Newham migrants keep religious tradition alive

By Ryan Chua

A woman with a megaphone led hundreds of people in praying and singing as they marched around the streets of Forest Gate on Saturday afternoon. Dressed in colourful costumes, some of them held arches adorned with flowers, while others pushed forward floats carrying images of the Virgin Mary.

For the past 33 years, Filipino migrants in Newham have been holding the Santacruzan, a Catholic tradition celebrating St. Helena’s finding of the cross where Christ died.

Participants in the Santacruzan push forward a float carrying an image of the Virgin Mary, a major Catholic icon. PHOTO BY RYAN CHUA
Participants in the Santacruzan push forward a float carrying an image of the Virgin Mary, a major Catholic icon. PHOTO BY RYAN CHUA

Andy Andres, who came to Britain to work as a waiter, organised the first Santacruzan in East London in 1981.

“It’s one of the things that help relieve our homesickness,” he said.

Andres is thankful that Newham has always supported their tradition. The borough has one of the most ethnically diverse populations in London, and is home to many migrant communities.

“They allow us to use the community centres, the roads where we do the procession. Police escort us during the procession,” he said. “The community is supportive.”

The parade’s main character is Reyna (Queen) Elena, a young woman representing St. Helena. Her escort is a boy portraying Helena’s son Constantine the Great, who was said to have defeated the Roman Army at war when he used the cross as his battle insignia.

The parade culminates in prayer as the Reyna Elena puts a crown on an image of the Virgin Mary.
The parade culminates in prayer as the Reyna Elena puts a crown on an image of the Virgin Mary. PHOTO BY RYAN CHUA

The Santacruzan is held in May all over the Philippines, a country where majority are Catholics.

Some 300,000 Filipinos live in Britain, and many of them work for the National Health Service.

“It is important for us to continue our tradition in the Philippines even if we are in another country,” said Eric Tomandao, who organised this year’s procession. “It’s about our love for Mama Mary and our belief in God.”


What to do in Newham this week?

By Aia Helena Brnic

Laughing Boy Comedy Club

Saturday, 7 June at 8pm

Stratford Circus

Tickets: £8.00 – £12.00

Stratford Circus is hosting Laughing Boy Comedy Club on Saturday, with a line up including  Katherine Ryan (Live At The Apollo),  Rob Beckett  (8 Out Of 10 Cats), Romesh  Ranganathan (Stand Up For The Week), Ivo Graham  (Edinburgh Comedy Festival Live) and Marlon Davis  (Edinburgh Comedy Festival Live).


Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be

Until Sunday, 8 June

Theatre Royal Stratford East

Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be is a musical set within a West End underworld of gamblers, spivs, prostitutes and Teddy boys. Written by ex-con Frank Norman, the show tells the tale of Fred, a loveable rogue, who comes out of prison to find he is not quite the king of the manor he once was.


Quincy’s Comedy Lounge

Sunday, 8 June at 8pm

Stratford Circus

Tickets: £10.00 – £12.50

Star of MTV’s ‘Kojo’s Comedy Funhouse’, friendly, laidback comic Quincy hosts this night of stand-up and sketches from special guests, plus a house band. Do you remember when there were only three TV channels and when the funniest show on any of them was Only Fools and Horses? Can you cast your memory back to a time before the bedroom tax and when the Lottery was called the Pools…? Whatever your age get your back-in-the-day fix here – it’s going to be a great night out!! (Source: Stratford Circus)

Mayor of Newham announces Cabinet


Newly re-elected Mayor of Newham, Sir Richard Wales, announce Cabinet. Photo credit: WorldSkills

By Magnus Barsoe

Sir Robin Wales, the newly re-elected Mayor of Newham from Labour, has announced a new Cabinet for the coming term.

Lester Hudson, who has represented the ward of Wall End since 2006, takes up the position as Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Finance, Regeneration and Planning.

“The people of Newham have put their trust in us for the next four years, based on our manifesto promises to improve lives in Newham, continue to drive the borough forward and stand up for our residents,” Sir Robin Wales said in a statement.

“I am pleased to be able to announce a new Cabinet and wider group of men and women with the experience, vision and drive to deliver that manifesto.”

He added that the team will help “make Newham a better place for everyone”.

“We will seek to give every child in Newham the best start in life, create job opportunities, support hard working families in these tough economic times and make Newham a place where people choose to live, work and stay.”

Labour won all 60 council seats and Sir Robin Wales clinched his fourth term win 61.18 per cent of the votes.

