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”.

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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

Aisha and the Sea

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Oh! Sea you are so powerful

I am so small

Waves rush past me,

like the fleeing

Gently receding, pulling sand over my toes

embedding me once more into this earth,

 

Innocent unpolluted air filling, cleansing my lungs

from the dark soot of pain

that clings to my soul

like limpets upon rock

for fleeting seconds

I forget that beacon of despair

it is washed from my mind,

feeling one with nature, the sea

 

Staring towards the horizon

reclaiming, restoring my hopes, my dreams

nightmares briefly extinguished

by this planet’s womb-like amniotic waters,

everything so perfect here

Mother smiling with her eyes

that sparkle again

twinkling like the sun’s glistening rays in the surf,

 

I am a child again!

No longer old before my time

Oh! Sea you are so beautiful

I am so small…

 

M.C. Bolton, September 2017

 

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I’m Spartacus

 

Herded into the arena

bloodied by poverty’s lash

sand soft between our toes

as we march into the stadium of despair

mentally chained by our delusion of freedom,

divided into race, faith, nation, class

then pitted against each other

For our rulers’ pleasure

 

But many refuse to fight

Us – the truly dangerous ones

instead pointing upwards to the audience

of those that truly despise and fear us

 

Yet you who plunder our homes, invade our streets,

Women who tightly clutch their handbags

staring at the pavement in terror

for surely we are all vagabonds, cutthroats and thieves!

Suited men who’s bowels loosen

when passing our urban-talking youth

who defend their postcode by the same extreme violence 

that the state metes out to them with impunity,

 

We who are crushed on every side

surrounded by avarice and greed

by disciples of the latest fad,

drinking alfresco skinny lattes on Westbourne Grove

the need to be scenes,

our wrath slowly being squeezed

accused of sour grapes, lacking aspiration,

Yet it’s our blood that makes your wine

with which you wet your lips

as you toss us your scraps,

we who slowly devour and destroy one another,

 

But Spartacus is rising

resurrected like a phoenix in the flames

our sight restored by tragedy

injustice the fire that burns brightly

inside compassionate indignant hearts,

shaking those who’s God is mammon

 

Yet it’s not your eye of the needle wealth we wish to pillage

but your fraudulent sense of privilege, entitlement, arrogance and ignorance

hiding in your bunker-like basements

whilst above, homes, communities are destroyed

 

as we stare at our Stalingrad-like monument,

united under the banner of hope and faith,

love for our children will ever be our shield,

God’s wrath will be stirred

by the death of his innocent ones

 

Millstones will be prepared,

the sea’s depth beckons

those that hide behind their cloak of guilt

for this slaughter ignited a fury in our hearts

we’ll stand against your legions

we’ve buried our dead

but we will never let you bury the truth…

 

 

LW2

M.C. Bolton, September 2017

 

Grenfell Rehousing Policy July 2017 / Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

Disclaimer
Urban Dandy makes no claim to give legal representation of any kind and has no intention of giving advice in the field of law. All opinions are the author’s personal opinion and to be considered as just that, a personal opinion. No reference to anything written is to be deemed actual evidence and should be seen as a guideline to further investigate the nature and the result of the policy upon acceptance. We suggest that support or representation ,if any, should be supplied by accredited law experts. 

 

This document was recently published on the Home Connections website under the Royal Borough Of Kensington section. It attempts to clarify the councils intended mode of operation regarding rehousing the victims of the Grenfell disaster.

As odd as it seems, I fail to find a lack of integrity here. However, we feel that it’s the duty of everyone under social housing, surrounding the Lancaster West Estate in the w10/w11 area and beyond, to check this document for compliance.

 

Genfell Policy
Click on the logo above to read

 

I suggest reading this very carefully, especially first, second, and third band tenants of the Lancaster West Estate as there is much at stake with a housing obligation that may be full and final. Especially when the interested party is carrying such emotional, physical, and psychological grief sound decisions are only made with an informed and sound mind. This isn’t to say that we, the peripheral community, aren’t sharing these feelings but the direct burdensome displacement and trauma that has been suffered by those in, what the council describe as, bands 1-3 should be carefully weighed and compared. Hopefully, they can then be sufficiently compensated with full consideration. This is a historical time and an epoch in the Ladbroke Grove/Notting Hill area and its community and council relationships. (7.3. Rehousing)

‘… the Minister of State for Immigration made a written statement in Parliament concerning the introduction of a policy on leave to remain outside the Immigration Rules for former residents of Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk’. (3. Eligibility)

This is good in theory. It would imply that this was the case but those with immigration issues, regarding their legal right to remain in the UK, should probe further into this and enquire as to the current status of this ‘gesture’ because until it is legally agreed upon this is just a really, really nice thought.

