Posts Tagged ‘social housing’

The Elephant, Sewol and Brexiteers

Wednesday, April 13th, 2022

The Elephant, Sewol and Brexiteers
Saturday 13th April 2019 in London, three years ago seems very distant to me now.


Love the Elephant, Elephant & Castle, London

The Elephant, Sewol and Brexiteers

The main event I covered on the day was at the Elephant & Castle shopping centre in south London, where local people and supporters were calling on Southwark Council and developers Delancey to improve the plans for the redevelopment of the area.

The Elephant, Sewol and Brexiteers

The campaigners main banner had the message ‘LOVE THE ELEPHANT – HATE GENTRIFICATION’ and this is an area that epitomises the changes that have been taking place in many of London’s poorer areas for many years now. Traditionally working class South London, this area has been at the centre of major demolitions of large council estates and their replacement largely by expensive high rise blocks at market rents with a nominal amount of so-called ‘affordable’ and miniscule amounts of truly social housing.

The Elephant, Sewol and Brexiteers

Immediately to the east of the shopping centre had been the award-winning Heygate Estate, completed in 1974, once popular for its light and spacious flats, but long subjected to a process of managed decline by Southwark Council who even employed PR consultants to emphasise a negative view of the estate, together putting together what the estate’s architect Tim Tinker described in 2013 as a “farrago of half-truths and lies put together by people who should have known better.” The council deliberately used parts of it in the latter years to house people with mental health and other problems, and as temporary accommodation. I photographed the estate on several occasions, most recently on a tour by residents opposed to the redevelopment of both the Heygate and the neighbouring Aylesbury Esate in 2012, Walking the Rip-Off.

The Heygate estate had a mixture of properties with large blocks of flats on its edges and contained 1,214 homes, all initially social housing, though many were later purchased by residents who became leaseholders. It’s replacement, Elephant Park is far less well planned but according to Wikipedia will “provide 2,704 new homes, of which 82 will be social rented. The demolition cost approximately £15 million, with an additional £44m spent on emptying the estate and a further £21.5 million spent on progressing its redevelopment.” The council sold the estate to the developers at a huge loss for £50m.

Many of the flats on Elephant Park were sold overseas as investment properties, the continuing increases in London property prices making these a very attractive holding. The new estate will also provide housing for those on high salaries in London, with a railway station and two underground lines providing excellent transport links for professionals working elsewhere in the city. Those who previously lived and owned properties on the Heygate have had to move much further from the centre of the city, some many miles away.

The Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, was opened in 1965 on the site of the 1898 Elephant & Castle Estate which had been badly damaged by wartime bombing, and was the first purpose-built shopping centre in the UK and certainly one of the first in Europe. Many of its 115 shops were then owned by local traders.

A market trader speaks about the poor deal they are getting

The rally and procession by Southwark Notes, Latin Elephant and Up the Elephant at the Elephant & Castle called on Southwark Council and the developers Delancey to develop the Elephant for the existing population and users, rather than as social cleansing to attract new, wealthier residents and shoppers. They would like to see a development that retains the existing character of the area which has become very much a centre for South London’s Latin community many of whom live in the surrounding area. It became the most diverse and cosmopolitan shopping centre in London, with also other amenities such as a bowling alley and bingo hall, serving the population of the area.

Security officers order the campaigners out of the market area

They say the development should include more social housing and call for fairer treatment of the market traders, who should be provided with ‘like for like’ new spaces at affordable rents and be given adequate financial compensation for the disruption in business the development will cause.

A long series of protests in which locals were joined by students from the London College of Communication whose new building forms a part of the redevelopment did lead to some minor improvements to the scheme by the developers, but the shopping centre closed in September 2020 and demolition went ahead and was complete around a year later. The new development will include high-rent shops, almost certainly mainly parts of major chains, expensive restaurants and bars and plenty of luxury flats, along with a small amount of “affordable” housing.


Sewol Ferry Disaster 5 years on – Trafalgar Square

The Elephant, Sewol and Brexiteers

The good transport links that make the Elephant so attractive to developers also took me rapidly into the centre of London as the procession of protest there came to and end, although events there were continuing all afternoon – only four stops taking 6 minutes on the Bakerloo Line to Charing Cross.

I’ve photographed the small monthly vigils by campaigners in remembrance of the victims and in support of their families of the 304 people who died in the Sewol Ferry Disaster of 16 April 2014 on a number of occasions, though its always difficult to find anything new to say, either in words or pictures.

