Posts Tagged ‘social housing’

Holloway, Nabja, Vegans, Refugees & Topshop – 2016

Tuesday, May 14th, 2024

Holloway, Nabja, Vegans, Refugees & Topshop – I celebrated 14th May 2016 with a busy day of protests around London.


Reclaim Holloway

Holloway, Nabja, Vegans, Refugees & Topshop
Jeremy Corbyn

Islington Hands Off Our Public Services, Islington Kill the Housing Bill and the Reclaim Justice Network marched from rally on Holloway Road demanding that when Holloway prison is closed the site remains in public hands, and that the government replace the prison with council housing and the vital community services needed to prevent people being caught up in a damaging criminal justice system.

Holloway, Nabja, Vegans, Refugees & Topshop

The prison is in Jeremy Corbyn’s constituency and the then Labour leader turned up on his bike to speak before the march to give his support.

Holloway, Nabja, Vegans, Refugees & Topshop

There was a long rally outside the prison with speeches by local councillors, trade unionists and campaigning groups.

Holloway, Nabja, Vegans, Refugees & Topshop

Islington Council wanted to see the site used for social housing and in 2022 gave https://www.ahmm.co.uk/projects/masterplanning/holloway/ planning permission for a development by Peabody, who bought the site in 2019 with help from the GLA, and London Square for 985 new homes. 60% of these will be affordable, including 415 for social rent, together with a 1.4-acre public park, a Women’s Building, and new commercial spaces.

Reclaim Holloway


68th Anniversary Nabka Day – Oxford St

Holloway, Nabja, Vegans, Refugees & Topshop

A rolling protest outside shops which support the Israeli state made its way along Oxford St from Marks and Spencers, with speakers detailing the continuing oppression of the Palestinian people, and opposing attempts to criminalise and censor the anti-Zionist boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

It came on the day before Nabka Day, the anniversary of the ‘day of the catastrophe’ which commemorates when around 80% of Palestinians were forced to leave their homes between December 1947 and January 1949, and later prevented by Israeli law from returning to their homes, or claiming their property.

The protesters included both Palestinians and Jews opposed to the continuing oppression of the Palestinians by the Israeli government. They were met by a small group of people holding Israeli flags who stood in their way and shouted insults, accusing them of anti-Semitism.

The organisers were clear that the protest was not anti-Semitic but against Zionism and some actions of the Israeli government. Both police and protesters tried hard to avoid confrontation with those who had clearly come to disrupt and provoke.

Many UK businesses play an important part in supporting the Israeli government by selling Israeli goods and those produced in the occupied territories and in other ways, and their were brief speeches as the protest halted outside some of them detailing some of these links.

More on My London Diary at 68th Anniversary Nabka Day.

This Saturday, 18th May 2024, you can join the march in London, starting at the BBC on the 76th anniversary of the Nabka calling for an end to the current genocide in Gaza.


Vegan Earthlings Masked Video Protest – Trafalgar Square

Vegans in white masks from London Vegan Actions were standing in a large circle on the North Terrace of Trafalgar Square, some holding laptops or tables showing a film about the mistreatment of animals in food production, bullfighting, etc. Although bright sun made the laptop screens almost impossible to see and the sound outdoors was largely inaudible the large circle of people standing in white masks did attract attention.

More pictures Vegan Earthlings masked video protest.


Refugees Welcome say protesters – Trafalgar Square

Also protesting in front of the National Gallery were a small group holding posters calling for human rights, fair treatment and support for refugees. Some held a banner with the message ‘free movement for People Not Weapons‘.

More pictures Refugees Welcome say protesters.


Topshop protest after cleaners sacked – Oxford St

After Topshop suspended two cleaners who were members of the United Voices of the World trade union for protesting for a living wage and sacked one of them protests were taking place outside their stores around the country.

The UVW were supported by others at the London protest which began outside Topshop on Oxford Street by others including trade unionists from the CAIWU and Ian Hodson, General Secretary of the BWAFU as well as then Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Class War.

A large crowd of police and extra illegal security guards wearing no ID blocked the entrance to the shop stopping both protesters and customers from entering. The several hundred protesters held up placards and banners and protested noisily but made no serious attempt to go in to the store.

A man wears a mask of Topshop owner Phillip Green

Some protesters, led by the Class War ‘Womens Death Brigade’ moved onto the road, blocking it for some minutes before the whole group of protesters marched to block the Oxford Circus junction for some minutes until a large group of police arrived and fairly gently persuade them to move.

They stopped outside John Lewis, another major store in a long-running dispute with the union as it allowed its cleaning contractor to pay its cleaners low wages, with poor conditions of service and poor management, disclaiming any responsibility for workers who keep its stores running.

The protest there was again noisy and there were some heated verbal exchanges between protesters and police, but I saw no arrests. After a few minutes the protesters marched off to continue their protest outside another Oxford Street Topshop branch close to Marble Arch.

More at Topshop protest after cleaners sacked.


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March For Homes – 2015

Wednesday, January 31st, 2024

March For Homes: St Leonard’s Church to City Hall

Defend Council Housing, South London People’s Assembly and Unite Housing Workers Branch had called for a march to draw attention to the crisis in housing, particularly in London where council housing lists are huge and many councils are failing to meet their legal requirements to rehouse homeless families.

March For Homes

These requirements generally do not extend to single homeless people and in London alone over 6,500 people had slept rough at some time in the previous year with around one in twelve of 16-24 year-olds having been homeless at some point. Government figures comprehensively and deliberately underestimate the numbers.

March For Homes

It isn’t really a housing crisis, but a crisis of affordable housing. There are more than enough empty properties to house the homeless, but those who need housing are unable to afford the high rents or house prices being asked.

March For Homes

There has been a huge surge in building high-rise properties in London, with whole areas like Battersea and Nine Elms as well as elsewhere across inner and outer London being increasingly filled with them, but almost all are high-price properties, many sold overseas before the buildings are completed not as homes but as investments. Others are low specification student housing and also do nothing for the housing crisis.

