The end of the school year is always a hectic time, especially for primary schools. In Forest Gate, east London, the excitement is reaching fever pitch as a group of 10 and 11 year-olds at Antony’s Primary School put their final touches to letters addressed to Newham Council’s Planning Officer. They are preparing for a housing march to the West Ham football ground on Tuesday 14th July. They are chatty and playful as they as they summarise their thoughts on paper, but don't let their age or size fool you. These pint-sized citizens can pack a punch when it comes to expressing their opinions.
So far, only adults have voiced their objections to the Boleyn Ground planning application which currently has 0% social housing. Only 51 shared ownership units (6%) of the proposed 838 units will be affordable. This falls way short of the Council's own target of 35-50% on developments of this size. Indeed, on February 13th, armed with flowers and chocolates, and in the spirit of Valentine's Day, St Antony’s primary school children joined other members of Newham Citizens, part of national charity Citizens UK, to deliver a letter to Newham Council, urging get them to reject the application.
In a modern day version of David and Goliath, the children have the Council and the property developers in their sights. They have decided to put pen to paper and lend their own powerful voice to the issue. In particular, they are angry about the lack of social and affordable housing proposed for the Boleyn ground development.
Reading a sample of their hand-written letters, one gets the feeling that the children are passionate about their community and that they feel it is being torn apart by rising house prices. The tone ranges from anger, to sarcasm, to disbelief. It is evident that the children are also concerned about the impact of rising housing costs on their own education. Several families from their school have already been relocated outside the borough due to the housing benefit cap. Unselfishly, the children worry about disruption to children's education in the school right next to the stadium during construction. In short, they are not happy about what they see as a big injustice when it comes to housing for them, and their families and friends in Newham.
10-year old Sefora Daniel's letter is punctuated with a sense of indignation over the treatment of three groups of vulnerable people she feels have been badly let down by the situation on the Boleyn development - immigrants, single parents and parents with lots of children. She makes a strong argument for affordable housing and cheekily admonishes the council, saying,
"I hope you have listened to my wise words and consider my statements. Please make hundreds of lives better by making houses affordable for all."
11 year-old Daniel worries about the ability of families to make ends meet:
"Furthermore, many in Newham cannot be paying bills and then also looking after children, buying them important things such as school uniform, stationery, books, and many many more. Therefore, how could they ever be able to afford an expensive house and be able to pay bills for different reasons?"
11 year-old Hermoine's letter displays has a clear and mature understanding of what is at stake:
"Avaricious landlords will predictably purchase those properties and rent them for a ridiculously large price!" She also asks some searching questions: "Will I be able to live there? Will it be too expensive for my family? Will I have to move out of Newham and be forced to find a whole new life somewhere I've never been to?"
The sentiments in the 60 letters which will be hand-delivered to Newham Council, are best captured by 11 year-old Maven:
"Imagine a world where only the rich can afford houses!"
Not if these fearless young citizens have anything to do with it!
- The London Borough of Newham has seen the highest rise in house prices in 2015 (17.5%) - Evening Standard (Homes and Property), March 4, 2015 http://bit.ly/1F7mLY2
- Newham has the most acute housing need and highest rates of overcrowding in any London borough. One in four (25%) homes are overcrowded - London Poverty Profile
- The wards adjacent to the Boleyn Ground, are the most overcrowded in Newham - one in three in East Ham Central (30%), Green Street West (33%), Green Street East (35%), and East Ham North (34%).
- Boleyn Ward, where the proposed development is located has a high overcrowding rate of 28%.
- For more information contact Emmanuel Gotora, Citizens UK Organiser in Newham on 07956998909 or firstname.lastname@example.org