Lessons of the Grenfell Fire: “Everyone has a right to be safe - not just the rich”

PUBLISHED: 12:07 24 June 2017 | UPDATED: 12:17 24 June 2017

Smoke billowing from a fire that engulfed the 24-storey Grenfell Tower in west London. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA Images

Smoke billowing from a fire that engulfed the 24-storey Grenfell Tower in west London. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA Images

PA Wire/PA Images

Ham&High editor Emily Banks writes:

Residents leave the Taplow tower block  Stefan Rousseau/PA WireResidents leave the Taplow tower block Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

On Sunday I was phoned by my friend Eve Mott, who is part of the community in the Latimer area around Grenfell Tower. She grew up in the area and lived on the 18th floor of the neighbouring Whitstable House in a strong working class community. Eve wanted to talk.

These are her words:

“This is my community. I grew up here. We lived in the tower looking out our windows at Grenfell and we are distraught. My daughter Stacey is a senior school teacher at a local school and she is down there today, looking for her pupils. She knows these children, has seen them grow up and has always believed and fought for them.

“Stacey has bumped into some of her distraught pupils and heard tragic stories. There are people walking around and you should see the look of bewilderment in their eyes...These are my people, my community and nobody is looking after them. Where were the officials from Kensington and Chelsea council? Why weren’t they all down here helping?

London Fire Brigade found a host of fire safety failures inside the Chalcots tower blocks. Picture: ANNA BEHRMANNLondon Fire Brigade found a host of fire safety failures inside the Chalcots tower blocks. Picture: ANNA BEHRMANN

“It was our neighbours, my two girls Stacey and Amy, who were there handing out water and looking after people. There was nobody from the council to be seen.

“I am so proud of the community. Everyone here looks out for each other and always has. But we have been so abandoned. In the richest borough in the country something has got to change now.

“We are not the aggressive people being portrayed in the press now ‘rioting’ - but we are angry and are in shock and grief.

“The overwhelming thing is the silence here now. There is the terrible smell of ashes and burning, in this circle around Grenfell there is just a bewildered silence as emergency services and other people start to leave.

And outside this circle on the other side people are enjoying the sunshine and sipping champagne in the smart pubs and wine bars.

“How did this ever happen? The erosion of this area has been gradual. I have watched as our pubs have been closed down and turned into luxury flats, our youth clubs have been closed. Our borough has been turned over to the rich.

“None of our politicians or local representatives have been caring about us. We have been left to fend for ourselves in this part of the wealthiest borough in London for a long time.”

I asked Eve what she wants to see change. She said: “I would like to see Kensington and Chelsea’s residents of wealth, privelege and power to stand with the working class, underprivileged residents and use their position of expertise and power to take on the fight we all know is coming as we wait years for responsibilty to be taken. To be shouting about it with us, in the places we could never get access to - to be our voice.”

As we report on our front page this week how Camden Council is now carrying out an urgent review into the fire safety of our own tower blocks throughout our borough, which were refurbished by the same firms who worked on the Grenfell Tower, what other lessons must we learn here from the tragedy? It is not just about scrutinising cladding, fire safety regulations or regulations, it is about so much more.

We reported in the Ham&High on June 1 how, like in Kensington and Chelsea, in Camden there is a stark difference in social equality throughout the borough with the very rich and very poor living next door to each other.

What the Grenfell Tower tragedy has shown is that while some are living in wealth, as Eve says, on their doorsteps are tower blocks like Grenfell where people are being neglected and not being cared for by their landlords and local authorities.

While the horrific images of Grenfell are burned in our minds, this is the lesson our local politicians and authorities and all of us must learn. We must make sure that everyone within our community, whatever their circumstances, has a safe place to live. Nobody is neglected and everyone has an equal voice that is heard. Everone has a right to be safe, not just the wealthy and articulate.

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