Staines & Laleham
Staines & Laleham, Middx. 31 Dec 2014
Boats and houses on the river at Laleham. The houses
are 5 miles by road from where I am standing.
New Year's Eve was dull, and by the time we'd cleared up after lunch it was
getting a little late to start the walk, but we went just the same, going
down the Thames towards Penton Hook Lock. There we walked across and around
the island, parts of which are now rather less overgrown but with extra ditches
and channels to act as a nature reserve. Back in the 1980s when our young
boys loved to play there it was an overgrown jungle where it was easy to get
Back on the Middlesex bank we walked down into Laleham and then through the
churchyard there, pausing briefly to look at Mathew Arnold's grave as it got
rather dark and then taking a surprisingly rural route along a footpath to
the Laleham estate and back to Staines, where we ended the year with a glass
or two of wine.
Derbyshire. Mon 29 Dec 2014
Looking down from the bottom of the Middleton Incline
We made a short visit to the disused railway - now the High Peak Trail which
went from Cromford to Whaley Bridge. The railway was built starting around
1830 and used horse-drawn wagons on the flatter sections, with stationery
steam engines using a continuous cable to pull the waggons up eight of its
nine steep inclines, one of which at Middleton we walked up.
After lunch we caught the train back down south, and I took a few pictures
through the window, particularly of the power station near the Trent.
Belper, Derbyshire. Sun 28 Dec 2014
There was an inch or so of frozen snow still on the
ground a few days after the storm
We walked down past Strutt's mills - where Courtalds still make stockings
- to the River Derwent with my younger son and his daughter. He jumped into
the river for his usual moring swim with the current downstream, while we
hurried along a footpath to meet him a quarter of a mile or so downstream.
We beat him, but only because of the time spent taking off his clothes and
packing them in a waterproof bag to tow behind him in the river. The current
was flowing quite fast.
After waiting for him to get dressed we continued our walk along by the river
to the sewage works, where the access bridge took us back across the river
and into Belper for Sunday lunch.
Boxing Day Walk
Staines to Old Windsor. Fri 26 Dec 2014
Perhaps the ashes of Magna Carta as the UK moves towards
a police state?
I spent the Christmas period with my family, and as usual on either Christmas
or Boxing Day three of us walked to my sister's house for a Christmas dinner.
This year it was our second such, on Boxing Day. It isn't a huge walk, just
under 5 miles, and unlike last year when there was flooding, we were able
to take the most direct route, more than three-quarters of it along the Thames
path by the side of the river, from Staines to Old Windsor.
This is a route that probably many will take in 2015, as it leads through
Runnymede, where in June people will be celebrating the 800th anniversary
of the signing of Magna Carta - if we haven't by then got fed up with the
extensive media coverage by then.
It was also an opportunity for me to try out one of my new toys, a present
to myself of the Fuji 35mm f1.4 standard lens, with which all of these pictures
(despite the EXIF information on some - thanks to a faulty camera body) were
taken. It replaces the 35mm F1.4 Summilux that I've used on and off since
I paid a month's salary for it (secondhand) back in the late 70s.
Near Staines's old Town Hall (disgracefully sold for a pound by Spelthorne
Council and now empty) I paused to photograph one of the few half-decent sculptures
on the Staines Art Trail, of a swan-upper, moved here recently from where
it was hidden on a road leading to the Moormede estate. Passing opposite Staines
Lammas, a cyclist on the tow path told me that a rowing race was apporaching,
and I photographed two racing eights speeding downriver. Then came the long
walk past the water company, now largely hidden behind new narrow link fencing
and under the Runnemede Bridges for the M25 and A30 and the ugly hotel next
to Bell Weir lock. Past there are houses, many of which over the years have
stolen and enfenced sections of the riverbank between the towing path and
the river, through a boatyard and on to Runnymede. We were a little late or
we might have stopped for a while, as the tea room was open.