March For Homes

What is needed is a crash programme of housing at social rents for family units of all sizes. Developers have become adept at evading what laws there are about providing social housing in new developments, fiddling the books to claim they cannot make sufficient profits which ridiculously lets them off the hook.

Much of the UK problems over housing go back to the Thatcher administration which both sold off council housing piecemeal under ‘right to buy’ but also stopped councils replacing what they had lost.

In earlier years both Tory and Labour councils had built generally high quality low cost housing though of course there were some examples of poor planning (often when councils were forced to cut costs) and shoddy work as well as unfortunate government encouragement of high-rise system building, which many of us were campaigning against in the 60’s and 70s.

But perhaps even more importantly under Tory administrations council housing became something just for what they regarded as ‘feckless’ and the ‘dregs of society’, those unable to fend for themselves. We got this ridiculous concept of the ‘housing ladder’ and very much it is a ladder that expresses “pull up the ladder, Jack. We’re alright“.

Municipal housing can provide housing for all at low cost and provided a rational approaching to providing decent housing for all, getting away from the poor conditions and high cost of private rented housing at much lower cost than owner occupation.

The March for Homes on Saturday 31st January was actually two marches, one from the Elephant in South London and the other from East London which I photographed at Shoreditch, calling for more social housing and an end to estate demolition and evictions. On My London Diary at March for Homes: Shoreditch Rally I published a very long list of some of the various groups which supported the march, as well as some of the speakers at the rally there. Eventually the march set off on its way towards City Hall, making its way towards Tower Bridge.

Class War left the march briefly to protest as it went past One Commercial St, where they had been holding a long series of weekly ‘Poor Doors’ protests against the separate door down a side alley for the social housing tenants in the block. They had briefly suspended the protests a few weeks early when new owner for the building had offered talks about the situation, but these had broken down.

Approaching the Tower of London the protest was joined by Russell Brand riding a bicycle. He had earlier lent support to a number of housing campaigns by residents in estates threatened by evictions.

By the time the march was going across Tower Bridge Class War had rejoined it, and their banners were in the lead.

The march was met on the other side of Tower Bridge by the South London March for Homes, a similar sized protest called by Defend Council Housing and South London People’s Assembly which had started at the Elephant, marching past the former Heygate Estate. The two marches merged to walk on to Potters Fields for the rally outside City Hall.

We had been marching most of the day in light rain, and this got rather heavier for the rally outside City Hall. Together with a large crowd being jammed into a fairly small space it made photography of the rally difficult.

While the rally was still continuing some of the protesters began to leave Potters Fields to protest more actively, led by Class War and other anarchit groups and accompanied by the samba band Rhythms of Revolution.

They moved onto Tooley Street and blocked it for a few minutes, then decided to move off, with police reinforcements who had arrived than taking over their role of blocking the road as the protesters moved off eastwards.

I watched them go, and later heard that after a brief protest at One Tower Bridge, a new development mainly for the over-rich next to Tower Bridge they had taken a long walk to join occupiers on Southwark’s Aylesbury Estate.

But I was cold, wet and tired, and my cameras too, having been exposed to the weather for several hours were becoming temperamental and I waited for a bus to start my journey home.

Much 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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Focus E15 Mothers Party Against Eviction – 2014

Wednesday, January 17th, 2024

Focus E15 Mothers Party Against Eviction: Ten years ago today, on Friday 17th January 2014 I went to Stratford to photograph and support mothers threatened with eviction from their hostel.

Focus E15 Mothers Party Against Eviction

Focus E15 Mothers Party Against Eviction – East Thames Housing, Stratford

Focus E15 Mothers Party Against Eviction

The eviction threat came when Newham Council withdrew funding from the Focus E15 Foyer run by East Thames Housing Association. Rather than accept the evictions and be rehoused by the council in private rented flats in far-flung areas of the UK – including Wales and Liverpool, the women in the hostel decided to join together and fight.

Focus E15 Mothers Party Against Eviction

They fought to be rehoused near to friends, families and support including nurseries close to their local area to avoid distress and dislocation for themselves and their children – and eventually they won.

Focus E15 Mothers Party Against Eviction

The fight by Focus E15 brought national publicity to the scandals around local authority housing, and was a inspiration to others around the country. They continue their fight with their ‘Housing For All‘ campaign and remain an active campaign against evictions in Newham, including a weekly street stall every Saturday on Stratford Broadway.

Their campaign against Newham Council and its right-wing Labour Mayor Robin Wales who seemed to regard the London borough as a personal fiefdom led to some devious and at times illegal attempts to silence them and was almost certainly a factor in fomenting the revolt by Labour Party members that eventually led to him being deposed. Though his replacement as Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, is perhaps only a slight improvement.

All local authorities have suffered under cuts by central government, and in particular attacks on social housing provision, begun under Thatcher and continued by all governments since. The cuts made by the Tory-led coalition following on from the financial crash of 2008 tightened the screw on them still further.

Newham under Robin Wales appears to have decided that they needed to attract a wealthier population to the area and get rid of some of their existing population and had decided in the early 2000s to sell off a well-located and popular council estate close to the centre of Stratford to whoever they could. They began the process of ‘decanting’ people from the Carpenters estate around 2004, with many properties being left empty for years despite having – together with Lambeth – the largest housing waiting lists in Greater London – around 3.5 times the average among London authorities.

One of the Focus E15 slogans was ‘Repopulate the Carpenters Estate’ and it was in part due to their actions, alongside those of other campaigners, that the estate was not sold off and demolished. The estate is now being regenerated by the council although Focus E15 find much to criticise in the council’s plans.

The Focus E15 had begun in September 2013 and the action ten years ago was one of their earliest. I met with them and supporters, including those from the Revolutionary Communist Group, on a street corner near the offices of East Thames and walked with them into the large foyer, where they posed for a photograph for one of the local newspapers.

Then some of the mothers and children moved into the show flat at the front of the offices, with others remaining on the street outside with banners and placards, handing out leaflets to people walking by and using a megaphone to explain why the mothers were protesting.

The member of East Thames staff who had been dealing with the mothers came to talk with them. He assured them that they would be allowed to remain until satisfactory accommodation had been found for them.

