Meet the feminist group campaigning to save a Whitechapel hostel

Tower Hamlets Council plan to close the hostel leaving a number of vulnerable women homeless.

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*This article originally appeared on EastLondonLines

Campaigners are fighting to save a women-only hostel in Whitechapel from closure, warning vulnerable victims could end up homeless. 

The group, East End Sisters Uncut, went to Brick Lane market on Sunday (October 29), handing out leaflets about the feared impact of the closure of Hopetown Hostel in Whitechapel. 

A 40-foot banner was also dropped to disrupt the Sunday market which read: “Tower Hamlets cuts hope for survivors”.  

The hostel, based on Old Montague Street, is being returned to The Salvation Army by Tower Hamlets Council after 10 years. 

The charity said they needed the building to create a new men’s hostel in addition to their current one at Booth House on Whitechapel Road.  

The women at the hostel were given notice in July and have already begun moving their belongings- however East End Sisters Uncut have since started online petitions and street action to prevent the closure.  

Sara, a long-serving member of the group, told me: “Because of areas such as Shoreditch being gentrified, the women are being moved out of the area and out of sight. 

 “This means they’re losing vital networks and support services- a lot of them have health workers in the borough. 

 “All of the women are being treated very differently. Some are even being victimised by the council.  

 “Women are being offered private rental (homes) that are miles away from where they work, but if they refuse these, they are told they’re making themselves intentionally homeless. 

 “The problem is the issue isn’t really being discussed- a lot of the public don’t even know it’s going on.” 

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East End Sisters claims that the council is also demonising the hostel and branding it a place full of anti-social behaviour. However, according to the group, when they spoke to residents whose homes backed onto the hostel, many didn’t even know that it was a hostel.  

 A resident of the hostel, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “The council is treating me and the other women like we’re nothing. They just want to save money at our expense.  

“They are threatening to find us ‘intentionally homeless’ if we turn down housing that is completely inappropriate for us. I’m scared I will have nowhere to go.” 

The women protested to Tower Hamlets Mayor, John Biggs, in July after receiving the letters telling them they had to leave.  

According to campaigners, those with complex health needs are being sent away from East London all together. 

The issue was first uncovered by Councillor Rabina Khan, who found one mother and her seven year-old daughter had been sent to Gillingham, Kent. 

She said they had no means of support there and forced to live on bread and chips for a week.  

Others are said to have been moved to Romford, Enfield and Heathrow.  

Tower Hamlets Council already have a programme where the homeless are assessed for their housing status, and many people, like the women in the hostel, are not legally entitled to be rehoused by the council at public expensive- and are instead referred to the private rental sector. 

The council have said that they have made considerable progress in improving services and reducing homelessness in the borough since the previous Homelessness plan was launched in 2008. Their figures show that they prevented over 3,700 households from becoming homeless through case work. 

But according to East End Sister’s, this is not the whole picture, and they claim that the council have cut women-only beds in the borough by one third. 

Now they are calling for the council to keep Hopetown Hostel open and retain all of its women-only beds, as well as invest in social housing and support services for women and non-binary people.  

Hopetown is one of the last women-only hostels in East London, and most homeless women are survivors of violence or abuse.  

It is described on the Tower Hamlets Council website as: ‘providing 24-hour support for homeless women of all ages, including 16 and 17 year olds on a case-by-case basis.’  

 ‘The hostel supports customers with a large range of support needs, including women involved in sex work and those with alcohol or substance misuse issues. 

The overall aim of the service is to prepare people for independent living and a move to independent accommodation”. 

The importance of keeping the hostel open came to light when East End Sisters were contacted by residents themselves about the upcoming closure of the hostel- and they weren’t sure where or when they would be moved. 

East End Sisters Uncut was started in 2014 by a group of survivors of domestic abuse, and support workers.  

Originally it began as one London group, then split into sub-groups as more people wanted to join the movement. There’s now three groups in London alone, and they are slowly growing around the UK- with bases now in Scotland, Brighton, Doncaster and Newcastle.  

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Last summer they reclaimed a council flat in Hackney, by occupying the property for 10 weeks, hosting kids clubs and talks there.  

The link for the group was the lack of safe housing for women fleeing domestic violence, as well as the lack of social housing in general, as many of the council properties are lying empty.  