No one is quite sure where King John was actually forced by the barons to
put his seal on the charter that granted them and all freemen some rights
(but nothing for the great majority who were still owned by their masters.)
The Thames was probably not confined to its present banks and it could have
been anywhere on the flood plain here beneath the tree-covered hills (with
the Runnymede eco-camp - aka Magna Carta Memorial Protest Camp - visible in
winter perched on them since 2012 also having plans to celebrate the octocentenary)
or across the current river at Ankerwyke or Magna Carta Island.
Last year the benches at the 'Bells of Ouzeley' had been seat deep under
water; this year they were on dry land, with flower tributes to the dead.
Past them one of the many boats with badly punnning titles which too many
boat-owners seem to favour, and we were soon at our destination sitting in
front of a plate of turkey and all the rather more interesting things that
come with a Christmas dinner.
Don't Buy Israeli 'Blood Diamonds'
Bond St, London. Sat 20 Dec 2014
The money from diamond sales funds the Israel attacks
on Gaza - campaigners urge a boycott
A protest in Old Bond St urged people not to buy diamonds cut and polished
in Israel, which are the main source of funding for Israeli military attacks
on Gaza. Many diamonds cut there come illegally from conflict zones. Palestinians
have called for a boycott of all Israeli diamonds.
Israeli attacks on Gaza have led to a decline in exports of goods and services
by Israel, with tourism down by 77.5%. But diamonds have helped Israel fill
the gap, with diamond sales rising by over 50%; according to some sources
diamond sales provide $1 billion a year to the Israeli military.
The protest started outside De Beers, which holds 45% of the world's rough
diamonds. They sell these to companies including Israel's Steinmetz Diamonds
(now Diacore), Leo Schachter, Niru Diamonds Israel, Yoshfe Diamonds and Rosy
Blue for polishing. Diacore has a 50:5-0 partnership with Sotheby's Diamonds
and also sponsors the notorious Givati Brigade of the Israeli army, accused
of war crimes in Gaza by the UN Human Rights Council and responsible for the
Samouni family massacre.
From there the protest moved on to Leviev, said by the New York Times to
be "probably Israel’s richest man" and his Israeli company
to be "the world’s largest cutter and polisher of diamonds".
Leviev is also involved in the construction of illegal Jews-only settlements
on the West Bank.
Other targets they intended to visit on the street after I left them included
Cartier, which sells jewellery from Israel's leading diamond exporter, and
once receiver of Israel's Exporter of the Year Award, Leo Schachter Diamonds
and Tiffany & Co which is in close partnership with Israel's Steinmetz
In between speeches giving details of the various companies involvement in
Israel and its military attacks on Palestine, there was a some shouting of
slogans as well as some haunting Palestinian music. A high proportion of those
passing took the flyers calling for a boycott of Israeli blood diamonds, and
many of them expressed their support. There were a few who clearly disapproved
of the protest, including just one man who stopped briefly to hurl a few insults
while I was there.
Occupy Democracy Return To Parliament Square
Parliament Square, London. Sat 20 Dec 2014
Shahrar Ali, Deputy Leader of the Green Party, speaking under the statue of
Occupy Democracy came back to Parliament Square which was fenced off
and guarded by police and private security 'heritage wardens'. They began
a series of activities calling for real democracy in a Britain where 3.5 million
are living in poverty.
Green Party Deputy Leader was the first speaker on the
programme, and after speaking led a wide-ranging question and answer session
about Green Party policies. After his speech there was to be a performance of
the Fossil-Free Nativity which I had photographed two weeks earlier, so I left
to go elsewhere, returning briefly on my way home, when activities were still
When I arrived then, some people from the Democracy Camp were leaving to see
what was happening at the empty bank building being squatted on the Charing
Cross Road. When I arrived there was a police van opposite but little seemed
to be happening and I didn't have time to stay.
