Snapshot of a Community in Pain – Children in North Kensington

Oxford Gardens Primary School in North Kensington opened as normal on Wednesday, June 14th. Children arrived in the morning and left in the afternoon. But, following the inferno that engulfed the residents of Grenfell Tower in the early hours of that fateful day, their experience was anything but normal. Their lives had irreversibly changed.

The school sits less than half a mile, a few streets away, from the decimated Grenfell Tower that still blazed that morning. Debris floated from the burning tower down in to the playground while the lingering smell, that all knew contained burned flesh, pervaded. Children took in the sickening sight of that once-familiar tower block now blackened and smouldering as they arrived at the school gates.

Council

A council-run school, Oxford Gardens is administered by Kensington and Chelsea – the local authority that threatened the Grenfell residents with legal action when they warned of the fire risk that was to kill them.  The council was as unresponsive to the needs of this school that morning as it was to every other aspect of this community-shattering disaster. From the Town Hall there was nothing, exposing local authority indifference to North Kensington and leading to Kensington and Chelsea being replaced by other boroughs as the leaders of the official disaster response.

IMG-20170628-WA0009
From the playground, photo by HH

Children from the school were killed in the fire; every single pupil and every single parent, without exception, has been affected.

The father of a girl in Year Three told Urban Dandy: “My daughter is really affected. Mahdi and his family were all killed and he was in her class”.

Of his other daughter in Reception, he told us: “She has heard religious stories about the hellfire, and she said ‘Dad, I thought this kind of hell is after death.’ I explained that those people who died in the tower would go straight to heaven, Allah guarantees it in the Qu’ran; if people die in this way, they have already suffered enough.”

On 14th June, children were kept in their classrooms all day, a hot day, to protect them from the sight of the tower. Now they are allowed out again and the relative normality of lessons has resumed, but break time is overshadowed by the freakish and haunting view of Grenfell Tower.

Constant Reminder

A parent of a Year Five child shared: “On the way to school we see the St Francis* kids going to a school they’ve been rehoused in. Then we arrive at the school playground to see the tower, it’s a constant reminder.”

“During a trip with the class, on the tube they all picked up the Metro and all they are interested in is Grenfell. None of them looked at the football news. My daughter talks about it constantly.”

“The school held an assembly for a boy who died, which is more than the council has done. The school can’t do much but they’re trying; they’ve advertised a psychologist and other help. I’m not disappointed in the school, or the police or the fire service, just the council. The teachers aren’t trained for this. They already have to do more than they’re paid for”.

Alongside the formal education from the schools and teachers, local parents rightfully wonder at the education their children are receiving from the local authority in Kensington and Chelsea. The poor perish in tower blocks – inappropriately cladded by the very council – while the needs of displaced, traumatised survivors are attended to by other traumatised individuals in the community. Meanwhile the local council, more than simply deaf, but who threatened legal action against the heartbreakingly accurate and prophetic warnings of the residents – stays noticeably and purposefully absent, absconding its responsibility for both the inferno and the essentials for this in-need community. A short walk south towards Holland Park and there are shops that groom dogs to look “gorgeous and fluffy.” The children understand the connection.

Neighbours, friends and an entire community now rightfully fear becoming charity cases to be appropriated by the obscenely privileged and callously detached. The council’s inglorious response and preceding gross, hard-hearted maltreatment of its poorest constituents will have left local children in no doubt as to where they stand in the pecking order within this Borough. The disaster has provided institutionalised proof of how little value is attached to their lives by their presumed betters.

Muted, Mutual

A parent governor at Oxford Gardens spoke to us: “A lot of the children from Oxford Gardens go on to Kensington Academy, which is now closed because it’s right next to the tower. Oxford Gardens is a feeder school for that Academy. On top of that, children have lost friends from youth groups. A lot of the staff are rooted in the area meaning many people in the school community have been seriously affected.”

4

In the aftermath of the disaster, the council was seldom seen on the ground, leaving the heavy lifting to ordinary, untrained people. These diligent individuals came from all walks of the community, tirelessly running the response despite inexperience and a shocking absence of resources and guidance. The council clearly prioritised managing the situation over taking any responsibility or ownership of the disaster or its aftermath. Further, the council’s unresponsiveness diverted local parents away from their primary roles as carers of their children during a time of ever-present trauma, to become the primary caregivers for the whole community. “The family priority has become null” the parent governor told us. Try making sense of that aged nine.