 Over recent weeks they’ve been campaigning for Hopetown in particular. They believe that because of the gentrification of a lot of East London areas and the fact that some of the women at the hostel being sex workers, the council are using this as an excuse for social cleansing.  

 Housing need is historically high in Tower Hamlets. Homelessness and overcrowding are part of the many challenges faced by the borough’s residents.  

It has always been linked to poverty – including child poverty, worklessness and health inequalities.  

Whilst there are pockets of wealth, with the average annual earnings of those working in the borough at £64,000, over 40% of households are living in income poverty, the highest in the country.  

 Tower Hamlets also has the highest rates of child and pensioner poverty nationally, making the borough one of the most deprived areas in the country.  

Tower Hamlets Council were contacted for a comment but they had yet to respond at the time of publication.

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Influential Croydon women feature in exhibition

The Ladies First exhibition in Croydon offers an insight into some of the most empowering women in the borough.

*This article was originally featured on EastLondonLines.co.uk

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Offering a unique glimpse into the lives of some of Croydon’s most empowering women, Ladies First – which features photographs of a range of women living in the borough – opened in the town centre yesterday (March 8) on International Women’s Day.

Photographer Jackie King said the women she featured – who range from community activists to Olympians – really inspired her. She told Eastlondonlines: “All of their stories were incredible. After things I’ve previously done for International Women’s Day, the fact that this is happening again is amazing.”

Pictures of Olympian Donna Fraser and one of the boroughs first female firefighters, sit those of alongside Lara Richardson and the Deputy Mayor of London for transport, Val Shawcross (CBE).

Local resident Leona Hunte, 42, moved to Croydon with her daughter after a divorce, and got involved with community groups after seeing the exhibition organisers painting outside the library. Since then, she’s been involved with many projects, including Ladies First, and has a photograph of herself featured at the exhibition.

She told Eastlondonlines: “It’s important women are seen as significant individuals. Women are as much in union with man in helping the world go round, so it’s important we are seen as big contributors.”

At the opening of the exhibition, a welcome speech was given by deputy councillor, Alison Butler. She spoke of empowering women throughout history who fought for women’s rights, and ended with: “No matter where you are in life, inspire and empower the women around you.”

King, who is based in Croydon, has won awards and has had her work exhibited all over the world. She rose through the ranks of the British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP) and sat on the board of directors whilst studying for her MA- the first female and youngest photographer to hold this position- whilst also running her own photography business.

In celebration of a previous International Women’s Day, King photographed 100 women in science and technology for Imperial College, London, which was also exhibited at City Hall.

Some of her main inspirations are the women she met whilst working on the exhibition.

She told Eastlondonlines: “I was most inspired by the women we photographed- all of their stories were incredible. I think this is important because it inspires younger generations- they get to see what’s achievable.”

“It’s important for men and women to celebrate International Women’s Day – it’s not men bashing, it’s just celebrating women’s achievements.”

The exhibition’s images will also be broadcast on a big screen at Boxpark Croydon, which is working alongside groups in the local community to help celebrate the achievements of women both internationally and close to home.

Throughout the week, they’ll be showcasing a selection of events aimed at inspiring the women of Croydon, including Badass Women’s Hour x Girls Talk and panel conversations with women from the music industry.

Alongside this unique glimpse into the lives of some of Croydon’s most empowering women is another pin-up exhibition run entirely by the public. People are invited to bring and display a photograph of the most important and influential women in their lives.

The Ladies First exhibition runs from March 8 to March 15 at Bernard Weatherill House in Croydon.

Tower Hamlets, Lewisham and Croydon battle to become London’s first borough of culture

News and updates from London Borough of Culture 2018.

*This article originally appeared on EastLondonLines.co.uk

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Lewisham, Croydon and Tower Hamlets are all bidding to become London’s first borough of culture, battling it out for a grand £1m prize.

The competition, introduced earlier this year by the mayor of London Sadiq Khan as part of a strategy to support the arts in the capital, hopes to bring “people and ideas together”.

Six runner-up boroughs will receive £600,000 to deliver bespoke cultural projects.

City Hall said the winning boroughs will be “chosen based on their artistic vision and ambition to deliver outstanding cultural initiatives in their local area, putting communities at the centre of the programme’s design and delivery”.

Several cultural institutions will be providing help to the winning boroughs, including the Museum of London, the Roundhouse, Film London and the National Trust.

