Grenfell Blues

People watching the Council Leader on a giant screen in July react to her speech

The Grenfell Tower disaster continues to drag on and to appal. Even now, over 7 months after the tragedy the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is failing the victims. At yesterday’s council meeting one of the volunteers who has spent much of her time outside her working hours helping people there was speaking at a council meeting, telling how a woman with a one-year-old daughter who had been rehoused temporarily in a hotel had recently become homeless when the council’s payment to the hotel had been stopped but the social worker involved had made no provision for her to be housed elsewhere. It was a long story of failure and evasion, with the woman and her child only being saved from sleeping on the street by the action of volunteers.

A local speaker holds up some of the flammable cladding that spread the fire rapidly

Hers was only one case among many of a council failing to live up to its obligations and its promises over a huge tragedy that resulted from the actions of the council and its TMO set up to manage its housing. The council didn’t light the fire, but it was their actions, their ignoring of the warnings by residents, their deliberate policy to avoid proper fire inspections, that made Grenfell a firetrap simply waiting for a spark.

Urgent action was promised, both by the council and by national government; little has happened. Money was promised by government, to deal with the problem here and in other areas where similar cladding was found – but it hasn’t been forthcoming. Major charities collected millions – but little of it has reached the victims. There was to be a full inquiry – but those most affected have  been shunned and sidelined.

In July there was a large presence outside the council meeting – and a giant screen outside for those unable or unwilling to go inside – and security kept some out. At yesterday’s meeting there were quite a few inside, but only a handful outside, and apart from myself only one other journalist had turned up – and he decided there was nothing to film, and I could only take a handful of pictures. Grenfell, for all the outcry at the time, is now becoming smothered in the long grass as intended, as are the  other crimes of our establishment. And while there were undoubtedly crimes, there have as now been no arrests, and it seems likely there will be no justice.

It isn’t inevitable. The monthly silent walks continue, but put very little pressure on anyone, taking place as they do in an obscure area of London and getting less and less coverage in the mass media. But other protests are getting smaller and the whole momentum seems to be getting lost.

The protest in July was perhaps a peak, but it was one that was split, actually two protests called by two different groups, both on the left, along with local Latimer/Ladbroke Grove rappers El Nino & CX4  who came with blackened faces and  reminders of the burning cladding and smoke and a banner ‘The Royal Murderers of Kensington & Chelsea‘  to perform their Grenfell Tower’s Burnin Typically the national news media reported them as rioters rather than as performers.

It was a shame that there were two rival areas with speakers, though there were some good speakers at both of them, but it was inevitable when the larger group refused to let the others speak at their microphone, having put together a list of invited speakers they made it clear others were not welcome.  It seems sad that particular sectional interests are weakening the opposition to the council. A few speakers did perform at both, as did the rappers.

Simon Elmer of ASH

One of the more interesting contributions came from Simon Elmer of Architects for Social Housing, a group which shortly after produced a report about the technical issues involved and were also featured in a video which I watched at the ICA residency in August.

Grenfell survivors tell Council “Resign now!”


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