The mothers pointed out that East Thames had large numbers of homes available, including many on the former Olympic site in Stratford, but were told that East Thames could not allocate affordable properties directly, but had to work with Newham council.

He seemed genuinely suprised to hear from the mothers that Newham had made offers involving rehousing away from London, in Hastings, Birmingham and elsewhere, away from friends, families, colleges, nurseries and support networks, and stated that East Thames intended to see them rehoused in London.

Later the Group Chief Executive of East Thames, June Barnes arrived and talked with the mothers telling them the same. East Thames seemed clear that the real problem was with Newham Council and not with them, though the campaigners were not really convinced.

You can read a longer account of the protest and party with many more pictures on My London Diary at Focus E15 Mothers Party Against Eviction.


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Cressingham Gardens Calls For A Ballot – 2017

Saturday, December 2nd, 2023

Cressingham Gardens Calls For A Ballot – On Saturday 2nd December 2017 residents of Cressingham Gardens in Tulse Hill marched with supporters to a rally at Lambeth Town Hall in Brixton to demand Lambeth Council hold a ballot of residents over the plans to demolish their homes. I went early to take a walk around the estate and take some photographs before the rally and march.


Cressingham Gardens – Tulse Hill, Brixton

Cressingham Gardens Calls For A Ballot

Council estates generally get a bad press, with media attention concentrating on those which were badly planned and have been allowed to deteriorate, often deliberately populated with more than than share of families with problems of various kinds, used as ‘sink estates’ by local councils. Some councils have even employed PR companies to denigrate and demonise those of their estates they want to demolish and sell off to private developers.

Cressingham Gardens Calls For A Ballot
This has always been a popular estate, and has a low crime rate for the area

These developers have also powerfully lobbied our main political parties who have handed over much of their policies over housing to developers and estate agents and other property professionals who stand to make huge profits from turning public property into private estates.

Cressingham Gardens Calls For A Ballot

Yet many council estates are pleasant places to live, often much better planned than private developments of the same era, and providing more space for people than the cramped and expensive flats that are replacing them where redevelopment schemes have gone ahead. Lambeth Council have several such estates, including those at Central Hill and Cressingham Gardens where this would clearly be the case, and residents at both sites have campaigned strongly to keep their homes.

Cressingham Gardens Calls For A Ballot

We seem always to be in a housing crisis in the UK, and some of the solutions that were taken to meet this have not always worked to well, particularly with some system-built high rises which were shoddily erected by private developers for councils.

After I left home in the early 1960s I lived in private rented flats, then in a New Town in a flat from the development agency and then for many years now as an owner occupier. The private rentals were pretty squalid and the publicly owned flat was rather more spacious than the small Victorian house we have lived in since. It would have been good to have been able to move into socially owned housing when we relocated but it wasn’t available.

Until the Thatcher government came into power public housing had regarded as something desirable with even Conservative Councils such as Lambeth was then having a mission to provide quality housing for working class Lambeth residents. They employed some of the best architects in the country, such as Edward Hollamby, the chief architect for Lambeth Council who was responsible for Cressingham Gardens and designed this low rise ‘garden estate’ development built in 1967 to 1979 at low cost and with a high population density, but with the 306 homes each having their own private outdoor space.

As the Twentieth Century Society state “this is one of the most exceptional and progressive post-war social housing estates in the UK” but the application for listing the estate in 2013 was rejected despite Historic England praising the way the design responds to its setting, with skill and sensitivity, “both in the scale and massing of the built elements, as well as through the integration of these elements with informal open spaces which bring a park-like character into the estate”. It appears to have been a decision made in defiance of both the estate’s architectural and historical merit and solely on political grounds.

The estate is on the Twentieth Century Society Buildings at Risk list. Lambeth Council have completed their preparation and brief for its complete demolition and their web site states they “will shortly be starting RIBA Stage 2 (Concept Design).


Cressingham Gardens residents say Ballot Us!

People met up next to the Rotunda in the centre of the estate designed by Hollamby as a children’s nursery, many carrying banners and posters. Residents were joined by other campaigners, including those trying to save Lambeth’s libraries and housing campaigners from north London.

Residents love living on Cressingham – a small well-planned estate with a great community feeling and many know that they will be unable to afford the so-called afford ‘affordable’ homes that the council wants to replace their homes with – a 2 bed flat after regeneration will cost £610 (at 2017 values.)

They want the estate to be refurbished rather than demolished, which the council says would cost £10 million. Many dispute the council’s costings and say that some of the problems the council has identified are a matter of poor maintenance rather than needing expensive building works. But residents in any case point to the council having just spent over £165 million on a new Town Hall and say refurbishment is a cheap option.

It isn’t the cost of refurbishment which makes the council turn it down, but the profits that developers can make from the site – and which the council hopes to be able to get a share. Though such schemes haven’t always worked out well. Although the developers have done very nicely out of demolishing the Heygate site in Southwark and building high density blocks on it, the council made a huge loss, though some individuals involved have ended up in lucrative jobs on the back of it.

Lambeth is a Labour Council, and since the previous Labour Party conference party policy had been that no demolition of council estates should take place without consent, but Lambeth Council seem determined to ignore this and go ahead with their plans for a so-called ‘regeneration’ which would see all 300 homes demolished, without any plans to provide immediate council housing for the roughly 1000 residents who would be made homeless. To the council these residents are simply occupying a site worth several hundred thousand pounds – an asset the council wants to realise. It doesn’t care about communities, about people.

Those who have become leaseholders of their homes are likely to get even more shoddy treatment. The amount of compensation they are likely to receive is likely to be less than half they would need to buy a comparable property in the area – on or the rebuilt estate.

Cressingham is in a very desirable location, on the edge of a large park and with good transport links a short distance away. Many are likely to have to move miles away on the edge of London or outside to find property they can afford, far from where they now live and work.

The march set off for Brixton Town Hall on the corner of Acre Lane where a small crowd of supporters was waiting for them. The placed a box containing petition signatures in front of the locked doors on the steps and a rally began with shouts calling for a ballot.

