We are often told that the poor are grateful for charity. Some of them are, no doubt, but the best amongst the poor are never grateful. They are ungrateful, discontented, disobedient, and rebellious. They are quite right to be so. Charity they feel to be a ridiculously inadequate mode of partial restitution, or a sentimental dole, usually accompanied by some impertinent attempt on the part of the sentimentalist to tyrannise over their private lives. Why should they be grateful for the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table? They should be seated at the board, and are beginning to know it.
In the heatwave the volunteers still come, the aid continues, and the community can speak of little else.
The Grenfell fire is all that is happening in Ladbroke Grove and North Kensington. Everybody has been affected by it and, as the mass news media coverage has reflected, the response of ordinary people has been beautiful.
Even the mainstream media has allowed a platform for grief and anger, and have expressed their own rage and incredulity off camera.
We need them to stick around. One Sky News reporter told me his editor had vowed that the channel would “stay on this story all summer”- let’s see.
The silence and low-level response from Kensington and Chelsea council has been palpable. Could they be playing a waiting game?
Their actions, repeatedly and almost systematically continuing to mistreat Grenfell residents and the rest of the Lancaster West estate, suggests that there will be no change unless there is a change in personnel at the Town Hall.
Once the media go away, they will presumably step up the moves that are already underway:
The council giving survivors £10 each in aid despite the millions that have come in
One survivor who lost his wife being moved to an old people’s home
One surviving family being moved three times in the days after the fire
Residents of the low rises on Lancaster West being moved for an indefinite period to cheap hotels out of the borough
One friend of mine who lives in a nearby, almost identical, tower block called the council to ask when they would be installing sprinklers. She wanted to reassure her traumatised children who lost friends in the fire. The council’s response: “Just be grateful you have a roof over your head”.
And yet the Spanish government has given long-term, free of charge accommodation via their embassy to a member of staff of the Spanish school on Portobello road who escaped the fire.
These stories are everywhere and as the media coverage fades, we in North Kensington fear that our cries of despair and defiance will become a localised echo chamber.
Already the media and authorities are suspected of lying about the death toll, which is presumed to be in the hundreds but my morning ‘paper had it at 79 “dead or missing”.
Something malevolently mundane and predictable seems to be unfolding before us: The richest borough in the UK will not use its obscene £300 million budget surplus to help survivors of a disaster it created. And so the relief effort has fallen on the community in the form of charity. The council, unable to relinquish its class based world view, is happy for the Grenfell victims to become charity cases.
The Royal Borough wants gratitude from the poor and the dispossessed – this is the price it demands for the provision of its philanthropic, feel-good, version of public service. Gratitude from a wretched, besieged community is the only thing that seems to arouse Nicholas Paget-Brown and this sociopathic council. Wilde’s words, written in 1891, could not be truer in 2017.
The community, so strong and undergoing such rapid growth and development in the wake of the disaster, must not fall for this perfidious trick. Reject any attempts to turn the Grenfell survivors in to charity cases.
Expect the council and Tory minority government to add insult after insult to their mess, but we must not back down from certain demands:
All the survivors to be immediately housed in high quality, low rise, permanent accommodation – stable housing provides human dignity. If this means requisitioning the unused homes of the filthy rich then so be it. This has been suggested already by Jeremy Corbyn,
All survivors to remain in the borough, and all children within easy travelling distance of school,
Proper investment in social housing in this area,
An end to social cleansing
Do not be grateful for the crumbs being thrown to the Grenfell victims. The council want to divert the community’s outpouring of compassion to serve their own tyranny, do not let them.
Wednesday 14th June was the day Urban Dandy was going to write up last week’s historic ousting of the Conservatives from Kensington in the general election. Twenty Labour voters, some from the Grenfell Tower, had contacted us with their joyful responses. North Kensington, so victimised for so long, had something to celebrate.
But the horrific events at the Grenfell Tower on the Lancaster West estate overtook us, and our beloved North Kensington.
Urban Dandy was born on Lancaster West, where the spirit of defiance among the downtrodden inspired our name.
The estate has had serious issues, most significantly a lack of investment and a very negative attitude towards residents from the council. The neglect of the estate during my years there struck me as something of a cruel game – the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Association (TMO) seemed to be actively against residents. So what should have been routine phone calls to resolve minor issues got nowhere, with a suspicion of a perverse pleasure being taken by the TMO. Nobody liked the TMO, nobody rated them, and today the anger against the organisation and their local authority overlords was everywhere.
A day of helping out at the scene raised many questions: where is the council’s organised response? Where is the prime minister? How can this have happened? Nobody on the estate, and it really is nobody, doubts that the long-term neglect of their housing is behind the disaster. Neglect is a political choice.
The UK is the first world, but within the first world are pockets of the third world. In the third world people don’t buy contents insurance and councils don’t install communal fire alarms.
All the questions will be addressed in time. Some truths we already have: North Kensington is a remarkable multi-cultural success story. It is the best of British, in which everybody is welcome. Today the community was out in force, in total unity, all ethnicities and all religions.
To fully recount the experience of the day would be impossible. So many moments of spontaneous human kindness and decency passed in the blink of an eye. So many tragic scenes were glimpsed in passing. So much love was shared between people. There was no separation, no melodrama, just an outpouring of humanity, brotherly and sisterly love, love for children and love of life.
The events will stay with residents forever: children being thrown from windows, phone calls made from the tower by fathers to say goodbye to loved ones, desperate residents switching their lights on and off to get attention as the fire spread. Many local people told me about the screams they heard coming from Grenfell Tower, and their feeling of impotence at hearing their neighbours perish.
Many people died today, and so many lives have been shattered. The community has not been shattered though, and so it is fitting that the art work for the celebratory blog on the Labour victory is used here instead. Come Unity.
Donations can be made at:
Al Manaar Mosque
Westway Sports Centre
St Clement and St James
Rugby Portobello Trust
Tabernacle Christian Centre
Google or call first to see which donations should go where.