8 Months ago, London was left in complete shock when we witnessed, the Grenfell Tower a 24-storey, public housing block, in North Kensington, engulfed in enormous flames. People were frozen into shock as we waited to find out; the number of survivors, fatalities and the cause of the fire. Controversially the North Kensington area within West London is very affluent. With prices for properties costing millions of pounds and many businesses offices opening.
London has become very fractured with a clear rich and poor divide, Historically living within the City of London was very popular. The Windrush and rise in immigration after the second world war changed a lot of areas in London. It made the city become overpopulated and these immigrants were moved out to the outskirts of the city.
At the time this was seen as an insult, the City of London had all the resources. Things like electricity, supermarkets, and jobs were not available to those living in places such as Brixton, Clapham, Tooting, Notting Hill, Kensington and Shepherds Bush. The rich and poor divide in Britain I believe begun here. Fast forward now though to the present day and you will find that the cost of living in the City of London has now become so expensive, Brits have had to move out, and move to the outskirts of London which is now a lot more affordable. Places like Brixton, Elephant and Castle and Kensington are close enough to the city for an easier commute into work and to also enjoy the vibrant night life the City of London has to offer. Yet housing is more affordable. This history made my emotions on the fire at Grenfell run considerably high. The public housing crisis in London is enormous, initially the government would provide houses for immigrants but the system meant generations of families from these immigrants grew into public housing whilst in the increase of immigration also added more pressure to the public housing. Now budgets are tight and those communities within public housing are not getting the access to the things they need in order to get out of this cycle.
Families trapped in the Grenfell Tower fire were all a mixture of ethnic minorities. Causing 71 deaths and over 70 injuries. The public outcry was that of dishonesty. ‘How did this happen?’ were the main angry responses. The residents of the tower felt as if they had been targeted. It is not hard to disagree with them, walking around the outskirts of London now areas such as Shepherds Bush, Brixton and Kensington, you can see the changes the local councils have made in order to clean up the area. The councils showed little concern about the development of the community when over populated by ethnic minorities but now a dress up attempt is being made to clean up the old looking buildings and remove the waste and strays from these newly affluent neighbourhoods.
The police believe the fire started accidently in a fridge-freeze on the fourth floor, the issue though was not with the start of the fire but how quickly it was able to spread from the fourth floor to the entire building. It burned for about 60 hours until finally being extinguished. More than 250 London Fire Brigade firefighters and 70 fire engines were involved from stations all across London in efforts to control the fire.The rapid growth of the fire is thought to have been accelerated by the building’s exterior cladding which is of a common type in widespread use. Grenfell Tower underwent a major renovation which was publicised in 2012 and completed in 2016. The original contractor, Leadbitter, had been dropped because their price of £11.278 million was £1.6 million higher than the proposed budget for the refurbishment. The contract was put out to competitive tender. Rydon’s bid was £2.5 million less than Leadbitter’s. An alternative cladding with better fire resistance was refused due to cost. Residents expressed significant safety concerns prior to the fire, with criticism levelled against the council for fire safety and building maintenance failures. They had also said repeatedly that in the event of a fire, their escape path was limited to a single staircase.
The team who deserved the most recognition for their effects should have been the firefighters, who immediately disregarded protocol and run into the burning building attempting to rescue people. It shows those on the ground have more of a connection to the people than those working on boards that do not interact with the people they make decisions on day to day. By sunrise, the firefighters were still battling the fire and trying to spray areas where people were seen trapped. The watching crowd were pushed back from the building because of falling debris. Witnesses reported seeing people trapped inside the burning building, switching the lights in their flats on and off or waving from windows to attract help, some holding children. At a news conference in the afternoon of 14 June, London Fire Brigade reported firefighters had rescued 65 people from the building and reached all 24 floors. The fire continued to burn on the tower’s upper floors. It was not brought under control until 01:14 BST (UTC+1) on 15 June. The fire brigade also used a drone to inspect the building and search for casualties.
The aftermath of Grenfell was inspiring, celebrities all over London offered their aid to help, individuals within London immediately begun donating food, water, clothing and money to the victims. There were more donations than volunteers, getting to the point banks had to be closed and donations turned away. The state of West London was in absolute chaos, families frantically searching for families. There was a period of patients in hospital without ID, children separated from parents and that was only the beginning.
The damage done to these people’s homes and lives are far from replaceable, these residents are now angry they will have to move homes, send their children to new schools. One thing that is not being highlighted in the media is that this public housing crisis in London has meant people are offered and moved to alternate cities other than London. Which is imaginably disheartening and plain inconvenient. I believe Grenfell Tower is the biggest example of the class divide and gentrification in London. It has now become inconvenient to have ethnic minorities in exposed parts of London so the council and government will go as low as they can to limbo their way out of it.
Justice For Grenfall