Among those who had come to speak along with residents from the estate were Tanya Murat of Southwark Homes for All and Piers Corbyn, a housing campaigner also from neighbouring Southwark.

One of the strikers from the Ritzy cinema opposite told us that none of them could now afford to live in Lambeth now, and it’s clear that we need more social housing not less in the area. A local Green Party member also told us that they were the only party in the area campaigning for more social housing.

Potent Whisper performed his take on Regeneration, ‘Estate of War’, from this Rhyming Guide to Housing. The video of this was recorded in Cressingham Gardens.

Others who had come along included people from Class War and the e RCG (Revolutionary Communist Group) who have been very active in supporting social housing campaigns as well as Roger Lewis of DPAC who told us how council cuts affect the disabled disproportunately.

More on My London Diary:
Cressingham residents say Ballot Us!
Cressingham Gardens


Climate March & Open House 2014

Thursday, September 21st, 2023

Climate March & Open House: On Sunday 21st September 2014 I photographed the so-called ‘Peoples Climate March’ in central London before going to party with Focus E15 Mothers on the Carpenters Estate where they celebrated a year of their fight to be rehoused in the area.


Peoples Climate March – Embankment

Climate March & Open House

As in this week in 2023, a Climate Summit was taking place in New York in September 2014 and marches were taking place in London and elsewhere to demand divestment in fossil fuels and an end to the domination of politics by the fossil fuel industry which has blocked action against climate change.

Climate March & Open House

Little has actually changed in the 9 years since then. More empty words and promises but too many governments including our own in the UK continuing to encourage exploration for more gas and oil and even approving new coal mines. And carbon levels continue to rise, with at least a 2 degree rise in global temperature now seeming inevitable.

Climate March & Open House

What has changed is that we are all much more aware that climate change is real and are feeling its effects. While many in the Global South have been suffering for years, we in Europe and North America have now felt the new record high temperatures and seen the increasing wild fires and unstable weather caused by global temperature rise.

Last Saturday I photographed another Climate March in London, and it had a rather more serious and committed air than the 2014 event, not just because it was organised by Extinction Rebellion, but because the global situation has worsened, with new an disturbing reports coming out almost weekly.

Climate March & Open House

Back in 2014 I wrote about some length about the march and how it “seemed to have been rather taken over by various slick and rather corporate organisations rather than being a ‘people’s march’ and seemed to lack any real focus.”

Climate March & Open House

Then I commented that “There was one block – the ‘‘Fossil Free Block’ that I felt was worth supporting, and what the whole march should have been about. We have to stop burning oil, coal, gas. We are certainly on our way to disastrous climate change if we fail to severely cut carbon emissions, and probably need to actually reverse some of the rise that has already occurred. Drastic action really is needed.”

The 2023 march was behind a banner ‘NO NEW FOSSIL FUELS’ and another read ‘BIG OIL HAS FRIED US ALL’. But it didn’t get the kind of corporate support of the 2014 event and I don’t think there were any celebrities on the march, though I think some spoke at the rally afterwards, but I had left before this.

Worryingly in 2023 it was much smaller than the 2014 March. Back in 2014 I still felt there was time to avert catastrophe, but now I’m rather less optimistic. It may be too late. I have a feeling that in another nine years time we will be marching again, world leaders will still be talking and doing little and the world will be descending into chaos. Given my age it may still see me out but I worry about those younger.

More on My London Diary at Peoples Climate March.


Focus E15 Open House Day

I left well before the end of the march in 2014 too, catching the Underground to Stratford to get to the Carpenters Estate in Stratford where Focus E15 Mothers were celebrating the first anniversary of their fight against LB Newham’s failure to provide local housing for local people.

It was a year since Newham Council had cut funding for their hostel in Stratford run by East Thames Housing and they had been given eviction notices. Newham, which had a statutory duty to rehouse them told them it would be in private rental property miles away in Birmingham or Hastings or Wales but they wanted to stay within reach of families, jobs support services and friends in London.

Unlike many others they decided to fight the council, and launched an active and successful campaign, later widening their personal fight into “a wider campaign for housing for all, for social housing in London and an end to the displacement of low income households from the capital, with the slogan ‘Social Housing not Social Cleansing’.”

Despite the desperate shortage of social housing in Newham, the council led by Mayor Robin Wales had been trying to sell off its Carpenters Estate for ten years, moving people out and leaving good homes empty. The estate is next door to Stratford Station and Bus Station and so has excellent transport links making it very desirable for development. It is a post-war estate with large numbers of good quality low-rise housing along with three tower blocks. By 2014, most of the properties had “been boarded up for years, empty while thousands wait on the council’s housing list.

Carpenters Estate June 2014

In June 2014 I’d come with Focus E15 to the estate and had photographed them pasting up large photographs of themselves on some boarded up flats with slogans such as ‘This home needs a family‘ and ‘This family needs a home‘ and ‘These homes need people‘. I’d been told something intersting might happen at the party and wasn’t surprised when after a noisy session by a samba band to mask the sounds of removing some of the metal shutters at the rear of the flats we saw some of the E15 mums and supporters waving at us from a first floor window.

“It was Open House Day in London and courtesy of the Focus E15 Mums, 80-86 Dorian Walk was now one of the houses open to the public, even if not on the official lists, and we formed an orderly queue in best Open House tradition to go in and look at the four flats.

I was surprised to see what good conditions the flats were in, “fitted kitchens and bathrooms still in good working order – with running water, wallpaper and carpets almost pristine, and the odd piece of abandoned furniture. In one of kitchens, the calendar from 2004 was still on the wall, a reminder that while Londoners are desperate for housing, Newham council has kept this and other perfectly habitable properties empty for ten years.”

Focus E15 occupied the flats for a couple of weeks, leaving after the the Council issued legal eviction notices but their fight continued. Most of them have been rehoused in London and they have supported many others in Newham and neighbouring boroughs to get proper treatment from the council and prevent evictions. Their actions saved the Carpenters Estate and it is now being regenerated, although the plans don’t satisfy many of the groups demands. Their campaigns for housing for people in Newham continue.