At Oxford Gardens, as at many local schools, the governor explained: “There are empty seats, three children have been confirmed dead, and the children have best friends at other schools who have died or been directly affected. I’ve lost parents I knew. “

“In the playground we’re hugging and touching each other on the shoulder for reassurance. Even with parents we don’t know, the whole body language has changed. It’s a muted, mutual understanding.”

The family priority has become null

Fixation

At the office used by Urban Dandy on Ladbroke Grove, children arriving for supplementary schooling gaze out of the window at the grim, skeletal tower. Most have a fixation with the disaster, attempting to understand it through questioning adults about fire, building regulations and government responsibilities. They want to hear that this will not happen again. But we cannot tell them that the authorities will take care of things, that would be a lie. Our children are manifesting their psychological scars in nightmares, tears, almost constant hugging, drawing pictures of burning towers or looking their elders straight in the eye: “How do you know that we’re safe?”

The public relations management of the disaster by local and national government is not going to fool this younger generation. By the time they are Year Five, children understand their position and value in this class-based society. For those that will grow up in the shadow of the Grenfell Tower, this understanding is no longer an implicit awareness, but explicit knowledge.

They have had to absorb and process more than any child should ever have to, and their consciousness has shifted forever, individually and collectively. They have seen their parents and community respond with humanity and grace in adversity. The flip side to the council’s degrading lesson in class indifference is that these children have now seen human beings at their best. 

 

 

By Tom Charles with Jennifer Cavanagh

@tomhcharles

*St Francis of Assisi Primary school is next to the Lancaster West estate

Centurions – Urban Dandy’s 100th Post

Our Hundredth Post – About Urban Dandy

Urban Dandy Truth

In the heart of the Urban Dandy is the fate and the conflict of the bohemian, to become preoccupied with the things he/she shuns – materialism and money. They must survive, after all. They mustn’t be a burden, they must contribute, they must identify and add to the chorus when injustice is uncovered.

Identifying with the downtrodden, the poor and the dandies, the human, those who won’t back down and those that capitulate under pressure. The Urban Dandy embraces the contrasts and colours that create a fully vibrant city-scape of peoples.

The eyes of the Urban Dandy look deep into the spectre of failure. The integrity of the work takes our energy, likes and hits, fame and fortune do not. It’s a slow-rise, an awakening, a connecting of voices: I hear you, you hear me…

The scope of the Urban Dandy is local and global. Big Ideas. Not anti-capitalist, or pro-socialist; not dogmatic, pro-truth. Art of word, authenticity, not glorifying poverty, glory in human beings, looking at context, our area. Not vacuous superficiality…Wholesome. You too, our ears, your thoughts. The truth you can say. Word is bond. Life in motion – Truth again.

The style of the Urban Dandy is irreverent, light, heavy…

The conversation of the Urban Dandy is theatre, art, food, spiritual practices, addiction, terrorism, refugees, interviews, spirited resistance, local businesses, local artists, local area, gentrification…

Urban Dandy is a safe refuge for words.

The Urban Dandy knows that today’s media adds as much pepper to a story as they can to gain a reaction, ultimately seeking readership. This is not us. We will go the long route and grow organically, rather than compromise our ethics. Words are important and the lips from which they departed deserve for those very words to be received exactly as they were intended.

If the Urban Dandy holds an opinion at all it will be clearly stated as our own and never merged with the words of a trusting interviewee/interlocutor. It’s possible to share an opinion but never a mouth. 

 

 The Truth of the Urban Dandy

My name is Truth

I have stood since times beginning

Outside the hearts of man

Waiting for the invitation

a few will let me in

I am searched for by the flawed, the weak, written about by the poor

For only in humility

Can I enter through your door

Yet I can free you from delusions, false hope and empty dreams

From the world’s chicanery

All its crazy schemes

I am the small voice in the wilderness

A whisper in the breeze

be still, quiet, listen

For with me comes liberty…

 

 

Poem by Mark Bolton

Terror Impact: Preferential Coverage and Little Ears

Beirut Iraq Paris Syria

Last Friday evening following the repulsive terror attacks, we were careful to limit the news in our household, mindful of the fears that might awaken in our 6-year-old.

