RBKC Scrutiny #3 The Administration Committee Meeting

The future is unwritten…events this week at Kensington and Chelsea council (RBKC) could have triggered a political realignment in the north of the borough. Or they could have consolidated Tory power… 

What happened?

On 15th July at RBKC’s regular administration committee meeting, Councillors voted to scrap a council committee that scrutinises RBKC’s response to the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire.

The decision to abandon the scrutiny committee is based on a “residents’ conference” to which 15 people turned up, in addition to 77 who contributed to the consultation in writing.

The two Labour members of the council administration committee joined residents in walking out of Monday’s meeting in protest at the move, leaving four Conservative Councillors to vote through the recommendations. The Tory Councillors had been whipped (compelled) to vote to abandon the scrutiny committee.

The plan for the changes to scrutiny was made by a council panel made up of four Conservatives and one Liberal Democrat, effectively bypassing North Kensington, where all elected Councillors are from the Labour party.

from rbkc.gov.uk

The scrapping of the committee, which will be ratified at full council meeting on 24th July, is part of a review of the council’s scrutiny committee structure which will see the current six specialist committees shrink to four “select committees” overseen by an overview and scrutiny body. Continue reading

The Unholy Trinity & Writing in Kensington

The Un-holy Trinity

Writing about life in Kensington sometimes creates friction with Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKC), the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Association (KCTMO) and the Westway Trust. The three constitute what has been referred to locally as the Unholy Trinity.

Roles & Responsibilities

RBKC is the local government, responsible for provision of many public services and dominated by councillors from the Conservative party, which retained control of the Town Hall by winning the local election in May 2018. For years the political leadership of RBKC has been dominated by moneyed property speculators who have sought to sell off North Kensington’s public assets, such as its library, youth club and college.

KCTMO is an Arms-Length Management Organisation and was given control of the borough’s 9,000 social housing properties from 1996. It was taken in-house, back to RBKC, after the Grenfell Tower fire; KCTMO staff now work in the same roles but use council, rather than TMO, email addresses. KCTMO is being maintained as a legal entity at a high cost to residents so that it can participate in the Grenfell inquiry.

The Westway Trust is responsible for ensuring the mile of land under the A40 flyover in North Kensington is used for the benefit of the local population who suffer from the noise, darkness and pollution imposed by the Westway.

 

 

 

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Power & Mortality

The three institutions form a power establishment in the north of the borough. Between them they have the keys to properties and can move families out of London; they hold the purse strings for many charities, small businesses and community projects. Senior positions at all three tend to be held by people with a capitalistic approach and a natural class bias for maintaining the status quo.

History has shown that their agendas overlap and, on their watch, Kensington is “the most unequal borough in Britain,” not an abstract fact: here in North Kensington we men live for 22 years fewer than the wealthier men in the south of the borough.

Writing in Kensington and possessing a modicum of socio-economic or political consciousness requires awareness of how the trinity impact the population.

Paradoxical

It is important to explain the phrase Unholy Trinity as it is a pronoun for three paradoxical institutions. All three are significant local employers: the council has well over 2,000 staff; KCTMO over 200 and Westway Trust approximately 100 (these figures do not include casual or contracted-in workers). They also provide vital services, sometimes effectively. Within each of the three organisations are fine and noble people, but the Trinity have not only failed to alleviate chronic poverty but have added to the misery in North Kensington.

Despite the misery, they carry on. The council has weathered the political storm after the Grenfell fire, mainly by playing silly and propagating corporate waffle about ‘change’ and ‘stronger communities’. Nobody in North Ken believes it, but they have no way to reject it. The government’s taskforce that oversees RBKC on behalf of the Home Secretary offered only token criticisms in its latest report which was a whitewash serving only to veil RBKC’s ineptitude. The property parasites of RBKC have proved ignorant and unteachable when it comes to the rich culture and dynamic potential of North Kensington making them less useful to the area than his fleas are to a dog.

KCTMO has been absorbed into the council, along with thousands of outstanding repair jobs it couldn’t carry out, despite £11 million a year of public money. And the Westway Trust’s 2018 keystone cops AGM was a mess, with allegations already carried over from previous years going unanswered. Every establishment, profiteering instinct of the decision makers within the Unholy Trinity leads them to mess up big time in North Kensington and it is not possible to shame them into improving.

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Look closely: KCTMO cover up

Many staff members at these institutions are comfortable with constructive criticism of their big bosses, and often agree, but others get jittery when local writers consistently, accurately identify the seriousness of the failings and when the finger of blame points steadily at those whose doctrines have done so much damage to the people they are paid to serve.

Lancaster West – Urban Dandy

Urban Dandy started off in 2011 covering art, music, local businesses and whatever else we felt like talking about. Jen, Angel and I were always philosophical, ear-to-the-street, socially and politically conscious types though.

The blog was conceived on Lancaster West estate, which probably set in train the trajectory Urban Dandy has taken. In the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, in a climate of rage and truth, no issues were raised about our comments on the local power system. Now, in the post-Grenfell world, it’s different; people have adjusted their minds to circumstances that would have been unthinkable before 2017. Being sensitive to the times, it was inevitable that if we kept writing we’d come up against the Unholy Trinity.

 

 

 

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The Masque of Empathy

It is painful to write but what we see now in North Kensington is a gravy train about to smash into the buffers. Profiteers motivated by personal gain, not limited to the business or political classes, have cashed in on tragedy. Integrity has been trumped by fear of missing out, not helped by the panic-stricken local authority almost literally throwing money (£400 million and counting) at the community, to maintain the established order, rather than investing in people to transform standards of living and create opportunities.

Financial corruption in the third sector, corruption of the minds of those who are first to proclaim their piety, adds to the corruption so obvious in the upper echelons of the council and KCTMO. The perversions possibly peaked with the presence of the leader of the council on the monthly silent walk for Grenfell. Her deputy feels relaxed enough to poke fun at those who attend council meetings to demand justice. Eighteen months is an infinitude in politics.

