Monday, January 31, 2011

Report on Hackney Unites public meeting on the cuts

Hackney Unites is a community empowerment group and it is leading the way in organising people and developing grass roots campaigns to fight the government’s cuts to public services.

by Teena Lashmore 

On Sunday 23 January 2011 at the Open Gate Black Cultural Cafe in Stoke Newington Road, an audience of over eighty people joined Hackney Unites to watch a play by the anti racist theatre company called Arts4Real.  Entitled Hard Times, the play looked at the consequences of the cuts to an average urban family over a six months period. 

The message of the Cuts is clear, as women make up a large proportion of the public services; it is this group that will be the first in line at the job centre competing for work in a shrinking economy.  This street theatre production looked at how relationships within the home will change, as a consequence of parents loosing their jobs, self-esteem, housing and economic independence.  The audience were captivated by the performance as the realisation of the cuts in their homes begins to take shape - where parents and those old enough to work become exhausted by the lack of economic and employment opportunities.

This moving performance was followed by public speaker Lee Jasper the Chair of BARAC, talking about the need for a range of strategies to fight the cuts.  Sharing the platform with Mr Jasper was Andrea Enisuoh from Hackney Unites who reinforced the importance for a diverse approach to campaigning.  Ibrahim Avcil a community coordinator working for Hackney Refugee Forum enlightened the audience with the shocking observation that await the soon to be unemployed: the government plans to extend the Voucher system that is currently applied to asylum seekers, to all those signing for Job Seeker Allowance. 

Rhasan Brunner from Hackney’s Youth Parliament linked the impact of the cuts to the loss of a whole generation - his generation, our young people.  Finally, Arpita Dutt, an employment lawyer by day, closed the platform led session with the most empowering speech ever delivered in a public forum. She explained the responsibilities local authorities have to the Equality Duty and presented this as the most effective tool for every Hackney citizen to challenge its local government on the planned cuts, citing the success of Haringey residents opposing a shopping centre as a case study.  

Her speech had resonance with the audience, and as they moved into the workshop sessions to explore what images would most reflect the cuts, it was clear they had been inspired.  Flip chart after flip chart was filled with images that looked at the impact of the cuts on housing, the impact on unemployment, the loss of public health services, the loss of EMA for young people accessing education, the loss of young people services and those for the elderly.  Where people lacked art skills, they filled the charts with nouns and adjectives just as powerful as the images.  

As the event came to a close the eighty that had arrived were seen networking their way out of this stylish graffiti art cafe, keen to ensure they had secured contact details not only from Hackney Unites but from their peers in the audience.   The objective of the event was not only to inspire the community to join together to fight the cuts, but to bring home to every citizen in Hackney the physical realities of the cuts. 

As the Mayor of Hackney Jules Pipe prepares to wipe out £26 million from Hackney’s local economy in the coming weeks, he may find he has to stop and pause in line with the Equality Duty, as he fights off a deluge of request to see Hackney’s Equality Impact Assessments on the cuts.  And unlike BARAC who requested the same documents from the treasury last year and were told that in the interest of the public the information will not be disclosed, Hackney citizens know that Equality Impact Assessments is a public document and they are intimately aware of where the town hall is located should the find the need to collect the documents in person. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

Rhasan Brunner from Hackney’s Youth Parliament (HYP) discusses an alternative to the Spending Review.

He is young, articulate and dedicated to social inclusion. His aspiration is to get all young people, all over the UK involved in helping their local communities - as he believes this will prevent many from falling into crime. He held office as the Vice Chair of Hackney Youth Parliament (HYP) in 2008, finally taking up the Chair’s position for the last twelve months. He’s the winner of the Hackney Youth Award and the Special Youth Award of 2008. His own articles have been published extensively in Contrast – a youth magazine that looks at the challenges and achievements of Hackney’s young people. All this and still only fifteen, Rhasan Brunner displays all the hall marks of a future leader.

by Teena Lashmore

We met on the brisk sunny Sunday morning of the 24 October last year, outside Hackney Town Hall and immediately headed off to the Corner Café, where we found comfort and space in the window seating. We perched ourselves proudly on the high wooden stools and observed the sunlight as it cast strong shadows over the wooden benches outside. Our hands wrapped around our large mugs and quickly began to warm, as I cradled my latte and he his hot chocolate.

