Take Back the City went to meet London Catholic Worker in Haringey. Catholic Worker is a radical pacifist Christian movement that offers community, hospitality, solidarity and resistance to oppressed groups.
We spoke to a number of volunteers and guests about their experience of living in London and what they might like changed. The discussion centred around the cost of living and travelling in London, house prices and, in particular, the lack of provision for cyclists.
Their top demands?
i) Free and Safe Transport
ii) More and Affordable Housing
iii) Cheaper Cost of Living
Take Back the City had a great meeting with members of Inclusion London- the Deaf and Disabled People's Organisation's Forum. Members from different Deaf and Disabled People's Organisations from across London shared their experience of disability in London, their ideas for change and their demands for our People's Manifesto.
It didn't take long for the issue of London's public transport to come up. Whilst tubes and trains may feel like a nightmare for all us of, the experience is much worse for Deaf and Disabled Londoners. An example given was that when there are delays on the tube, an announcement is often made over the tannoy as to what is going on and how long it will take to resolve. Yet this means deaf people are left in the dark as to what is going on. TfL have got rid of dozens of tickets offices, but many disabled people can't use ticket machines.
Representation of Deaf and Disabled People in politics was also a key, reaccuring theme. Whilst there might be meetings where disabled people are asked their views on government ideas or policies, a Deaf member complained that this never amounted to anything accept tokenism, or the illusion that Deaf and Disabled People had been consulted. Instead, there should be a Board of Deaf and Disabled People with a budget, that sits inside the Greater London Authortiy who can advice on decision making around Deaf and Disabled People's services.
Other key demands included:
-Consideration of accessibility in everything: the NHS/booking a doctor, transport, decision-making, the party Manifestos
-A real London Living Wage that really is enough to live a good life on. This should be paid to care and support workers to help stop the shortage of people in this work.
-Communal social housing, so people can offer peer support to each other, rather than being isolated
We look forward to working more closely with Inclusion London members in the future!
Want to enter your demands? Do it here: takebackthecity.org
Anni and Natasha from TBTC visited one of the many classes ran by English for Action, and were able to have an incredible discussion about the migrant experience and the struggles of living in London when you are regarded as "other". People in the room were from Brazil, and China, and Algeria and parts of the Middle East and Europe.
The cultural and language differences didn't stop us engaging in a really thoughtful discussion on what makes London a place that migrants come to, but also a place that is increasingly stressful and difficult to survive in.
The top demands that emerged from the workshop are:
-Decent, affordable housing
-Make higher education more accessible and
-More money for adult education and ESOL
Other popular demands included lower council tax and more local GP surgeries.
People are not demanding anything more than access to the most basic of human needs; housing, education, and healthcare.
Last week Take Back The City were welcomed into SRF's quiet office space, tucked just behind Clapham Junction's busy hub. An hour or two of discussion later and we'd discovered the changes they want made to their London and heard an assortment of their stories of the city they've witnessed morph and develop over the last few decades.
SRF is a group comprised predominantly of women who emigrated from the Caribbean during their childhood. In coming together to create the forum they aimed to share their experiences and help each other to reconcile with the emotional trauma of separation from their parents at a young age and childhood relocation. They have been working in communities across south London since 1999 hosting conferences and producing a wealth of literature on the work and issues they promote.
On this Saturday morning, after some tea and biscuits had everyone settled in, we explored with a few SRF members which key issues most preoccupied them and affected their relationship with the city, from homelessness to poor policing.
A thought provoking discussion ensued as we delved into how media representation of immigrants today, reminded them of how many people from the Caribbean were dehumanised in the daily news through racist language during and after the arrival of the Windrush generation of the 1960s. They also pondered how cuts to public services would affect the mental and physical wellbeing of those arriving.
Accessibility to services was also a clear worry as many felt that the demonization of young black men in the media had led to prejudice in public services holding young people back, with particular concern for housing.
Reflecting on what most needed changing, here are the five demands that were voted to represent SRF’s voice following the exploration of an impressive range of social issues and ideas for change:
-More multi use community spaces that are inclusive for all
-Better accountability and transparency in the Metropolitan police and more intelligence-led policing, especially in regards to stop and search
-Approach mental health with the same funding and investment as physical health
-Provide better access to accommodation services for young black men
-Return to anti-racism discourse and put race back on the agenda
Take Back the City went into three Law BTEC classes at Sir George Monoux College in Walthamstow earlier this week. The students had a lot of ideas and experiences to share about what needed to change for the better in London- we talked about police racism, the housing crisis and the costs attached to being a student in 2015.
The students then got into groups to come up with demands for what they want included in the People's Manifesto. Some of these demands included free transport, more apprenticeships for young people, and more housing provisions for homeless people.
