olympic site, this is largely student housing or private development. But one council estate close to the centre of Stratford had been largely empty for around ten years. Newham had ‘decanted’ the residents beginning in 2004 hoping to cash in on what would be a prime development site. The Carpenters Estate was a very popular estate, with low rise housing and three tower blocks overlooking the Olympic Park, a stone’s throw from the excellent transport links of Stratford Station and the town centre.

For some years Newham had hoped to sell off the area as a new campus for University College London, but local opposition and protests by students and academics at UCL led to the college abandoning the plans. In 2020 the council handed over the regeneration project its Housing Company Populo Living.

Jasmin Stone

Focus E15 came to the Carpenters Estate on Monday 9th June 2014 to highlight the scandal of the empty homes, bringing with them life-size or larger colour portraits of the mothers which they pasted on the shuttered windows of a small block of flats at the centre of the estate, along with posters stating ‘We Could be Here’, ‘This home needs a family’, ‘These homes need people’, ‘You could be here’.

Sam Middleton

The protest gained some publicity for their campaign, which had moved on from being simply about the mothers to a much more general ‘Housing For All’ campaign, which still continues, with the group holding a weekly Saturday Morning stall on Stratford Broadway, supporting homeless families in getting proper treatment from the council and preventing evictions in the area.

I returned with Focus E15 to the Carpenters Estate a few months later in September when on the first anniversary of the start of their campaign they occupied this low-rise block of flats on ‘Open House Day, gaining national publicity, staying in occupation for around two weeks, and have photographed various other of their events.

Focus E15 Mums Expose Carpenters Estate


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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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Bromley-by-Bow Gasholders

Tuesday, April 5th, 2022

Bromley-by-Bow Gasholders: A week ago on Monday 28th March I was invited to go with a team from Cody Dock on a site visit to the gasholders which are a prominent feature of the local landscape, seen by many thousands every day from the Underground and National Rail lines as they travel in and out of London as well as local residents and walkers along the Lower Lea and Bow Creek, including those following The Line sculpture trail. We were there invited to study the heritage, history and ecology of the Bromley-by-Bow Gasworks site which has just been sold by its future developers.

Bromley-by-Bow Gas Holder Site Visit

The seven gas holders, all to a similar design were built between 1872 and 1882 and are all Grade II listed. Nine were built on the site but two are no longer there, the base of one now forming a large circular lake in the site. Holder No 1 was given an extra upper tier in steel in 1925-7 to more than double its capacity. All were taken out of use in the 1980s.

Bromley-by-Bow Gas Holder Site Visit

The real value of the site is not in the individual holders although these were some of the “most aesthetically distinguished and finely detailed gasholders ever built” (according to the listing text) but in the ensemble, thought to be “the largest group of Victorian gasholders known to remain in the world, which is testament to the scale of Britain’s pioneering gas industry and its contribution to the Industrial Revolution.” It is a heritage site not just of national importance but of world importance.

Bromley-by-Bow Gas Holder Site Visit

Given their importance the group, together with the adjoining memorial garden with its Grade II listed memorial lamp and statue of Sir Corbett Woodall surely deserves both Grade I listing and preservation, and the former gas works offices could form a heritage centre for the area. The offices were for some time a gas museum.

Bromley-by-Bow Gas Holder Site Visit
The circular pond is the base of a former gasholder

Just across the Channelsea river from the site is the Grade I listed Three Mills and a little to the south the former gas works Dock at Cody Dock, now a thriving creative and community hub, the sites linked by a riverside path which currently stops at Cody Dock but which should long ago have been opened as planned to lead to the Thames at Trinity Buoy Wharf, passing on the way the Bow Creek Ecology Park. Many sites along here played an important part in Britain and the world’s industrial history, but unfortunately little evidence remains, making it essential to preserve what does.

Bromley-by-Bow Gas Holder Site Visit

We were shown around the site in the morning by two of those responsible for planning the development who expressed their wish for the development to retain these elements which make the site unique and to open them up to the public, but good intentions are not enough, particularly for company accountants.

Bromley-by-Bow Gas Holder Site Visit

Given what has happened at other sites greater protection is required to make sure that any development in the area leaves the gasholders intact and preserves their landscape value, in particular the views of the ensemble from the railway and Underground lines, from Three Mills and the riverside footpaths by the Channelsea River and River Lea and the navigation. We do need more housing, or at least more social housing rather than luxury flats many of which remain largely unoccupied as investments, but we also need to preserve important monuments such as these which record and could celebrate our history.

Many more pictures from the day, mainly inside the holder site in my album Bromley-by-Bow Gas Holders. You can click on any of the images above to see a larger version in the album – and browse from there. Most of the images have an horizontal angle of view of approximately 145 degrees. There are more pictures of the area in various posts on My London Diary including Bow and The Fatwalk, Bromley-by-Bow to Star Lane and Gasworks Dock Revived.