But this was a special event, the fifth anniversary of the disaster, and the 60th 60th monthly vigil. Campaigners continue to call for a full inquiry, the recovery of all bodies of victims, punishment for those responsible and new laws to prevent another similar disaster. They tie cards on lines with the class and name of the 250 high school children who were drowned after being told to ‘stay put below deck’.


Brexiteers march at Westminster – Westminster Bridge

The Elephant, Sewol and Brexiteers

Brexiteers were continuing to march weekly around London holding Union Jacks, St George’s flags and placards and many wearing yellow high-viz jackets because although there had been a small majority in favour of leaving Europe in the 2016 referendum, Parliament had not found a way to get a majority to pass the legislation needed. It was this indecision that led to a resounding victory for Boris Johnson in the 2019 election in December, though unfortunately his ‘oven-ready’ agreement has turned out to be extremely half-baked and most of the things dismissed by Brexiteers as scaremongering have turned out to be true, while the promises made by the Leave campaign have so far largely failed to materialise and most seem unlikely ever to do so.

Johnson’s deal – important parts of which he seems not to have understood, particularly over the Irish border arrangements has left us in the worst of all possible worlds, though it has made some of his wealthy friends – including some cabinet members – considerably wealthier and protected them from the threat of European legislation that would have outlawed some of their tax avoidance. Back in 2019 I commented “We were sold the impossible, and things were made worse by a government that thought it could play poker when what was needed was a serious attempt at finding a solution to the problems that both the UK and Europe face.”

The protesters were also protesting with flags and banners supporting members of the armed forces against their trial for killings in Northern Ireland and for the Islamophobic campaign ‘Our Boys’ which seeks to have a drunk driver of Hindu origin who killed three young men prosecuted as a terrorist.


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Bow, Kingsly Hall, a Nursery, Grime, Quakers & more

Sunday, March 13th, 2022

This post continues from my previous post on this walk by me on 1st August 1988, Coventry Cross, Gandhi, Graffiti, Drag Balls …

Stroudley Walk, Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-8a-21-Edit_2400
Stroudley Walk, Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-8a-21

The buildings of the Diary and the Rose & Crown are still standing at the north end of Stroudley Walk where it meets the end of Bromley High St, but the closed diary became Hussains Convenience Store and then Jalalabad Grocers and half is now a mobile phone repair shop.

The Rose & Crown had opened here around 1720, as the Bowling Green Inn, though the building here is from the 1880s. It closed in 2007, was boarded up for some years before reopening around 2014 as a coffee bar and fast food restaurant.

This was formerly the north end of Devons Road, and a sign for this painted on the brickwork at the left of the pub had virtually disappeared when I made this picture in 1988. Later repainted it has now almost disappeared again.

Kingsley Hall, Powis Rd, Bromley-By-Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-8a-25-Edit_2400
Kingsley Hall, Powis Rd, Bromley-By-Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-8a-25

I wrote more about Kingsley Hall and the sisters Muriel and Doris Lester in the previous post on this walk. They used a legacy from their younger brother Kingsley to set up a house where they lived in relative poverty and served the neighbourhood as well as campaigning for peace and justice across the world. A plaque on the building records that Mahatma Gandhi lived in a small cabin here during his three month stay attending a government conference as a representative of the Indian National Congress. You can read and see more about his visit and the sisters on the Muriel Lester web site.

This image gives a better view of the whole building, which dates from 1928. It faces the Devons Estate, built for the London County Council in 1949 and described by Pevsner as being in their ‘pre-war manner, but with all the drabness of post-war austerity‘. Those moved from slums into its maisonettes and flats would have taken a far more positive view and the estate was solidly built and well-designed to the standards of the day.

Clyde House, Bruce Rd, Bromley-by-Bow,  Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-8a-26-Edit_2400
Clyde House, Bruce Rd, Bromley-by-Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-8a-26

Clyde House is still there at 46 Bruce Road, looking in rather better condition now. Built in 1884 it appears to have been built as a pair with its double-fronted neighbour at 48.

Children's House, Nursery School, , Bruce Rd, Bromley-by-Bow,  Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-8a-11-Edit_2400
Children’s House, Nursery School, Bruce Rd, Bromley-by-Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-8a-11

Sisters Muriel and Doris Lester helped to set up the Children’s House on Bruce Road 1923. Doris had trained as a teacher and they commissioned Charles Cowles-Voysey to design a building based on Maria Montessori’s ideal learning environment for young children. The school was opened in 1923 by H G Wells and is still a school, run by Tower Hamlets Council.

Inside there is a 12 metre mural painted in 1935 by Eve Garnett, the illustrator, artist and writer of the first children’s book about working class characters, The Family from One End Street, in 1937. There is now a campaign to save and restore the mural which is dirty and damaged and the web site is asking for donations to pay for this.