From Beirut through Paris, and in so many other regions, people were going about their daily lives when horror erupted. Accompanying death were traumatic, chilling sights and sounds imprinted on survivors and transmitted to onlookers near and far.

We began to weigh-in on what to tell a young child: whether to share or shelter her from the news that was, after all, not on our shores. The question of the location raised its head and merits some attention.

The continued pervasive coverage of France’s tragedy is neither surprising nor an insult to other countries or populations that have equally suffered. This is not a competition. In the UK the coverage of 7/7 was intense and on-going for months. Last year the October shooting in Ottawa, Canada saw international coverage but nowhere was this coverage more concentrated and extensive than in Canada.

Paris is an international city; one of the most visited and well-known even to those that have only toured it via films and books. This fact is precisely why coverage of the tragedy here in Canada is more intense than the coverage of similar attacks. Paris is a relatable, familiar location where many of us have participated in the exact activities, in the exact locations where these events unfolded. Familiarity breeds curiosity. The 2013 Westgate Mall siege provoked blanket media coverage. There have been attacks before and since in Kenya however that assault occurred in an everyday familiar location– a shopping mall – riveting global interest. Paris belongs not only to the French but is a global outpost which many call “home” whether they’ve taken up residence or not.  The population of Paris is not simply French but vibrant, massively multi-cultural; where Eid and Diwali are as well-known as Hanukkah or Christmas.

Comfort must overrule the cynicism in the perception of preferential coverage. If anything, the coverage of Paris shines a light on bias and can, if allowed, frame an understanding of life in war zones and build empathy towards refugees fleeing these exact horrors.

So, recognizing that media will be intense and pervasive, does one shelter or share with a child? We all make our own choices as parents but for me open discussion should rule. Parents, families, friends, aunts and uncles are best placed to open this sensitive dialogue even in a selective, imprecise manner. Children, even the very young, are acutely perceptive whether to a news report playing in their home, a magazine, newspaper or iPad story left open. A media-blackout at home cannot control what is overheard on the streets, schoolyards and playgrounds. Far worse than having this delicate, uncomfortable conversation is a child being burdened with almost incomprehensible information from another child who may have been exposed to the horrible details without an opportunity for follow-up and exchange. So we sit with our children and tell them that some people were hurt in Paris and that this has made us and the world incredibly sad.  We light a candle and take them to a memorial if they need comfort.  We start a dialogue enabling them to come back to us should they overhear disturbing news, have questions or fears. Together, regardless of age, we open that interchange, held in unconditional love: we fumble, we improvise, we speak; we simply do our best to ensure the communication is there for solidarity, empathy and reassurance.

 

By Jennifer Cavanagh

Charlie and the Fear Factory

O mankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other, not that ye may despise each other – Verse 49:13, Surat I-hujurat (The Dwellings) The Holy Qur’an

The terrifying events in Paris last week have been pounced upon by the political mainstream and many social media users to declare commitment to freedom of speech and vilify Muslims and Islam.

People in Britain have taken to social media to express solidarity with the Charlie Hebdo magazine. ‘Je Suis Charlie’ they say, but had you heard of this magazine before last week? People who have surely never read the magazine are so profoundly moved that not only are they willing to declare sympathy, but en masse have declared that they are in fact Charlie Hebdo.

World leaders flew to Paris to jostle for position at the front of a solidarity rally. Our war mongering, arms selling Prime Minister was there, a man who once ordered the Guardian to destroy hard drives containing information given to them by Edward Snowden.

And there too was the prima facie war criminal Binyamin Netanyahu, a man with the blood of thousands of Palestinian innocents on his hands, whose own government cracks down on free speech within its own borders and in the territories it occupies. Surreally, along from Netanyahu was Mahmoud Abbas, presumably the most uncomfortable man in Paris that day, marching alongside a man unquestionably responsible for the deaths of over 500 children in Gaza last summer during Israel’s ongoing infanticide.

