Focus East 15 Visit 7th April.
I went to visit Focus East 15 again a couple of weeks ago at their street stall on Stratford High Street and joined their monthly meeting at ‘Sylvia’s Corner- the groups headquarters, named after Sylvia Pankhurst.
Each time I visit I am stuck by how blatant the irony is in Stratford. As I walked to meet the group, who are campaigning for housing rights in a borough where 1 in 25 is homeless, I see adverts proclaiming “YOU CAN BUY YOUR FIRST HOME AT THE FIRST TIME BUYER HOME SHOW!!!”
I met more campaigners and friends of Focus, including local residents, former residents of Carpenters Estate and several artists and theatre makers. Many more ‘gang names’ were thought up and allocated.
These two hatted sleuths are the ‘Terrible Turtles’, who also happen to run the Museum of Homelessness. I also met artists from Blueprint, Lung and You Should See the Other Guy- theatre makers who are actively engaged in this campaign, making shows about Focus East 15 and the wider issues. Follow links to see more about their work.
I’ve been keen that the show should raise the profile of campaign groups and the wider stories, but that we should also directly work with groups alongside the shows, particularly if this was to tour. I’d been thinking about workshops in playful protest, creativity in campaigning, but I’ve realised that workshops, and a wider online presence also need to be vehicles for skill sharing and a way to link groups. They might also direct attendees towards legal or other support and networks.
The meeting drew links between the many, many groups in London and further afield united in the fight for housing rights. Time and time again the same story is being told, of council housing being sold off and residents being decanted and displaced. “The London clearances” was brought up as a term, linking the plight to that of the Highland clearances. Scottish people cleared for sheep, Londoners cleared for luxury flats. Both stories putting profit before people.
“‘We need more housing” is what they say, but the new housing is not for working class people and (the demolition and wholesale evictions) are destroying communities.” – Jasmine
A resident who had lived on Carpenters Estate for 30 years talked of her sadness any having to leave. ‘I was decanted’ ‘Every time I pass (Carpenters) I check to see if (my old home) is still empty.’ She has lost her community. ‘It was a good estate’. She would open her door to neighbours and friends. Now she feels isolated and alone.
I gave a short presentation about Ferguson’s gang vs the Octopus and was interested in what perceived impact this, and other arts projects about and supporting such issues could have on the campaigns. I wanted to know how Fergusons Gang could be useful. The main reason clearly linked to play. The story of Ferguson’s Gang fills people with delight. It’s inspiring and exciting. What they did, and how they did it is fun, and it makes people smile.
“Activism is serious but it needs to be fun too”
“It’s inspiring because these strong women were bold in their campaigning and did this, with playfulness all those years ago”
“They made a difference, and people can see themselves in Fergusons Gang.” “
Its tells you that you’re not alone, you’re part of a story.”
“It gives solidarity through time. It’s good to know about our history. See your part in this story. The same story of Suffragettes and Pankhurst. Fergusons are part of that story as is every campaign group today.”
As I was leaving Stratford, I saw the Terrible Turtles, in long coats and hats, weaving their way through dense crowds in a shopping centre. I had them in my sights, and went towards them, but immediately, they had gone. Lots them in a shop full of mirrors. I wondered if I’d imagined them. Or perhaps they had sneaked off through a hidden door……
Back soon for another instalment…..