Dying For Heat
Downing St, London. Sat 20 Dec
Fuel Poverty protesters had been opposite Downing St
since 8am and were aiming to stay 24 hrs
Two half naked men began a 24hr vigil at 8am to draw attention to the
impact of fuel poverty which killed more than 10,000 in the UK in 2012/3.
Others joined in the protest through the day. Fuel Poverty Action have an
of Rights' to protect the poor and end these deaths.
Birthday Vigil for Chelsea Manning
St Martin-in-the-Fields, London. Wed 17 Dec 2014
came along with a Happy Birthday Chelsea card for people to sign
A silent vigil at St Martin-in-the-Fields marked the 27th birthday of
transgender whistleblower Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning, jailed for 35
years in 2013, whose couragious leaks revealed war crimes by US, UK and other
A man dressed as Santa took around a large Birthday card for people to sign,
and Bruce Kent was among the Chelsea Manning supporters in London who joined
with those in 11 other cities around the world to call for her immediate release.
Release Shaker Aamer from Guantanamo
Parliament Square, London. Wed 17 Dec 2014
Bruce Kent (left) talks with Free Shaker Aamer protesters
& veteran peace campaigner Barbara and her son.
Protesters continued their regular weekly protests calling for the release
of Shaker Aamer, not held in Guantanamo for almost 13 years despite being
cleared for release in 2007. Shaker continues to be tortured, beaten over
The regular protesters from the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, including
its chair Joy Hurcombe and secretary Ray Silk were joined
by veteran peace campaigner Bruce Kent and 88 year old peace campaigner Barbara
and her son.
After the protest in Parliament Square, the campaigners were taking a card
to 10 Downing St with the names of almost a hundred MPs and former MPs and
many others calling for the release of Londoner Shaker Aamer from Guantanamo.
The campaign to release Shaker Aamer has intensified in the last couple of
months, particularly with the launch of the 'We Stand With Shaker' campaign
in which people including a number of celebrities have been photographed with
a sign with that message, sometimes standing with a giant inflatable Shaker
Aamer. There are increasing signs too that President Obama would like to fulfill
his promise to close down the prison camp, and may be prepared to overule
the US and UK security agencies who have been opposing his release because
of the embarrassment his evidence of their complicity in torture would cause.
Father Pleads 'NHS let Baby Olivia Live'
Old Palace Yard, London. Wed 17 Dec 2014
Olivia's father protests at Parliament 'Please Help
Us Save our Baby'
The father of baby Olivia Stanca, born in February 2014 with a kidney cancer
but otherwise healthy, protested at Parliament. Her cancer has been treated
but the NHS intends to leave her to die because of the cost of treatment of
The family have set up a Facebook page and a petition in an attempt to get
the treatment continued so Olivia can recover.
Sack Boris over 90% youth & education cuts
City Hall, London. Wed 17 Dec 2014
Student Assembly Against Austerity with 'Sack Boris'
placards outside City Hall
Students protested at City Hall against plans by Boris Johnson to cut
Greater London spending on education and youth service from the current £22.6m
to only 2.3m by 2017, hitting severely some of London’s most deprived
and vulnerable youth.
After their protest outside, most of the students wanted to go in to the
Mayor's Question Time to query the huge cuts planned by Boris. At first security
stopped them, but after they put down their placards and banner they were
eventually admitted. I left to go elsewhere.
Cleaners Xmas Protest in John Lewis
John Lewis, Oxford St. Sat 13 Dec 2014
come down the escalators in John Lewis with banners and flags calling for
The IWGB union and customers protested inside John Lewis's Oxford St
store, calling for the London Living Wage for cleaners there and an end to
their treatment as second-class citizens. Many of the Christmas shoppers applauded
their noisy protest.