Uncomfortable
Credit: AFP

WC

The list goes on and the point is that these leaders are demonstrably indifferent to the sanctity of life and freedom of expression.  What they are interested is pushing their own agenda, an agenda of fear and perpetual war that does not benefit the majority of people now proclaiming to ‘be’ Charlie.

Charlie Hebdo magazine is part of a mainstream political culture that increasingly seeks to vilify and marginalise Muslims and Islam, failing to provide details of the context in which events take place. The cartoons they published were knowingly offensive and deliberately blasphemous. Why? Political satire should empower the weak and maligned, not target them.

To support freedom of expression is one thing, but widespread support for a racist, Islamophobic publication is something else. The right to freedom of speech comes with the responsibility not to deliberately attack, disgust and provoke ordinary people.

Muslims are the biggest victims of terror in the world today. Not one government represents a majority Muslim country with any distinction and most are dictatorships that act to shore up American economic ambitions. One of the biggest killers of Muslims is US President Obama, who is in charge of the broadest terror campaign in history; the US drone programme.

And the geopolitics of all of this violence affects us here in London. Our politicians, like the murderers in Paris last week have much to gain by dividing us. Both of these groups, who rely on violence for their power and status, are opportunistically seizing on events in Paris to recruit people to their cause and maximise their own power and control. Muslims will be the primary victims of this. Muslims are a minority, an easy target. The mainstream media constantly, daily links two words: ‘Muslim’ and ‘terror’. Slowly but surely these ideas are being internalised and normalised and this is the real threat to our freedom.

Islam is a religion of peace and grace, from which we can learn so much about our common humanity. It never has been and never will be our enemy. The real enemy remains those who seek to disseminate violence, terror and division. They have to work tirelessly to divide us.

The historical precedents are too obvious to mention; in 2015, let’s make sure we embrace our glorious diversity so that we may know each other, not despise each other. The choice is ours.

 

by Tom Charles

Saved @The Lyric Theatre 4*

Brace yourself for one hell of a ride.  Banned, prosecuted and vilified when premiered in the ‘60s Edward Bond’s “Saved”, is the first previously-banned production to leave me short of breath. This production is certain to offend although the sum of this work extends far beyond any shock-value.

Micheal Feast and Morgan Watkins: photoTristram Kenton for The Guardian

An apt selection in today’s economic climate, “Saved” paints an uncompromising picture of modern city living – deprived and depraved. In a society short of work and money resentment simmers, anger is turned inward and, once boiling, the very weakest in society is victimised.

Watkins and Lia Saville in "Saved"

From a drab family in which nary is a word passes between husband and wife springs only daughter Pam (Lia Saville): promiscuous, needy and masochistic. A lascivious encounter with Len (Morgan Watkins) turns to romance, the hollow promise of better times, and he becomes entrenched as the lodger in this strange household. As romance sours Pam rejects Len’s devotion falling amorous of his dismissive mate Fred (Calum Callaghan).  A baby ensues that is neglected, unnamed and studiously ignored. In one deeply disturbing scene, foreshadowing worse to come, the baby wails inconsolably as a heedless Pam coldly preens for a date.  Fred’s callous nature becomes clear as he abandons Pam for nights out with his hooligan mates.  Len stands by Pam throughout becoming her punching-bag unwilling to remove himself from this situation.

When the ultimate depravity occurs in the park and the baby is attacked we see how Len is incapable of extricating himself and how responsibility extends beyond the aggressors. With only a brief internment for the accused life continues with little change. Despite being the only character to strive for some shred of decency Len in particular is powerless to disentangle himself from this quagmire of his own making.

Calum Callaghan as Fred

Sean Holmes’ production sends a chilling message that the society portrayed is one for which all are responsible. His stellar cast deliver unshakeable performances; alongside the doggedly loyal Len, the flinty Pam and cruel Fred shine the mother and father team brilliantly portrayed by Susan Brown and Michael Feast.

It is unclear in the final sequence as Len mends a chair and Pam thumbs the Radio Times if redemption will be found yet, as clearly as the words unspoken, if anyone is to be “Saved” it is not by silent acceptance.

