Thursday, 14 June 2018

Grenfell Tower Fire: One Year On

It really is hard to believe that it has already been a year since the Grenfell Tower fire which shocked the nation and devastated a community, when  72 people tragically lost their lives on 14 June, 2017, when flames engulfed the 23-storey building in the worst fire to hit Great Britain since the Second World War, no one deserved or were supposed to die like this.
The chaos and confusion that ensued in the following days added further injury and insult to the hundreds of people immediately impacted by the fire and the wider community. Their anger and frustration were matched by their incredible kindness and generosity, as the people of North Kensington came together in a way that had not been seen in this country for decades.It also saw the UK unite in solidarity with the victims  and their families, against  the reckless incompetence that ultimately led to the fire. The incompetence, coming from both the government and property developers, that included the failure to take seriously the many complaints made by Grenfell residents regarding the lack of fire safety, as well as the failure to replace the extremely combustible cladding with fire-resistant cladding, which would have prevented the fire spreading at such a rapid pace, which would have cost only £293,000 to install, resulted in human beings meeting their deaths in the most horrific of way.
The legacy of Grenfell is clear, and of course we must remember each and every soul that tragically perished in such a preventable disaster, The Guardian recently published a piece on the " Lives of Grenfell Tower  in which mini obituaries written by the friends and family of the victims, were published as tributes to those who lost their lives.We must also remember that Grenfell Tower - a social housing enclave nestled in  one of the most expensive neighboorhoods in the world was mainly occupied by immigrants,people of colour and low-income families, and that the tragedy clearly demonstrated that their lives mattered significantly less, than those of their white, wealthy counterparts.
Time is supposed to heal wounds, but for many Grenfell survivors and victims relatives, the anniversary is a reminder of just how little has been put right over the past year.Sadly not much has changed since the tragedy, Nobody responsible has yet to be charged or arrested, and the consequent investigation into the tragedy, has not urged the government to ban combustible cladding, despite calls from campaign groups, across the country to to do so. 300 tower blocks across the country are still covered in the same dangerous cladding used on Grenfell Tower and building and fire safety regulations are still not fit for purpose
The lack of response is simply a disgrace, but the campaigns of the victims families provide hope for a future with better oversight and more safety, and as the public inquiry continues there are still so many questions to be answered in the fight for justice.
Theresa May  has admitted her failure to meet Grenfell residents in the immediate aftermath of the disaster made it appear she "did not care". The Prime Minister said she will "always regret" failing to go to the tower on the day after the tragedy, saying that her actions were "not good enough" Writing in the Evening Standard May said: "The day after the disaster I made the first of a number of trips to the site, thanking the firefighters for their work and holding a short meeting with the team in charge of the response."What I did not do on that first visit was meet the residents and survivors who had escaped the blaze."But the residents of Grenfell Tower needed to know that those in power recognised and understood their despair. And I will always regret that by not meeting them that day, it seemed as though I didn't care. "That was never the case."
Many people though believe her apology is simply to little and far too late, and are asking that if she cares so much, why are survivors still waiting  to be rehoused in permanent accomodation? Housing Secretary James Brokenshire has admitted that 43 families are still living in hotels, one year on. Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday, he said 203 households needed new homes in the aftermath of the tower block fire, saying that of these, 198 have accepted permanent or temporary accomodation and 134 have now moved in. But he added he was "very concerned" about the 23 households who are living in hotels one year after the event.
"My ministerial team has met with many of them and I've  personally written to all of them, to find out what barriers exist in each individual case and how we can overcome them, he told MPs.
He also reiterated the Governments commitment to ban the use of combustible materials on the external walls of high-rise tower blocks, subject to a consultation, that will be published next week.Adding that the Government has "made it clear" that it espects private building owners not to pass the costs of removing dangerous cladding on to leaseholders.
"The private sector must step up and I am not ruling anything out if they do not." he told MPs.
Responding to the Housing Secretary's statement, Labour's Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey said the "time for warm words is long past".
"Grenfell residents feel that they were failed before the fire, and many feel failed since," said Mr Healey. "They were promised permanent new homes within a year, but only 82 of the 209 households are in permanent new homes. On the wider Grenfell estate, only 39 of 127 are in permanent new homes."
Mr Healey also pressed the Housing Secretary on whether the Government set for all survivors to be permanently rehoused.
"Without a deadline, more words of regret will simply ring hollow to the still homeless residents of Grenfell Tower." he added.
Grenfell Tower now stands in Kensington as a relic, covered in scaffolding and white sheets like a bandage over broken bones. On it is a banner featuring the green Grenfell heart and the words "Grenfell forever in our hearts" emblazoned across the four highest floors.
Justice for Grenfell is a community led organisation set up in the days following the fire, focused on obtaining justice for the bereaved families, survivors, evacuated residents and the wider local community. Where the authorities failed survivors, Justice for Grenfell stepped in, when the media and politicians went silent, Justice for Grenfell shouted louder.
On 14th June, alongside other activist groups,  Justice for Grenfell will mark 12 months since the tragedy with the 12th Grenfell Silent Walk walks are a monthly opportunity for the community to remember, mourn and pay tribute to those affected. On Saturday 16th June you can join them outside Downing Street at 12 pm to march for justice for Grenfell.
Today communities across the country will also fall silent for one minute at 12 pm to remember the victims and those affected by the inferno. In solidarity with the survivors and those whose lives were affected, residents, families, neighbours, emergency services, in what must still be an incredibly painful time.

Victims of the fire

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