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Coronavirus: ‘We’ll put up homeless singles on spare dockland’ says Tower Hamlets deputy mayor

PUBLISHED: 17:00 26 June 2020 | UPDATED: 18:07 26 June 2020

Tobacco Dock at Wapping... where Tower Hamlets Council would like to put up homless singles on any spare land. Picture: Google

Tobacco Dock at Wapping... where Tower Hamlets Council would like to put up homless singles on any spare land. Picture: Google

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Homeless single people could soon be put up in temporary “module shelters” on unused land in the London Docks in the wake of the Coronavirus emergency to get them off the streets permanently.

'Internet access for all' campaign goes online at Shadwell Responds UK Citizens assembly. Picture: Archant'Internet access for all' campaign goes online at Shadwell Responds UK Citizens assembly. Picture: Archant

Moves are being made by Tower Hamlets Council for “temporary use of land” at Tobacco Dock in Wapping, UK Citizens first-ever online “Shadwell responds” assembly heard yesterday.

The revelation came during the 90-minute link-up where two councillors and an MP were quizzed on issues about homelessness, free school meals in the summer holidays and lack of internet access for families on the poverty line.

Deputy mayor Rachael Blake was asked if pressure could be put on developers for an unused site at Tobacco Dock to be run for seven years as a temporary housing module.

“This presents a challenge,” she explained. “The land ownership is in private hands.

Community volunteers distribute food to families in need in Shadwell and Wapping during lockdown. Picture: UK CitizensCommunity volunteers distribute food to families in need in Shadwell and Wapping during lockdown. Picture: UK Citizens

“But we are looking into what use is planned for the site and work out what can be done for temporary modular housing.”

The assembly attracted groups such as neighbourhood organisations, schools, churches and mosques, with a minute’s silence for those who have died from Covid 19.

Isolation was a key issue at the assembly. Volunteers from St Paul’s Church had contacted schools to deliver computer tablets to children’s homes to get them linked up. The first batch was delivered to pupils from Shapla Primary last Friday.

St Paul’s also dipped into its hardship fund to help families struggling with bills.

Iceland supermarket in Shadwell... excluded from government's summer holiday free school meals voucher scheme. Picture: GoogleIceland supermarket in Shadwell... excluded from government's summer holiday free school meals voucher scheme. Picture: Google

A campaign was run by St George’s parishioners to get the Iceland budget supermarket in Watney Market included in the school summer holiday food voucher scheme to help those in need through the emergency. Iceland had been “frozen out” of the scheme, the assembly was told, as well as Lidl stores in Limehouse and Mile End.

Janet Hill from St Paul’s Primary revealed how the children made a “singing petition” to the government.

“We decided to act,” she told the assembly. “We wrote to the education secretary and made a video to send him.”

The petition reached the ears of Downing Street and adjustments were made, allowing schools to vary their own schemes and be compensated if they used budget stores that hadn’t been included.

But Tower Hamlets Cllr Mufeedah Bustin, newly appointed to the mayor’s cabinet, warned: “The voucher scheme is a challenge. The information so far is unsatisfactory. It’s not good enough. I share frustration of parents and will see what I can do.”

The assembly was joined online by Poplar and Limehouse MP Apsana Begum promising action when asked if she would lobby the government over budget supermarkets.

The system was “put together in crisis by civil servants and has ‘techie’ problems”, she explained. The “glitch” excludes some budget supermarkets.

She was also pressed on families to get access to the internet who can’t afford it. The MP pledged: “I plan to raise this during the Prime Minister’s Question Time. All families need access.”

But “internet for all” needs government funding, Cllr Bustin pointed out. The council was hoping to get £4m from Whitehall.

There was already a pilot project by East End Community Foundation for 10,000 low income families to have internet at home in the next two years, she revealed.

Neighbourhood assemblies run by UK Citizens are normally held at large venues, but have had to be switched online instead because of the lockdown emergency.

Organisations joining yesterday’s “Shadwell responds” assembly included St George-in-the-East, St Paul’s, St Mary’s, English Martyrs and E1 Community churches, Women 1200 and Open Table voluntary groups, Daral Ummah mosque, St George’s housing estate and St Paul’s and Shapla primary schools.


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