Hi there! I’m Helen! I’m one of the actors from FYSA theatre’s E15 which is coming to Camden People’s Theatre for Who’s London Is It Anyway? – and I can’t wait! As well as acting in it, I also co-wrote ‘E15’. But this is far less impressive, as the show isn’t really ‘written’ in the traditional sense of the word. Everything in the play is taken from testimonies and interviews that Matt Woodhead (co-writer and director) and I conducted across last year.
The E15 mum’s were 29 young mothers living in the mother and baby unit of a hostel in Stratford East, called ‘Focus E15’. In 2013, every single one of those mothers was served an eviction notice from Newham Council. They were given no option to find alternative social housing within London. The mum’s were told they should either rent privately – which none of them could afford – or else they could be socially housed outside of London.
Those eviction notices sparked a campaign about housing that would spread all through London, and then nationwide, with those 29 young mothers at the very heart of it. Social cleansing like this is happening every single day all across London. People are being pushed out of the city that is their home, to make room for private accommodation for the super-rich.
FYSA Theatre is about making theatre with communities, for communities. The Focus E15 campaign has been involved every step of the way in shaping their story with us. The people I have met and the stories they have told me have been genuinely life changing. I always knew there was a housing crises, but it wasn’t before the process of writing this play that I realised the huge scale on which it is happening.
We interviewed some children from the Sweet’s Way Estate in Barnet, whose homes were boarded up and their families displaced. This was one of the most telling moments of how heartless the housing crises is: a 13 year old girl now has to leave the house at 5am and get 3 buses to get to school, because the council rehoused her so far away from her home borough; her younger brother was given a detention because he skipped a class to cry in the toilets – ‘he just couldn’t take it no more.’
We interviewed a homeless man who said: ‘I’ve met blokes within 10 minutes. The metal door has been put on their flat and they’ve walked out. They tend to become homeless…’ You can physically see the increasing amount of homelessness on the streets of London as the housing crises gets worse and worse. We tend to, as a society, view homelessness as a personal failure. Through writing this play I have discovered that it is a massive, unforgivable, systematic one.
A CAB worker put it to us the best: ‘We are all 2 pay cheques away from becoming homeless.’
However, amongst these stories of tragedy, there are constant stories of human solidarity and hope. The E15 Campaign is living proof that by coming together and organizing, even under the most difficult circumstances, people can stand up against what is wrong, and win. The campaign is still, 2 years later, very much alive. And ‘Focus E15’ is just one example of many resistance groups that are fighting back against what is happening. There are two campaigns groups in Camden alone: Camden and Islington unite; and Camden resists.
After a sell-out run at The Pleasance Theatre in London just before Christmas, I am so excited we are bringing ‘E15’ to Camden People’s Theatre at the end of this month. BOOK TICKETS HERE