He recapped over his ever changing lifestyle and community work. Most significant was his attendance at St Matthias Junior School, where he experienced his first public speaking event. He received peer recognition and respect, with the entire hall applauding his speech. He recalled being overwhelmed with emotions. Cardinal Pole School brought new challenges and along with family support, he actively changed his trajectory, engaging with youth activities and participating in youth clubs and theatre groups rather than the ‘which ends you at’ street life. His appetite for his community work has not wavered, and he continues to be an active member in HYP and also at the Hackney Volunteer Centre.

We discussed in detail some of the benefits and losses to the community as a consequence of the Government’s cuts and he suggested a clear idea of how to plug the gap,” All people need to help in society. It’s not the end of the world if a few rich people have to loose one of their many houses - as they can afford it.” His views are evolving and are informed by his youth, his education and by the many alternatives to the spending cuts which are currently being discussed in communities and voluntary organisations up and down the country. Of the many options available Mr Brunner found the 2% Wealth Tax for the richest 10% of the population, as being most attractive. Such a proposal is likely to raise as much as £78 billion in just one year, and in eighteen months it would address the Spending Review’s objective of needing to raise £81 billion over four years.

Currently, the ConDem coalition is promoting one way of addressing the country’s deficits, which will ultimately impact on those members of society in most need. The loss and changes to disability benefits will leave many vulnerable adults without support and for some - this will see the end of their independence. Many families will have to move to cheaper and most likely over crowded properties, because private landlords are free to charge rents that cannot be met by Housing Benefits; especially now these payments are being capped.

The full potential consequence of the Spending Review is too grim to explore over coffee and hot chocolate and we both recognised the need for a wider debate. Although young people’s views have largely been absent from these discussion, Mr Brunner promised to address this by taking the Spending Review to Hackney Youth Parliament’s Residential weekend.

We finish our drinks and headed back to the rendezvous. As we parted, he reminded me to send his support to Hackney Unites and pledged his commitment to get involved and to encourage other young parliamentarians to attend future meetings - to give their support and views.

Mr Brunner is a strong believer in social inclusion and his views are reflected by many other young people in Hackney. The Spending Review attacks not only our lives but the life chances of the next generation; especially with the increases in university tuition fees. The irony here is that our political leaders - who are imposing these cuts, benefited from free education yet here they are denying the same opportunities to the next generation. And within the same narrative, the banking industry which has been largely responsible for the global financial downturn and our country’s deficits remains unchanged, unchallenged and under taxed.

One of the many unintended consequences of this Spending Review is that these cuts may become the catalyst that join Hackney residents, young people and community leaders closer together, bringing the younger generation and their voice to the table, to negotiation a better community for all.

Let's Speak Up for Hackney - a message from Hackney Unites

Hackney Unites are asking for your help in producing and distributing a tabloid newspaper which showcases the best in Hackney while urging our communities to unite against the budget cuts that threaten our services.

We also urge you to register to join ‘the Hackney contingent’ on the national demonstration against the cuts on 26 March.

Please cascade this message on to friends, family, neighbours, and to colleagues at work and in faith and community groups in the borough and thereby help us get our message to the wider community.

We cannot accept these cuts

The government is cutting public spending at an alarming rate. Hackney Council is talking of cutting £44 million pounds from its budget in the next 12 months; money that pays for social services, housing, pest control, refuse collections, libraries, the noise service, trading standards, planning control and food safety among many other services.

Our children’s education is threatened, by cuts to schools budgets, by the withdrawal of the Education Maintenance Allowance and by the legislation which will see Universities charge students £9,000 per year.

Meanwhile Hackney GP, Dr Tomlinson, has spoken out on behalf of the BMA against the government’s planned ‘£20 billion of cuts to the health service over four years and the conversion of the NHS from a public service to a commercial market’.

Public transport has seen rapid fare rises at a time when busses are to be reduced and tube jobs are being cut.

Not only is unemployment set to rise, but if you lose your job through redundancy, you may find that the reductions in housing benefit mean that you can no longer live in Hackney and are forced to relocate to outer London, far from your friends, family and support networks.

The Government insists these cuts are unavoidable, yet senior economists warn that far from solving the deficit the cuts could drive the economy into a recession which will starve the treasury of income and actually make the deficit worse.

