Keep us in London!
In August 2013, with no prior consultation, a group of single mothers, all below the age of 25, were served with eviction notices by the Focus E15 Hostel in Newham/East London, where they were residing. The women were offered accommodation in cities as far as Birmingham, Manchester and Hastings, hundreds of miles away from their families, friends and social networks. If they refused to take the offer, they would make themselves intentionally homeless – and the council would no longer have an obligation to provide housing for them.
Appalled by the injustice that was about to befall them, and the predicament of making themselves intentionally homeless, the women decided to campaign against their eviction. Chancing upon a group of activists who had a weekly stall in Stratford, campaigning in the street against the bedroom tax, the commodification of housing and in support of housing rights, in September 2013 the young women joined up with the group and set up the Focus E15 housing campaign. Keep Us in London! No to Social Cleansing! Housing is a Right were their key messages.
From seeking legal advice, writing petitions, campaigning outside the tube station and holding weekly stalls on the busy pavement of the old shopping centre in Stratford, to occupying the housing association office that managed the hostel, taking petitions to the mayor of London, setting up symbolic tents and cardboard houses and blocks of flats outside his offices in Tower Bridge, and organising demonstrations in the streets of Newham and the City, Focus E15 became one of the most inspiring, creative, vibrant, engaging and empowering housing campaigns; not only in London but also in the UK. To mark the first anniversary of the campaign, in September 2014, the campaigners occupied the nearby Carpenter Estate, a perfectly habitable social housing estate, which had deliberately been allowed to become run down and decanted by the council to make room for a new development.
Focus E15 campaign transformed the young women into inspiring, conscious women who campaigned in support of other families at risk of eviction and whose members drew linkages to other unjust struggles and causes. Refusing to be silenced, and thanks to their campaign, the mothers were housed in East London, if in private-rented accommodation.
These photographs of Focus E15, its members, supporters, and the public who were engaged, were taken with an iPhone camera between 2013 and 2015.
Manal Massalha is an urban ethnographer and documentary photographer working on questions of urban conviviality, urban health, infrastructure, housing inequalities and their intersection with gender, race, class, and (post)coloniality. As a Consultant, she worked for UN Habitat, the WHO, UNICEF and UN Women. She holds a PhD in Sociology from the London School of Economics and was a Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Urban and Community Research, Goldsmiths, University of London. Manal is a member of OtherwiseMag Editorial Collective