Regent Square, Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988  88-8a-15-Edit_2400
Regent Square, Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-8a-15

The Crossways Estate, built in 1970 was apparently at the time known as the ‘Pride of Bow’, for its three 25 storey towers and a low rise block, Holyhead Close, built over the railway line. Later it was more prosaically referred to as the ‘three flats.’

It was here that Grime developed in 2003, after Rinse FM squatted in a flat and broadcast illegally from here, and it was also where Dizzee Rascal and others grew up.

Like many council developments the area around the estate was hard to navigate, with walkways and roads often not shown on maps. My contact sheet says ‘Regent Square and gives grid reference 375827 for the first of the five images I made. The three towers were Hackworth Point, Mallard Point and Priestman Point and are on Rainhill Way.

And also like many council estates, it was subjected to a policy of ‘managed decline’ and by 1999 was in a very poor state, so bad its demolition was under consideration. Tower Hamlets decided to retain and refurbish the estate which passed to Swan Homes after a residents ballot in 2005. Its towers now refurbished and clad more brightly this is now the Bow Cross Estate.

Bow Church, station, DLR,  Crossways estate, Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-8b-56-Edit_2400
Bow Church, station, DLR, Crossways estate, Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-8b-56

The ‘three flats’ seen from Bow Road and Bow Church DLR station which opened on 31 August 1987.

Mornington Grove, Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-8b-61-Edit_2400
Mornington Grove, Bow, Tower Hamlets, 1988 88-8b-61

Mornington Grove not only gets a mention in the London 5: East volume of Pevsner (p619) which describes these houses as “unusually grand for the area” but also has an extensive web site covering its history by Ken Ward, a resident in the street, from which this information is extracted – and which has far more detail. And it really is an interesting history – if you have the time do click the link and read more.

The land of a nursery here was bought by the Quaker meeting in Ratcliff in 1812, and houses on Mornington Road were developed by them from 1854-1889 – those on the east side in this picture being among the later development. Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington was the son of the first Earl of Mornington, and the fourth Earl lived nearby on the north side of Bow Road.

Many of the houses in Mornington Road were compulsory purchased and demolished for the Whitehapel and Bow Railway (later the District Line) and others by World War II bombing of what had in 1939 been renamed Mornington Grove. Under the Quakers, at least 5/7th of the rents of the houses went to the support of the poor.

Most of the houses in the street, by then under multiple occupation, were sold by the Quakers to a housing association in 1980, becoming social housing, though many have now been sold off.


More from Bow in the next post from my walk in 1988. You can see larger versions of any of these pictures by clicking on the image which will take you to my album 1988 London Pictures from where you can browse.


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Focus E15 Mums at City Hall 2014

Monday, February 21st, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

The card Boris Johnson wouldn’t accept

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

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

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

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


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Class War & The Shard – 2018

Tuesday, February 8th, 2022

Class War & The Shard – 2018.

Ian Bone raises a fist as he comes out of the Royal Courts of Justice

February 8th 2018 was a good day for Class War, beginning with a visit to the High Court at the Royal Courts of Justice, where thanks to barrister Ian Brownhill they emerged triumphant after stopping an attempt by lawyers acting for the Qatari royal family to prevent a Class War protest against the ten empty £50million pound apartments in The Shard.

Lawyers for the Qataris had tried to get an injunction against protests by Bone and “persons unknown” and to claim over £500 in legal costs from the 70 year-old south London pensioner, and the case had attracted considerable publicity in the media including an article by Suzanne Moore in The Guardian and another in Le Monde and many more.

Brownhill offered to conduct Bone’s defence pro-bono and contacted the Quatari’s solicitors who immediately offered to drop the case if Class War ‘would stop attacking the Shard’ whatever that meant. In the High Court the Qataris’ lawyers were forced to drop the attempt to ban protests and the demand for fees but Bone accepted a legal restriction on him going inside the Shard and its immediate vicinity.

The case also showed the police’s insecurity over Class War and documents presented in court on behalf of the Qataris clearly showed they had been given documents by the police including one with clearly defamatory false statements about another person associated with Class War who was not named in the injunction.

Another document presented was a surprising testimonial about Class War which made it sound a rather more impressive and powerful organisation than the small but influential irritant to the rich and unscrupulous it is. The police probably the source for this certainly seem to share the lawyers’ delusions of the organisations grandeur, with an unusually strong police presence outside the court and around a corner clearly outnumbering the Class War supporters.

