RBKC Scrutiny #1 GU in Parliament

grenfell_projection_capture_0094

There have been plenty of significant developments in North Kensington as Kensington and Chelsea council (RBKC) and the local population deal with the fallout from the entirely preventable June 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, where 72 people died. The mainstream media might be busy elsewhere, but there is still a lot going on. With justice and change still not forthcoming, it is important to maintain a factual record and keep up the scrutiny…

Grenfell United

Our updates start in parliament with the survivors and bereaved group Grenfell United (GU) bearing witness to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee on the situation regarding housing conditions nationwide and developments with RBKC. Although GU’s latest testimony to lawmakers had little or no media pickup, it was of the utmost significance to those wanting to understand what has been happening in Kensington and possible future developments.

GU’s evidence to the Select Committee on July 8th started with an update on the re-housing of Grenfell survivors, some of whom have still not been catered for, over two years on. GU explained that the issue is not a lack of housing, but inadequate homes being offered, unfit for habitation. They cited issues with disabled access and properties in need of repair meaning survivors had not made their long-awaited moves.

GU express concern that inadequate properties was still being offered to Grenfell survivors and asked: “If it’s happening to us, what’s happening across the country?”

Grenfell-style cladding remains on blocks across the country and campaigns have been launched to press for action on this. GU believe a deadline for the removal of all cladding would be effective. Grenfell survivors’ willingness to lobby for improvements to dangerous buildings on behalf of people across the country has been a distinguishing feature of GU’s development. And this need to take the initiative was a theme they returned to repeatedly in parliament.

grenfell_projection__wide

RBKC

GU also provided the MPs of the Select Committee with an overview of RBKC’s performance, including a useful take on the veracity of the council’s claim that it would fundamentally change its approach to public service in North Kensington after the 2017 fire.

“RBKC is starting from a particularly low base” GU quoted the government’s Grenfell Taskforce’s first report as saying. GU reflected that when they testified in parliament last year, they identified a “vast chasm of distrust” of RBKC among the local population. Updating this assessment, GU reported that RBKC are apologetic and some officers and senior councillors understand what the community needs. But while RBKC are publishing strategies and roadmaps, these are not translating into visible improvements.

Because of the lack of change, GU stated that trust with the local authority would take a generation to rebuild. More than that, GU said they detected that some RBKC staff “believe they’ve suffered enough and it’s time to go back to business as usual,” a phrase that is being heard more and more in North Kensington.

GU said that the council were “definitely responding to what we’re asking for” but that any changes still require badgering from the local community. Progress is too slow according to GU, who say they want “a progressive local plan.”

What should this progressive local plan look like? The GU representatives told the Select Committee that they want GU to be remembered for the positive changes that came after the fire, rather than for the way they were treated by the authorities in the aftermath. They want RBKC to become “the best borough” in the UK, “progressive, listening.”

Chronic tardiness is a problem; delaying change, undermining trust. GU’s take on RBKC’s lack of urgency in delivering change: “It’s like Grenfell didn’t happen.”

UK Government

As for the national government, GU lamented the fact that survivors have had to work so hard to push for substantive changes that would prevent another atrocity on the scale of Grenfell. One example provided was the government ignoring the demand in North Kensington for checks to be made for soil contamination.

GU described their dealings with the national government as “a mixture of incompetence and indifference” but identified the government’s green paper on social housing, due for publication in September, as a document that has the potential to provide a fitting legacy for Grenfell.

GU stated that the legacy will not emerge from either the public inquiry or the police inquiry. They said that “institutional indifference” towards people in social housing can only be challenged via the green paper. Working with their third housing minister since June 2017, GU have been pushing for a green paper that will fundamentally change the way people in social housing live, specifically with regards to tenant voice and representation.

GU invoked Sherlock Holmes’ dog that didn’t bark in describing the role played (or not played) by the social housing regulators to date, calling for far more robust regulation and a split regulator based on a financial model (more on that here).

Despite the scope for fundamental change in the social housing green paper – “parliament needs to create something, a document that really makes a big difference” – GU expressed their fear that they will be badly let down when it is finally published in the Autumn.

And they expressed an even more pervasive fear: that the litany of official delays, missed opportunities, incompetence and a return to business-as-usual amid less and less scrutiny, means a delay to the provision of answers and the spectre of a decades-long struggle for justice, like the one the Hillsborough families still endure.

“Justice delayed is justice denied” – Grenfell United, the House of Commons, July 2019.  

 

 

You can watch Grenfell United’s session at the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee here.