I'd met the IWGB protesters an hour or so before the start of the protest
and travelled with them to Oxford St on the bus, where I got off and left
them. They had told me they would be starting in the restaurant on the 5th
floor of John Lewis, and I arrived there shortly after them and began to photograph
them as they unpacked their banners and mobile PA system there. John Lewis
staff looked on but didn't interfere other than ask them not to block the
way of people taking their food to tables, and some of the protesters moved
to open a passage.
Once they had unpacked the banners, IWGB leader Alberto Durango
gave a brief speech to tell everyone around why the protest was taking place,
and people started giving out a flyer which explained that the cleaners who
work in the store receive less than the living wage, and are not entitled
to the considerable bonus payments that other staff who work in John Lewis
Although the cleaners work in the John Lewis store, they are not directly
employed by John Lewis but by a cleaning contractor. Following strikes and
a similar demonstration in October 2013, the cleaners gained a wage increase
and a promise that over a period of time their wage would be raised to the
living wage, which has not been kept. The cleaners have also had to fight
against increases in workload.
The cleaner's flyer asked 'If John Lewis are such a great employer, Why
are we treated like second class citizens?' and pointed out that 'John
Lewis is the UK's leading retailer and last Christmas enjoyed the highest
market profits in the retail sector. Directly employed staff received a 14%
bonus... There is no reason for cleaners at John Lewis, a hugely profitable
company, to be treated like second class citizens.'
Alberto then led the cleaners slowly and directly across the 5th floor to
the balcony leading to the down escalator, and they made their way down a
level at a time, stopping on each landing to regroup, display the banners
and blow their horns before going down to the next level. John Lewis staff
had asked them to leave and they were doing so, though slowly and noisily.
By the time they had got to the second floor, there were a few police officers
accompanying them. The protesters - who included a group of John Lewis customers
as well as members and supporters of the IWGB trade union were trying to keep
together and being careful to avoid any damage. Most were holding flags or
banners and a number of them blowing horns, with some handing out leaflets.
On the ground floor they turned towards the Oxford Street front entrance
to make their way out, and I rushed around by a side aisle to get ahead of
them. The shop was crowded and people had stopped to watch what was happening.
At the front entrance I turned around and saw two police officers attempting
to stop Alberto who was trying to leave the store, but he kept on walking
and most of the rest of the protesters followed.
Outside the store the protest regrouped on the pavement, and the two officers
came and tried to stop Alberto talking, but the protest continued. Two people
from the protest came out of the store and told us that two protesters had
been arrested inside, but we were not allowed back inside to see what had
Nothing I had seen during the seventeen minutes that the protesters was taking
place in John Lewis had suggested anything other than a noisy but totally
non-violent protest, with the only incidents inside I witnessed were a little
pushing when police tried to stop Alberto and others leaving. A minute or
two later, outside the store, one officer attempted to grab the amplifier
he was using and pulled out the leads from it, but Alberto and others grabbed
hold of it and the officer backed away and the protest continued.
A few of minutes later, as the protest was ending and I was leaving, four
police officers ran down the street carrying a protester who had been arrested,
with others following them. The man they were holding was still shouting for
the cleaners to be paid the London Living Wage. They put him down on the road
and then in the back of van and it drove off.
The police either did not know or would not say why the arrest had been made.
Some of the union members including Alberto went to the police station to
wait for those arrested to be released - which they were early the following
morning. Videos taken by people inside the store on mobile phones seem to
show them being assaulted by police while trying to leave.
Class War: 'Evict Westbrook, Not New Era'
Berkeley Sq, London. Sat 13 Dec 2014
and police in front of the offices at Berkeley Square House
Supporters of Class War protested at the Mayfair offices of US property developers
Westbrook Partners in solidarity with the tenants of the Hackney New Era Estate
who Westbrook are intending to evict by Christmas so they can refurbish these
low rent social properties and re-let them at market rents at roughly four
times the current rents.
Police had obviously expected a larger and more active protest and had arrived
in force by the time I got there along with some of the early arrivals from
Class War. The 'Advance to Mayfair' protest had not been very well publicised
in the few days leading up to it, perhaps because of the illness of the main
organiser, who was unable to attend, as well as an unpleasant dispute between
some supporters which had emerged on social media.