‘Change’ at RBKC amounts to a masquerade of empathy for which they are sent on training courses, funded by residents.

The Masque of Anarchy

Back to the blog, and when Mark joined us, we had London’s greatest poet, the perfect foil for news stories and the op-eds. Philosophical, social and poetic. Perhaps something is stirring in England, but in Kensington, the Royal borough, the Unholy Trinity still decides the life chances of many families and the council has a democratic mandate for power.

What to do? Blogging, or citizen journalism, is the fourth estate in this borough. Temporarily, Urban Dandy is the only show in town outside of the social media echo chamber. We hope we won’t be alone for long though: others cannot be matched for their assiduousness; and one local blog takes the fight to the Unholy Trinity almost daily.

Rage, though it manifests in our words, was never the purpose of Urban Dandy and it won’t chew us up. The power system endures because it was designed to, that is a fact of life but we remain philosophical, knowing that big doors swing on small hinges.

Massacre

The second centenary of the Peterloo massacre is marked by Joyce Marlow’s brilliant, authoritative book. Making use of all that was published in Lancashire and across Britain at the time, she tracks the fear among the ruling elite of revolution in England and the spirited, non-violent call for dignified living conditions in Manchester that was turned into a massacre of its own people by the British army. The book also tells the story after the massacre as the population is subjugated by the state’s control of the courts, parliament, media and arms. In 2119, we hope historians researching the atrocity in North Kensington find our blog and recognise an honest account.

Stepping back and renewing is the early year theme of the poetry, articles and art on the blog, as we mop up the chaos of 2018 and look forward.

The anarchy we glimpsed in Summer 2017 has given way to the old order, and it is a great sadness that an alternative system for North Kensington has not been established. A mechanism to enable the community to make its own decisions in its own interests, which briefly seemed possible, is not even discussed any more. Squabbles and petty ambitions dominate North Kensington while the privileged, dividend-collectors at RBKC relax, bloated by their success. 

Like any logical article, even a stream of consciousness comes full circle. In this case back to the Unholy Trinity. We’ve ignored the murmurs of discontent about our work and started 2019 with an insider account of alleged Westway Trust corruption and a serious look at the abuse of the word ‘change’ by RBKC. We’ll write whatever we feel like writing about and might step back from covering North Kensington’s Unholy Trinity quagmire. But stepping back means having a better view of the whole picture, and their injustice will remain on our radar…

 

By Tom Charles @tomhcharles

 

Thrown Into The Wilderness

 

 

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Come Out The Wilderness – Bruce Kenrick, Fontana Publishers

 

It may or may not be something that caught your attention but if you live in Notting Hill, there is a conflict going on in your neighbourhood that’s similar to a tug of war and it’s been going on ever since the Grenfell Tower tragedy in June. Although technically the issue was alive way before the fire, the events surrounding the tragedy seem to have exacerbated the situation. It appears at first glance to be the community’s reclamation of property from the corporate real estate community killers, but it’s more accurate to describe it as the community trying to hold on to their right of abode and seeking some kind of guarantee that their landlords give a …(explicit)… and actually want them there.

While you sleep, groups of regular people like you that do not own property in London are awake at ungodly hours printing flyers, writing letters, emails, creating banners and appealing to any government official that will listen to them to secure YOUR homes. That is of course if you are a tenant of Notting Hill or Genesis Housing.

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Out in the grind

Forces

Two of the largest housing associations in the country, Notting Hill, and Genesis, both members of the G15 (an amalgamated group of UK housing associations), have decided to join forces merging their tenancy obligations into one big soup. On tacitly agreeing to this with no disclosure of the pros and cons underlying the merger, tenants are pretty disgruntled. Why? Well, to start with they have not consented to it and feel marginalised in such a major move. Also, there’s a resounding feeling that their acquiescence plays a large part in them moving this forward in a swift need-to-know only basis. The suspicious manner in which this is being executed raises questions as to the legality of it all especially in the way it was sprung on the community right after the fire. Continue reading

Happy Christmas? From RBKC

Warning: This article contains written content that you may find distressing

 

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Grenfell Tower, January 2013

As 2017 comes to a close, we mark six months since the Grenfell Tower fire claimed the lives of 71 people in North Kensington. Many will experience this Christmas as bittersweet: a time to rest and recuperate and be with loved ones; and a time of painful awareness that displaced neighbours are not in secure homes or able to spend time with their families as they would wish.

The Grenfell disaster did not happen in a vacuum, and this and a subsequent article will look at the socioeconomic context in which it took place, and consider the impact on individual lives and the North Kensington community. For many in Kensington and Chelsea, 2017 has been a year from hell. While for others in the borough, it has been another year of abundance-as-usual, despite the horrors of Grenfell.

 

Grenfell – The Context

A handy summary of the context for the Grenfell disaster is provided in the report ‘After Grenfell. Housing and inequality in Kensington and Chelsea’ written by Emma Dent Coad, Labour MP for Kensington, and launched in parliament last month. Click below to see the full report.

After Grenfell Inequality Report

The report dubs K & C “the most unequal borough in Britain”, a description backed up with eye-watering (literally and figuratively) examples and statistics that will echo through the borough for years to come. Perhaps most shockingly, as 2017 winds itself down, there is little sign that the gross inequalities outlined are being addressed, even in the aftermath of the entirely preventable, unprecedented fire.

The Grenfell Tower still stands on the Lancaster West estate: a Stalingrad-like monument to inequality in North Kensington, London, Britain, possibly the Western world. The sickening edifice, once a home to hundreds of people, now represents 303 children from the estate in temporary accommodation, including 226 in Bed and Breakfasts, according to the report. Many of these children have presumably been in this surreal state of insecure limbo since the disaster, despite it being unlawful for a local authority to leave children in B&Bs for over six weeks.