Croydon has already begun preparations for the bid, with a new website and campaign, setting out five key aims they hope will help them secure the title – one being the improvement of young people’s lives.

Croydon has the largest and fastest youth population of any London borough- with 63,000 people between the ages of 10 and 23 living there.

If Croydon were to secure the bid, they hope to increase opportunities for young people in the area and provide more routes into employment, through new internship and apprenticeship schemes.

They also hope to create more workspaces for artists, as well as making nightlife in Croydon safer for everyone.

Similarly, Lewisham Council’s #LoveitLewisham campaign has already received a strong backing, with the council asking the public to submit their own ideas of what they would like to see happen in Lewisham.

With two months left to go, 170 ideas have already been submitted it to the ‘Love it Lewisham’ site. Ideas so far include a street food market, historical walking tours, a street festival and the building of a community pavilion.

Tower Hamlets have already received over 540 supporters on their bid to become the winning borough– and public support is vital to success in the competition.

Kate Bloomer, 32, an accounts manager from Poplar, told EastLondonLines: “It’s got to be Tower Hamlets. We live in one of the most diverse areas in London, there’s people on both ends of the wealth scale, and this could really help a lot of people.”

Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs added: “When it comes to culture, Tower Hamlets offers the best of London in one borough.

“We have a unique story to tell and this is our opportunity to show our rich heritage, where we are now and where we want to be as a borough.

“From the Tower of London to Victoria Park, taking in the Boishakhi Mela in Weaver’s Fields and major London festivals such as the new All Points East, we have one of the most diverse cultural offers anywhere in the UK.”

Hackney has confirmed it will not be competing, with councillor Guy Nicholson, the culture lead at Hackney Council, telling the website Arts Professional that the authority was instead “developing its own arts and cultural sector” through a new audience participation and engagement programme.

The bids will close on December 1 and will then be submitted to the Mayor of London for the final decision. The winning bid will be announced in February next year.

How Hackney housing boom is pricing renters on benefits out of the market

*This article originally appeared on EastLondonLines.co.uk

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Pic: David Holt

Less than 3 per cent of privately rented properties in Hackney are affordable for those reliant on housing benefits, according to Hackney Council.

This is compared to the affordability of 50 per cent of Hackney’s homes before 2011, with increasingly unsustainable shortfalls between market prices and benefits becoming the leading cause of homelessness in the borough.

While housing benefits currently pay out a maximum of £1310.09 per month for a two-bedroom property, the average rent  per calendar month in Hackney comes at £1,820- or £117 a week more than the allowance.

A spokesperson for Hackney Council told EastLondonLines: “Essentially the change is the result of increased housing demand, leading to house prices and rent increasing significantly above housing benefit levels.

“There are currently have over 13,000 on a waiting list and over 500 more are added each month.”

Since the rise in house prices, Hackney Council has taken action in the form of a ‘Better Renting’ campaign- which aims to introduce new regulations for private landlords, and hopefully make lives a little easier for those who find themselves on the receiving end of these shortfalls.

Since the campaign was launched two years ago, the government has met many of the recommendations, including making fire and carbon monoxides a legal requirement, working towards banning rogue landlords and taking action on revenge evictions.

Jamie Dudley, 36, lives in Hackney with his two children and has claimed housing benefit for a number of years. He told EastLondonLines: “There’s so much uncertainty about where our money’s going to come from. I’m a single parent with three mouths to feed- it’s definitely a difficult situation to be in.

“I’ve lived in Hackney my entire life but as the city grows and grows everything is quickly getting more expensive, and even with my job and the help we get, it’s just not enough in comparison to the prices we’re paying.

“Thinking I might have to move out of where I’ve grown up and where my children are growing up … it’s a scary thought.”

It is said up to one third of private rented homes in England don’t meet the Decent Homes Standard, meaning they don’t meet minimum safety levels, are in a poor state of repair, lack modern facilities or don’t have efficient heating and insulation. On top of this, the Better Renting campaign has found that 20,000 private renters in Hackney say their repairs aren’t done when needed.

It is feared the rollout of universal credit could make matters worse. The new policy combines living and housing costs into a single payment- including a six-week wait for recipients receiving their first payment. This could cause up to 85 per cent of tenants to fall behind on rent.