London Grenfell fire survivors betrayed

This video says about itself:

25 October 2017

Lowkey performs ‘Ghosts of Grenfell‘ live at his headline show at the Coronet in London.

By Ann Czernik in Britain:

Grenfell five months on: Britain’s most courageous community still abandoned, abused and betrayed

Saturday 18th November 2017

Across the various communities coexisting in Lancaster West, there is a sense of waiting and increasing frustration.

ON JULY 5 2017 Communities Secretary Sajid Javid sent a taskforce into the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC).

The team — a mixed bag of experts in housing, local government, public services and community engagement — were dispatched to find out if the council could provide an appropriate response to the Grenfell fire.

But no-one ensured that Kensington and Chelsea homes were fire-safe in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.

Five months later, shocking details are emerging of fire safety concerns in RBKC homes which could potentially lead to loss of life.

Samia Badani runs a Grenfell residents’ group and says: “We do not understand why after five months the council cannot take any interim measure to guarantee fire safety, including suspending all health and safety functions of the TMO [tenant management organisation].

“Local authority environmental health inspectors should assess fire safety and hazards of all council property immediately and bring this function in-house. We would have expected the council to do a full risk assessment after the Grenfell tragedy.”

Some 6,500 fire doors are now scheduled for inspection and possible replacement following an investigation last week by LBC.

Residents’ associations in north Kensington say that their buildings are still dangerously compromised by defective construction and failing fire safety measures.

Yet astonishingly RBKC council leader Elizabeth Campbell told the Independent last week that resident safety was not the council’s responsibility while housing remained under control of the Kensington and Chelsea TMO.

Campbell washed her hands of any responsibility on fire safety, telling the Independent: “It’s not for me to be reassured or not reassured, the TMO is responsible for it.”

But Javid told MPs that “the taskforce is satisfied that RBKC, under its new leadership, recognises the challenges it faces and is committed to delivering a comprehensive recovery programme. For that reason, the taskforce does not see any practical advantage in further intervention at this time as it would risk further disruption.”

On the night of Britain’s worst fire in over half a century, Badani was standing helpless metres away from Grenfell Tower, watching her community go up in flames. She still lives within metres of Grenfell Tower.

Like thousands of others in the tight-knit community around the Lancaster West Estate, the building was the first thing she saw as she opened her door in the morning.

The majority of the stream of familiar faces in the streets, or waiting with her at Latimer Road Tube on their way to work are directly affected by the events that took place on that fateful summer night.

In the aftermath of the fire, Badani joined the community relief operation. It was left to an army of residents, volunteers and charities to provide immediate support to victims, survivors and each other in the hours and days after the fire as agencies struggled to respond.

For five months, money poured in and promises were made. The cash has not yet reached many survivors, and Theresa May’s promises to quickly rehouse the displaced have been broken.

Andrew Gwynne MP challenged Javid’s rosy picture of a reformed RBKC, saying: “For many survivors, the situation is far bleaker than the information provided to us today by the Secretary of State would suggest.”

Official figures suggest that at least 376 households from the Tower and surrounding properties were made homeless — comprising 857 people; 311 of these households are in bed and breakfast accommodation; and 87 households are in temporary accommodation.

The Central and West London Mental Health Trust has become the largest trauma service in Britain, according to chief psychologist Dr John Green. Health professionals estimate that around 11,000 people in the wider Grenfell area could be affected.

In the days after Grenfell, Badani found herself speaking out at meetings, lobbying councillors, MPs and the leadership of the council.

“We will never go back to how it was before,” she says.

“They don’t represent us, they don’t represent our interests.

Whatever we did on June 14, it worked. We delivered nothing short of a public service. We need to keep doing that. It worked and we need to be trusted to run, plan and deliver services our way. It’s how we need to move forward. It is the only way forward.”

Across the various communities coexisting in Lancaster West, there is a sense of waiting and increasing frustration.

If there is a metaphor, it is of an abused partner who finally snaps and demands control of their own destiny.

Badani says: “What happened woke up this community and it now feels empowered. That’s the change.”

Councillor Mary Weale sits on Grenfell Response Scrutiny Committee. She told the Star that the fire safety of all blocks of flats of 10 storeys or more is being comprehensively reviewed by a specialist fire consultancy. The council says it will look to publish the reviews.

Weale says: “The council is working with the community, the London Fire Brigade and the Department for Communities and Local Government during this process of assessment.”

The Morning Star has uncovered confidential correspondence which suggests that fire safety in Kensington and Chelsea properties is still failing to meet current regulations.

Campden Houses is a Victorian building with 125 flats over seven storeys owned by RBKC and managed by the TMO. Residents at Campden Houses wrote to RBKC and the borough fire commander on August 8 2017, raising concerns that had emerged during a flat inspection on July 14 2017 by the TMO.

The concerns were passed to the fire safety team leader for Kensington and Chelsea at London Fire Brigade.

Correspondence seen by the Star shows that Campden Houses residents were advised that, although the only fire exit to the buildings was locked, they were safe.

Resident Gordon Futter says: “Access to the roof was our fire escape. The TMO, without consultation, chose to lock the doors and remove the fire exit signs because it was easier for them to lock the fire escapes rather than deal with the anti-social behaviour of squatters, illegal tenants. In some cases, these issues have been ongoing over nine years.”

Futter was advised that Campden Houses was built in accordance with the building regulations that were in force at the time of construction, with adequate separation between floors and neighbouring flats.

But, he says: “This may have been true when the building was completed in 1877 but in the ’60s major works converted two flats per floor into three or four units. We believe that the compartmentation between the floors was compromised at this time. We can smell and hear immediately everything in the units around us and in some cases from flats diagonally two floors below.”

Campden Houses recently had a fire door inspection.

Futter says: “The only door that met the fire standard was my door because it had been replaced this year. There is no insulation between apartments other than the wooden floorboards and the ceiling below that. Because our building is over 18 metres we have a stay-put policy. The notices appeared 21 days after the Grenfell fire. Due to the lack of compartmentation we believe this to be an incorrect and unsafe policy and they have failed to investigate that aspect of our building. We continue to feel unsafe as a result of the decisions taken by RBKC, KCTMO and the fire department.”

The impact of institutional failings on the people of north Kensington’s lives is dramatic. Badani explains: “We are walking to what we had before. The power balance needs to change. It’s like being in an abusive relationship. We can’t leave them, we can’t leave our homes. The council provide for every aspect of our lives.”

She says: “For 20 years, you don’t have a voice and [we] didn’t realise we were being abused. We gave the council the benefit of the doubt. We are still waiting on something tangible for us to hold on to. A rare hope that there is a change, real change — where is the change?”

The Morning Star was unable to obtain any response to our questions from the TMO or RBKC.

The Independent Grenfell Recovery Taskforce’s first report, nine weeks in the making, confirms that the taskforce is neither independent nor intended to speak for survivors of the catastrophic June 14 tower block fire: here.

The Grenfell Fire Forum is holding the fourth in a series of regular meetings on Saturday, December 9, at 2 p.m. at the Maxilla Hall Social Club, North Kensington, London: here.

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