Squatters fear council eviction

(This article was scheduled to be published via a local newspaper in November 2020 but it was not included. I decided to publish it here to highlight the importance of people’s stories.)

By Samantha Watson

Occupants of a community building wait nervously as Newham Council announced this month that they intend to evict them from their home. 

The building, formerly known as ‘Shed 22’, is home to 12 people who sought a safe place to stay and shield themselves from COVID-19.

Marla Sekulska, from Poland, who has lived in the UK for more than 10 years, moved into the community building in March at the height of the pandemic lockdown. 

The occupants, some of whom have underlying health conditions, currently feel secure, safe and part of the community.

Describing what it is like in the squat, Marla said: “The building is in good condition, solid condition, so no nightmares like leaking roofs or broken taps, or any of that kind of stuff. It’s quite safe and quiet.”

“I know that one day I’ll have to move out, it’s not mine. But the council is making mistakes,” she stressed. Marla claims that a fake demolition notice was left outside the building by the council as a way to scare them into leaving the building. 

In early October the charity Shelter called on the government to give councils guidance to ensure no one is at risk on the streets and that homeless people are supported during the lockdown. The squatters believe that Newham Council have not followed this guidance. They claim that two council officers handed them a sheet of paper with a telephone number for rough sleepers but no support or advice for alternative accommodation.

Michal, 38, believes that the eviction “is a waste of money, space, time for everyone”. He added: “The council should be working for the people and there are so many people on the streets, while there are so many empty houses.”

Speaking about the eviction, Karol, a carpenter who has lived in the UK for 13 years, said: “It feels bad as we have to keep thinking that we will have to move. Everyone is packing already. I care more about my friends, because together we can find a different building.”

“If they demolish it, they have to do something with it. It’s a big area and there is nothing for normal people but the council doesn’t want to invest in it,” Karol continued.

Health practitioner and community activist Truus Jansen has been campaigning on behalf of the occupants. She explained that local health practitioners had hoped to make the building a youth centre, believing that health would be at its core. However, once she discovered what the squatters were experiencing she wanted to support their efforts to remain until something was done about the building.

She said: “They were issued a five day interim possession order which meant they could be evicted at any time of the day but they could appeal. So we helped them write that appeal.”

The courts dismissed the appeal and issued a possession order. But Marla and her co-squatters were never handed an official eviction notification.

Marla is still concerned that she may lose her home. Discussing the impending eviction, she said: “We would find something. Thankfully we have sister squats around.”

Newham Council were approached on numerous occasions but they failed to comment.

Update:

On 17 November, Marla and her friends were evicted from the building by Newham Council. They have since found alternative accommodation in another borough.

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