So the protest that evening took place as Class War intended, pointing out that the ten £50m apartments in the Shard had remained empty since the building was completed. The protest stressed that these were just a small fraction of the plans to build another 26,000 flats costing more than a million pounds each across London, many replacing current social housing a time when London has a huge housing crisis with thousands sleeping on the street, and over 100 families from Grenfell are still in temporary accommodation.

As Class War stated, there are already a huge number of empty properties in London, many in large development of high priced flats which either remain unsold or are bought as investments and largely unoccupied. What the capital needs is not luxury flats but much more social housing – and to keep existing housing on council estates under threat of demolition.

The protest, as planned, was peaceful but very noisy, and again policed by a ridiculously large number of police and private security. Ian Bone’s poor health meant he was in any case unable to attend in person. The protesters were careful to remain outside the boundary of The Shard, marked with a metal line in the pavement, but police still tried to move them away to the other side of the road, making the patently spurious claim that they were causing an obstruction to commuters attempting to enter London Bridge station. The only real obstruction to commuters attempting to enter the station were the lines of police across their route.

More on My London Diary
Class War protest at Shard
Class War victory against Qatari Royals

2015 March for Homes – Shoreditch to City Hall

Monday, January 31st, 2022

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

Outside Shoreditch Church

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

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

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

Many couldn’t get into the churchyard

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

Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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March Against Housing & Planning Bill

Sunday, January 30th, 2022

The March Against Housing & Planning Bill on January 30th 2016 was organised by activists from South London, particulary from the London boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark.

These include many who are fighting against the demolition of social housing that is taking place across London, including in Lambeth and Southwark. Council tenants and leaseholders on council estates are fighting to save their homes – and fighting against Lambeth and Southwark councils who together with private developers and estate agent advisers are bent on demolishing the estates and replacing them with new estates which are largely for private rent or sale at London’s inflated market prices.

Southwark Council in particular carried out an expenisive PR exercise to demonise the Heygate Estate at the Elephant & Castle, having failed to carry out necessary maintenance and flooded the estate with people with various social problems over a number of years. The whole disastrous history has been documented in depth on the Southwark 35% site. A prize-winning estate with 1,214 homes built in 1974 to provide social housing for around 3,000 people was deliberately run-down and demolished. It’s replacement, Elephant Park has less than 100 social housing units. Many of its new flats are simply investments for overseas owners.

Southwark sold the Heygate to developers for one third of its previous valuation, and spent more on the scheme than it received. A study by Global architect firm Gensler concluded that the £35m spent by Southwark in rehousing the estate residents was exactly the same as it would have cost to refurbish the estate up to modern standards – and would have avoided the huge carbon footprint of demolishing and rebuilding.

A well as Heygate, Southwark Council’s main target has been the Aylesbury Estate, where Tony Blair chose to launch the Labour regeneration policy which has enabled corrupt councils to destroy much of what remained of social housing. For many council officers and some councillors it has enabled them to move into highly paid jobs with developers as a reward for their services. Lambeth has also been pursuing similar policies (along with other boroughs in London) and in particular with the Central Hill estate close to Crystal Palace.

An angry heckler – their argument continued after the speech by Livingstone

The protest against the Housing & Planning Bill in 2016 was also attended by people from both Lambeth and Southwark Council, and when Southwark Council Cabinet Member for Housing Richard Livingstone stepped up to the microphone to speak at the rally before the march some trouble was inevitable. Among those loudly heckling him was another of the speakers, Simon Elmer of Architects for Social Housing.

Class War have also been active in support of social housing in South London in particular and livened up the march by dancing along the street with banners singing the ‘Lambeth Walk’. One banner carried the words of a leading US Anarchist Lucy Parsons (1853-1942), “We must devastate the avenues where the wealthy live” and another had a field of crosses with the message “We have found new homes for the rich“.

Class War supporters rushed across the street for a short impromtu protest in front of a large branch of one of the leading estate agents driving the gentrification of London and advising councils and government on housing policies, but soon rejoined the main march of around 2,000 people heading for Westminster Bridge and Downing St.

At Downing St there was another protest outside the gates. Police had formed a line across Whitehall and directed the march to the opposite side of the street opposite Downing St. The march followed them across but then many simply walked back across the street to mass in front of the gates for a rally led by Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! who have been active in supporting the Focus E15 Mothers in their campaign against the housing failures of Newham Council.