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More Bow – a Grave, Halls, Co-op, Canal & Pub

Monday, March 14th, 2022

More Bow – a Grave, Halls, Co-op, Canal & Pub continues my walk on Monday 1st August 1988 – the previous post was Bow, Kingsly Hall, a Nursery, Grime, Quakers & more.

Bear Family, Memorial, Tower Hamlets Cemetery, Mile End, Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-8b-54-Edit_2400
Bear Family, Memorial, Tower Hamlets Cemetery, Mile End, Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-8b-54

The family vault of the Bear Family is marked by one of the more impressive monuments of Tower Hamlets Cemetery, with a long list of names, ages ad date of death which is headed by George Huxley Bear, who died in 1855 aged 4 years and six months. Several of the other entries are also for children, though their father lived to the age of 76. Child mortality was very much a feature of Victorian life.

I made two other pictures of this memorial, with its stems of wheat at the bottom and the consoling text from John XII, v 24 “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” As with all the other pictures you can click on this one to get a larger version and then browse back and forward to see them.

Bromley Public Hall, Bow Rd, Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-8b-41-Edit_2400
Bromley Public Hall, Bow Rd, Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-8b-41

Until last year this was the Tower Hamlets Register Office. The Grade II listed building dates from 1880 and was built as the vestry hall for St Leonard’s parish and extended in 1904. At least one web site confuses this with the much older and very different Bromley Hall, on the Blackwall Tunnel Approach road, though to be the oldest brick building in London, built around 1490 but extensively remodelled with a Georgian frontage around 1700.

Former Co-op store, Bow Rd, Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-8b-42-Edit_2400
Former Co-op store, Bow Rd, Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-8b-42

Stratford Co-operative & Industrial Society built this splendid store on Bow Road in 1919, proudly listing the names of its leading members under the bee hive signifying co-operation.

In my youth every high street (and some rather lower) had its own Co-operative store, benefiting from the huge buying power of the Cooperative Wholesale Society. We bought most of the few new clothes we could afford there as well as shoes and other items, and it was the Co-op who delivered our milk seven days a week. My mother’s Co-op number is still etched in my memory, essential when making any purchase, and leading to a ‘divi’ at the end of the year which saw us through Christmas.

In 1988 this was the PLH Kakkad Supermarket and although it sold a wide range of goods its frontage was devoted to Rothmans, “The best tobacco money can buy“. More recently it became a Costcutter and then a Nisa local since around 2008.

Lea Navigation, St Thomas Creek, Bow Back Rivers, Stratford, Newham, 1988 88-8b-46-Edit_2400
Lea Navigation, St Thomas Creek, Bow Back Rivers, Stratford, Newham, 1988

I walked further east and crossed the busy Bow roundabout to take this picture looking across the Lea Navigation and up St Thomas Creek, one of the Bow Back Rivers. Stratford High Street at right is now lined with tall flats, and Global Caravans with one stacked on top of a couple of containers is long gone, along with almost all of the rest of the industrial buildings. A few of those nearest on the left before Cooks Road remained but in derelict condition in 2021.

Bow Theatre, Bow Rd, Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988  88-8b-32-Edit_2400
Bow Theatre, Bow Rd, Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-8b-32

Walking back west up Bow Road took me to Bow Theatre on the west corner of Fairfield Road. This Grade II listed building was a new Poplar Town Hall built in 1937-8 and was said to be the first modernist town hall, designed by Ewart Culpin and his son Clifford. The frieze by David Evans depicts the various trades of the builders of the town hall and is said to include a welder, a labourer, a mason, a carpenter and an architect. Unfortunately it is hard to decide the occupations of some of those in my picture, partly as they are not critically sharp.

After Poplar became a part of Tower Hamlets, this was no longer a town hall, but remained in use for some years as council offices and also as a theatre. The council sold it in the 1990s and it is now Bow Business Centre.

Caledonian, pub, Fairfield Rd, Blondin St, Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-8b-34-Edit_2400
Caledonian Arms, pub, Fairfield Rd, Blondin St, Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-8b-34

The Caledonian Arms on the corner of Blondin St is still standing but no longer a pub, having closed around 2000 and extensively converted to office and residential use in 2010. The building possibly dates from 1851 though it may have replaced a former building later that century. For years a Watney’s pub it later became owned by Shepherd Neame.

The cafe on the opposite corner has gone completely, its site part of a car park for new buildings down Blondin St. The name suggests that the street was built at the time of the famous tightrope crossing of the Niagra by ‘The Great Blondin‘ in 1859.

Douro St, Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988  88-8b-35-Edit_2400
Douro St, Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-8b-35

This was a short street with small houses shown in the picture with front doors opening directly onto the street and a car breakers behind the fence at left.

The cobbles and the small houses are still there, but the car breakers have been replaced by a large block of flats, Altius Apartments, at 714 Wick Lane, with 4 floors and a roof garden, at a taller 9 floor tower at the east end. The guide price for one of those small houses in the ‘Bow Quarter’ is given as £800,000 and the estate agents rather creatively describe Douro St as ‘tree-lined’.