The protesters had brought two Class War banners with them, the Lucy Parsons
banner with its message 'We must devastate the avenues where the wealthy live!'
and the 'Class War Women's Death Brigade' banner, and a couple of placards
as well as a Christmas Card for Westbrook Partners, with some far from seasonal
greetings. Rather to my surprise, a representative from Westbrook was present
to meet the protesters and receive the card.
'Santa's Naughty List' Living Wage
Brixton, London. Sat 13 Dec 2014
Poundland was one of several shops visited by protesters
handing out flyers and union membership forms
Lambeth Living Wage campaigners, led by an impressive Santa, protested
in and outside shops in the centre of Brixton, handing out flyers calling
for all workers to be paid a living wage. They urged shop workers to join
a union and gave out forms.
The protesters met outside Morleys Stores, and this was the first shop they
entered, handing out the flyers to shoppers and union membership forms to
shop workers, as well as using a megaphone to call for all workers to be paid
a living wage. They left the store when requested and protested for a short
while on the busy street outside before going to the next shop on there list.
I was unable to stay very long, and the protesters intended to continue for
several hours. While I was with them they also visited Subway and Poundland.
The protest was supported by Unite the Resistance, the Socialist Party and
Unison (who provided the Santa costume) and also the Fast Food Rights Hungry
for Justice campaign supported by the Bakers, Food & Allied Workers Union,
BFWAWU, the National Shop Stewards Network and other groups.
Dickens & Lincoln's Inn
Holborn, London. Thu 10 Dec 2014
Inside Lincoln's Inn, one of London's Inns of Court
Together with several photographer friends I went on a free tour of Dicken's
London, one of a series of free London walks provided by an organisation which
is funded by businesses in central London to promote the area, which they
call 'Midtown', though Londoners would probably call it Holborn (or in the
northern part, Bloomsbury.) Midtown sounds to us like somewhere in New York.
There are many commercial 'walks' in London, though the best way to explore
it is on your own - with the aid of various books and downloadable walks which
you can take at your own speed. But there are some advantages with going -
at least for the first time - with a guide, who may take you into places where
you might feel a little intimidated on your own. There are many places in
London where it isn't too clear whether you are allowed to go inside or if
you can photograph, and the Inns of court are among these. My experience in
most of these is that so long as you don't make too much of a fuss about it
you will seldom be bothered.
There are also more specialist walks I've been on, led by the real experts
on the subjects concerned and organised by various charities and interest
groups, which are generally worth paying for. But most commercial walks are
about entertainment rather than a real interest in the subject.
This walk had the advantage of being free, and Aly Mir who also leads various
commercial walks and has researched and written around 120 in various areas
of inner London was certainly full of facts about Charles Dickens and Bleak
House, though the walk in some respects reminded me of Dicken's writing. Much
better on radio or TV but tedious in text. You could make a good graphic novel
of Bleak House that wouldn't send me to sleep.
But we were not students of Dickens (who might well have been a little disappointed)
but a group of guys on our way to the pub, and I was pleased when the tour
finished and we celebrated in the centre of Lincoln's Inn Fields with some
glass-sized bottles of wine that Paul had thoughtfully brought along before
adjourning to the The Knights Templar on the corner of Carey St the tour had
led us past earlier. The atmosphere was rather better in curiously antique
1920s the Cittie of Yorke on High Holborn , and it was just another short
walk to one of our favourite London pubs, the restored Victorian Princess
Louise. It was almost Christmas.
Santacon North London
Gt Portland St-Baker St, London. Sat 6 Dec 2014
A trio of Santas pose for me at Great Portland St
Thousands in Santa suits and other Xmas deviations, police trying hard to
keep smiling, cans of beer, doubtfully soft drinks, just a few Brussel sprouts
in the air, crowded bars, sprawling mass of mainly young people having fun
on the streets of London. Santacon,
Fossil Free Nativity - Churches Divest!