The Mayor’s Cabinet will now comprise of:

  • Councillor Lester Hudson, Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Finance, Regeneration and Planning
  • Councillor Frances Clarke, Cabinet Member for Financial Inclusion and Health Promotion
  • Councillor Ken Clark, Cabinet Member for Building Communities and Public Affairs
  • Councillor Ellie Robinson, Cabinet Member for oneSource and Deputy Cabinet Lead for Building Communities
  • Councillor Forhad Hussain, Cabinet Member for Commercial Opportunities, Deputy Cabinet Lead for Building Communities and Community Lead for Plaistow
  • Councillor Jo Corbett, Cabinet Member for Equalities
  • Councillor Quintin Peppiatt, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People (including Children’s Safeguarding)
  • Councillor Lakmini Shah, Deputy Cabinet Lead for Children’s Safeguarding and Community Lead for East Ham
  • Councillor Unmesh Desai, Cabinet Member for Crime and Anti Social Behaviour

The Mayor will also be supported by a wider group of Mayoral advisers:

  • Councillor Alec Kellaway, Finance (Deputy)
  • Councillor Andrew Baikie, Housing
  • Councillor Ayesha Chowdhury, Community Lead for Beckton
  • Councillor Clive Furness, Adults and Health
  • Councillor David Christie, Small Business Programme and Local Enterprises
  • Councillor Hanif Abdulmuhit, Community Lead for Green Street
  • Councillor Ian Corbett, Environment and Leisure
  • Councillor Idris Ibrahim, Community Lead for Custom House & Canning Town
  • Councillor Joy Laguda, Adults’ Safeguarding
  • Councillor Lakmini Shah, Community Lead for East Ham
  • Councillor Masihullah Patel, Community Lead for Stratford and West Ham
  • Councillor Patrick Murphy, Community Lead for Royal Docks
  • Councillor Rohima Rahman, Community Lead for Forest Gate
  • Councillor Richard Crawford, Resident Experience
  • Councillor Salim Patel, Community Lead for Manor Park
  • Councillor Terry Paul, Skills and Adult Learning


Luxury hotel yacht Sunborn to open its doors in June

Sunborn London at Royal Victoria Dock (Photo: Nigel Cox)
Sunborn London at Royal Victoria Dock (Photo: Nigel Cox)


By  Aia Helena Brnic

Sunborn London, the capital’s first luxury yacht hotel will open in June at Royal Victoria Dock. The 120m-long and 16m-high boat has arrived at its permanent mooring at the beginning of the month.

“The east is growing and we have City Airport on our doorstep and then Stratford, Westfield and the Olympic Park so we are surrounded by great landmarks,” marketing manager Michael O’Brien told the Newham Recorder.

The yacht will also contribute to the local economy by creating 80 new full-time jobs. Over half of the staff lives in Newham.

The hotel was to open at the beginning of May, but delays in constructions postponed the opening for more than a month.

Located 6km from the London City Airport, the hotel is set to attract business clientele. It features 136 rooms, some of which include private balconies, saunas and spas.

“We are looking forward to the arrival of the Sunborn Yacht Hotel to ExCeL London and further adding to our world class infrastructure and facilities,” said David Pegler, chief executive of ExCel London.

“Utilising the water with a floating hotel links back to the heritage of London’s Royal Docks with the new cargo being people and services, and boosting job creation and transactions as the docks did in their heyday.”

(UPDATED) Housing woes hound Newham

Labour-led council blames Conservative government for housing troubles

by Ryan Chua

“Spare me a change, please.”

Wandering aimlessly around Stratford all day, Trevor Copland tells these words to almost everyone he meets along the way. Sometimes people would hand him a few pence; often he’d just get ignored.

Homeless and without a family, Trevor Copland wanders around Stratford all day to beg for money. PHOTO BY RYAN CHUA.
Homeless and without a family, Trevor Copland wanders around Stratford all day to beg for money. PHOTO BY RYAN CHUA.

Trevor has been homeless for over a year after getting released from prison. When he was jailed for theft, he said his family also left him.

At night, he sleeps either on the street or inside a mall that opens its doors to the homeless.

“I hate it because I’ve got to keep going begging, begging, begging so I’ve got to survive. I’ve got to beg to survive to eat,” Trevor said. “It upsets me because I don’t like begging, but I’ve got to beg. I don’t want to go out and thieve because I’ll end up in jail again.”

Trevor has applied for subsidised accommodation from Newham’s council, but he is still on the waiting list. He said the agonising wait has made him attempt to end is own life several times.

“I self-harm. I cut myself because I’m so down,” he said nonchalantly. “I went to jump off the bridge and the police stopped me.”

Some 23,000 households and individuals like Trevor are on Newham’s council housing waiting list. Newham’s council said its priority is to make sure all its residents have access to decent accommodation.

But the Labour-led council blamed the Conservative national government for its housing woes.

“Government cuts to housing benefit have drastically reduced the number of properties available to families claiming housing benefit with parts of the capital unaffordable to many. This has caused an influx of people moving to Newham from other parts of London restricting the number of properties available for our residents,” the council said in a statement.

