There have been plenty of significant developments in North Kensington as Kensington and Chelsea council (RBKC) and the local population deal with the fallout from the entirely preventable June 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, where 72 people died. The mainstream media might be busy elsewhere, but there is still a lot going on. With justice and change still not forthcoming, it is important to maintain a factual record and keep up the scrutiny…
Our updates start in parliament with the survivors and bereaved group Grenfell United (GU) bearing witness to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee on the situation regarding housing conditions nationwide and developments with RBKC. Although GU’s latest testimony to lawmakers had little or no media pickup, it was of the utmost significance to those wanting to understand what has been happening in Kensington and possible future developments.Continue reading →
We are often told that the poor are grateful for charity. Some of them are, no doubt, but the best amongst the poor are never grateful. They are ungrateful, discontented, disobedient, and rebellious. They are quite right to be so. Charity they feel to be a ridiculously inadequate mode of partial restitution, or a sentimental dole, usually accompanied by some impertinent attempt on the part of the sentimentalist to tyrannise over their private lives. Why should they be grateful for the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table? They should be seated at the board, and are beginning to know it.
In the heatwave the volunteers still come, the aid continues, and the community can speak of little else.
The Grenfell fire is all that is happening in Ladbroke Grove and North Kensington. Everybody has been affected by it and, as the mass news media coverage has reflected, the response of ordinary people has been beautiful.
Even the mainstream media has allowed a platform for grief and anger, and have expressed their own rage and incredulity off camera.
We need them to stick around. One Sky News reporter told me his editor had vowed that the channel would “stay on this story all summer”- let’s see.
The silence and low-level response from Kensington and Chelsea council has been palpable. Could they be playing a waiting game?
Their actions, repeatedly and almost systematically continuing to mistreat Grenfell residents and the rest of the Lancaster West estate, suggests that there will be no change unless there is a change in personnel at the Town Hall.
Once the media go away, they will presumably step up the moves that are already underway:
The council giving survivors £10 each in aid despite the millions that have come in
One survivor who lost his wife being moved to an old people’s home
One surviving family being moved three times in the days after the fire
Residents of the low rises on Lancaster West being moved for an indefinite period to cheap hotels out of the borough
One friend of mine who lives in a nearby, almost identical, tower block called the council to ask when they would be installing sprinklers. She wanted to reassure her traumatised children who lost friends in the fire. The council’s response: “Just be grateful you have a roof over your head”.
And yet the Spanish government has given long-term, free of charge accommodation via their embassy to a member of staff of the Spanish school on Portobello road who escaped the fire.
These stories are everywhere and as the media coverage fades, we in North Kensington fear that our cries of despair and defiance will become a localised echo chamber.
Already the media and authorities are suspected of lying about the death toll, which is presumed to be in the hundreds but my morning ‘paper had it at 79 “dead or missing”.
Something malevolently mundane and predictable seems to be unfolding before us: The richest borough in the UK will not use its obscene £300 million budget surplus to help survivors of a disaster it created. And so the relief effort has fallen on the community in the form of charity. The council, unable to relinquish its class based world view, is happy for the Grenfell victims to become charity cases.
The Royal Borough wants gratitude from the poor and the dispossessed – this is the price it demands for the provision of its philanthropic, feel-good, version of public service. Gratitude from a wretched, besieged community is the only thing that seems to arouse Nicholas Paget-Brown and this sociopathic council. Wilde’s words, written in 1891, could not be truer in 2017.
The community, so strong and undergoing such rapid growth and development in the wake of the disaster, must not fall for this perfidious trick. Reject any attempts to turn the Grenfell survivors in to charity cases.
Expect the council and Tory minority government to add insult after insult to their mess, but we must not back down from certain demands:
All the survivors to be immediately housed in high quality, low rise, permanent accommodation – stable housing provides human dignity. If this means requisitioning the unused homes of the filthy rich then so be it. This has been suggested already by Jeremy Corbyn,
All survivors to remain in the borough, and all children within easy travelling distance of school,
Proper investment in social housing in this area,
An end to social cleansing
Do not be grateful for the crumbs being thrown to the Grenfell victims. The council want to divert the community’s outpouring of compassion to serve their own tyranny, do not let them.