Broad Sanctuary, London. Sat 6 Dec 2014
Writer Westley Ingram as the Angel Gabriel with others
at Christian Climate Action's Fossil Free nativity
Christian Climate Action and Occupy organised an entertaining performance
of a Fossil Free Nativity Play between Westminster Abbey and Methodist Central
Hall, part of a continuing campaign to get churches to disinvest from fossil
fuel companies. Among the members of the cast were Westley Ingram who wrote
the play and performed as the Angel Gabriel, and George Barda of Occupy who
played Joseph with his child as the baby Jesus.
South London March for Free Education
Lambeth College, Clapham, London. Sat 6 Dec 2014
Marchers set off to go to a rally in Brixton
Protesters from South London, backed by groups including NCAFC, Lambeth Left
Unity and South London Defend Education, took part in the national day of
education activism against tuition fees, marching from Clapham Common to a
rally at Brixton.
There were rather fewer marchers than expected, perhaps because many students
had already left for home and the other events taking place, not to mention
Christmas shopping. More were expected to turn up for the rally in Brixton,
but I had other things to do.
Santacon Start in Clapham
Clapham Common, London. Sat 6 Dec 2014
Santas on Clapham Common at the South London start of
one of today's three long pre-Christmas crawls
Around a thousand people in Santa suits, along with the odd elf, reindeer
and other Christmas-themed costumes made a start to their day-long alcohol-fuelled
crawl through London which would eventually (with a little help from public
transport) take those still standing to meet up with the two other groups
on similar treks from East and North London at Hyde Park or Marble Arch in
the early evening.
Lewisham Housing Action
Lewisham Council Offices, Catford, London. Thu 4 Dec 2014
CIS Security guards get over-physical stopping Lewisham residents entering
the council offices
Protesters at Lewisham council condemned the large developments of flats
for buy-to-let companies and speculators with only a handful for local residents
in need, despite a waiting list of 17,000 and 500 families in emergency B&B
When I arrived, a group of around 20 protesters were standing outside the
council offices in the light rain with banners and placards and were handing
out leaflets calling for housing to meet the desperate local needs. They asked
for someone from the council to come out and talk with them, but no one was
prepared to do so.
A few protesters including women with children in prams went inside the offices,
but when more tried to follow them they were stopped and pushed back by security
guards. They tried to insist that as Lewisham residents they have a right
to enter their council offices and the guards response was to deny them entry
and push them back roughly when they tried to enter. Scuffles continued for
several minutes in the doorway, with the protesters asking the guards to call
the police rather than attack residents.
A woman from the council came to tell the protesters they could not protest
inside but were welcome to continue their protest outside, and was met with
the same argument. The police didn't turn up while I was there, but in similar
events elsewhere have told security they should not stop residents entering
council offices. The protesters stopped trying to enter after they were assured
that a small group would be admitted to meet with people from the Housing
department and discuss the problems.
The protest continued with a few people inside and the majority outside.
Although the action by security had prevented access by anyone for a few minutes,
the protesters were careful not to stop anyone from entering or leaving the
The protesters included members of sang a number of appropriate songs outside
the building including one with a verse "With thousands sleeping
rough tonight, While buildings lie empty and warm, Housing is a human right,
Let's solve it for ourselves one and all". Among the placards about
the housing situation in the London Borough of Lewisham were '6 Council
Homes Being Built', '17000 Waiting for Homes' and '500 Families
in B+Bs' posters and the main banner was 'Homes For People Not for Profit'.
Students Occupy Universities UK
Woburn House, Tavistock Square, London. Wed 3 Dec 2014
Students already inside welcome those from UCL, while
staff try to keep them out
Students marched from SOAS into Woburn House, for a discussion in Universities
UK of the increasing marketisation of universities, the proliferation of senior
management, exploitation of graduate students, high course fees & low
paid contract staff.