We need to act as one

Hackney Unites is not primarily an anti-cuts organisation. We aim to bring people together from across our various communities in the belief that we can achieve more for our communities by working together. (to find out more about us, visit However, the biggest immediate challenge to our communities is the effect of these proposed cuts: which will hit women, ethnic minorities and lower income families the hardest.

Cuts on this scale can have the effect of fracturing communities and lead to the scapegoating of vulnerable communities. We have teamed up with the HOPE not hate organisation and intend to produce a tabloid newssheet which celebrates what we have and alerts our communities to what we might lose.

There will be articles from trade unionists, faith leaders, tenants’ reps, health workers, legal aid practitioners and dozens of small community groups. This is your opportunity to add the voice of your group or campaign to the thousands of others in Hackney demanding that these cuts are stopped and our services protected.

The tabloid newspaper will celebrate Hackney, but will also call on people to participate as part of a Hackney contingent in the national demonstration called by the TUC on the 26 March. However, 26 March will not be the end of this initiative. We need to build a local Hackney based network capable of organising our communities and focussing effective opposition to individual cuts as they impact on our communities.

We have booked a print run of 25,000 copies and over the next few weeks we will need help both in writing and then distributing them.

If you want to help in either the production or distribution (or have any other comments) please complete our very short on-line survey:

If you want to join us on Saturday 26 March then sign up for the Hackney Contingent, which we hope will be over 1,000 strong.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, please help us unite Hackney, by forwarding this message on to friends, family, neighbours and colleagues in Hackney who may want to help build a strong united community coalition that challenges these cuts and celebrates Hackney.

And don’t forget we have an anti-cuts meeting this Sunday (see for details)

If you are not already on our email list and would like to join you can sign up at

Thank you

John Page


Hackney Unites

Monday, January 10, 2011

New Cross Fire Victims - Lest we forget...

Lest we forget...

Andrew Gooding (18.02.1962 - 18.01.1981)

Owen Thompson (11.09.1964 - 18.01.1981)

Patricia Johnson(16.05.1965 - 18.01.1981)

Patrick Cummings(21.09.1964 - 18.01.1981)

Steve Collins (2.05.1963 - 18.01.1981)

Lloyd Hall (28.11.1960 - 18.01.1981)

Humphrey Geoffrey Brown (4.07.1962 - 18.01.1981)

Roseline Henry (23.09.1964 - 18.01.1981)

Peter Campbell (23.02.1962 - 18.01.1981)

Gerry Paul Francis (21.08.1963 - 18.01.1981)

Glenton Powell (18.01.1966 - 25.01.1981)

Paul Ruddock (19.11.1960 - 09.02.1981)

Yvonne Ruddock (17.01.1965 - 24.01.1981)

Anthony Berbeck (17.08.1962 - 09.07.1983)
Thirty years ago on Sunday 18 January 1981 14 black teenagers tragically lost their lives in a house fire in New Cross, South East London. The police's refusal to investigate the likelihood of it being a crime of arson as well as dismissing a racial motive led to one of the biggest protests of black people this country had ever seen. Parallels can be drawn with that of the murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence in that, to date, nobody has been convicted of these heinous crimes.

This Friday 16 January an evening of remembrance will be held at The Albany Deptford Way. There will be music, film, spoken word and discussion and it is hosted by actor and playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah.

One of the short films, Blood ah Go Run (1982), documents what happened in the aftermath of the fire. The event is planned as an evening of upliftment that commemorates the lives of those 14 children tragically taken away. Contributors also include Alex Pascall, Professor Gus John, Menelik Shabazz, spoken word from Courttia Newland, El Crisis and Albany Associate Artist Zena Edwards and music from The Queens of Lovers Rock Carroll Thompson and Janet Kay.

Friday 14 January 2011, 7.30 - 11pm at The Albany, Douglas Way, Deptford, London, SE8 4AG



The Nubian Jak Community Trust in partnership with Lewisham Council is to install a Blue Plaque at the address where the tragedy took place.

The ceremony will take place at 439 New Cross Road, Lewisham, London, SE14 6TA, on Tuesday 18th January, 2011 at 2:00pm.