“The Government’s welfare reforms are making this increasingly difficult and we have made clear to them in numerous occasions that their harsh changes will have a negative impact on our poorest and most vulnerable residents.”

However, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) defended the welfare cuts as needed to restore fairness in the system and to support the government’s long term economic plan.

Referring to the removal of the spare room subsidy in particular, the DWP said it was unfair for taxpayers to pay for social housing tenants’ spare bedrooms when some 300,000 people in Britain were living in overcrowded homes.

“Those reforms were necessary in order to end the unfair situation whereby the taxpayer was paying for people to live in properties that were bigger than they needed,” the DWP said in an e-mail to the Newham Mirror.

One Saturday, Trevor met people who also have housing problems at a weekly demonstration organised by the Focus E15 movement, a group of mothers who have been evicted from a hostel providing temporary housing.

One of them, Samantha Middleton, currently lives in a private rented flat with a fixed six-month contract.

Although living on benefits, she finds the rent very expensive and is anxious about having to move to another place when the contract ends.

“In about six or seven months’ time, me, myself, I’m gonna have to go through this process all again of basically going back down to the house and saying I’m homeless, I’m this, I’m that. And there could be a possibility of us moving out of London,” Samantha said.

Residents complaining of the housing problem in the borough found their voice on a “story board,” where they wrote about their situations. The complaints, mostly from residents who just happened to pass by the demonstration, were varied, ranging from waiting more than a decade to get into a council house to sharing a flat with one toilet with 10 people.

Every Saturday, a large piece of white cloth called the "story board" gets filled up with stories from residents complaining of the housing situation in Newham. PHOTO BY RYAN CHUA.
Every Saturday, a large piece of white cloth called the “story board” gets filled up with stories from residents complaining of the housing situation in Newham. PHOTO BY RYAN CHUA.

The current average house price in Newham is still among the cheapest in London at £247,418, but it is 8 per cent higher than last year’s, according to data from LSL Property Services.

“Privatisation has been creeping in,” Hannah Caller of the Revolutionary Communist Group, a movement campaigning for better housing in the borough, said. “Now, there is no council housing. Lots of council housing is boarded up, and people are forced into the private sector, which is out of their reach.”

She also believes both council and government are to blame.

“It’s always easy for councils to blame the government,” she said. “It’s a Labour council … and the Tories are in power. But when Labour was in power, it was no different.”

While acknowledging that Newham faces a “shortage of affordable, suitable accommodation,” the council said it has been doing everything to assist residents.

“We have contacted every affected household to offer help where we can. This help includes support into employment via our Workplace scheme and working with landlords to help residents secure accommodation in the private sector,” the council said in a statement.

“Sadly there is only so much we can do.”

For Trevor, however, these words are meaningless until he finds himself no longer sleeping on the streets and begging.

Stratford Centre After Dark

Text, videos, and editing by Ryan Chua

The shops and stalls may all be closed, but Stratford Centre never sleeps at night. When darkness falls, music blares from loudspeakers as dancers and skaters turn the mall into a  party scene. It also becomes home to Stratford’s homeless.

Watch this video:

Newham voters rallied behind Labour at European elections

By Magnus Barsøe

Voters in Newham rallied behind Labour at the European Parliament election Thursday giving the party the best result in all London’s 33 boroughs.

Nearly six out of ten voted Labour in Newham. The Conservative Party was a far behind second with 16.6 per cent.

Ukip, who won a landslide victory nationally, received only 8.3 per cent of the vote, one of the lowest backings in all of London.

Voters cast 74,565 valid ballots in Newham.

Hackney and Tower Hamlets are two other bastions for Labour in the capital. The party got 54 per cent of the vote in both boroughs.

Labour voting results european parliament elections 2014 LondonThe figures from the European election released late Sunday caps off a series of strong Labour results at all three of last week’s elections.

The party’s candidate for Mayor, Sir Richard Wales, retained his seat in a comfortable victory and the party swept through all wards capturing all 60 council seats.

Labour gain in London

Overall, 36.7 per cent of Londoners supported the centre-left party compared to 21.3% at the last election in 2009.

The Conservatives went five per cent down to 22.5%. Locally, the party performed worst in Barking and Dagenham but dominated in Kensington and Chelsea where 42% voted conservative.

Nigel Farage’s anti-establishment party, Ukip, came in third with 16.9%, which is a significant increase from 10.8% five years ago. Ukip’s strongest result came in Havering where they got 44%.

London elected eight mandates for the 766-seat European Parliament. The term lasts five years.