857 individuals were made homeless by the Grenfell disaster, with 20 having been permanently rehoused at the time of the Inequality report’s launch in mid-November.

The report states that K & C (population approx. 160,000) has 1,200 long-term empty homes, 9,300 second homes and over 6,000 homes registered as owned by companies registered in tax havens.

Class

The Grenfell sums don’t appear to add up. But Dent Coad’s report adds to the equation by detailing where the council’s spending priorities have been in recent years:

The Holland Park Opera cost £30 million up to 2014; £26 million was spent on paving Exhibition Road for the 2012 Olympics; Leighton House Museum (near Holland Park) will receive £7 million during 2017 and 2018; a flower kiosk at South Kensington tube station was given a budget of £100,000.

In contrast, the architects of the 2016 Grenfell Tower refurbishment wanted to use more expensive cladding on the building, but the council and Tenant Management Organisation opted for a less fire-resistant option, which saved them £280,000.

At the launch of her report in parliament, Dent Coad labelled the council’s spending priorities “bizarre” and “extraordinary”. The MP, who has a background in design, architecture and planning journalism, said the council is willing to spend half a million on topiary and other cosmetics, but refuses to invest in Lancaster West or pay contract staff the London Living Wage.

The Conservative council’s reaction to the publication of the report was also bizarre and extraordinary. Council leader Elizabeth Campbell labelled Dent Coad “opportunistic” and said the report was “littered with typos” – I counted two, inconsequential next to facts and anecdotes that would appal any decent person.

 

Some Facts from the Report

Death North Kensington is at the sharp end of a class war codenamed ‘Austerity’ that is proving cruel, demoralising and deadly. Life expectancy for men living in the Han Town ward (south of the Borough, near Harrods) is 94. In Golborne ward (North Kensington) men can expect to live to 72, down from 78 in 2010, when the Conservatives came to power.

Slow motion replay:

Here in North Kensington we men live for 22 years less than the rich in the south of the borough.

Income The median income in K & C is £140,000 per annum, but one third of workers earn less than £20,000, and ten percent less than the London Living Wage.

Child Poverty 4,500 children live in poverty in K & C. Two thirds are from working families, with half earning less than £7:50 per hour.

In Queens Gate ward, south of the borough, 2.8% of children are in poverty. In Henry Dickens Court in Norland Ward, North Kensington, 58% of children are in poverty.

Education Low educational attainment runs parallel with poverty. K & C’s average GCSE A*-C attainment is 72%. But on the Dalgarno ward in North Kensington, this percentage drops to 30%.

Health and Fitness Since 2010 funding for primary school sports activities has been reduced. And in 2010, free swimming for children was cut. Obesity in year six (ages 10 and 11) children in the borough has more than doubled in this time from 8.6% in 2010 to 20% in 2016.

During the same period, the borough has seen exponential rises in diabetes, chronic heart and pulmonary disease and Tuberculosis. The report even mentions a case of a K & C child with “full blown rickets”.

Those with dual or triple diagnosis of mental, physical and learning disabilities experience the most extreme income inequality.

Housing The key to the whole game. Many K & C residents are housed in temporary accommodation, two thirds of which is located outside the borough. The average time spent in such accommodation is 27 months, which wreaks havoc on children’s academic prospects. So does the fact that 68% of children in the Golborne ward live in overcrowded homes.

Mortgage? The average home in the borough costs £1.5 million, while the average price for a flat in North Kensington is now over £700,000.

Rent? The average cost of a three bedroom flat in North Kensington is £738 per week. That’s 75 hours of work at the London Living Wage rate.

 

Policy Outcomes 

But the above are facts of life/death that are meant to pass unchallenged, as natural as the air we breathe. A bit like the existence of food banks in the Royal Borough, which were described by Nicholas Paget Brown, the erstwhile council leader, as “a fine and noble thing”.

The widening rich-poor gap outlined in the report is the consequence of deliberate and calculated national government policy, which emboldened councils such as K & C to pursue an extreme austerity and accelerate social cleansing after 2010.

The Tory policies collectively amount to a violent attack on the majority of people in North Kensington and similar areas around Britain. What could be more violent than a policy that kills men 22 years ahead of their time, keeps thousands of people rooted in poverty and housing insecurity and sabotages the life chances of the jewels of society, our children?

In this context, the Grenfell disaster should be a wake-up call to the ruling elite that their intentions have been exposed. Not so. A K & C Conservative councillor told Emma Dent Coad that the preventable deaths of 71 people, including a stillborn baby, are just “one of those things”. The show must go on, and it has gone on…

Kensington, Chelsea and Fulham Conservatives thought it appropriate to ask residents to rank how much they care about the Grenfell disaster, 0-10.

They made sure they included the number zero. No typos from the Tories.

Zero

 

Grenfell – The Aftermath

And what of the direct victims of the fire and the wider community? The human cost behind the statistics.

While the council and May government dithered and fudged their response to the Grenfell Tower fire, treating it as a public relations crisis, others got to work.

Psychiatrist and Creative Arts Therapist, Dr. Sara Alsaraf, has been volunteering as part of a group set up two weeks after the fire by four female therapists with experience in trauma work and two local women who are funding it independently of the council. Sara told Urban Dandy about her experience volunteering with victims of the disaster:

 

“One of the therapists is a local who lost five members of her family in the fire. She is of Moroccan origin and embedded in the local community. She has been canvassing people to attend counselling in every community centre, at hotels, at mosques etc. We started running the group every Wednesday evening at Trellick Tower and were kindly donated the space by MCWG (Making Communities Work and Grow). Unfortunately, attendance started to dwindle over the last couple of months despite our efforts to engage people. There are various reasons for this, which I will go into later”

 

What sort of stories have you heard in your capacity as a counsellor? 

“Initially, we heard stories from people who lived in the building or nearby and from relatives who had lost family. We heard stories from the night of the fire, the panic and confusion, the life or death question that all the residents asked, which was: ‘Should we leave? or should we do as the emergency services are telling us and stay put?’