More on My London Diary at Housing and Planning Bill March


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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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Kilburn Park 1988

Sunday, October 17th, 2021

Carlton Vale, Kilburn, Brent 1988 88-5k-26-positive_2400
Carlton Vale, Kilburn, Brent 1988 88-5k-26

My next walk at the end of May 1988 took me to Kilburn Park and Kilburn, and again in this post I have put the pictures in the order of my walk rather than the somewhat random order they have in the Flickr album 1988 London Photos. The church in the picture of Carlton Vale is St Augustine, Kilburn, and the large block of flats on the corner of Carlton Vale and Kilburn Park Rd was demolished in 2018-9, though I think the overhead walkway went many years earlier.

Kilburn, Brent 1988 88-5k-15-positive_2400
Kilburn, Brent 1988 88-5k-15

These lower blocks of flats were a part of the same South Kilburn estate and I think close to the corner of Carlton Vale and Cambridge Rd. The estate of high-density housing in low-rise flats and 11 tower blocks was begun in 1959 and further developed in the 1960s and 70s. Brent embarked on a comprehensive redevelopment in 2014, which is resulting in a considerable loss of social housing.

Oxford Rd, Kilburn, Brent, 1988 88-5l-61-positive_2400
Oxford Rd, Kilburn, Brent, 1988 88-5l-61

Unsurprisingly Oxford Road runs parallel with Cambridge Ave up to the Kilburn High Rd. These streets were two of those developed by local builder James Bailey in the 1860s, developing the area he called Kilburn Park. The name was given to the first underground station in Kilburn which opened in 1915 in Cambridge Ave.

Oxford Rd, Kilburn, Brent, 1988 88-5l-64-positive_2400
Oxford Rd, Kilburn, Brent, 1988 88-5l-64

These are typical houses of the era and were probably built from published designs in architectural pattern books. My grandather, who built a few houses on a much less grand scale had owned at least one of these and as children we were sometimes allowed to look at this beautifully illustrated volume.

Cambridge Avenue, Kilburn, Brent, 1988 88-5l-66-positive_2400
Cambridge Avenue, Kilburn, Brent, 1988 88-5l-66

At its southern end Cambridge Avenue leads to both Cambridge Road and the rather posher Cambridge Gardens.

Central Motors, Canterbury House, Canterbury Rd, Kilburn, Brent 1988 88-5l-52-positive_2400

Central Motors, Canterbury House, Canterbury Rd, Kilburn, Brent 1988 88-5l-52-positive_2400

Central Motors in Canterbury Rd still looks much the same, but Canterbury House, although retaining the facade had two extra storeys added in 2015-6 with luxury flats and penthouses. It as built in 1862 when this was still a part of Kilburn Lane as a railway signal factory for Saxby & Farmer who became one of the largest employers in the area but moved out around 1906.

South Kilburn Estate, Crone Court, Rupert Road, Brent, 1988 88-5l-53-positive_2400
Crone Court, South Kilburn Estate, Rupert Road, Brent, 1988 88-5l-53

Crone Court is on the corner of Rupert Rd and Denmark Rd on the South Kilburn Estate and is due for redevelopment in the next few years. The 12 storey block, 32m tall, was completed in 1964.

Joe's Used Ballbearing Emporium, Malvern Rd, West Kilburn, Westminster, 198888-5l-55-positive_2400
Joe’s Used Ballbearing Emporium, Malvern Rd, West Kilburn, Westminster, 1988 88-5l-55

Joe’s Used Ballbearing Emporium & Cycleworks was definitely in Malvern Rd, West Kilburn as it had a street sign higher up on the building. It had a remarkable window display and I took far too many pictures – a few of them here.

Joe's Used Ballbearing Emporium, Malvern Rd, West Kilburn, Westminster, 1988 88-5l-56-positive_2400
Joe’s Used Ballbearing Emporium, Malvern Rd, West Kilburn, Westminster, 1988 88-5l-56

Joe's Used Ballbearing Emporium, Malvern Rd, West Kilburn, Westminster, 1988 88-5l-41-positive_2400
Joe’s Used Ballbearing Emporium, Malvern Rd, West Kilburn, Westminster, 1988 88-5l-41

Joe's Used Ballbearing Emporium, Malvern Rd, West Kilburn, Westminster, 1988 88-5l-45-positive_2400
Joe’s Used Ballbearing Emporium, Malvern Rd, West Kilburn, Westminster, 1988 88-5l-45

Joe's Used Ballbearing Emporium, Malvern Rd, West Kilburn, Westminster, 198888-5l-31-positive_2400
Joe’s Used Ballbearing Emporium, Malvern Rd, West Kilburn, Westminster, 1988 88-5l-31

Click on any of the images to go to a larger version in my album 1988 London Photos from where you can browse the rest of the album.


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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.


Housing: Focus E15 – Newham Show 2016

Saturday, July 10th, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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