Sep 292014

Outside the E15 Squatted Social Centre

“Did you hear the water’s been cut off?”
“Newham Council say it wasn’t them, but they were photographed out there with their van. They have broken the water mains”

This was the news I was met with when I arrived yesterday to visit the E15 Mums in a squatted social centre in the Carpenters Estate, Newham. Sprawling onto the streets is a hive of activities: kids painting, a free shop, free food and banners that read ‘social housing not social cleansing’. People are chatting, planning meetings, attending workshops, playing guitars and discussing community issues. Why would the local council try to sabotage a property occupied by a community of vulnerable single mothers?

Last week the E15 Mums squatted some homes that had been left empty by the council for up to eight years. They live in a hostel which is being closed down to make way for one of the many luxury high rise developments springing up in the area as part of the ‘Olympic Legacy’ (aka giant corporate land grab). Excuse the emotive language, I’m being

One of thousands of decent homes left empty in Newham

unfair – there is some provision in the developments for existing residents in Newham (one of the poorest corners of Europe)… it’s not “social housing”, granted but it is “affordable housing” only 80% of market rate! Now you can’t say fairer than that… No you cant… now move to Birmingham, or Manchester.

The hostel residents are being relocated out of London one-by-one so they don’t get together and kick up a stink. Some have ended up on the streets. Many are there because they are fleeing domestic violence or are very young Mums. They don’t have family networks to support them. They are each other’s lifeline and their fragile community is being broken up. Or is it?

The Mums saw that their estate was being purposefully turned into a ghost town by the Council. They saw how thousands of perfectly good properties were being left empty (often with windows left open to accelerate weather damage) to justify demolition and sell off. So they went into a semi detached house and squatted it.

This is a brave move. It is a residential property, so they are now committing a criminal, rather than civil offence under new squatting legislation (one of the Tories’ latest acts of compassion). The E15 Mums desperation could land them in jail.

No wonder they had their water cut off! Not only are they single mums they are also now squatters! Why should they be afforded basic human rights like a temporary shelter or access to water? I guess I should hate these people, but try as I might, I just can’t.

One mother told me she had been moved into temporary private rented accommodation that costs £900 a month (for which she is being supported by Housing Benefit). She is trying to skill herself by doing an apprenticeship, but that only brings in £400 p/month.

“What can I do? If I’m on twelve month contract and I’m forced to move every twelve months that means I have to pull

Dirty squatter! Throw them in jail!

my daughter out of school. Then she doesn’t get a proper education, and then she can’t get a job and the whole vicious cycle keeps repeating!”

Danny Dorling, in his landmark book about the Housing Crisis, ‘All that is Solid’ (2014) demonstrates how housing benefit is effectively the tax payer being used to subsidise the private sector by covering grossly inflated rent prices. Clever work private sector! There is no public housing left because you bought it all!

Dorling also describes squatting as ‘entrepreneurial’. Is that not what these mothers are? Are they not finding their own solution to the crisis in affordable housing by taking direct action to provide for themselves and their family? So why has the Newham Mayor, Robin Wales, attacked what they’re doing as “disgusting”, saying it’s not his fault if they can’t afford to live in Newham? Would that not mean the only qualification for you being able to live in an area is a financial one?

Surely not, that would mean that the rich from around the world could just buy up thousands of properties as market

When people get shut out...

investments and leave them empty, making hundreds of thousands homeless. He can’t mean that. He wouldn’t say that working class families who’s families are here, who’s children are being schooled here, who’s grandparents were sent to fight fascism (in disproportionate numbers from Newham) who’s grandparents were brought from the West Indies to rebuild the borough after the War, have no right to be here. The Mayor cant mean that. He is a labour man after all.

I work in a primary school around the corner as a part time spoken word educator. I’m quickly learning that I’m surrounded by spoken word experts. There are speakers of over one hundred languages in Curwen Primary School. Newham is one of the world’s most diverse boroughs in the world. Its cultural capital is immense. I know! Lets destroy its communities and bleach the area with more unaffordable gated communities for white, middle class, privately educated professionals! That’s what has made London the cultural capital of the world. That’s what we need more of!

Show your solidarity with the E15 Mums who have captured the nations imagination and shown that laws and developments to benefit private wealth become meaningless when we take direct action, working together in solidarity.

– Visit them, bring, clothes, food, bottled water
– Share their action online @FocusE15 #E15SocialCentre
– Complain to and disgrace the Newham Mayor @NewhamMayor @NewhamLondon and Council
– Occupy a long term empty building and use it house people provide a space to about housing.

Having been shut out of dialogue with the Mayor some mothers went to embarrass him and were met with a violent reaction from him

Sep 012014


Occupy London Environment Group




Tour Dates 2014



‘Poetry’s answer to Mark Thomas…expert performance skills…able to make the depressing enjoyable.’