More on My London Diary at Focus E15 Open House Day.


Housing Crimes Exposed

Wednesday, June 14th, 2023

Housing Crimes Exposed: On the 14th June every year now our thoughts turn to Grenfell and the terrible fire there in 201. I wrote about this here a year ago in Remember Grenfell – Demand Justice.

We still haven’t seen justice, and the delays in investigation caused by the inquiry increasingly make it seem that once again our legal and judicial system have successfully kicked justice into the long grass. There are people who should have been in jail and organisations which should have been facing huge fines within a few months of the tragic but predicted event. The fire wasn’t an accident but the result of crimes.


Advance to Mayfair – London Real Estate Forum – Berkeley Square, Mayfair

There are other crimes around housing in the UK, and in particular around social housing, and people were protesting about these before Grenfell. On Thursday 16th June 2016 I photographed one of these protests, and two days later a second also in Mayfair, an appropriate location as these are crimes of the rich against the poor, coming from the Thatcher crusade to enrich the rich at the expense of the poor, rewarding the wealthy and retreating from the welfare state which had supported the poor.

Housing Crimes Exposed

Housing was one of the main areas of policy, along with privatisation which sold off key services and industries to private investors – and for which we are now seeing the results in high energy prices, sewage in rivers, high cost transport and huge subsidies to shareholders, with much of the costs of our NHS now going to supporting healthcare companies and their owners.

In housing Thatcher decided we should be a nation of home owners. Until then many of the working class had either been council tenants or were aspiring to be so while living in often poor and cramped accommodation provided by private landlords. Thatcher changed that, partly be selling off council properties to tenants at knock-down prices, but also by making it difficult or impossible for local authorities to build new council properties or properly maintain existing ones. It was a very popular policy with those who got their properties on the cheap, though many found they couldn’t afford to keep them and before long they were bough up as ‘buy to let’ properties by those rich enough to get mortgages and bank loans.

Housing Crimes Exposed

Under New Labour, the Labour Party took up many of the worst of Thatcher’s policies, and the ‘regeneration’ schemes Labour councils came up increasingly amounted in a huge loss of social housing, replacing huge estates with largely homes for private sale with some as largely unaffordable “affordable housing” and shared ownership. More and more of the housing associations, many of which had taken over social housing estates from hard-pressed local councils began to look more and more like commercial property owners.

In 2021 government funding to housing associations to build affordable housing was reduced by 60% and funding for new social rented housing was stopped altogether. Since then they have built many houses for sale and rent at market levels, partly to provide cash for some social housing.

London’s councils, largely Labour run, have been among the worst offenders. As I wrote in 2016:

Under the guise of New Labour regeneration, Southwark spent large amounts of council money in demonising the Heygate Estate, employing PR consultants to invent surveys, deliberately moving in problem tenants, running the estate down both physically and through the media to justify its demolition. A highly awarded scheme with its trees coming to maturity, and popular with many residents despite the lack of necessary maintenance was emptied over a period of years and finally destroyed. It took years to get some residents to move, as few were offered suitable alternative accommodation and the compensation on offer to leaseholders was derisory.

But this scheme turned into “something of a financial disaster for Southwark council (though doubtless not for some councillors) and certainly for the people of Southwark, as the Heygate, built with around 1700 social housing units has been replaced by Elephant Park, with less than a hundred, along with a large number of high price apartments which very few locals can afford.”

Undeterred, Southwark proceeded to apply similar methods to other estates, notably the neighbouring Aylesbury Estate, “converting public assets into private profit, with yet more Southwark residents being forced to move out to cheaper areas on the outskirts of London or beyond, in what housing activists describe as social cleansing, driving ordinary Londoners out of the capital.

Similar polices were being applied under Mayor Robin Wales in Newham. They began emptying out the Carpenters Estate, a well-liked and successful estate close to the great transport links of Stratford station, in 2004. Many of the homes on the estate have been empty since then despite huge housing problems in the borough. A scheme to sell the estate for a new campus for UCL was defeated by protests both by local residents, led by Focus E15 and by students and staff at UCL.

Focus E15, a group of young mothers faced with eviction from their Stratford hostel when Newham announced they would no longer pay the housing association which ran it, engaged in a successful campaign against the council’s plans to relocate them separately to private rented accommodation in distant parts of the country, and brought housing problems in Newham and elsewhere onto the national agenda.

Focus E15 were among other groups, including Class War, the Revolutionary Communist Group and protesters from the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark who came to Berkeley Square to protest outside the London Real Estate Forum. Many Labour councils – including Southwark and Newham – were at the event, conspiring with estate agents and property developers to sell public land and transform estates which now house those on low incomes into homes for the wealthy. Councils now “appear to regard the estates they own as liabilities rather than seeing them as providing vital homes meeting the needs of the people who elect them. “

A few of those entering or leaving the event stopped to engage with the protesters, mostly trying to justify their activities. One man photographed the protest and engaged in homophobic abuse, but police who had been trying to move the protesters refused to take action.

You can read about the protest on My London Diary at Advance to Mayfair.


Municipal Journal Awards – Hilton Hotel, Mayfair

Two days later on Thursday 16th June 2016 I joined many of the same protesters and others outside the Hilton Hotel with Architects 4 Social Housing protesting noisily outside the Municipal Journal Local Authority Awards at the Hilton Hotel castigating the nomination of Southwark and Newham for awards.

They complained that Southwark was nominated for ‘Best London Council’ despite having demolished 7,639 units of social housing, sold off public land to developers, and evicted people unlawfully and accused 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.

These were awards not for housing the workers in their areas, many of whom are on pay close or at the minimum legal levels. Not even for key workers such as teachers and nurses, few of whom can now afford properties in the areas close to where they work, but to attract high paid workers and provide profits for overseas investors, many of whom leave the properties empty all or most of the year, watching their profits grow as London’s high property prices increase.

They are awards too for contributing to the huge profits for the developers who are now building a new London, providing poorly built properties, often to lower standards of space than those they replace, and with design lives sometimes expiring much earlier. And because we have not seen the changes in building regulations and safety standards that Grenfell exposed as necessary, some at least may be the Grenfells of the future.