 

So it looks like the tenancy will be like for like. Good. (4. Type of accommodation to be offered)

I would also enquire about the rent charges remaining affordable because the word ‘Affordable’ has a different meaning to different brackets of earning. Not that we’re critiquing the actual word – which was not actually used – but bringing attention to the dangers of ambiguity, which is often the theme and tool that shafts those less aware of legal semantics. (4.2. Rent charges and service charges)

It’s also stated that the succession will be pre-Localism: also good. The Localism Act of 2011 gave the landlord the right to convert the succession tenancy into a lesser shorter term agreement, as we are witnessing all over the Country. The victims and affected families will be given a property with a long term agreement, which is what we were hoping for. (4.3. Succession) 

Stage 2 Temporary accommodation on occasion can be turned into Long Term Housing. It appears, in some cases, that if a temporary, stage 2 (transient) accommodation is favourable to a tenant there is a provision to, at their request, convert it into their permanent residence. Stage 2 is post stage 1 (hotel accommodation).  (Page 7. Converting Stage 2 temporary accommodation into long-term accommodation)

 

 

‘The Council will continue to monitor the effect of this policy on the above needs and in particular will review this policy after it has been in force for a period of three months. Further reviews will be carried out as necessary and appropriate.

The Council will continually monitor, review and improve the delivery of this policy with the aim of ensuring that it meets the community’s needs in the best way that it possibly can’. (10. Equality and diversity)

 

This is something to think about as there may be issues regarding favouritism that arise. If these issues had not been considered previously, there is room for them to improve their policy. Know that policies are not enforceable and are guidelines for the employees. The thing to consider is who the tenant is in regards to the policy they wish to employ to accommodate you, the injured customer.

These are just a few points from a very interesting and critical read.  Although with such organisations I will always remain suspicious, it looks to me as though the council are trying to introduce a level of honour here which has in the past contradicted their mission.

 

Summary

I refer to the tenant as a ‘customer’ because I try to view this as if I bought a product that was defective and, due to no fault of my own, has caused me to lose my abode, members of my family and a level of physical and psychological damage. Will a great replacement product or service satisfy the coming years of painful reflection, the absence of my family and peers and the reoccurring nightmare of 14/6? I think not. The company that supplied the product/service must have a major insurance policy that compensates for the massive personal loss outside of the very physical material loss, especially when dealing with structures that pose such a great potential for danger. Although human life can never be replaced, I should expect an honourable attempt to match the cost of human life by a massive financial outlay. This policy is a good gesture as far as the rehousing obligation but there’s so much more than the stated ‘intention’.

 We would be happy to receive and share comments regarding various views on the true equitability of this offer and any details we may have missed. As a community, it’s important that we serve each other in the capacity and area of our best abilities. Please share your thoughts.




Please be caring enough to view the full policy by clicking below

Grenfell_Rehousing_Policy

 

 

Rest In Peace Jessica and the other children. You will forever remain a symbol of the change we will secure. 

 

Love to our great community 

Angel Lewis

Grenfell: Some Relief for Some of Us

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Ten-year olds in North Kensington have seen more than they should ever have seen. Heat, fire, pain and death from the Grenfell Tower; Slowly inhaling the dust of the lost. 

A mutilated building stands as a constant testimony to the mass incineration of June 14th. As they look down the street, between houses, the Tower appears, as they travel through the concrete jungle, Grenfell is there, on their skyline and their minds.

The children of North Kensington lost faith in the safety of the world, and any sense they May have had that the role of government is to support the population. Profound trauma, with parents’ availability to provide emotional support severely reduced by having to fill the space vacated by government in the disaster response.

Waves

But for some of us there has been some release. In Devon my 10 year old was finally freed from weeks of the oppressive atmosphere of disaster. As the waves crashed in, she ran away, then chased them back into the sea, shouting at them. Her shouts turned to screams, pure joy and liberation…

Nature was safe again, the world was suddenly the right place to be after weeks of questions about cladding, fire, safety and the inhumane treatment of people. Re-connected to her original source, this child was at one with the water, sand, the vast sky and the cold wind.

To see her lose her ‘self’ and be her pure, true self in those moments was to regain my own faith in life. But most North Kensington children have not yet had such a moment.

1

Housing

As of that day, 2nd August, 12 households from the Tower had been rehoused – a statistic that tells much of the story about the re-traumatisation of victims by way of bureaucracy, political decision and incompetence in the richest borough on the planet, with its 1,400 empty dwellings.

