With Russell Brand and the public on our side, this is how I helped my family and countless others from being evicted this Christmas

It seemed almost impossible to take on a huge property developer and win, but with some special support we were able to do just that

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It all began on a Monday morning in June, when I received a letter from the owners of the New Era estate. It said that Westbrook Partners, who had bought the property in March, were planning on evicting 93 families, and more than doubling everyone else's rent.

My initial feeling was of shock and devastation. I cried - I couldn’t believe this was happening. And then my disbelief turned into anger. For all my life New Era has been my home. I couldn't stop thinking about my daughter's future, and what would happen to my parents, who are both in their late sixties and also live on the estate.

If we were evicted, we would have had no choice but go wherever Hackney Council could rehouse us - places that were being named were Hastings, Clapton, Birmingham - anywhere but London basically.

I cried, and then I thought: fuck this, and called the press. I had read an article about a similar housing problem in The Mirror a few weeks earlier, so I thought they might listen. Suddenly, our story was on the front page, and I realised that people were interested in what we were going through, as we received so much attention.

So we organised a meeting with the tenants of the estate, to see what other people were thinking. Everyone felt the same. We were upset, and wanted to fight back. So we organised a Tenants Association. We had a meeting and I got voted in as Chair.

We then built a community around our campaign, and started getting out there, trying to get more people to listen. We launched the petition on Change.org, got down to Hoxton Market to hand out leaflets to people with the link to our petition. We contacted local housing groups like Digs, who gave us advice and what our rights were.

 

I don’t think we’d be here now without Russell Brand's support. We stopped him at the market in the middle of September, and met again a week later. He was really interested and impressed with what we were doing, and told us he was going to help us save our homes.

By getting involved he gave us a bigger voice. And rather than taking over, he gave us a much bigger audience to speak to. The amount of publicity that came with him really helped us.

He's been criticised for joining our campaign, but this has actually made more people interested in us. People who hadn't heard about what we were doing were suddenly asking what this New Era campaign was all about. I think the only people that the media harmed was themselves - it made them look a bit stupid, because everyone could see that what Russell was doing was a good thing.

26-russell-brand.jpg
Comedian Russell Brand joined residents and supporters from the New Era housing estate in East London as they demonstrated against US investment company Westbrooks plans to evict 93 families

Aside from Russell's involvement, I'd put the success of the campaign down to sticking together and building a community. We did this online with a petition, but also in real life, with the Tenants Association and our various demonstrations. We planned events that people could get involved in, first with the mock eviction stunt we held at the Benyon offices, and then with the march from the Westbrook offices to Downing Street, where we delivered our 300,000 strong petition.

It was all a big ask. We were campaigning for the a huge US property company to back off. It seemed almost impossible, but with each little success along the way, people began to believe more and more that it could be done.

The public's response has been incredible. There were hundreds who came down to the protest for us, and people who travelled miles to be there. Some of them even offered us a place to stay. They've been so supportive, and we couldn't have done it without them.

We were confident all along that we would succeed. We probably wouldn’t have lasted if we didn’t. People thought we were mad, but you have to believe that anything is possible. We had a few wobbles and few tears along the way, but we had each other.

We feel amazing. It’s been a life changing journey. All three of us feel that. We’ve learnt so much from the highs and lows, and the people we’ve met who have helped along the way. The public’s overwhelming support has restored our faith in humanity. I can’t really put it in words how I feel.

It's a victory, but we're still a little worried something might go wrong. We can’t help it, we’re just cautious. But that said, the Dolphin Foundation have offered affordable rents and we’re going to meet in the new year. So for now, we’re putting our trust in them.

Comments