 

We heard from people who had lost family members, including a family where all perished apart from a five-year-old now in the care of her Aunts. We heard from those who witnessed the fire and how they are unable to get the images out of their mind and how the local children have been affected, some talking about the fire constantly others avoiding even looking in the direction of the building, having to have curtains closed at all times so they cannot see it. 

 

We heard from locals who have lived in the area for years and who run businesses, about the sense of shock reverberating throughout the community and the inability to make sense of the loss of life as well as the aftermath.

 

Interlaced among this has been consistent disappointment, anger and shock at the incompetence of K and C council”. 

 

What are the issues that have come up – anything that has particularly struck you?

“In terms of symptoms of traumatic stress, I think that people affected directly by the fire are unable to realise how deeply they may be affected yet. Experiencing the Grenfell fire firsthand is incredibly difficult to process and there is no doubt that most of the survivors’ and witnesses’ lives will be profoundly affected. At present though, for most people, they are focusing all their energy into getting through each day. Living in a ‘limbo’ state in hotels or bed and breakfasts is draining and any motivation they have is being demanded constantly to sort out practical issues: housing, money, children, funerals and so on. The council is causing individuals and families additional stress and suffering by taking so long to sort out these issues and also demanding constant form filling. I am also being told that survivors are all being treated differently and there is no consistency in the council’s approach to rehousing.

 

Are people suffering PTSD?

Many people are suffering insomnia, anxiety, panic, depression, flashbacks, it will probably become full blown once the practical issue are dealt with. I am certainly hearing about people drinking more alcohol or using drugs to control their emotions. People are irritable and have a short fuse. Some are fearful and paranoid about everything, checking on their loved ones throughout the day.

 

In terms of safety – how will the people impacted ever feel safe again? This happened to them in their own homes, plus there is a possibility of corporate manslaughter. There are so many strong emotions being contained by people including mistrust, paranoia, senselessness, anger, shock…

 

Another issue now is that people are not attending therapy and support services that are on offer. According to our local therapist who lives in the community, those affected are stating that they need help but that they cannot access services. Maybe there are issues about the services on offer.  We are hoping to change the time of our group and location so that it is more accessible to the community. Of course people are dispersed in hotels and B&Bs which makes attending local services more difficult. There also needs to be consideration of cultural sensitivity to contact with mental health services. For some people they may never have experienced anxiety, depression or PTSD and worry that they are going ‘crazy’ and that this is confirmed if they see a psychologist. This is not the case at all and there are a variety of ways psychological support can alleviate the anguish associated with profound trauma.

 

It is important that people continue to engage with their community services such as Almanaar Mosque, Acklam Village and Al-Hasaniya Morrocan Women’s Centre. Healing can also take place in community groups around food and sharing with one another and does not always have to be done in a formal setting”.

Sara can be contacted at: saraalsaraf@gmail.com

 

2017 fades with no traditional, warm Christmas card scene…2018 will begin without justice for Grenfell. Happy Christmas from RBKC? In part two – more from those working with the victims of the disaster, and K & C council respond…

 

 

By Tom Charles

@tomhcharles

Grenfell – The Disaster to Date

Warning: This article contains images, videos and written content that you may find upsetting.

 

Books will be written about the Grenfell Tower disaster, in which 71 people lost their lives in Britain’s worst peacetime fire. This article is not an attempt to comprehensively review events, that can be left to the authors. Nor is it a tribute to the North Kensington community’s response, something which is probably beyond Urban Dandy’s skills and possibly the limits of the English language.

This article is aimed at the many people across London and Britain who have lost touch with the Grenfell story, and presume that order and normality have now replaced horror and confusion in North Kensington. It will show that, five months on, this is not the case and provide information on why the area continues to suffer, as well as highlighting the impact of a system of power on the lives of local people. 

The timeline travels a bit, and the article is long compared to most blog posts, so your full attention is required.

We do not seek to speak for everyone, just to present facts and eyewitness accounts, compiled by a local blog and written by a former resident of Lancaster West, the estate where the Grenfell Tower still stands, burned out and hideous; a reminder that this happened to us, so it could happen to you or your family.

Despite the inevitable limitations of the article, we hope that everything written below is both true and pertinent.

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Grenfell Tower, November 2017

Southampton, 2010

Two firefighters die in a blaze at the Shirley Towers high rise.

Camberwell, London, 2013

Six people die in a fire at the Lakanal House tower block. In this case, as in Southampton, coroners recommend the retrofitting of sprinklers.

 

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14th June 2017

14th September 2017, Grenfell Fire Inquiry Begins

Two months later, the public inquiry ordered by prime minister Theresa May in to the Grenfell Tower fire starts. It is chaired by Sir Martin Moore-Bick. The retired judge has a record in housing cases that causes disquiet when his appointment is announced. He is appointed without consultation with survivors and residents, despite the prime minister’s promise to the contrary.

Moore-Bick’s inquiry examines the immediate causes of the fire, why it spread, the response of the emergency services, the design of Grenfell Tower, the effectiveness of fire regulations and the relationship between local people and the authorities.

Moore-Bick acknowledges the sense of “anger and betrayal” that permeates North Kensington in the aftermath of the disaster due to the lack of support and the council’s disregard of residents that forewarned of the danger. Moore-Bick says he will appoint ethnically, economically and socially “diverse” assessors to the inquiry.

What the Inquiry Won’t Do

It will not decide on liability, but it will establish the chain of events that took place before, during and immediately after the fire.

The inquiry is decontextualized and will not look at social housing policy or the response of the local and national governments. In short, the enquiry will establish “What” but not ask “Why?”.

 

2016 – West London

Grenfell Tower on the Lancaster West estate in West London is given an £8.6 million refurbishment, including new windows and cladding to improve the building’s appearance. The facelift makes the tower more congruent with the neighbouring Kensington Academy secondary school, although the cladding of Grenfell Tower is provided by a different company to the cladding of the school.