If there is to be a restoration of faith, it will not be courtesy of Kensington and Chelsea council or Theresa May’s government.

Genuine relief is provided by local charities and community organisations, quietly organising weekends away, holidays and residentials for families. Here in North Kensington, there are creative, sporting and communal activities to lighten the burden on parents.

Power

The community has stepped in to provide what the council cannot – humanity. What none of these organisations can provide is what the council can, but aren’t, providing: housing, the only way to dignity. And as such the dignity of the victims, survivors and the wider community is not being honoured. On the contrary, it is being threatened and trampled daily.

Individual stories in North Kensington tell a bigger story of dehumanisation and some of these will follow on Urban Dandy. In the meantime, I’m relieved that I had moved away from the Lancaster West estate to safety, and that my traumatised daughter could connect with Blessed nature, arriving home again.

 

Tom Charles

Grenfell – Night Thoughts

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As the sweet summer breeze

blows through this petrified charcoal edifice

stirring the parched remains of the perished

inside this crematorium created by man’s greed,

 

We who are in temporary sleep

slowly inhaling the dust of the lost

unlike God, offering not the breath of life

Yet not forgotten, becoming part of us

 

Fused into our very being

scorched into our souls

as the seared conscience

of those that govern

offers no honour, shame, guilt

or Judas-like, intestine-spilling torment!

Instead scurrying like rats

under the tarpaulin of fear

 

Light exposing their hidden deeds of darkness

that atomized men, women and children before their time

those who’s bodies can no longer cast shadows

 

Your eternal flame

forever burns brightly

shining like stars

guiding both seeker and wise

along the narrow path

in their quest for the truth…

 

 

M.C. Bolton, 28th July 2017

Photo by Hugh

Grenfell In Parliament

Survivors of the Grenfell Tower disaster in West London and members of the North Kensington community travelled to Parliament on 29th June, giving evidence to relevant Labour shadow cabinet members to enable them to better hold the Conservative government to account over its handling of events.

Earlier in the day, the UK government announced that its public inquiry in to the disaster would be led by retired judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick. The controversial choice of Moore-Bick, made without consultation with survivors, adds to the sense in North Kensington that the government, in cahoots with its local government counterparts, are fudging the official response to the disaster, which has officially killed 80, although the real death toll is known to be far higher. The public inquiry will establish the cause of the fire, but will not have the power to bring criminal charges against those responsible.

Meeting in Parliament

The Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott invited survivors, families and local residents to meet with her and her colleagues in parliament to bear witness to the truth of what is happening on the ground following the unprecedented disaster. What they learned was that the reassurances given to them by prime minister Theresa May and home secretary Amber Rudd are at odds with reality.

Survivors, who arrived in busloads from around West London, spoke directly, through family members and one through a translator. The main concern raised was housing, but indignation was also expressed regarding the incompetence of the local authority, treatment of surviving families as charitable cases, class differences, the choice of judge and the impact of the disaster and government response on local children.

The theme, recurring with every speaker, was dignity. Dignity for the dead, for the survivors and for the North Kensington community. They were asking for dignity and they conducted themselves with the utmost dignity, in a strange setting, making demands they should never have to make. The Labour MPs present were armed with facts and anecdotes and will be keen to hammer home, to the government and the electorate, the need for dignity.

Box Rooms  

Numerous survivors told of how they had been moved to wholly inadequate and inappropriate “box rooms” in hotels or Bed and Breakfasts outside of Kensington and Chelsea. Some of these small rooms are not even equipped with fridges.

Some of the hotels are only providing breakfast to survivors, who must otherwise fend for themselves. One woman said that a relative of hers with asthma had been placed in a room with no window.

Others reported having been offered unsuitable accommodation in the south of the borough, while others had turned down numerous properties outside the borough, which had been offered only as temporary shelter. The local authority has not come forward with a plan for permanent housing, and concern was expressed that when temporary accommodation tenancies expired, Grenfell victims would be forced out of the borough by the unaffordable private sector market.

Those gathered heard that when hotels decided that they no longer had room to house the survivors, in some cases at 2am, there was no council contingency plan in place to support them.

Authorities Losing Authority

All of the residents who spoke decried the lack of support from Kensington and Chelsea council. While public support has flooded in, the survivors “have to go and search for it.” The absence of deliveries by the council has meant that survivors have had the unedifying experience of rooting through bags of charity donations to find essential items. One story was of a survivor who was provided with no shoes and no food by the council and had to head out to look for them.