Wednesday 14th June was the day Urban Dandy was going to write up last week’s historic ousting of the Conservatives from Kensington in the general election. Twenty Labour voters, some from the Grenfell Tower, had contacted us with their joyful responses. North Kensington, so victimised for so long, had something to celebrate.
But the horrific events at the Grenfell Tower on the Lancaster West estate overtook us, and our beloved North Kensington.
Urban Dandy was born on Lancaster West, where the spirit of defiance among the downtrodden inspired our name.
The estate has had serious issues, most significantly a lack of investment and a very negative attitude towards residents from the council. The neglect of the estate during my years there struck me as something of a cruel game – the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Association (TMO) seemed to be actively against residents. So what should have been routine phone calls to resolve minor issues got nowhere, with a suspicion of a perverse pleasure being taken by the TMO. Nobody liked the TMO, nobody rated them, and today the anger against the organisation and their local authority overlords was everywhere.
A day of helping out at the scene raised many questions: where is the council’s organised response? Where is the prime minister? How can this have happened? Nobody on the estate, and it really is nobody, doubts that the long-term neglect of their housing is behind the disaster. Neglect is a political choice.
The UK is the first world, but within the first world are pockets of the third world. In the third world people don’t buy contents insurance and councils don’t install communal fire alarms.
All the questions will be addressed in time. Some truths we already have: North Kensington is a remarkable multi-cultural success story. It is the best of British, in which everybody is welcome. Today the community was out in force, in total unity, all ethnicities and all religions.
To fully recount the experience of the day would be impossible. So many moments of spontaneous human kindness and decency passed in the blink of an eye. So many tragic scenes were glimpsed in passing. So much love was shared between people. There was no separation, no melodrama, just an outpouring of humanity, brotherly and sisterly love, love for children and love of life.
The events will stay with residents forever: children being thrown from windows, phone calls made from the tower by fathers to say goodbye to loved ones, desperate residents switching their lights on and off to get attention as the fire spread. Many local people told me about the screams they heard coming from Grenfell Tower, and their feeling of impotence at hearing their neighbours perish.
Many people died today, and so many lives have been shattered. The community has not been shattered though, and so it is fitting that the art work for the celebratory blog on the Labour victory is used here instead. Come Unity.
Donations can be made at:
Al Manaar Mosque
Westway Sports Centre
St Clement and St James
Rugby Portobello Trust
Tabernacle Christian Centre
Google or call first to see which donations should go where.
I found the volunteering of Israeli and Palestinian women to make a stance against war together, magnetic, ironic, inspiring and even prophetic. At the same time serving as a mercy to silly men in suits who make decisions, offering them a final chance to listen to the earth’s cries before it consumes us all. As men have continuously failed at this ego-free opportunity to relieve the planet, I wanted to talk with a more reasonable group.
Yael Treidel is an active member of Women Wage Peace. W.W.P. are a collective of Israeli women who decided to unite in an effort to stop the warring in the wider region. On October the 4th 2016, WWP set off on a two-week march to Jerusalem. It seems that Sunday, anywhere else in London, could be considered a day of rest but not in the W11 area. One phone call later, after struggling to get a peaceful place to converse in a busy venue in Notting Hill, I’ve finally managed to secure an empty office space with enough solitude to satisfy a sleepy baby. The famous Skype ring tone disturbs the rooms blissful peace and off we go.
UDL: Hi Yael, is that any better for you (the connection)?
Yael: Yes, right now it sounds much better.
UDL: Good. Did you hear any of what I said before?