More about the protest and many more pictures at Municipal Journal Awards.


Greedy Property Developers Reward Themselves

Friday, April 21st, 2023

Greedy Property Developers Reward Themselves: Eight years ago on Tuesday 12 April 2015 I photographed housing activists protesting outside the expensive dinner at a Mayfair hotel for the 2015 Property Awards. The protesters held their own alternative awards ceremony for housing protesters as a part of the event.

Among those in my pictures is Aysen from the Aylesbury Estate. The Fight4Aylesbury exhibition in her flat on the estate continues today, Friday 21st April 2023, and on Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd. Parts of some of my pictures from this event were used in collages in that show.


Property Awards at Mayfair Hotel – Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane

Greedy Property Developers Reward Themselves

Property developers have powered the incredible rise in London Housing prices by building luxury flats for mainly overseas investors, many of which remain unoccupied to be sold later at even higher prices to other investors, and also by working with London councils to redevelop social housing largely for private sale.

Greedy Property Developers Reward Themselves

Together with the actions of successive governments – Tory and Labour – they had created what by 2015 was clearly the worst shortage of affordable housing in history, with a record number of evictions and the doubling of rough sleeping in London. Over 50,000 families have had to move out of London while many more properties in the capital remain empty.

Greedy Property Developers Reward Themselves

As I wrote: “Housing in London has ceased to be something to meet human need, and instead is servicing greed and selfishness.” And the expensive dinner taking place that evening in the luxury Mayfair hotel was to give awards to the property developers for their greed. Among those taking part in the protest outside were people from estates which are being redeveloped, including Southwark Council’s Aylesbury estate and Sweets Way in north London who were facing eviction because of the policy of social cleansing driven by councils and developers.

People arriving at the dinner were met by a noisy crowd calling for a fair housing policy outside the ‘red carpet’ entrance to the hotel on Park Lane and had to walk past the protesters to enter. Police tried to keep the entrance clear and some hotel staff directed the guests to other entrances to the hotel, where the protesters also followed.

The protesters held an alternative awards ceremony in front of the hotel entrance, awarding large cardboard cups for the Young Protester of the Year, Placard Making, Demonstration of the Year and Occupation of the Year.

Protesters also briefly occupied occupied a neighbouring branch of estate agents Foxton, who have played a leading role in the gentrification of London. Together with other estate agents they have also been an important influence on the housing policies of both Tory and Labour.

Foxtons is notorious among those who rent property for driving up rents – and in 2022 the London Renters Union reported that their annual revenue had increased by £5m as rents in London went up by an average of 20.5% in 3 months, with one Foxtons tenant reporting a rise of £12,000 per year!

Shortly before I left it became clear that most of those coming to the dinner were being directed to a rear service entrance to the hotel and the protesters moved around the block to hold a rally there. The gate was rapidly closed and there were some minor scuffles as police attempted to move the protesters away. I heard later that there had been two arrests after I left.

Many more pictures at Property Awards at Mayfair Hotel.


Fight4Aylesbury Exhibition

Tuesday, April 18th, 2023

Last Friday I went to the first day of the Fight4Aylesbury exhibition which continues until 23 April 2023. It’s an unusual exhibition and one that is worth visiting if you can get to south London before it ends,

Fight4Aylesbury Exhibition

The exibition celebrates the struggle by residents on the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark to stay in their homes since the estate was first threatened in 1999 and takes over the flat of one of those still remaining, Aysen who writes:

Welcome to my home.

I am opening the doors to my flat for a collective clelbration of 20+ years of housing struggles to defend our council homes against social cleansing and gentrification. Our fight is ongoing.

Since 1999 the council has subjected us with privitisation, “re-generation” and now demolition. We, Aylesbury residents, other council tenant all over the country, and our supporters, have been resisting and are still resisting and defending our homes.

My home tells the story of this struggle.

Aysen

Fight4Aylesbury Exhibition

You are invited to Aysen’s council flat on Aylesbury Estate to celebrate 20+ years of housing struggles for housing justice and against gentrification, social cleansing and demolition of social housing. The flat has been transformed into a living exhibition with flyers, posters, video, audio and installations on housing struggles.
Fight4Aylesbury Exhibition
The exhibition is in this block, Wendover

The Aylesbury estate, designed by Hans Peter “Felix” Trenton was one of the largest areas of council housing in Europe, built from 1963 to 1977 with 2,700 dwellings for around 10,000 residents in an area containing some earlier social housing a short distance south of the Elephant and Castle between East Street market and Burgess Park.

Fight4Aylesbury Exhibition

There are a number of large blocks of various heights, from 4 to 14 floors, all well designed and built to the high standards of the era, with rather larger rooms and more solid walls than current buildings. The estate also had a central boiler to supply heat more economically to the flats.

Southwark neglected the estate in the 1980s and 1990s, failing to carry out necessary maintenance and the estate and the estate environment became in poor conditions. The heating system in particular suffered. Southwark began to use this and the neighbouring Heygate Estate as ‘sink estates’, deliberately moving in families with various social problems and people with mental health issues. It was because the estate had become unpopular that Aysen, who had to leave Turkey after the 1980 coup, was able to get a flat here with her sister in 1993.

The estate came to get a reputation as “one of the most notorious estates in the United Kingdom“, reinforced by it becoming a popular area for TV crews filming “murder scenes, gun and drug storylines and gang-related crimes in soaps and gritty dramas.” In particular from 2004-15 Channel 4 used it in an “ident” for which they had added “washing lines, shopping trolley, rubbish bags and satellite dishes” to create what was described as “a desolate concrete dystopia.”

Its poor reputation led Tony Blair to hold his first speech to the press as Prime Minister in 1997 on the estate, promising that the government would care for the poorest in society. It was a promise that he and later prime ministers have spectacularly failed to keep.

Southwark Council’s response to the estate’s decay they had overseen was to try and wash their hands of it by trying to transfer it to a private housing association to be redeveloped. But a campaign by residents in 2001 led to this being soundly rejected – not surprisingly they voted against demolition, displacement, rising rents and smaller flat sizes.