‘Timely, funny, intelligent, refreshingly angry and often moving. A professional show from a real activist, not just a show about them. Pete The Temp versus Climate Change has us leave the theatre wanting change – and feeling there is serious fun to be had by joining those making it happen.’

[Cockpit Theatre]

‘Poetry and politics have been estranged for a decade or two, but Pete Bearder has persuaded them to share a bed once again. He’s a man on a mission – and with a just cause and a cannonade of verbally astute poems, how can he fail? His show ‘Pete the Temp Verses Climate Change’ is informative, fun and inspiring.’

[Apples and Snakes]


About the show:

Pete the Temp is a poet, a lover and a damn fine administrator! Watch him solve the climate change using only his mouth!

In this multimedia, theatrical, stand up poetry show, Pete tells the story of some of the sticky situations he gets into on his quest to stop climate chaos. Will he succeed? A personal tale of temp jobs, bank sieges, oil orgies and arrest.

Mr The Temp has featured on BBC Newsnight, Wold Service and Radio 4. He is the former Hammer & Tongue National Poetry Slam Champion on BBC Radio 4 South of England Slam Winner.

Produced by – renaissance one

Dramaturgical support and outside eye – Leo Kay

Extra Direction – Simon Munnery


Jul 292014

Vacuous advertising?

‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty – That is all

Ye know on earth and all ye need to know’

(John Keats)



It is truly easy to find beauty in language. Advertising executives know this better than anyone. They have found out that techniques of allusion, metaphor and veiled suggestion can be used to infiltrate our desire. They have worked out how to join this with musical poetic devices like rhythm, alliteration, assonance and rhyme, to make us remember and repeat what they say. They know that poetry is great for creating associations and linking up different bits of the universe in peoples’ minds. They make poetry that is ‘multi modal’, meshing poetic elements with other mediums collaboratively to create intense desire and emotion within very short spaces of time. Shit. Can anyone truthfully claim they have not been moved and influenced by them?

Is it Art?

Saying one thing is ‘art’ and another is not is always dangerous territory. One of the reasons that most people believe that poetry doesn’t belong to them is because our educational and cultural institutional have traditionally told everyone that the ‘British Canon’ should be studied and (if creative practice ever came into it) emulated.  Many of those who are held up as ‘our’ great poets often belong to a different era, class, race, culture and cosmology to modern Britain, with all its shades, tongues and tastes. Most of our most celebrated poets have almost unrecognisable dialects and cultural references to the students I have been teaching in East London this last year in my position as a full time, embedded, Spoken

Vladamir Mayakovsky

Word Educator.

There is no qualitative difference between the slogans and cartoons that poet Vladimir Mayakovsky banged out for the Bolshevic propaganda effort and modern cereal boxes artwork.

Now in Hackney, trendy cafes can be seen adorned by 1950’s Hollywood posters and 1920’s grocery advertising.


Poetry for poetry’s sake

Poetry for poetry’s sake is a small part of our innate human capacity to use language beautifully, creatively, musically and metaphorically. Poetry (whatever that is) can be playful and throw-away, like Lewis Carol, Roald Dahl or John Hegley, epic like Dante, and esoteric like T.S Elliot. It can be yelled at an audience of thousands of festival munters, or cryptically encoded like a crossword. It can be written on a toilet door, whispered in a moment of post coital improvisation or spray painted onto a bridge.  Indeed, there are so many manifestations and features to this art form that few people can agree on what it is.  One thing is certain – it doesn’t belong to ‘poets’.

Sometimes poetry sells play play-doh, banana holders and baby wipes.  Often it is crap, truly crap. But then, allot of what is written and spoken by people who identify as poets is crap. I say this as someone who spent many years writing and performing crap poetry.


Selling Out?

So why is it that artists who “sell out” receive such sustained criticism? I think it is because art cannot be separated from its who, where, when and how. The motivations, the financing and the dissemination of art is intensely political, and for good reason.  Ideas are powerful, and every dictatorship and social movement has had its own aesthetic and artistic genre. Even if art does not consider itself “political”, art has agency in the world and can perpetuate and validate social norms and behaviours that can have good or bad consequences. So much art (including poetry) produced in large scale commercial advertising is nefarious for the sake of profit. Much of it is a danger to public and environmental and mental health. We have marketing specialists and sloganist to thanks for the obesity epidemic, arms fairs, public complicity on illegal wars, suicides and eating disorders. Almost none of it fundamentally challenges the the dominant capitalist – materialist paradigm that we have to blame for the

Poetry advertising planetary health

ecological, economic and social collapse humanity is now facing. These moral arguments are valid and are part of the truth that give artists integrity.