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Grenfell Tower in 2015 before the cladding was applied
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Kensington Academy on the right, and the pre-cladding Grenfell Tower in the left.

Warnings about fire safety in the tower were repeatedly provided by residents via the Grenfell Action Group blog, who noted a “terrifying” 2013 electrical surge, and who were scathing in their criticism of the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO): “…the TMO has no real commitment to addressing the fire safety needs of TMO residents throughout the borough”.

The 2016 changes made to Grenfell Tower leave it without sprinklers, which are not a legal requirement in refurbished buildings. The company responsible, Rydon, apparently met all the government’s safety standards. To fit sprinklers in to the Grenfell Tower flats would have cost approximately £200,000. At that time, the council’s useable reserves stood at around £274 million, plus around £30 million in cash reserves.

Omnis Exteriors was asked by the Council and KCTMO to supply cladding that was £2 per square metre cheaper than the more expensive, “more fire resistant” alternative.

 

What is the TMO?

The TMO ran the Lancaster West estate. A Tenant Management Organisation is traditionally a small, tenant-led group that takes over some of the landlord’s management of an estate from a local authority. Of 200 TMOs in Britain, the KCTMO was distinct in being an Arms-Length Management Organisation (ALMO) and therefore not representative of residents or even designed to be so. KCTMO was appointed to directly take over the council’s management of its estates, rather than to provide representative oversight.

 

14th June 2017

The Grenfell Tower fire is apparently caused by an exploding fridge. Residents are told to stay inside their flats. The fire spreads rapidly, apparently caused by the cladding installed on the outside of the tower. Neighbours watch on and listen to the screams of those trapped inside. Many people escape, many do not.

As the building smoulders, the North Kensington and wider community responds by setting up centres to organise food and clothing donations. Volunteers come from far and wide to help in the crisis in the absence of an effective local or national government presence.

 

21st June 2017

A week after the fire, Prime Minister Theresa May apologises for the government’s response, saying that it has not been good enough.

Kensington and Chelsea council say they are doing everything they can to help the survivors and the local community. The week has seen an incredible public effort in providing relief and donations.

 

4th July 2017

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, welcomes the appointment of new leadership of K and C council, following the resignations of chief executive Nicholas Holgate and leader, Nicholas Paget-Brown. Their resignations have taken two weeks to be given and come after pressure from central government.

Javid says the government will “do everything we can” to help the survivors.

 

What is the Labour party’s perspective?  

The official opposition has called for a Lawrence Inquiry style investigation, which could look at the deeper, institutional factors that caused the fire.

Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott called for commissioners to take over the “failing” K and C council. She also called for the council to utilise the 2,000 plus empty properties in the borough, for an immigration amnesty with indefinite leave to remain for survivors and for 3,000 more fire fighters to be employed. Abbott said that the fire was a direct consequence of deregulation of fire standards and inspectors, privatisation and outsourcing.

Shadow Housing Minister John Healey said that Labour would re-house everyone in the borough and said that there was no reason this could not be done very quickly.

 

5th July 2017

Three weeks after the fire and the date by which Sajid Javid had promised all survivors would have a new home.

A taskforce, Gold Command, replaces K and C council in running the Grenfell response, including the management of rehousing. The taskforce lacks the power to take a significantly different approach and there continues to be a conspicuous lack of action regarding rehousing and therapeutic services.

It is revealed that a ‘Kingspan’ cladding product was used alongside another insulation product on Grenfell Tower. Using a mixture of products should mean that the building does not satisfy safety regulations. The insulation chosen for the Grenfell refurbishment is permissible for use on tall buildings only if it is used with fibre cement panels, which do not burn.

On Grenfell Tower, combustible polyethylene filled panels were installed on top of synthetic insulation. The insulation, Celotex RS5000, was made from polyisocyanurate, which burns when exposed to heat and emits toxic cyanide fumes.

 

14th July 2017

One month on and an unearthed 2012 K and C/KCTMO document reveals that the Grenfell architects wanted to use the more expensive cladding, which is less combustible. It is shown that in 2014 the council decided to cut its cladding budget to save £280,000.

 

19th July 2017

The first proper, public council meeting since the fire is held. Survivors address the council. One woman pleads: “I beg you, do not play a game with us. I beg you, do not tell us lies. I beg you, do not waste our time”.

 

25th July 2017

It is revealed that KCTMO spends millions annually on management fees, and that only one pound in every three goes on maintenance and repairs.

KCTMO chief executive Robert Black resigns, but retains his six-figure salary, as he is helping organise the TMO’s response to the fire.

It emerges that in 2009 there were so many complaints made against the KCTMO that over 30 areas of concern about the organisation were established. Additionally, minutes from TMO meetings that year show an emphasis on saving money; in 2014 they show that rents were raised to earn KCTMO £7 million.

 

27th July 2017

The Metropolitan police state that they have enough evidence to press corporate manslaughter charges.

 

31st July 2017

There remains no internal K and C council investigation into the fire and its aftermath.

 

4th September 2017

As Kensington and Chelsea schools start to return for the new academic year, two Grenfell families are permanently rehoused.

 

13th September 2017

Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad says: “I spoke to somebody who had 26 different carers since the fire – a disabled person who had 26 different people coming to look after them. They have been moved six times. Every day they have to explain their needs to someone new, get used to being with a new person,” she said. 

“I still don’t know who is in charge. Who is even in charge of the whole process? We have had interim directors from other councils doing bits of work and trying to control this and that but I don’t know who is charge and whoever is in charge of coordinating the response is not doing it.”

 

22nd September 2017

100 days after the fire and 80 percent of survivors have not been rehoused: only three families are in permanent new homes, 29 in temporary accommodation. 165 have not been given new homes. Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad reveals that the government asked her to persuade survivors to accept the temporary accommodation they were being offered but she refused.

 

What was the government’s role?