Undeterred, Southwark decided to go ahead with the redevelopment themselves, producing new plans for demolition in 2005. This time they didn’t bother to ballot the residents.

Solidarity collage which includes some of my images

The plans were for a 20 year phased demolition, with rebuilding of modern blocks by a housing association. The generous public space of the estate would be reduced and the housing density almost doubled. The first phase was completed in 2013 and Phase 2 is currently underway. All four phases are due for completion around 2032, and the 12 storey Wendover block in which the exhibition is being held has already been largely emptied of residents and is expected to be demolished around the end of this year.

Residents have continued their fight to stop the redevelopment, with protests and in January 2015 housing activists and squatters occupied flats in one of the emptied blocks. Moving from block to block they were finally evicted 18 days later. The squatters occupied another building and again were evicted. Southwark spent £140,000 on a fence, completely destroyed all bathrooms, toilets, pipes and kitchens in empty properties and spent £705,000 on security guards to prevent further occupation.

Other protests took place, including one in which part of the fence was torn down, and various protests at council meetings. Aylesbury residents also joined with housing activists in Southwark and across London at various other protests. But although these brought the Aylesbury campaign and the scandals over housing to national attention, the demolition continues.

Part of the scandal has been the “well-oiled revolving door” between the council – councillors and officers – and developers. The toilet in the exhibition flat is devoted to Southwark Council, and in particular for its Leader for more than a decade Peter John, who stepped down in 2020. He described his years as a “decade of Delivery“; community; anti-gentrification collective Southwark Notes call it “a Wild West gold rush for developers.” A 2013 report showed that “20 percent of Southwark’s 63 councillors work as lobbyists” for developers in the planning industry.

Similar estates built with the same system elsewhere have been successfully refurbished at relatively low cost to bring insulation and other aspects up to current standards. These buildings will probably last into the next century and their demolition is expensive and incredibly wasteful of both the huge amount of energy that was embedded in them and and energy require to demolish and rebuild.

There is more to the exhibition – and you can see some hints of it in the pictures. After visiting the show I walked up four floors to the top of Wendover for the view. The windows were rather dirty and most fixed shut but I did find a few places where they were open slightly to let me take photographs of the views across London.

You can see a different set of pictures in my album Fight4Aylesbury Exhibition.


Death Penalty, Social Housing, Iraqi Killing and a Pillow Fight

Thursday, April 6th, 2023

Death Penality, Social Housing, Iraqi Killing and a Pillow Fight: Ten years ago on Saturday 6th April 2013 I photographed a Sikh vigil against the death penalty in India, a protest against the unfair ‘Bedroom Tax’ and benefit caps and demanding more social housing, Iranians calling for an enquiry into Iraqi attacks on Camp Liberty and finally a pillow fight.


Vaisakhi “Save a Live” Vigil – Old Palace Yard, Westminster

Death Penalty, Social Housing, Iraqi Killing and a Pillow Fight

Thousands of protesters, mainly Sikh men, women and children came to Old Palace Yard opposite the Houses of Parliament to back the Kesri Lehar vigil against the death penalty in India.

Death Penalty, Social Housing, Iraqi Killing and a Pillow Fight

The Kesri Lehar or ‘I Pledge Orange’ campaign, takes its name from the colour which stands for sacrifice in the Indian flag and is also the colour of the Sikh flag and the dress worn by baptised Sikhs which makes Vaisakhi such a colourful festival. It began as on-line campaign by US-based Sikhs for Justice. Most of those attending the protest wore orange turbans or scarves to show their support for the campaign.

Death Penalty, Social Housing, Iraqi Killing and a Pillow Fight

There were then around 480 prisoners in Indian jails sentenced to death, and protesters feared that some were about to be hanged. These included Balwant Singh Rajoana, sentenced in 2007 for his part in a suicide bomb attack which had killed a former Chief Minister of Punjab, Beant Singh and 17 others in 1995. He remains in jail in 2023.

Death Penality, Social Housing, Iraqi Killing and a Pillow Fight

A large group from Derby had come in support of Professor Devender Pal Singh Bhullar who has been on death row in India for 18 years, for his alleged involvement in a car bomb in Delhi. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 2014.

Sikhs were poorly treated when India and Pakistan were granted independence in 1947, with their homeland area being split across the border and most of those in jail are activists for an independent Sikh state of Khalistan. The India government has carried out a determined policy to stamp out Sikh separatists and Beant Singh who was assassinated is held by Siks to have been responsible for the extra-judicial killing of over 25,000 Sikh civilians during his period of office.

More at Vaisakhi “Save a Live” Vigil.


No to Bedroom Tax & Benefit Caps – Downing St

Death Penalty, Social Housing, Iraqi Killing and a Pillow Fight

The Counihan-Sanchez Family Housing Campaign from Kilburn organised a protest opposite Downing St against the unfair Bedroom tax and benefit caps which are effecting so many people and called for the GLA and London councils to build more social housing.

They and others spoke at the campaign about the problems in getting councils to provide proper housing, and the failures of our benefits system which leave many destitute and some desperate enough to kill themselves.

As I commented, “The huge housing problems in London come from the failure over the past thirty years to provide social housing for the many low paid workers that support the city and keep it running, with a housing benefit system that has simply acted as a subsidy for private landlords and driven up rents. The cap on benefit will do nothing to solve the problem, but just make life difficult or impossible for the poorest in our society. We need more social housing and an end to poverty pay and of course more jobs.

Ten years on things are certainly no better. Further changes in benefits including the move to Universal Credit have increased problems for many, local authority budgets have been further cut and the cost of living crisis has hit many more people. We do have more food banks, but many of these are finding it hard to cope with demand.

More at No to Bedroom Tax & Benefit Caps.


PMOI Protest Iraqi killings – Downing St

Also protesting at Downing Street were the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI). They called for an enquiry into the Iraqi attacks on Camp Liberty in February and previous attacks which have killed and injured many of them.