Until 05 November 2011

Lyric Hammersmith
Lyric Square, King Street
London, UK, W6 0QL

“Colours of Africa”: It takes an art auction…. 3.5*

An edited version of this review has appeared on MyVillage.com
An inspiring and moving art collection sees the Tabernacle’s boutique gallery plastered floor to ceiling with colourful sketches and painting.  These disarming works are unique, refreshing and offer an uncontrived view of Ugandan village life. The images created by the children of Masindi are in London as part of an educational fundraising effort that ends 24 September 2011.

Red Sky as Sun sets behind acacia tree

Colourful painting by Vanny Aheebwais
An Aheebwais Original

Numbered pictures are accompanied by delightful business card mini profiles with pictures of each artist.  Bios include informative gems such as talented 12 year old Vanny Aheebwais does traditional dance and wants to visit London or self-taught 14 year old Peter Guma creative, experimental and hoping to study art at University.

Works are “sold” by silent auction and tagged as bids are received so you can see if there is competition.   The money (minimum bid 20£) contributes to a good cause and the winning bidder leaves with an original piece of African art.  A drinks evening will be hosted September 24thallowing for last minute offers and the announcement of the winning bids.

Peter Guma’s Musicians

RedEarth Education provides teacher training: devising methods and strategies for the classroom with guidance manuals so that trained teachers can share their skills and cascade learning.  The current fundraising effort is for the construction of a “Teacher Training and Resource Centre” and the establishment of the first ever Ugandan Nursery Practitioner model facility.

Fruit outline on striped yellow and blue backgroundPick up an original at a snip or, for those with the means, dig deep to empower a worthwhile programme.

Additional works are available for immediate sale.

Until 24th September The Tabernacle
Powis Square, Notting Hill, London
W11 2AY

Heresy & Witticism – “Wittenberg” @ The Gate Theatre 4*

David Davalos’ Wittenberg centres around whether “to believe or not to believe” with undecided scholar Prince Hamlet in the crossfire of wits as Theology lecturer Martin Luther and Philosopher Dr Faustus go head to head arguing the case of religion against humanism.

Luther (Andrew Frame), Hamlet (Edward Franklin) and Dr. Faustus (Sean Campion) - Photo Tristram Kenton

The tug of war between colleagues on matters of faith versus philosophy is earnest and entertaining –Sean Campion’s Faustus declaring the Bible a source of answers for Theologians and questions for Philosophers.  The pub-crooning Faustus – twice a week at the Bunghole – mixes philosophy, medicine and women in his bon-vivant approach to life taking evident pleasure in the needling of the intensely devout and dour Luther (Andrew Frame).

Faustus Entertains - Photo Simon Kane

Davalos’ play sees Hamlet’s mental house thrown in to disarray not by scheming relatives but by an inability to reconcile Corpenicus’ theory of the sun at the centre of the solar system against religious teachings.  The tattered tennis playing undergrad (Edward Franklin) is unable to square hierarchical faith against scientific proof yet it is Luther’s own doubts about Rome that are at the true heart of the production.

Frame, Sophie Brittain as The Eternal Feminine" and Campion - photo Simon Kane

Rome grows wealthy through the sale of forgiveness leaving Luther struggling with his beliefs and loyalty to the papacy.  Staunch faith and argumentative intellect are crippled by the self -serving financial objectives of the Vatican opposition to which is sacrilege.  These weaknesses are seized upon by the mocking Faustus who accuses Luther of “abandoning the patient for the cancer” it is game on between the two worthy opponents.  The debate between Faustus and Luther is bawdy, inflammatory, the perfect storm of animosity and grudging respect as the actors deliver fiesty performances.  The production comes into its own during these sequence as Frame & Campion ignite a drolly feverish battle of wills and wit. Humours needling and hot tempers flare

The play, peppered with so many literary references, verges on coy yet Christopher Haydon stages a spirited UK premier that is never bogged down by its own cleverness. This Gate production is a thinking man’s affair wrapped in a cloak of hilarity.  Come for lascivious pub crooning, lap up the “brau” fuelled debates and prepare for the cold winds wrought by the choices of men.

Until 1 October 2011
Gate Theatre
11 Pembridge Road
London W11 3HQ