Since 2010, when the Conservatives took power, government funding for fire and rescue authorities in England has gone down between 26 and 39 percent as part of a “cost saving” commitment to decreasing regulation, what former prime minister David Cameron, a resident of North Kensington, referred to as the “health and safety monster”.

In 2014, parliamentary under-secretary of state for Communities and Local Government, Brandon Lewis, stated that it was not the government’s, but the fire industry’s, responsibility to encourage the fitting of sprinklers.

The government has established an independent panel to advise it on its response to the Grenfell fire. The chair of the panel is Sir Ken Knight, who previousy recommended £200 million of fire service cuts and advocated against the retrofitting of sprinklers.

 

Who were the leaders of K and C council?

Nicholas Paget-Brown, council leader, Conservative

Councillor Paget-Brown attempted to hold the first post-fire council meeting behind closed doors, but was forced by a high court judge to allow the media in. In response, after the media and his fellow councillors had gathered, Paget-Brown announced that the meeting would not go ahead because an “open discussion” would not be possible with the media in attendance.

Previously, Paget-Brown had deflected blame for the fire by stating that Grenfell Tower residents had not wanted the “disruption” of fire safety equipment being fitted.

Under pressure from central government, who told Paget-Brown he had to accept his “share of responsibility for perceived failings”, the council leader resigned more than two weeks after the fire.

After resigning, Paget-Brown set up his own company, NPB Consulting.

 

Rock Feilding-Mellen, council deputy leader, cabinet member for Housing, Property and Regeneration, Conservative

Councillor Rock Feilding-Mellen received £50,000 per year for the part-time role of deputy leader of the council.

Documents seen by The Times show Councillor Feilding-Mellen, in June and July 2014, allegedly pressuring refurbishment consultants Artelia UK to reduce costs on the Grenfell Tower refurbishment project. An “urgent nudge email” from KCTMO to Artelia states: “We need good costs for Cllr Feilding-Mellen and the planner”.

Councillor Feilding-Mellen is also the Director of Socially Conscious Capital Ltd which deals in “strategic land promotion projects”.

Feilding-Mellen was the head of the committee that took the controversial decision to hand North Kensington library over to a private school called Notting Hill Preparatory School, in a generous deal that offered favourable terms over 25 years including the school being able to skip paying rent of £365,000 for the first year.

It emerged that Feilding-Mellen’s own children were on the waiting list for places at the school.

Rock Feilding-Mellen’s mother is Amanda Feilding, the Countess of Wenyss and March, also known as Lady Neidpath. Among the properties owned by the family is Stanway House in Gloucestershire. which the family promotes as “an enclave of very English and almost magical harmony”.

 

Feilding-Mellen resigned shortly after Nicholas Paget-Brown. Both men have updated their LinkedIn pages to show that they have left their council leadership roles, although they do not state the reasons.

 

Other key council figures

Councillor Elizabeth Campbell replaced Paget-Brown as council leader. As Cabinet Member for Family and Children’s Services, she oversaw cuts to the borough’s play services.

Chief Executive Nicholas Holgate was forced to resign by communities secretary Sajid Javid over the council’s response to the fire.

 

October 2017 – burials and ongoing displacement

At al-Manaar mosque, prayers for the dead continue, followed by burials. A man who was visiting a sick relative in Sudan on June 14th buries the remains of his wife and two daughters who died in the fire.

His wife alerted people to the fire using WhatsApp and Facebook Live and called friends to make amends for any wrongdoing on her part before she died. Their remains are finally released, having been traced by DNA in their teeth and skulls.

A Somali family from the Lancaster West estate stays in a hotel in South Kensington because their home has no gas or electricity (Grenfell Tower was the source of power for the rest of the estate). It is a few miles away, but another world from North Kensington. The mother, who has five children, including one with a statement of special educational needs (SEN), asked local community groups for help. They provided money for holidays away from West London during the long summer break.

The child with SEN is no longer being collected and taken to school by the local authority as he had been before the fire. Gold Command say it is not in their remit to take the child to school.

In South Kensington (the museum and embassy district of London housing the Royal Albert Hall) the Somali family have no access to the food they normally eat. They are used to traditional Somali food, abundantly available in North Kensington. Their hotel offers only breakfast. The family receive £300 a week, which they say is enough but it does not provide the home life, food or community they are used to.

 

The role played by local community organisations

Community organisations have continued helping people directly, including providing intermediary services between survivors and the authorities. Families needed help, particularly in the immediate aftermath, navigating the services offered by local government.

For local charity Baraka Community Association, this provision included translation and helping people obtain money for basic maintenance and travel. Additionally, Baraka ensured people accessed legal support as well as moral and social support, offering some familiarity in their lives.

Another volunteer told Urban Dandy that he encountered families being denied maintenance money because they did not live in the tower, but in the neighbouring flats, which had been locked by the council. The Gold Command frontline staff were reluctant to believe people who were asking for money for travel expenses, and asked them “How did you manage before the fire?”.

The volunteer told us the staff were “rude” and “prejudiced”.  

 

31st October 2017. Independent Grenfell Recovery Taskforce Initial Report

The report sets targets for K and C council to improve its performance and states: “RBKC failed its community on the night of 14 June and in the weeks following” You can read the full report here and background on the taskforce here.

 

November 14th 2017

At the time of writing, two thirds of families displaced by the fire are still in emergency temporary accommodation. 303 children are in temporary accommodation, 226 of them in bed and breakfasts. It is a contravention of a child’s human rights for a local authority to keep them in B & Bs for over six weeks. 

857 individuals were made homeless by the fire. Twenty families have been permanently rehoused.

In the borough, there are currently 1,200 long-term empty homes, 9,300 second homes and over 6,000 homes owned by companies registered in tax havens. 

Urban Dandy requested an interview with council leader Elizabeth Campbell in order to provide K and C’s perspective on their response to the disaster, but she did not respond.