The most popular demands that came out of the sessions were:
-more job opportunities for young people
-lower or abolish Tuition Fees
-better wages for everyone, and close the gender pay gap
-better training for police and a more accountable police
The Football Beyond Borders outreach happened in a quietly active community centre in Camberwell. Just off of Camberwell New Road, Hollington Community Centre is the base for the Football Beyond Borders charity. They are a group dedicated to breaking down the barriers of race and class through football, and they’re mission is to "use the power of football to inspire young people to achieve their goals and make their voices heard.”
On a Wednesday evening after a training session some of the coaches/mentors from the FBB Wanderers came in to speak with us about their London, what they saw as the main issues in London, and how their work informed these ideas and opinions. It was a lively and engaging discussion and everyone around the table opened up about the difficulties they faced in a city that continued to put a price on public space, negated the necessity for strong, diverse communities and continually pushes people to the margins through prohibitive housing/renting costs.
We spoke about how the “Safe” London was and how that definition changed as we shifted the framing of it from one of “physical” to “psychological” safety. We spoke of the need to create environments in which people can come together, engage and play without having to pay for it and without being hampered by the confines and rigidity of an atmosphere that devalues the importance of interpersonal relationships. At the end we also spoke about what kind of actions we could do that would embody these conversations and help to reframe the London we live in. So, look out for conversation carriages on the Underground, spontaneous games of capture the flag in the city (already organized by Tom Perez from FBB), and other creative ways to change our public spaces.
These were the five demands that were voted to represent FBB’s voice from the array of ideas spoken about over the course of the evening:
1. Reduction in Homelessness in London
2. Free Travel for Under 25’s
3. An audit of all empty properties in London in conjunction with a review of all the people waiting for homes.
4. Create Safe and inclusive spaces for people to PLAY
5. Rent Controls
Education was a hot topic this week in Ilford, where Take Back The City went to hear the views and demands of residents of Jason Lee House. Run by the Single Homeless Project, Jason Lee provides a service for people who can't access social housing. Many felt the education system hadn't equipped then with the skills they needed to survive in the city. Unsurprisingly, more social housing was another top demand...
The four demands were:
- More social housing
- Regulation of private landlords
- More life skills taught in schools (e.g how to manage a bank account/access public services etc.)
- Affordable/free training for over 25s
Take Back the City went to meet twenty North London Third Year university students to explore their experience of living in London and to make their demands.
The conversation was dynamic and passionate. These students demand a London that accomodates students from all backgrounds and which gives them a voice in mainstream politics.
The top four demands that came out of the workshop were:
-increase the minimum wage
-decrease public transport prices
-a holistic civil/political education
-an end to racism
Want to make your demand? Head to: takebackthecity.org
Ever been 16 in London trying to support yourself with no help from your family? Surprise, surprise it's not all that easy, and this week Take Back The City went to hear the experiences of some who found themselves in just that position before being housed by the charity Single Homeless Project. They shared with us their experiences of trying to find accommodation in the city and talked about how they thought the city could be improved, starting with an increase in their apprentice wage of £2.72 an hour.
Their demands in full:
- Apprenticeships to pay the Living Wage.
- Means-tested rent caps.
- Tax big business to help improve access to higher education.
- Mandatory training for public sector workers dealing with support needs.
- Gender / age / need tailored emergency accommodation.
Take Back the City ran a People's Manifesto workshop last night with a group of "live-in guardians" - people paying cheap rent to "guard" a property that a company wants to keep empty.
"Guardians" do not have tenants' rights, but do pay rent of around a third to a half of market rates. Runaway rents and house prices have contributed to an increase in the number of people living as guardians to around 4000 in the UK - the vast majority of these in London. The schemes are increasingly popular with companies who want a cheap way of preventing empty buildings being squatted.
We visited the "Chestnuts" - a group of guardians living in an old school in northeast London. Most said they really appreciated the communal lifestyle that being a guardian encouraged, as well as the low cost. Many saw their living arrangement as a matter of choice, rather than a sacrifice.
But the group were keen to point out that they had been lucky to end up living with a good group of people in a comfortable and spacious property with lots of communal space - not to mention the fact that most had been able to live there for years. Being a guardian is something of a lottery, it seems: we heard some horror stories about previous experiences of guardianship. One man told us about moving into an office block near London Bridge, only to be told after two weeks that he had to move out in a further two weeks. Others complained of harassment, fines and repeated unannounced visits from "inspectors" working for the company paid to "guard" the property. It's also worth pointing out that people with children and unemployed people are generally banned from being guardians.
Being a guardian is a precarious existence, but one that can allow a communal living arrangement more satisfying (and cheap) than that of many of London's growing army of renters.
The Chestnuts crew put forward five demands, following a lively debate:
- Rent control.
- A fairer system of taxation, including punitive taxing of anti-social behaviour like keeping properties empty.
- A free, improved and better funded education system.
- More social housing, with fairer rules on eligibility and access.
- Politics to be taught as a subject in secondary schools.