“Gentrification affects us in different ways, but it’s always driven by the same forces – neoliberalism, capitalism, and by the placing of markets above people.”
In light of Anti-Gentrification Month, the IPF talked with organisers from The Feminist Library and Focus E15 about how activist groups are getting together to fight gentrification and social cleansing in London, United Kingdom.
On 10 July, the day of the Lord Mayor’s Annual Show in Newham, campaigners from Focus E15, a group fighting for affordable housing, occupied a boarded up police station in High Street South, East Ham.
Supporting organisers from The Feminist Library, Sisters Uncut, BoleynDev500 and Lola’s Homeless joined Focus E15’s call for “social housing, not social cleansing.” Each group is involved in a common fight against gentrification – an aggressive process that forces vulnerable communities out of their homes and leaves community buildings unused, libraries replaced by businesses, and social housing transformed into luxury flats.
“Housing is a right, not a privilege.”
A Focus E15 campaigner said: “The council say they haven’t got any resources to provide decent, secure housing, so why are they are spending money on the Mayor’s Show?
“They say there is no space to house people, but the rooms in this boarded-up building could be used as beautiful homes.”
Newham Council has the highest number of people in temporary accommodation of any London borough. A quarter of the houses are overcrowded, with 35% of local residents earning less than the living wage. But it also has the highest number of empty properties – enough to rehouse the number of local homeless people twice over.
Jasmine Stone, 21, one of the leaders and founding members of Focus E15, explained why she and 28 moms started to campaign in 2013:
“We had been living in a hostel for homeless women, some of us for up to four and a half years. The conditions were awful, but we were promised we would eventually be moved to decent, secure council accommodation.”
She continued: “In August 2013 council funding for the hostel was cut, and we were handed eviction notices to be out by October. We were told we had to move as far away as Manchester, Hastings or Birmingham – far from our families, support networks, and jobs.”
As the direct result of their resistance, all 29 moms were rehoused in Newham council housing – a powerful victory which has since inspired other housing associations.
Jasmine added: “We got together, we started fighting, and ever since then we’ve been building links with other groups and people. We tried to share that message that if you stand up and resist, you can get rehoused. Now we see other estates standing up and fighting.”
The fight to save The Feminist Library
One of these links is with The Feminist Library, who are facing eviction from Southwark Council after their rent was hiked from £18,000 per year to the market price of £30,000. Originally, the library was given the eviction date of 1 March – the first day of Women’s History Month. The Feminist Library struck back with thousands of supporters, including key figures such as Margaret Atwood and Gloria Steinem, denouncing the proposed eviction as a symbolic attack on feminist history and women’s knowledge.
As a result, the library has been given a six-month extension until 1 September to find a new space. But an affordable building which is also large enough to hold the UK’s largest collection of feminist books, magazines, and periodicals in an accessible venue, has yet to be found.
It is no accident that both Focus E15 and The Feminist Library are women’s groups. Women continue to be hit the hardest by budget cuts, with nearly 75% of cuts to services since 2010 having come from women’s pockets.
Since the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1970s, women have been leading the fight to reclaim public spaces, and eviction of The Feminist Library threatens a very real step backwards.
Zaimal Azad of The Feminist Library, who has been involved with the Save the Library campaign and is supporting Focus E15’s action, said:
“As well as a symbolic attack, the eviction is a practical attack on feminist organising.”
“A Fourth Wave feminist group hold their meeting at the library, there’s a feminist bookshop that’s on every Saturday, there’s a women’s mental health group started by a woman in the community. We’re part of a much bigger network of feminist libraries across the UK. Being part of this space has completely changed my life.”
Joining forces to fight gentrification
Zaimal is one of the leading organisers behind Anti-Gentrification Month. She said: “Gentrification affects us in different ways, but it’s always driven by the same forces – neoliberalism, capitalism, and by the placing of markets above people.”
Zaimal added: “Just as social housing is being resold by private development companies for profit, The Feminist Library is losing its home because the council wants to make more money out of it. We’re fighting the same forces, so we need to come together and support each other and show solidarity as much as possible. That’s what Anti-Gentrification Month is all about.”