Conservative voting results european parliament elections 2014 LondonUkip voting results european parliament elections 2014 London

The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park: Looking to the future

by Ryan Chua

Children bathe at the park's ground-level fountain. PHOTO BY RYAN CHUA.
Children bathe at the park’s ground-level fountain. PHOTO BY RYAN CHUA.

Children run and scream in delight as water gushes out of a ground-level fountain, getting wet while their families and friends rush to capture the moment on camera. Around them, runners in sports attires try to beat each other in a tight race along the parklands. All over the park, people are either comfortably seated or lying on the grass, some eating and enjoying hearty conversations, others bathing in sunlight.

Families enjoy a sunny day at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. PHOTO BY RYAN CHUA.
Families enjoy a sunny day at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. PHOTO BY RYAN CHUA.

It’s a sunny day at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, a 560-acre area that now stands as a symbol of progress and regeneration in East London with thousands of visitors every day. Since the 2012 Olympics, the park has been undergoing continuous development, and its main attractions are gradually being opened to visitors. Aside from the Olympic Stadium, one of its key attractions is the ArcelorMittal Orbit, which opened in April 2014. Designed by renowned artist Sir Anish Kapoor, the 114.5-meter tower has observation decks that offer a stunning view of London’s skyline.

The ArcelorMittal Orbit, which opened last April, is considered the UK’s tallest sculpture. PHOTO BY RYAN CHUA.
The ArcelorMittal Orbit, which opened last April, is considered the UK’s tallest sculpture. PHOTO BY RYAN CHUA.

The park’s developers hope the park would make an impact on East London’s economy by attracting more tourists and creating jobs. “You could imagine that it’s being extremely attractive for a range of commercial developments,” said Neale Coleman, deputy director of the London Legacy Development Corporation. “We think that in the right way, with the right partners, and with the right support, that could make a very big economic impact.” And this is just the beginning. Here is a 45-second video by the London Legacy Development Corporation showing how the park could look like 16 years into the future: What are your favourite parts of the park? Any suggestions for improvement? We would like to hear your comments.

London City Airport voted into the top ten most scenic airport approaches

View from the London City Airport (Photo: shirokazan)
View from the London City Airport (Photo: shirokazan)


By Aia Helena Brnic

London City Airport has found itself in a company of top ten airports in the world with most stunning landscape views at landing. The airport scored the ninth place on the list.

The shortlist of airports was selected by an expert judging panel, but the list of the best ten airports was then voted in passengers’ poll by Private Fly jet booking service.

“When I fly to and from London City Airport, I always wish to take off to the west and land from the west as the views of London and Canary Wharf are truly spectacular and amazing. It’s such a treat to enjoy this at the beginning or end of a flight,” said one of the voters.

“A happy view of home when I return to London, with a good eye-full of all its loveliest landmarks,” said Francisca Kellet, Tatler Travel Editor.

Murdo Morrison from Flight International, said: “Plunging down in front of the towers of Canary Wharf and into the heart of London’s financial hub really makes you feel like a master of the universe.”

Nice Côte D’Azur Airport won the top spot. Los Angeles International Airport, Barra Airport in Scotland, Queenstown Airport and Aruba Queen Beatrix International Airport also figure on the list.

Newham voters urge mayor to fight for ‘more jobs’

By Magnus Barsøe

Sir Robin Wales from Labour fended off opponents to clinch a fourth term as Mayor of Newham thursday.

The incumbent mayor since 2002 got 47,095 votes or 61.18 per cent of all the valid votes. Stefan Mrozinski (Conservative) came in second with 13,976 votes. David Mears (Ukip) was third with 4,960 votes.

Labour also retained control of Newham Council as the party won all 60 seats.

Voters urge the re-elected mayor of the Labour stronghold to create more jobs.

“We need more jobs around here. There are a lot of people unemployed,” said Carl Hammond, 35, a Labour supporter who voted for Sir Robin Wales.

One in ten in Newham is unemployed. Photo: Magnus Barsøe

Nearly one out of ten in Newham is without a job. That’s one of the highest unemployment rates amongst the London boroughs.

Hammond has been unemployed for little more than a year.

“A lot of new houses are being developed but there are also many stores closing down,” he says pointing towards a yellow corner building where Relief Fund for Romania, a charity, used to a have shop.

An office for Relief for Romania, a charity on Barking Road, recently closed down. Photo: Magnus Barsøe

“If he [Robin Wales] could work on the house prices, too, that would be good. Everything around here is going up and up.” George, 32, who has lived in Newham for 21 years, said: ”I’m on the dole like everyone else around here. It’s not pleasant, but I’m getting by.”

A solid Labour supporter for years, he feels disappointed by politicians who, in his view, haven’t done enough to create jobs and provide cheap housing.

“It’s overcrowded, no housing and not enough work.”

News and local stories from Newham