I met the students just as they were setting off from SOAS and walked with
them as they marched to an unspecified location behind a Microsoft 'Internal
Error' banner with the message 'Marketisation Programme has crashed education'
and offering two buttons, 'Free Education' or 'Business as usual'. A second
banner, behind the samba band carried the text 'Liberate Education - for a
more just and equal society'.
As we made our way through Tavistock Square it became clear that we were
heading for the offices of Universities UK, a group which lobbies
on behalf of all 133 UK universities, university colleges and colleges of
higher education and which has played a leading role in demanding higher student
fees and encouraging a market-led higher education sector.
Students pushed past a couple of security guards on the door and made their
way into the foyer, a large mainly empty area with a reception desk at one
side. The main activity which they disturbed there appeared to be the putting
up of Christmas decorations on a large tree, and the students were careful
not to disturb this or the boxes of decorations laid out on a table next to
They threw large bundles of fake money into the air and sat down in a circle
around where they landed on the floor. The pink, white, yellow and green 'Universites
UK' bank notes all carried the same message. On one side the average student
debt of £44,000 and on the reverse a message headed 'The UK's (fees)
system must change' calling for an end to the marketisation of education and
pension cuts and 'Yes to education for all!'.
There was then some debate about what they intended to do, and in particular
how to behave if police came to evict them, with a demonstration of the advantages
of going limp should they be carried out. It seemed to be clear that that
any resistance should be non-violent and passive.
The discussion moved on to one about education, to the background of a loud
beat from the samba band who were playing outside the windows onto Upper Woburn
Place to draw attention to the occupation. It was interrupted by the arrival
outside of the chain gang from UCL in Tavistock Square, and people rushed
to the windows to greet them. After a few minutes they decided to make their
way inside, and there were a few minutes of chaos as three Universities UK
security staff attempted to prevent them coming through the sliding doors,
while students inside and outside attempted to open the doors. It was a very
restrained confrontation, with both students and security avoiding body contact
as they struggled with the doors, and ended when a manager called the secuirty
guards to move away for safety reasons.
The students outside came in to join the occupation. After a few minutes
I left to go elsewhere as the doors were now left open. As I walked away,
a police car arrived with sirens screaming and I ran back as two officers
emerged and tried to enter the building, only to find the main doors were
held shut by the students inside.
More police arrived, and students began to carefully pile up tables and chairs
to block the main entrance. It seemed likely that the police would in time
discover the other entrance to the building and come in to evict the students,
but I didn't stay to watch.
Student bodies spell out 'NO FEES'
UCL, London. Wed 3 Dec 2014
Students lie down to spell out 'NO FEES' in UCL Main
On the National Day of Action against Fees and Cuts, students lay down
in UCL Main Quad to spell out the message 'NO FEES' before forming into a
chain gang and marching around college calling for an end to tuition fees
and for justice and democracy in education.
As well as high fees for undergraduate courses, the fees for Masters are
staggering, with some courses at UCL costing £23,000 - and almost double
for international students, with no consistent financial support.
Postgraduate teaching assistants who provide much of the teaching in our
universities are ruthlessly exploited at UCL and elsewhere, with low rates
of pay that do not reflect the hours they have to work, often on zero hours
contracts. Many are joining together in the 'Fair Play for TAs' campaign.
Students everywhere have problems with accomodation, but these are particularly
severe in London where housing costs generally are extremely high. The rents
in halls of residence (which are increasingly becoming privatised) have increased
far more than loans and stipends, and conditions are worsening. At UCL some
students were without hot water and heating for two days and UCL has refused
I watched the students as the lay down on the tarmac in the main quad to
spell out their message, and there was a brief introduction to the afternoon's
protest which was to take them around the campus, with most of them chained
together by plastic chains in a 'chain gang'. I left them as they went into
an adminstration block, meeting up with them again later in the afternoon
at Universities UK.
