"This is the beginning of the end of the housing crisis." (1 - references below)
The huge cheer they received in response came from over a hundred people that had been gathered on the pavement for hours, chanting, shouting, exchanging stories, giving passionate speeches about housing and injustice, waving banners, and smiling for the cameras.
The kerfuffle on the streets of Newham that morning marked an important stage in a year long campaign by a group of young, homeless, single mothers calling for "social housing not social cleansing". In case you have missed the media frenzy that has been following the campaign for the last two weeks, let me bring you up to date...
"We have been told we will not be offered council housing but that we will be offered private rented accommodation from accredited landlords outside of London in places like Hastings, Birmingham and Manchester. If we refuse this offer, we will be classed as making ourselves intentionally homeless and face temporary accommodation with little protection from eviction and no guarantee of a long-term solution from the council. Also if we chose to rent privately we are not entitled to get sufficient help with deposits which we cannot afford ourselves." (2)
This depressingly familiar story of vulnerable young people being displaced and pushed out of the city due to funding cuts, housing shortages and rising prices took an unfamiliar twist when the women decided to band together and start fighting back.
They started collecting signatures for a petition, writing to the council, holding a stall on Stratford Broadway every Saturday, occupying the local housing association and council offices, and making every attempt to talk to local councillors and to Newham's mayor Robin Wales about their situation.
In November 2013 this campaign video appeared on YouTube:
When I went to visit their stall this Summer they were collecting stories from passers by about their own housing issues and the slogan of their campaign had become 'Social housing, not social cleansing'.
The local residents have been fighting to save the estate and to stop the council from clearing them out and selling off their land since 2012. (6)
With this beautiful, simple gesture, the E15 mothers laid bare the hollowness of London's housing crisis and sparked massive media interest.
Then they turned of the water supply to the flat, though as they are housing officers rather than plumbers and as they were denied access to the interior of the house "they just mashed up the pipes" outside, doing "permanent damage" according to Thames Water (9)
Warming to their role, Newham Council then issued the women with a possession order at midday on Friday September 26th, demanding that they turn up in court at 2pm that day.
For some reason, the public took the side of the homeless mothers and hundreds of bottles of water were donated to the house. While hastily assembled supporters waved banners outside, the mothers went to court where a judge ruled that the council's actions had been 'unjust and unlawful' in giving only two hours notice and that the women deserved more time to prepare a defense. The court action was adjourned until Thursday morning (October 2nd).
If they leave the property on October 7th as they have promised, it will be a beautiful rebuke to Newham council who had complained:
“Now it looks as though we will have to spend more money to get protesters off the estate. It is clear that on the Carpenters Estate, the needs of the wider people of Newham are being ignored for the sake of petty, expensive stunts.” (10)
Across the UK and in London in particular, the suffering caused by ever increasing housing costs is compounded by local and national austerity cuts and wrapped up with a chronic shortage in council housing. In the last two years I have been confused by the lack of street protest and rage coming from the capital. Each time I visit the city I've been asking myself "Where is the fight?"
Well here it is.
The Focus E15 mother's facebook page promises us "This is just the beginning" (11).
Watch This Space.
1 - Video 'the beginning of the end': http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/video/2014/oct/02/focus-e15-mothers-newham-russell-brand-video
2 - quote and video from YouTube page: http://youtu.be/6GuCTb8XARI
3 - visiting Robin Wales: http://youtu.be/gsPxancNiqk
4 - Olympic Sculpture: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ArcelorMittal_Orbit
5 - Attack The Block: http://youtu.be/cD0gm7dHKKc
6 - Save Carpenters Estate Campaign: http://savecarpenters.wordpress.com/
7 - Kate Belgrave's blog about the occupation: http://www.katebelgrave.com/2014/09/video-pics-and-report-from-today-focuse15-mothers-reopen-boarded-up-flats-on-the-carpenters-estate/
8 - Agitators and hangers on: http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/empty-council-estate-occupation-by-young-mothers-made-homeless-after-hostel-closure-slammed-by-newham-councillors-9752281.html?origin=internalSearch
9 - Mashing the pipes: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/sep/26/housing-east-london-estate-viability-affordability
10 - Petty stunts - http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/e15-occupation-we-shall-not-be-moved-say-stratford-single-parents-fighting-eviction-after-occupying-empty-homes-9761186.html
11 - Focus E15 mothers on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Focus-E15-Mothers/602860129757343