Social housing not social cleansing: the theatre group touring London estates to resist evictions

Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.

January 30, 2017
6 min read

An all-female theatre group has been touring their play across London housing estates facing demolition. Rather than stick to the confines of a traditional theatre space, You should see they other guy have held performances of Land of the three towers at estates in Newham, Brixton and South Kensington to draw attention to housing struggles at these sites and encourage audiences to fight for “social housing not social cleansing.”

Land of the three towers tells the story of the Focus E15 campaign, a group of young mums who in 2014 faced eviction from their hostel in Newham and relocation outside of London. Instead of accepting this fate, they occupied four council flats on the Carpenters estate in Newham. The estate was earmarked for demolition, yet had lain empty for years so the Focus E15 mums called for the homes to be repopulated.

While the play concentrates on the Focus E15 campaign, directors Emer and Nina recognised that their story would resonate with communities facing housing struggles. Housing estate regeneration is set to lead to the loss of over 7,000 social homes in London despite the chronically short supply of social housing in the capital. Councils are also likely to be forced to sell-off even more high value social housing to fund extensions to the right to buy scheme. Yet in the midst of the housing crisis the Focus E15 mums won a rare victory and persuaded Newham council to house 40 families on the abandoned Carpenters estate.

“Even though the council pulled lots of really horrendous dirty tactics, Focus took matters into their own hands, they changed things”

“The Focus E15 mums’ occupation and all their other actions have been incredibly celebratory,” Emer explains. “Their story goes to show that if you’re angry about housing evictions you can do something about it.”

Emer and Nina were conscious to get across the fact that the focus E15 mums were not seasoned activists and had never taken part in direct actions before they were served eviction notices from their hostel. “I think maybe the most important line of the play is at the end, when someone says ‘We didn’t know what we were doing, we’ve never done this before,'” Nina says. “And I think that is the point, even though the council pulled lots of really horrendous dirty tactics – they turned off the water in the flat and took the mums to court twice – Focus took matters into their own hands, they changed things.”

To reflect the celebratory nature of the Focus E15 occupation, Land of the Three Towers is punctuated with songs and tongue-in-cheek lyrics such as “sorry to be cruel but we’ve got luxury flats to build.” There are many humorous moments in play and a particular highlight is the inclusion of a suit wearing sock puppet to depict the Mayor of Newham. The performance spaces on the estates were decorated with bunting and colourful banners baring slogans such as “This is the beginning of the end of the housing crisis” and “Repopulate the Carpenters estate.”

At the same time Emer and Nina are aware of of their responsibility to accurately depict the events of the occupation. Emer has been an organiser with Focus E15 for nearly 3 years and Nina and several of the cast members assisted with the occupation. Other members of the cast are also young mothers and some have experienced homelessness. The play itself is verbatim and the script was created from the transcription of documentary footage of the Focus E15 occupation.

Cast members of Land of the three towers

By honestly relating Focus E15’s story to various audiences across different housing estates, Emer and Nina hope to inspire audiences to get involved in housing struggles in their own communities. Simply by drawing audiences to different estates, they were able to bring greater attention to campaigns against the demolition of these estates.“Lots of people had no idea what was going on at the estates” explains Emer. “They’ve been really surprised about Cressingham Gardens in Brixton for instance; it’s one of the most beautiful estates so it’s insane to think that it might be knocked down.”

To fulfil their dual role as both theatre-makers and activists, Emmer and Nina ran two workshops alongside the plays. “How we will resist” explored the tools that can be used by campaigns to stop buys offs, demolitions and evictions and “Art as Action” was a protest song workshop. The intention of the workshops was to connect different housing campaigns across London to share experiences and strategies.

Emer talks about the experience of one woman living on the Silchester estate, where the campaign against the demolition of the estate has only recently got underway: “She came to the the performance and workshop at Silchester in West London and felt really uplifted so the next day she came to the workshop at Cressingham to build those connections. It’s really great to see that because the Silchester campaign is quite isolated, most of London’s housing struggles are happening in the South and East.”

Emer and Nina are planning to continue holding performances of Land of the three towers and run accompanying workshops in order to further connect and support housing campaigns across London. As well as touring more estates, they are hoping to stage several ‘guerilla’ performances of the play after the success of their secret performance at Stratford shopping centre.

As an increasing number of people rely on social housing as the only truly affordable option in London, it is more vital than ever to fight against estate demolitions and social housing selloffs. Emer and Nina are determined to continue challenging the sense of despair surrounding the housing crisis and encourage communities to draw inspiration from the Focus E15 mums to defend social housing.

“Good art can really help encourage empathy and the understanding of an issue” Nina explains. “The housing crisis can just become a statistic and it’s important not to let the regeneration bullshit become the norm.”

Find out about future performances of Land of the three towers here.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill


54