Russell Brand marches with New Era
Berkeley Sq to Downing St, London. Mon 1 Jan 2014
Brand and NewEra4All co-founder Lindsey Garrett lead the march
Russell Brand marched with New Era estate tenants from the offices of the
new US owners who want to evict them, refurbish and charge four times the
current rents of their Hoxton homes. With several hundred supporters they
carried a petition with 293,366 signatures to Downing St.
The New Estate was built as a philanthropic venture in 1933-4 by philanthropist
and property developer Arthur Barsht, who died while it was still being built.
It was inherited by his wife, and then his two daughters and then until the
sale in 2014 was owned by his grandson and granddaughter, who
The estate, in 13 blocks had 12 shops and 96 flats and the rents were deliberately
kept well below market rates to provide housing for local low-income workers
in teaching, health and construction. 84 flats are on Assured Shorthold tenancies
and 12 are still on regulated tenancies protected under the 1977 Rent Act.
Average rents for the AST flats at £133 pw (1 bed), £150 pw (2
bed) and £163 per week (3 bed) are far below current market rents in
the area, just a mile and a half north of the City of London. The sale prospectus
issued when the grandchildren of Barsht decided to sell the estate described
it as "offering extensive refurbishment / extension and redevelopment
opportunities" and stated that the gross current income was "£754,098
per annum with the opportunity to substantially increase rents through asset
management" and suggested it would be possible "to undertake
a significant upgrade of the property" to increase the income.
When the residents heard after the sale of the estate that their rents were
to increase by a factor of four or more, they began to organise to fight the
increase. The publicity their fight generated made one of the new owners,
Benyon Estates owned by billionaire Tory MP Richard Benyon decide to pull
out, leaving the US company Westbrook in charge. They reneged on
promises to the tenants and told them they were to be evicted by Christmas.
The residents stepped up their campaign and got the support of Russell Brand
who lives not far away, as well as others including their local MP, Hackney
Council and London mayor B Johnson, as well as many groups on the left including
There was a largish crowd already present outside the office building in
Berkeley Square where Westbrook have their London offices when I arrived a
few minutes before protesters had been expected to arrive, and this slowly
grew in the half hour or so before two coaches arrived with residents from
the New Era Estate and Russell Brand. There were some short speeches outside
the Westbrook offices, including by NewEra4All co-founder Lindsey Garrett
(with some prompting by Brand) before the march took off for Downing St, led
by Brand, Garrett and others carrying the boxes containing the signed petition.
The march halted briefly when it reached Piccadilly, with the police wanting
it to go towards Hyde Park Corner, but Brand and the other leaders decided
to go the more direct route, turning up Piccadilly and then going down St
James's Sy and Pall Mall to Trafalgar Square and Whitehall. The marchers then
went into the area opposite Downing St, while Brand., Garrett and a group
of other residents took the petition into Downing St. I decided not to go
in with them and went home.
Some days afterwards it was announced that Westbrook had sold the estate
to the Dolphin Living, part of the Dolphin Square Foundation, which describes
itself as "an independent affordable housing provider and developer".
The foundation had its genesis in some very dodgy dealing by Westbrook over
the sale of Dolphin Square in Pimlico, which involved Westbrook setting up
625 Jersey based companies to successfully abuse the Leasehold Reform Act
to gain the freehold, with the profits of this sale being used to set up the
Dolphin Square Foundation.
Although Dolphin have offered New Era tenants a short term rent freeze, if
it treats the estate in line with its other properties, they are likely to
see very significant rent rises in the next 18 months, perhaps to double the
existing levels, which would still only be perhaps only around three-quarters
of the 'market rate'. Dolphin are not a social landlard, and any new tenancies
in the estate are likely to be at the market rate for the area, so London
will lose yet more of its vital social housing.
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