Little of what is produced in commercial advertising will be remembered for capturing the human experience in a new way or articulating great moments of history, large or small. That’s fine, it’s not trying to. Its producing a product fit for purpose – and it does so very well. What is more, it will continue to do so as long as we keep buying it.


Firing the Canon

The challenge for us is to switch off from it and find ways to spread ideas worth sharing in creative ways. We have no choice and there is little time. Spoken word artists in this country have been particularly successful in recent years in reigniting imaginations and mobilising hearts and minds – see Kate Tempest, Danny Chivers, Holly McNish to scratch just the skin of it. Poetic communities are spaces where ideas are shared, voices cultivated and critical thinking exercised. None of it involves sitting in front of a TV. In the words of spoken word poet, and modern day orator, David Lee Morgan: ‘Poetry is part of the cultural mix that keeps that the spirit of freedom and the desire to fight against injustice burning in all our hearts’. Now is the time to reclaim our language and revivify it as something insightful, questioning and positively inspiring. That would be truly beautiful.



Aug 212013

On Saturday 18th August I saw over a thousand people form a human chain

The face of the fossil fuel industry. Coming to a village near you.

around a gas fracking site in Balcombe. It was a powerful sight. A large oil drill towered menacingly in the air, circled by a tall razor-wired fence. The razor wire was circled by police officers and elite Ghurkha soldiers from Nepal. The officers were circled by extra fencing. The fencing was circled by chanting, clasped hands, Mexican waves and song. It was a day I will never forget and one that connected me not only with the hopes and fears of thousands of protester, but also with South America, the Indian Sub Continent, the future, the past, the young, the old and the thumb of a Nepalese soldier.

The first time I saw the drilling site I was taken straight back to Colombia. In 2007 I worked in human rights, visiting communities affected by the arrival of British mining multinationals. All the ingredients that we documented in the oil regions of Casanare and Arauca are present in Sussex now: conflict and social division, the militarisation of the countryside, the unequal sharing of short term profits (often appearing as corruption) and the industrialisation of once peaceful communities with lorries, widened roads, bridges, traffic, light and noise. This is before you even count the pollution of air and scant water supplies (millions of gallons of which is used and contaminated by fossil fuel exploration).

The global ‘oil curse’ that has divided societies, decimated ecosystems and destroyed economies has arrived in the rolling wooded hills of Tory heartland. What happened next outside that fence was one of the most remarkable moments of solidarity I have ever witnessed.

At demos you will usually see me dressed as a copper. I do this for a number of reasons:
1/To make people laugh. You’ve got to have fun at a demo, otherwise you will be seen as angry looser and people will not join in.

”]2/One of the purposes of FIT surveillance teams, the use of under-covers, uniforms, weaponry and police brutality it to intimidate, provoke and discourage people from showing up to demos. I have seen regiments of clown armies doing such good work that protesters have decided to stay inside kettles even when it was possible for them to leave!

3/ To poke fun at the coppers. Let’s face it they do lay themselves open to a good ribbing sometimes.

4/ For no other reason than being able to stand at the end of a line of cops with a sign that reads ‘Police say no to fracking’. I once wrote the words ‘Police say no to cuts’ in chalk on the pavement in front of police who responded by laughing. One officer thanked me “because we can’t say that ourselves.” They should have arrested me. Chalking a public highway is classed as ‘criminal damage’.

Outside the perimeter fence, dressed half as gorilla and half as copper and armed only with a megaphone, I informed the uniforms on the other side of the fence that our campaign of gorilla warfare had been cancelled. They were outnumbered, after all, and it would have been unfair. Eighty five percent of local residents oppose fracking and there were shitloads of protesters from as far-an-oil-field as

”]Ireland and Scotland. The fact that we follow a tradition of non-violent civil disobedience also made the ‘warfare’ bit tricky. To compound this I wasn’t actually a gorilla.

But some form of conflict had to take place. The Ghurkhas are some of the bravest, best trained, most loyal soldiers in the history of modern warfare. They were far from their home and (as I was told by protesters camped next to the site) resentful that they were being used as private security for this corporation. In Colombia they have a word for militias used by companies and corrupt politicians – paramilitaries.

But these officers were no terrorists. I could see it in their giggling faces. They were agents of the public realm; there to serve and to protect. They (we hope) get

out of bed in the morning wanting to be part of something noble – an organisation working to reduce crime and the fear of crime, to uphold justice and the survival of the democratic values that we so cherish. Isn’t that why we were there?

It was decided that the best way for us to resolve our apparent differences, in a non violent way, was through sport. Thumb war to be precise. It was a risky decision. I didn’t know if thumb war shared the same success of Coca-Cola and the happy birthday song. Could it have permeated the climbs of the Himalayas? The stakes on this reaching a peaceful resolution depended on this going well, but

”]physical conditions were stacked against our mini-Olympiad. A large fence meant that it had to be either thumb war or pole vaulting. The latter would have presented problems for the officers, who had no access trees since they were chopped down to build the fracking site.