Yael: Yes I heard it, I just wanted to tell you that we are definitely not the first ones to do this. The women in Liberia were the main reason and maybe the only reason why the slaughter there stopped so they are a great inspiration for us. The peace in Northern Ireland, the women were very important there too. Also, even here there was a group in the 90’s called The Four Mothersand they actually were an important cause of why we pulled out of Lebanon. So women are doing it already and have been for a while.
UDL: This is a new realisation for me, I guess I’m quite naive in respect of that but I am 100% in support of it, and that’s why I want to do whatever I can to further this cause and spread it. Who started W.W.P. and what inspired you?Continue reading →
It’s strange how simply witnessing the events of a day can effectively teach you so much about gratitude.
At about 3pm on the 8th of June, the residents of Notting Hill’s Colville Square and the surrounding streets heard a puzzling crash that forced the curious side of their nature to react.
Running out into the street I thought – blood, broken bones, tears and panic but as a believer in the shaping of one’s own reality I stopped for a brief moment and thought, everybody is fine, zero injuries and no grief. Opening my front door my belief turned into a knowing. I would love to say it was solely my sense of human concern, and it was but only an uneven proportion, because at the rim dunking, top shelf reaching, height of 6 ft 3, I become a morsel of a man at the site of blood. Yes, I believe blood belongs inside the body not out and although I haven’t fainted at the sight of it yet I often weigh the possibility.
Everybody just stood there not quite knowing if the miracle they had just witnessed had truly happened. No blood, no screaming, no urgency to help pull anybody from beneath the fallen tree. No chainsaw on site or visible human act that may have caused this to happen. The considerate tree seemed to first check that nobody was in its path before it made its great departure from the surrounding family of trees that housed the feathered early morning choir of Colville Square.
After calling 999 and asking for the fire brigade, which seemed to be the logical choice of the three, I was told that it was not their business and I should call the council. I got off the phone confused and even more anxious. I guess there was a part of me that wanted to be the one to call for help, as it was my tree. I mean only two hours ago I was discussing this very tree as being a worthy exchange for sacrificing the beautiful park view that we so loved outside of the old flat. I guess its sudden split made me the only injured person and recognising the tree had other plans (besides me) I took it personally. Since there was nobody else injured my second 999 choice was the police and they said ‘No Problem’ and got there within five minutes, along with the fire brigade.
Almost stranger than the tree falling out of the blue,on a warm summers day, was the fact that the tree had as many choices as to which direction to surrender to gravity as myself or any other earthly object, yet it seemed to be considerate of the sweet 3-year-olds out playing in the nursery playground just six feet away, the families playing in the park fifteen feet away and even the building across the street. It conveniently fell almost along the street with even the illusion of time being a consideration avoiding my young unsuspecting nephew’s visit by 5 minutes exactly. Three cars were injured and one
Three cars were injured and one totalled along with a lamppost. Observing the neighbours gathering and the employment of too many phone cameras two thoughts came to mind; what a beautiful act of mercy on the part of the Tree and its position and timing, I mean if this were a movie like the Exorcist or the Omen there would have been a priest sacrificed beneath it and the other thought was, is this what it takes to get to know your neighbors? This brought me back to the London riots, that was the last time I really talked to my neighbours without prompting any unwarranted suspicion. The street was filled with talk of insurance and blame and jokes were allowed to fly around the scene due to the lack of human injury while community support officers and police helped to control the environment with tape. In each person’s mind was a warm relief and a satisfaction as the sense of adventure needed in a normally armchair type voyage spilled out from the telly into the streets, it kind of pacified the needs of the community without the need for blood as props.
The woman who owned the car that received the major blow stood outside smoking a cigarette thinking about her insurance claim. When I asked her what car she would consider next she replied “A tank”.
The fact that she and I had the last laugh and yet probably the worst blow from this day made our evening and my weekend a very joyful one, maybe because we were all human again and whenever the universe displays a serendipitous knowledge we can do nothing but humbly seek out the message in all this. For me, it was gratitude for life knowing how ugly things could have turned out and how little we have done to interact with the beautiful lives on our street.