The council was condemned for its inhuman response, “they haven’t even sent people to ask how we are” said one survivor, “Everyone else is asking how we are, why can’t they?” When Abbott asked if the information given to her by May and Rudd, that every survivor had been allocated a social worker, was correct, she was met with a resounding “No!” from all sides.

Survivors and community organisers demanded a local authority presence 24 hours a day at all hotels housing survivors to ensure their basic needs could be met.

The MPs heard that the Westway Sports Centre, acting as the hub for coordination of the relief effort is not using translators, despite English not being the mother tongue of many of the residents of the Lancaster West estate, of which Grenfell Tower is a part. Residents of neighbouring blocks have also been moved, lost gas and not kept informed of developments.

Emma Dent Coad, Labour MP for Kensington, agreed that residents had been “fobbed off” by the local authority, and claimed that the council was now effectively in “special measures” due to its incompetence.

Others questioned how the Tenant Management Organisation (TMO), which manages the estate for Kensington and Chelsea, could still be in situ following their own mishandling of the disaster.

Thirty Pounds

Among the many shocking revelations brought to parliament by survivors was that the council was giving people an allowance of £30 per day to live on. Additionally, they were required to keep a record of what they had spent their £30 on.

Others told of traumatised survivors being offered £500 in cash with a further £5,000 to be put in their bank accounts, but with the caveat that accepting the money would affect future housing benefit payments. It was not clear if relief had now become a loan in the richest borough in Europe. Community organisers pleaded with the MPs present to take action to stop the authorities presenting victims with complex agreements to sign to enable them to receive minimal relief. The MPs explained that they had been given an entirely different report from the government: that everything was going “okay.”

Another fact, presumably not reported to the official opposition party by May and Rudd, is that survivors who need to use the Westway centre are made to wear wristbands to identify them as Grenfell residents. This made them “look like cattle” stated one family member of a survivor, who explained that as a sports centre, Westway already has the technology to produce photo identity cards, which would afford the survivors more dignity.

A Syrian survivor, who lost his brother in the blaze, talked about his family traveling to the UK to be with him in order to grieve together. He said that the grieving process was very difficult as the hotel room he has been housed in is a box room, so he and his family cannot spend the private, quality time they so desperately need to honour their loved one.

One man told of how his sister had been investigating safety in the Grenfell Tower and had been threatened with legal action by the council as a result. His sister died in the fire.

Impact

One major problem among the many identified was that Grenfell survivors were now dispersed across a wide area. They are unable to console each other, share their experiences together or coordinate their response. A weak constituency has now been further weakened.

More harrowing anecdotes followed: orphaned children with no social worker; one survivor, so traumatised and receiving little support, attempting suicide.

The link between the suffering of these residents and the class-based politics of the area was eloquently identified. One survivor compared the class system in North Kensington to that of the Titanic, where the rich can survive but the poor are at the mercy of events. People described the “managed decline” of the area and the council’s social cleansing.

Others objected to being referred to as “the poor” by Abbott, protesting: “we’re educated working class people, we’re not poor.” But there was no debate about culpability over the inadequate response of both the local and national governments: “the local and national governments don’t care,” “If you want to help us, just help us,” “the government just do not care.”

Improperly reduced to the position of almsmen, confusion surrounds the whereabouts of the millions of pounds of charity that society rallied to pledge.

The Future

In the absence of an effective local authority, word of mouth has become king in North Kensington. In parliament, those gathered heard unfiltered testimony from many mouths. On the future of the area, questions were raised about the demolition of Grenfell Tower, about rumours that the neighbouring school, Kensington Academy will not open in September and about the long-term psychological impact on children.

Incredulity over the absurdity of the official death toll was expressed, a scene replayed daily on every street in North Kensington. Disappointment, but no surprise, over the appointment of an unsuitable judge with an inadequate remit, was voiced. What is essentially an inquest in to the cladding used on the building was labelled “an insult.”

Some asked Abbott and her colleagues, the Shadow Justice Secretary, Richard Burgon and MP David Lammy, to work to ensure the skeletal tower is covered up to protect the dignity of those that died and to stop the community having to face that constant, harrowing reminder.

The politicians responded with the guarantee that they would “not rest” until justice was done. They called for transparency and action from the government.

The diligent work promised by Labour is very necessary, but above all, the cry of the North Kensington community must be heard and kept at the centre of any decisions taken: Dignity and respect now. The most traumatised community in the country have conducted themselves with grace and fortitude, but at the moment this not being met in kind.

 

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By Tom Charles @tomhcharles

This article was written for, and also appears on, The New Arab

Art by Junior Tomlin