In 2006 a new student bursary scheme was created, in memory of the New Cross Fire Victims. The scheme awards annual grants to two current or former students of schools and colleges in Lewisham, wishing to study at Goldsmiths University of London. The scheme, which was initiated by Sir Steve Bullock, Mayor of Lewisham, has the backing of all the families who lost loved ones in the New Cross Fire. It is a positive lasting legacy which will continue to help future Lewisham students. After the plaque unveiling on Tuesday, there will be a ceremony at Goldsmith College to celebrate the recipients of the 2011 Bursary awards.

NB - Anthony Berbeck died two years later of injuries sustained.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Planning meeting for Hackney Borough of Sanctuary movement tonight @6.30pm

Hackney Unites are supporting the campaign to make Hackney a Borough of Sanctuary. A place where community groups open their doors to refugees and asylum seekers so that Hackney’s community organisations gain from their skills and experience and they are rapidly assimilated into Hackney.

If you would like to read more about the ‘City of Sanctuary’ Movement in general (upon which we are basing our move towards becoming a ‘Borough of Sanctuary’) please take a look at the excellent website at:

‘Hackney: Borough of Sanctuary’ will launch

Saturday 12th February 1pm -3.30pm – venue to be confirmed.

Dr Inderjit Bhogal , the national figurehead of the City of Sanctuary Movement will be the guest speaker.

If you are interested in helping make this event a success then come to a planning meeting tonight - Thursday 6th January 2011 6.30pm-8.30pm

Venue: Room 18, Springfield House, 5 Tyssen Street E8 2LY.

If you can’t make tonight but want to be involved in the campaign then please email:

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Challenges to the Cuts - an alternative proposal

Hackney Unites blogger Teena Lashmore on an alternative proposal to challenging the cuts...
The Fawcett Society, which is a leading feminist group, challenged the Con-Dems Government Spending Review Package in the High Court in December 2010.

Their main argument is that the spending review impacts on women and minority citizens more than it impact upon men. In summary and using statistics from a range of sources over time, they suggested that the cuts favour white male middle classes or family structures over the country’s reality – where many do no live according to that structure - because they simply cannot afford to do so. The challenge to obtain an application for a Review failed as the Royal Courts assessed at this time, there is no case for the Government to answer.

Students have undertaken public demonstrations against the Cuts. Community based groups such as the WAC pack (Women against the Cuts), have also undertaken public events in London to raise the issue that the cuts affect mostly women. Workers and supporters of the NHS along with trade unions are either developing grass root supports from community meetings or engaging with developing the collective campaign in time for the planned demonstrations in early 2011.

Locally, Hackney Unites are preparing to have Lee Jasper attend their public meeting on 23rd January (for further info visit:
Mr Jasper is but one of many political leaders from the Black and Minority and Ethnic groups (BME). He will discuss further the consequences of the Cuts for BME residents, children, mothers and families.

These efforts and clearly well focused and are fuelled by the public’s anger about the Cuts. The Con-Dem leadership has proven effective; especially where their strategies and policies build upon ‘shared’ values. These shared values between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives political parties, clearly include the tripling of University Tuition fees. While one can understand the Conservative’s agenda, as this is not new, one is left simply assuming that the Liberal Democrats have traded in their manifesto pledge in return for a little piece of power.

While reflecting over the challenges against the Cuts, a resource or tool that does not appear to have been utilised (so far) is the lessons learned from the achievement form the Southall Black Sisters (SBS). SBS successfully challenged Ealing Council in 2007, when the Council attempted to remove their funding. The Council argued that under the equality bill, a generic diversity project would meet the communities needs better than a group focussed on black women only. Such an argument failed to acknowledge the history and legacy of racism in public services and most importantly and according to the judgement, failed to acknowledge fully the duty in the Race Relations Act, which is to promote community cooperation.

The full judgement can be access on line:

The Con-Dems policy for cuts appears equally dismissive of the public duty in the Rae Relations Act, which is to promote community cooperation and eliminate racism. Cutting budgets without assessing the impact on the community, which is made up of BME citizens, appears to be a similar argument to that presented by the London Borough of Ealing. Ealing lost that argument and SBS were awarded 102,000.

Equality is not that all groups are equally disadvantaged, it is about understanding the county’s legacy and commitment for social integration. The challenge in the High Court on 6 December was by women but perhaps the strategy by SBS is what should be applied as after all it worked the last time.