 

by Tom Charles @tomhcharles

photos from @GrenfellUnited

Writing/Poetry Workshop #2

IMG-20180403-WA0000_2
Photo from Baraka

During the Easter holidays, Urban Dandy held its second writing and poetry workshop for 20 children from across Kensington and Chelsea at Canalside House on Ladbroke Grove.

In collaboration with Baraka Community Association, Urban Dandy delivered two one-hour sessions. The first hour was on self-expression through writing with skill and purpose. The children discussed the importance of language, and the motivations behind the words they choose.

They looked at different types of writing, tone of voice and having a clear aim. The children also learned key techniques such as planning, finding a ‘hook’, writing with depth by backing up arguments and valuing and nurturing their own voices and opinions.

The young people then wrote their own pieces, which ranged from articles to adverts.

The second hour was a poetry workshop. The children heard from Urban Dandy’s Mark Bolton, who read some of his own poems and recited the famous ‘I Am Somali’, written by the poet Yam Yam. Mark outlined some of the techniques he employs in writing his poems, but again the emphasis was on the children’s expression of their own thoughts and feelings.

Each child then wrote and read out their own poem, with their styles ranging from conventional to acrostic to haiku, with the participants receiving warm applause. 

We will showcase some of the children’s work here soon. For more information on Urban Dandy’s workshops, contact us via our Facebook page.

 

Tom Charles

@tomhcharles

RBKC Council Selling Vital Community As$et

By Urban Dandy

 

IMG_20171101_161934127
Canalside House on Ladbroke Grove

 

 

Less than eight months on from the Grenfell Tower fire disaster and Kensington and Chelsea Council’s money grab in the North Kensington community is back in full flow. Canalside House, one of the last remaining spaces utilised by charities, the voluntary sector, small businesses and other local enterprises, is to be sold to property developers. The decision raises questions about whether the Conservative council has learned any of the lessons of the Grenfell Tower fire, which was the culmination of years of neglect, indifference and wilful ignorance by the local authority. In the run up to the crucial local elections in May, the decision to sell Canalside represents a calculation by the local authority that the local population will be apathetic as one of the community’s last assets is stripped.

Context

Canalside House, less than a mile from Grenfell Tower, is home to almost 20 organisations, most of which have played a direct and ongoing role in supporting the community in the aftermath of the unprecedented fire on Lancaster West estate on June 14th. In the absence of a serious local authority response to the disaster, local organisations and their volunteers stepped into the void left by the Tory council. The council is widely believed to be responsible for the 71 deaths and incalculable trauma in North Kensington.

Kensington and Chelsea has a large number of charities, but it is a borough that needs them, owing to the grotesque levels of inequality and high levels of poverty, much of which is concentrated in North Kensington. Canalside House is one of the main hubs for community organisations, serving hundreds of local people.

Backstory Continue reading

Grenfell: Some Relief for Some of Us

IMG_20170803_144941606_HDR

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

Come Unity – Grenfell Tower

Wednesday 14th June was the day Urban Dandy was going to write up last week’s historic ousting of the Conservatives from Kensington in the general election. Twenty Labour voters, some from the Grenfell Tower, had contacted us with their joyful responses. North Kensington, so victimised for so long, had something to celebrate.

But the horrific events at the Grenfell Tower on the Lancaster West estate overtook us, and our beloved North Kensington.come_unity

Urban Dandy was born on Lancaster West, where the spirit of defiance among the downtrodden inspired our name.

The estate has had serious issues, most significantly a lack of investment and a very negative attitude towards residents from the council. The neglect of the estate during my years there struck me as something of a cruel game – the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Association (TMO) seemed to be actively against residents. So what should have been routine phone calls to resolve minor issues got nowhere, with a suspicion of a perverse pleasure being taken by the TMO. Nobody liked the TMO, nobody rated them, and today the anger against the organisation and their local authority overlords was everywhere.

20170614_123411

A day of helping out at the scene raised many questions: where is the council’s organised response? Where is the prime minister? How can this have happened? Nobody on the estate, and it really is nobody, doubts that the long-term neglect of their housing is behind the disaster. Neglect is a political choice.

The UK is the first world, but within the first world are pockets of the third world. In the third world people don’t buy contents insurance and councils don’t install communal fire alarms.

All the questions will be addressed in time. Some truths we already have: North Kensington is a remarkable multi-cultural success story. It is the best of British, in which everybody is welcome. Today the community was out in force, in total unity, all ethnicities and all religions.

To fully recount the experience of the day would be impossible. So many moments of spontaneous human kindness and decency passed in the blink of an eye. So many tragic scenes were glimpsed in passing. So much love was shared between people. There was no separation, no melodrama, just an outpouring of humanity, brotherly and sisterly love, love for children and love of life.