The PMOI, also known as the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) was founded in 1965 and took part in the 1979 Iranian revolution which deposed the Shah. Soon after they were in armed struggle with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards and had to take refuge in neighbouring Iraq, where Saddam Hussein gave it refuge.

During the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq they agreed a ceasefire with the US and gave up their arms – which included 19 Chieftain tanks – and became the majority in the Iranian parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), with its base in Paris.

In Iraq the roughly 5000 MEK fighters were confined in the refugee Camp Ashraf, guarded by the US military and declared by the US as protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention. The camp was transferred to Iraqi control at the start of 2009, and in 2012 those remaining were transferred to the former US military base Camp Liberty in Bagdhad, renamed Camp Hurriya.

There had been many attacks by Iraqis on these camps, with deaths, injuries and arrests. In the most recent on 9th Febuary 2013, Iraqi mortars and rockets killed at least seven MEK members. The MEK has appealed to the UN Secretary General and the US for help and was at Downing Street to ask the UK government for support.

PMOI Protest Iraqi killings


Feathers Fly in Trafalgar Square – Trafalgar Square

This had been designated World Pillow Fight day by the urban playground movement and this pillow fight was one of around 90 such events in cities around the world.

The urban playground movement aims to make cities into more public and social spaces by encouraging unique happenings like this pillow fight. It aims to help people move away from “passive, non-social, branded consumption experiences like watching television” and to consciously reject “the blight on our cities caused by the endless creep of advertising into public space.” They hope this will result in “a global community of participants, not consumers.

Despite once company bringing a team of young women and handing out prominently branded free pillows, this remained large an unbranded event, and hundreds turned up with their own pillows and cushions to take part.

An earlier pillow fight had been planned for Hyde Park, but relatively few people had turned up and park police were able to prevent it taking place. But the numbers here – over 500 – made it impossible to stop. As well as the participants there were rather more who simply stood and watched. Which went against the spirit of the event, meant to be something to take part in rather than a spectacle.

It started on time and a great deal of fun was certainly being had, with some at least of those taking part adhering to the ‘rule’ not to attack photographers. At first the air was clear, but then pillows began to break up and more and more feathers filled the air. After half an hour there was a brief break and then the fight recommenced, but I left for a nearby pub where the air was clearer.

Feathers Fly in Trafalgar Square


Lung Theatre ‘E15’ Battersea March 2017

Thursday, March 16th, 2023

Lung Theatre 'E15' Battersea March

Lung Theatre ‘E15’ Battersea March: Thursday 16th March 2017 was a rather unusual day for me in that rather than photographing a protest I was being part of a theatrical performance, though not in a theatre but on the busy evening rush hour streets of Battersea.

Lung Theatre 'E15' Battersea March

But like many of the others there, I was playing myself as a photographer of protests, and taking pictures as I would if this had been a real protest.

Lung Theatre 'E15' Battersea March

This performance was to announce that Lung Theatre, a small theatrical group, were bringing their Edinburgh festival award-winning performance ‘E15’ to Battersea Arts Centre, and they were doing so with the help of many of the housing protesters, particularly from the Stratford-based Focus E15 campaign, on which their ‘verbatim theatre’ performance was based.

Lung Theatre 'E15' Battersea March

An interesting article, Documentary & Verbatim Theatre by Tom Cantrell of the University of York gives a clear definition, “Verbatim theatre is a form of documentary theatre which is based on the spoken words of real people. Strictly, verbatim theatre-makers use real people’s words exclusively, and take this testimony from recorded interviews.”

The “protest” began in the rather dim light of the street outside Clapham Junction’s busiest entrance, and it was hard for me to distinguish the actors from the housing protesters by their speech and actions, though rather easier in that they were the only faces I didn’t recognise, having met and photographed the activists so often at previous events. But the group certainly put on a convincing performance as they handed out leaflets and fliers, both about the Focus E15 campaign and their forthcoming performances at the Battersea Arts Centre.

Focus E15 began when a group of young mothers housed in the Focus E15 hostel in Stratford were told that Newham council were going to evict them and they would be dispersed not just in the borough but to rented accommodation across the country in far away places where they had no friends, no family and away from any jobs, schools, familiar services and support.

Newham had adopted a policy which amounted to social cleansing, removing people from its area who, as the then Mayor put it, could not afford to live there. Rather than accept this they came together to fight the council, and inspired others across the country to fight for ‘Social Housing NOT Social Cleansing’.

And Focus E15 won their fight but didn’t stop there, continuing the fight for others in the area faced with homelessness and eviction, demanding the council bring empty council housing back into use in a campaign for ‘Housing For All’. They are still out on Stratford Broadway with a street stall every Saturday, still forcing the council to face up to its responsibilities despite considerable harassment (and more recently a change of Mayor.)

As well as some of the leading activists from Focus E15 at the eevent were also other campaigners including some from Sweets Way in north London and Lewisham People Before Profit and others fighting the demolition of council housing by London’s mainly Labour controlled councils, increasingly in league with estate agents and property developers scrambling for excessive profits from sky-high London market prices. And they had brought some of their banners with them for the event.

From Clapham Junction the “protesters” marched up Lavender Hill to the Battersea Arts Centre, where they occupied the foyer for a few final minutes of protest in what had been a pretty convincing event. And while actors had to go on stage and give their performance, the activists could sit down in the theatre and watch.

I didn’t join them, as I knew I had to come back to view it a week later and then be a part of a panel discussion Art & Accidental Activism, a week later. It was an impressive performance and gave a real impression of some of the more dramatic aspects of the real protests I had covered and made clear the political aspects of the housing crisis and why activism was necessary. But sometimes it did seem strange to hear words I remembered well coming out of a different person.

I couldn’t really enjoy it as much as I would have liked as I was very nervous, considerably daunted at having to appear afterwards ‘on stage’ to answer questions with fellow panelists Jeremy Hardy, journalist Dawn Foster and theatre legend Max Stafford Clark. But in the event it went well (my sternest critic says) and I rather enjoyed it and the session in the bar that followed.

More at Lung Theatre ‘E15’ march to BAC.