I elicited the help of a demonstrator, to… well demonstrate. A nine year old girl volunteered herself. I could tell she took the discipline of thumb war very seriously and had obviously been training (as well as probably having some sort of genetic predisposition to strong thumbs). She won. But that was only a

demonstration so it didn’t count.

It was time for the big bout. Both sides were now aware of the rules and a large crowd had assembled. Tensions were at fever pitch (one of the police officers was pissing himself). We faced each other, two gladiators separated by a fence, an ideological conflict, an economic apartheid and a multi-billion dollar global security apparatus. The stakes couldn’t have been higher. I nervously extended my hand through the fencing and into enemy territory. If my opponent rejected it a major opportunity for peace would have been lost. I would also look like a massive tit.

I could see the Ghurkha was nervous. He was faced with a big risk and having to draw on all his training as a peacekeeper and a killer simultaneously. He stood alone, disciplinary hearings ringing through his head. He looked at the police officer stationed four meters to his right. He looked at the rest of the world staring in: anarchists in balaclavas, clown army soldiers, a slightly desperate looking police gorilla, one arm hanging through the cage, grandmothers, fathers,

The battle of Balcombe, courtesy of Stewart Marsden, Sun Prints

daughters. The seconds ticked bye like a dying heartbeat. Nothing happened. Shit. Then, slowly, the small brown hand of my enemy combatant came timidly to mine. We locked together. One! Two! Three! Four!

The crowd erupted in an outburst of struck oil that shot up from a place deep inside of us. Someone called out “Namaste” (the Nepalese greeting) and he pressed his hands together and made a slight bow. Then one of the most extraordinary things happened. A circle opened up in front of the gate and a discussion started over the fact that we were not the only victims standing in this field. In April of this year the Ghurkhas (who have been dying alongside British soldiers since 1815) threatened to go on hunger strike if they did not receive pensions equal to their British counterparts.* There was genuine anger and gut felt solidarity among the protesters that our brothers on the other side of the fence, who were prepared to die for a Queen and Commonwealth, were being so blatantly denied.

The assembly’s discussion widened. It was mentioned that there are police officers living in emergency BnB’s because of the lack of affordable housing. Most officers can’t afford decent schooling in a privatised education system. Neither can they afford to look after their elderly parents in a landscape of NHS cuts. Gas companies, like Cuadrilla operating in Balcombe, get tax breaks, stripped back regulation and a special office to support them in Whitehall. The rest of us get disability cuts, homelessness, debt, stress and suicide. Our elderly population gets

”]left battle scarred and impoverished, shivering to death for substandard housing and the rising costs of gas.**

The Ghurkha was genuinely touched by the outburst of solidarity. We, in turn, were touched by the trust he put in us. For a moment there were no uniforms, no razor wire and no fence – just a bunch of people standing next to a giant drill that doesn’t need to be there.

We are all in this sticky puddle of bituminous sludge together. If I was reminded of anything at last weekend it was that I am part of a global movement standing against energy cartels who have a strangle hold over our democracy, our

economies and our climate. I was reminded that chains of people are much stronger than chains of hydrocarbon molecules and much more volatile. We are the most powerful source of energy and our reserve remain largely untapped. Join the growing grass roots resistance against fracking, fossil fuels and corporate greed. The time for action is now. All power to the thumbs.

And as for who won, well, let’s just say it was a draw.



** Despite the misinformation on gas prices, Cuadrilla themselves have admitted that the impact on shale gas will be “basically insignificant” (p29 The Guardian, Tuesday 20th August, 2013)

Jul 222013

This beautifully produced short documentary was made by Matt Hopkins of Progress Films as part of a series of hard hitting short portraits of modern Britain.

At a time of record homelessness, evictions and rent hikes, the Government’s response has been to break the UN Declaration on Human Rights and criminalise people who make a temporary shelter out of long term empty buildings. They now propose to extend the ban to residential buildings forcing the public to pay for the imprisonment of squatters and the enforcement of empty buildings on behalf of a powerful landowning minority who are profiting from ‘land banking’ (buying up properties, keeping them empty and selling them off years later at an inflated price)

This is not just an attack on squatters but boaters, social housing tenants, young people unable to afford homes, sofa surfers, people stuck at their parents; in short – everyone affected by a system that uses housing as a commodity rather than an essential resource for everyone. Now is the time to stand up against the further criminalisation of squatting and protect public space and social centres as well as our rights to carry out student sit ins, workplace occupations, peace and environmental camps, heritage occupations. Here are…

Ten Ways You Can Help

Also, essential listening on the housing crisis from Resonance FM