 

10th November 2017 – Emma Dent Coad, local councillor and Labour MP for Kensington, interview with Urban Dandy

Emma Dent Coad was elected MP for Kensington just four days before the Grenfell fire, possibly the biggest shock of the 2017 general election. She is also a local Councillor in North Kensington, so was perhaps uniquely positioned to answer our questions…

UD: Five months on from the fire, quite a few people outside the area have said to me that they presume that the basic needs of the survivors and local residents are now being met. Are they right?

EDC: Sadly not at all. Just yesterday I met five households who are really struggling, stuck in hotels and losing hope. Will they still be there at Christmas? It seems likely, and that will be very difficult for many families.

 

Why haven’t things been sorted out for the survivors? 

EDC: The Council is incompetent and uncaring. After five months they still do not ‘get it’. They are responsible for what happened but they see it as ‘one of those things’. A Conservative Councillor actually used those words to me last night.

 

Should Labour win control of Kensington in the April 2018 council elections, what will change, with regards Grenfell, the survivors and the Lancaster West residents?

EDC: Affected residents will be treated with love, care and compassion, not processed at The Curve*. And local people will get far more say – and genuine control – over aspects of how things are managed. I would personally like to see a Forum with spending powers. All that is up for discussion.

 

In the immediate aftermath of the fire, why was there such a limited local government response? And why did it persist for so long?

EDC: The Council was in shock and denial. They refused help from other Councils for five days. It was truly appalling.

 

Have you seen signs that the local population will maintain its unity in the form of cohesive and effective action at the local and national levels?

EDC: Local people are still very angry, but also trying to work together to achieve change. This is difficult – especially when it seems some outside forces are playing ‘divide and rule’.

 

*The Curve – a local office being used as a hub for assistance

 

 

Tom Charles

@tomhcharles

Thanks to JC, AF and JA

North Kensington Children Honoured

Two London-based community organisations honoured the young people of North Kensington at the weekend. At an event on Ladbroke Grove, local children affected by the 14th June Grenfell Tower fire and its aftermath showcased their creative skills and public speaking abilities.

The children were given a platform to reflect on their experiences of the summer after the Grenfell disaster. Many of them had benefited from trips away from West London, funded and organised by Baraka Community Association (BCA) and Worldwide Somali Students & Professionals (WSSP). The trips included a residential at Hindleap Warren, visits to Legoland, Chessington, Butlins and Thorpe Park.

Over a hundred days have now passed since the unprecedented fire on the Lancaster West estate, which claimed scores of lives, including friends of the children present.

The young people were set the task of designing posters to express their feelings experiences during summer 2017, presenting them to a panel of judges that included Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad. Contestants were judged on their artistic ability, literacy and presentation skills.

After much deliberation and disagreement, the cash prizes went to:

Third prize: Aisha, aged nine, for her poster ‘Asia, Africa’.

Aisha reflected on getting far away from North Kensington to Dubai, Kenya (which she described as ‘boring’ – sorry Kenya) and Somalia. Aisha gained the judges’ praise for her lively, confident presentation.

Aisha
Aisha, 9, with Emma Dent Coad MP

Second prize: Abdullahi M, aged nine, for his poster ‘My Sad but Amazing Summer’.

Abdullahi described the events of 14th June as they had unfolded for him, talking about his mother’s tears, and the united local community. He ended his presentation with the words “peace and love for the community of North Kensington”.

Abdullah
Abdullahi with Emma

First prize: Hussein, aged 13.

Hussein received first prize for his combination of a brilliant design and a very eloquent presentation, outlining how each section of his picture linked together, and explaining the abstractions to the audience and judges.

 

Winning Entry
‘Summer 2017’ by Hussein

The prizes were awarded by Emma Dent Coad MP, who hailed the organisations involved and the families in attendance, noting that they were doing “what we all want to do: making the most of ourselves and our children”.

The event showcased the effectiveness of well-established and well-connected community groups. Already up and running and filling in gaps in provision long before the Grenfell fire, these organisations were in place to provide much-needed support and relief when North Kensington was shattered by the events of June 14th. When government services were most needed, they were found wanting, but the community was able to provide some essential presence.

WSSP’s Director Kasim Ali said: “The aim was to help children cope with the Grenfell disaster by talking about it and expressing themselves artistically. At the same time they learned lifelong skills such as design, presentation and public speaking”.

img-20171002-wa0003.jpg

The other talented children taking part and so close to winning were:

  • Sahra
  • Maryama
  • Sharifa
  • Muna
  • Yasin
  • Ayman
  • Abdullahi E
  • Ibtisam
  • Abdirahman

 

 

As Abdullahi M said: “peace and love for the community of North Kensington”.

 

 

By Tom Charles

@tomhcharles

When Emma Dented the Unwritten Coad

Before the fire, this was written…

It was something none of us thought we would see in 2017: The Conservative party lost their seat in Kensington, their safe seat, their stronghold, the wealthiest constituency in the UK, the Royalist Borough.

Previously held by (Sir) Malcolm Rifkind, he was forced to abandon ship in 2015 after being caught in a channel 4 sting complaining about his wages, bragging about how little constituency work he did and accepting obscene amounts of money to talk on foreign policy, a subject upon which his expertise lies in getting things spectacularly, repeatedly wrong. Read about it here if you want.

Do-nothing Tory grandee Rifkind was replaced by London’s deputy mayor, Lady Victoria Borwick. Unlike Malcolm, she did engage with the community and acknowledged the existence of the poor. Like Malcolm, her political life was devoted to class war. On housing, on the cuts, on refugees, for much of her tenure her complacency was matched by the resigned apathy of the non-Tory population of North Kensington.

But nobody really thought she was under serious threat of losing her seat. Two months ago, when the PM called the election, Labour had no chance in Kensington. Then came Labour’s manifesto, coupled with the Conservative party having nothing of use say about anything. A huge turnout, and two recounts later, Kensington was the final seat in the country to be called. And what a call the constituency made.