Tredegar Rd, Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-8b-36-Edit_2400
Tredegar Rd, Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-8b-36-Edit_2400

Tredegar Rd is just to the north of Douro St, on the other side of the flats. I think this is at its junction with Wick Lane and I think absolutely nothing of what was in my picture remains, with even the road layout having altered at least slightly.

What was H Bates & Son Scrap dealers is now occupied by a block of around 12 floors, offices at ground level and flats above, but the ‘Bow Quarter’ area is so different that this could well be another nearby corner – also covered with new housing. But my next pictures show I turned south down Wick Lane to the rear of the former Bryant & May match factory, where the next instalment of this walk will begin.


Click on any image to see a larger version in my album 1988 London Photos, from where you can browse other images. You can view most of the sites today on Google Streetview.


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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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An Olympic Bike Ride

Tuesday, January 4th, 2022

Businesses later demolished at the heart of the site for London’s 2012 Olympics

An Olympic Bike Ride: At the end of 2002 I finally bought a Brompton, a rather expensive folding bicycle which then cost me around £600. Perhaps not a lot for a new bike then and certainly not now, but rather more than the £13-7s6d or so the other bike I was still riding had cost in 1958.

Clays Lane Housing Co-operative – demolished for the Olympics

I’d been thinking about it for years, and it would certainly have been very useful for the work that I’d been doing around outer London in the previous decade, but I’ve only used it infrequently for my photography.

Eastway Cycle Circuit – lost to the Olympics

Though it’s a great way to get to places, taking it by train or underground and riding from a convenient station, Bromptons are a powerful magnet for bike thieves, so easy to put in a car boot or van, and selling at a relatively high price. It isn’t safe to lock them anywhere in public view when even the best cycle lock can only detain the well-equipped thief for around 30 seconds.

Bully Fen Wood – Community Woodland lost to the Olympics

So rather than using it for my general photography – mainly of protests and other events – I’ve used it for cycle rides on which I’ve taken photographs, both around where I live – it’s easier to jump on and off than my full-size bike – and in and around London.

Factory on Waterden Road – demolished for the Olympics

Thursday 4th January 2007 was a nice winter’s day, not too cold and blue skies with just a few clouds, and I went with the Brompton to Waterloo and then on the Jubilee Line to Stratford. Preparations had begun for the 2012 London Olympics and I wanted to see and photograph what I could of the changes that were taking place.

The footbridge has been kept in the new Olympic Park

My account of the day on My London Diary begins with my tongue-in-cheek suggestion that it would have been much preferable on environmental ground to shut down Heathrow and use that as the Olympic site, but goes on to describe a conversation I had with one of the residents at Clays Lane, then about to be demolished (spelling etc corrected.)

‘he talked of living in a fascist state, with lack of consultation and individual powerlessness, and of the games as having always had a militaristic overtone. hardly surprising there is little support for the games here, as initial promises that people from the Clays Lane Housing Co-operative would be rehoused in conditions “as good as, if not better than” their present estate were soon changed to “at least as good as in so far as is reasonably practicable.”‘

My London Diary

Work on the site seen from the Greenway

From Clays Lane I moved to the Eastway Cycle Track, already closed and fenced off – I decided against going through a gap in the fence to ride around it. The Community Woodland at Bully Fen Wood was also already closed. and I cycled on around the roads at the north of the site to Hackney Wick.

Pudding Mill River and Marshgate Lane – all now gone

Along Waterden Road I photographed some of the other industrial sites that were to be lost to the games, then turned along Carpenters Road and into Marshgate Lane, all soon to be fenced off and everthing on them destroyed. After taking pictures around Marshgate Lane I went back and into Hackney Wick, photographing the Kings Yard workshops on Carpenters Road soon to be demolished on my way.

Kings Yard – demolished for the Olympics

Hackney Wick to the west of the Lea Navigation is largely outside the Olympic compulsory purchase area, but some large areas of industry were scheduled for demolition and I took more pictures. I found the towpath here beside the navigation still open and rode down it to Stratford High Street, where more industry to the north of the road is also going.

Canary Wharf from Stratford Marsh

I spent some time going up the roads and paths here going from the High Street into Stratford Marsh which were still open, then went east along the top of the outfall sewer past areas also covered by the Olympic CPO.

St Thomas Creek, Bow Back Rivers – factories at left and right to be demolished

There was still a little light and I came down from the ‘Greenway’ and cycled down to Bow Creek from West Ham, going down the path on the west side of the creek to the Lower Lea Crossing. I wanted a picture showing the Pura Foods site then being demolished, but also made a number of other twilight pictures from this elevated viewpoint, and also some from the Silvertown Way viaduct as I made my way to Canning Town Station for the train home.

Pura Foods being demolished for London City Island development

Many more pictures from this ride on My London Diary, starting a little way down the January 2007 page.


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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.