The events will stay with residents forever: children being thrown from windows, phone calls made from the tower by fathers to say goodbye to loved ones, desperate residents switching their lights on and off to get attention as the fire spread. Many local people told me about the screams they heard coming from Grenfell Tower, and their feeling of impotence at hearing their neighbours perish.

Many people died today, and so many lives have been shattered. The community has not been shattered though, and so it is fitting that the art work for the celebratory blog on the Labour victory is used here instead. Come Unity.

Donations can be made at:

Al Manaar Mosque

Westway Sports Centre

St Clement and St James

Rugby Portobello Trust

Tabernacle Christian Centre

Google or call first to see which donations should go where.

Art by Sophie Lodge, Ladbroke Grove,

By Tom Charles

@tomhcharles

Aminah

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society”

Jiddu Krishnamurti

 

The cost to society when the vulnerable are not supported with decent housing and social service is laid bare when somebody pure and decent finds their life and what they hold dear falling apart. It is a bitter tragedy.

Such tribulation has afflicted a beautiful soul in North Kensington. A child she reared so lovingly is in a tailspin of degradation; removed from the family home and out of control. This child was 10 when her mother took me in on more than one occasion, homeless and abused myself. The child is now 15, pregnant, abused and abusive.

Aminah is a woman of strength with a strong work ethic, who could nurse me through my darkest times with assuredness. To understand the harms suffered by her child, it is not Aminah that needs to be studied, but society.

A person who would not do any harm, and could not do any harm, Aminah was born and bred in Ladbroke Grove, not in the village in which she would have been treasured and held in esteem. She was dealt urban anonymity rather than a nurturing community. But she still gives without expecting much in return, and possesses a lightheartedness that is attractive to everyone.

Aminah was orphaned in her teens, and her older siblings lacked the stability to raise her safely to adulthood. The ghetto provided its own support system and she was soon pregnant, with two girls, then abused and left to single parenthood.

She undertook this job with no complaints. And she took me in with no complaints. I had been subjected to an attempt to degrade me, but I have more tools in my kit than she ever did, that’s the only difference. Education, a discriminating and cynical mind, intellect, and a sense that things should work out were available to me. Skin colour is a factor too…

And what of society…how do we explain that a woman who now, six years later, with four children and a husband, is stuck in the same two-bedroom flat that was too small for my bags during my emergency stay. This was a powder keg, a teenage girl with baby siblings, no privacy, a stepfather, without an in-built sense of life being fair; add in overcrowded housing, poverty, acting out and social services. Even a woman of fortitude has a breaking point.

Now Aminah has a grandchild on the way and she will be the primary carer, the social workers denying the right of the mother to raise her own baby.

The family unit has been destroyed, but this woman still works, studies and provides. She plays ball with the solicitors and the social workers.

I learned all this during a chance meeting in the supermarket and I have never felt so helpless. I wanted to cry, she cried, ‘oh Aminah’, ‘oh Tom’ and I watched her walk away, a profoundly beautiful human being in a profoundly sick society. It finished me off.

 

23021501 (1)
Scanned from Adbusters #124, VOL.24 NO.2

By Tom Charles, with permission from ‘Aminah’

Folk and Mirrors

A deep psychological journey into a cosmic waltz (Buckle up)

So what is the value and nature of truth on earth? In asking this question with some research one realises that most people today are only equipped to run from it and have become inured to finding refuge in lies to protect the all important ego.

Richard Bandler is one of the fathers of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). He studies the natural communication between people, the psychological affect of the experience and how to consciously steer it to make the results more desirable for the individual. In his practice he often uses ‘Mirroring‘. Mirroring is a natural mimicked response to another’s way of communication towards them. Although one of the subjects is unlikely to be aware of mirroring, the action effectively causes a more harmonious interaction between the two parties because the point is to appease and magnify what is natural to the other party. Only this, in Bandler’s system, is achieved consciously by one person, leaving the other vulnerable, unaware of the actions towards them as the unsuspecting participant.This is almost always to the advantage of the user of NLP. Yet this is oxymoronic for the fact that the unannounced study of the character can also be seen as manipulative and lying by omission.

There is definitely an agenda. Yet there is truth in the actual reflection of the person evidenced by the harmonic result.  Without external observation, we cannot easily know our selfdom, yet this reflection does appear subconsciously in subtle, peripheral ways within nature. Analogous to a rhythmic dance you can see the lovely tone is set and then nature follows.

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 06:  Amanda Lepore prepares backstage at the Heatherette Fall 2007 fashion show in the Tent during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Bryant Park February 6, 2007 in New York City.  (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for IMG) *** Local Caption *** Amanda Lepore
Amanda Lepore

Continue reading