As if to milk the attention for all it was worth, it was late on Friday night when jubilant scenes erupted at the Town Hall. Emma Dent Coad had beaten Borwick by 20 votes, changing local politics forever, and making a mockery of Theresa May’s miserable campaign.

Urban Dandy tracked down Labour’s Kensington majority, and here they are, the 20 official history makers in their own words:

(note: their words were shared before the disaster)

Lisa (first past the post): “I have never voted conservative, and although I have always thought it is a given in k and c that the tories will win, I have always believed it is important to exercise ones right to vote. I am sick to the eye teeth of how our area is being over regenerated and valuable services, including outstanding children’s centres, have been or are planned to be closed down – all in the name of affordability with the borough refusing to consider the bigger picture. This year, like many others, I voted for labour. I am absolutely blown away that Emma Dent Coad has been elected to represent the people of Kensington. This is such exciting news. It feels progressive and exciting. I am a very happy resident right now.

Sophie (come unity): “I’m delighted with the result.  I have lived on Ladbroke Grove for 15 years and have seen many changes.  I was involved in the campaign to keep North Kensington Library in the community and more recently was involved in the running of the KPH (A valuable community hub – now sadly closed). Emma supported the library campaign and came to the birthday party we threw for the building in October.  Incidentally I took the opportunity to invite all councillors to the party following a debate in Kensington Town Hall and Labour were the only councillors who came:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWWCd5mviY8

I extended a similar invitation to all councillors in our final week of running the KPH.  I was told that Tories were too busy with their election campaign, but Emma came down with all the Labour councillors and spent an afternoon in the pub.  

This is the first time in my life I have been able to vote for somebody that I truly believe in – someone who really speaks out for our local community”. 

Edward (Grenfell Action Group): “Nice to see a supporter of Save North Kensington Library and Save Wornington College campaigns elected as our MP. Certainly wiped the smug smile off the likes of Cllr Paget Brown and Cllr Feilding Mellen who treat the residents of North Kensington with contempt and disdain”

Dave (Buzzing): ‘K&C is taking back the streets for the many not the few…leading by the front for a better society that accounts for people from different walks of life and circumstances’

Jen (Dandy): “I never thought I would see a time when K&C wasn’t a Tory stronghold. Results go to show how much London and all of Britain need tax paid properly by all to fund the crucially important services universally available in the UK of healthcare, education and more. Go on Jezza!”

Kasim and Wife (joint statement): 1. Tories ignored us for so long not anymore now! They know now why they lost the seat! 2. Voted for Prosperity over austerity! Hope over fear! 3. Tories lost contact with Kensington voters!

Yvette (Labour party member, nearly ran me over once): “The successful and historic election of EDC as a Labour MP in the Kensington seat demonstrates true democracy at work. For the young and old who voted for the first time it means they will know going forward that their vote makes a difference; and that fighting for what is right is worth it.”

Lindale (Natasha’s dad): I did vote to get the conservatives out, I’ve been waiting for this for years.  My first email to Victoria Borwick was to tell her how useless Malcolm Rifkind was.  I ran a facebook campaign to get rid of the Conservatives.  Getting the Tories out of Kensington was so sweet, I am curious to see what changes it makes to some of the ongoing issues in the Boroug

Niles (23): “When the rhythm changes so does the dance”

Anab (Upstairs): “I voted Labour!”

Sheraine (The Guv’nor): “It’s amazing man, Well deserved, she’s worked really really hard and she’s very capable”.

Faisa (first time voter): “I voted for Labour because I don’t like Theresa May and I think there should be a new prime minister”

Abdullahi (Baraka Obama): “I always vote Labour, I could never give my vote to the Conservatives. Even with a tiny majority, it shows you can’t be laid back. The Conservatives thought ‘nobody can touch us, this is Kensington and Chelsea’ – Now the community needs to say, if we’ve done well in this one, we can do even better in the future’.

Farhia (second time voter): “I previously voted Lib Dem but this time around I voted Labour. There was so much benefit from a Labour government – help with costs as a student, I could pay off my tuition fees. If I benefited, it’s only fair for future generations to have that chance. Their values match the working class, compared to the Conservatives, who just make life harder for us”

Karen (Brighton fan): “Emma Dent Coad saved the house I live in when the Conservatives wanted to knock it down. She’s a lovely lady to boot, very humble”.

Mustafa (Abu Jamal): “I like Jeremy Corbyn, he’s the one who is in touch with the reality of life, he’s very genuine. The Conservatives have no idea what working class people get up to. What was important was the manifesto, scrapping tuition fees. I don’t want my kids being in £50,000 debt”.

Valentyna (first time voter): This year I went voting and it was the first time in my life and I’m very proud to make this step especially as my vote mattered and Labour won! Guys wake up and take a stand. 

Chris and Reem (Joint statement made live at the Tabernacle)”We voted for Labour and for Emma Dent Coad in protest at the Tories’ pursuit of “Brexit-at-all-costs”. We are stronger within the EU. We also voted to counter the Israel Lobby’s pernicious campaign to undermine Jeremy Corbyn”.

 

And for good measure:

Ayman (age nine, Year 4, local primary school): “I asked my parents to vote for Labour because of the NHS and humanity as the Conservatives don’t care about us”

Maya (age 10, Year 5, another local primary school): “I was there on Friday night with my mum. It meant a lot to my mum and it was a once in a lifetime experience for someone like me. It was good, Emma came out crying and everyone was like ‘wooooo’ and singing ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ and ‘Go away Tories, Labour in’.

Respect.

 

Postscript:

Four days later, hell broke loose in Kensington. Soon after, in parliament, Emma Dent Coad made her maiden speech. Sensitivity, compassion, calm, poise, and an unflinching demand for justice. North Kensington is finally represented.

 

 

Tom Charles

@tomhcharles

 

come_unity
Art by Sophie Lodge