June 14th

Our community has been painted as work-shy immigrants, sub-letting; it could not be further from the truth; we were eloquent, hard working…we deserve to be respected

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Urban Dandy is a North Kensington-based blog. It was born on the Lancaster West estate where the Grenfell Tower still stands. That estate, North Kensington and all of us who live here were forever changed on June 14th 2017. Our articles and poems from the aftermath of the fire can be found by clicking urbandandylondon.com/tag/grenfell-tower/ . We hope that all of our pieces on Grenfell convey some of the heartbreak experienced here in North Kensington, provide some context for the reader as well as serving as a tribute to the community we are proud to be a part of. 

 

Children
From St Thomas’ School newsletter

 

 

Questions

 

For example: why

and

1944

But

Silence

The Limits of Politics in the Shadow of Disaster

At al Manaar last week, Jeremy Corbyn focused on his ‘Another World Is Possible’ message. The visit to North Kensington was part of the strategy of taking Labour to the heart of communities to build grassroots support and pick up campaign volunteers. On both these macro and micro levels, Corbyn is underestimated by the media.

But in North Kensington, these are not our primary concerns. World peace and another world being possible don’t seem that important when there is no sign of justice for the crime at Grenfell Tower, when the Conservative council easily won the local election and when the survivors’ treatment has been appalling, surreal and bureaucratic.

Corbyn’s speech at the mosque was pleasant enough, but whoever wrote it failed to linger on the any specifics about the community response to the Grenfell Tower fire, the only positive in the nightmare. Where were his personal recollections? What are the implications for how another world could be moulded based on the collective efforts we saw here last year?

The situation in North Kensington is not one that powerful politicians can pay lip service to before heading back to the Commons or City Hall. It asks fundamental questions of how we deal with an appalling man-made disaster and how we see the future of this society.

Perhaps the words of Sadiq Khan, like Corbyn’s, are a tacit acknowledgment that London is over for many people who cannot thrive in a punitive property market. Nowhere is this more stark than in North Kensington. Where are the fresh ideas, beyond a call for survivors to be treated a bit better within the failed system? 

The Labour leaders should feel free to use their power to speak and act against the Conservatives and their deadly policies. Unlike the community, these politicians have a platform and a voice, but if Labour cannot seize the moment in North Kensington, then rather than creating false hope, they should leave it to the locals and focus elsewhere instead.   

 

 

We were abandoned…

It was the community that offered sanctuary to us

Ed, Grenfell Action Group

 

Big green hearts are in contrast to the derisory RBKC Council, the TMO, Theresa May and Sajid Javid. A desperate, grasping, corrupt political elite and their bureaucratic quislings.

What can be said about those whose symbols are on every lamppost, estate entrance, whose dead eyes stare out from the free newspapers? The Tory council just a human shield for Theresa May, the TMO likewise for the council. 

How do we tell our children that their rulers are hateful? It might be better to tell them: ‘Look at what you did last year, at how you supported each other’ or ‘Look at the community you are part of’.

Naughty schoolboys, written off by the system but handing out water to distressed people long into the night, kindness everywhere. The purity of children – their big hearts in contrast to their presumed superiors. Unity not an empty slogan to be manipulated and used as a tool for power, but as real as it gets…

Green

 

“Men aren’t gonna talk about it. They want to fix things, so they’re repressing their emotions.”

Rajaa Chellat, counselor for the My Shepherd therapy service.

Women led us on June 14th 2017, at Acklam Village and some of the other centres for relief, women led and men followed

We men want to fix or protect, but we can’t bring back 72 people, we couldn’t protect them…

On June 14th 2018 in North Kensington, just like last year, all we’ll have is each other.

 

 

Tom Charles for Urban Dandy

Poetry written and preformed by Mark Bolton

Happy New Year? From RBKC

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The new year began with no justice for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire disaster. National media coverage has faded, with the initial outrage at the failings of the state becoming a whimper. But in North Kensington, it’s different. Grenfell dominates the local landscape and mindscape, and people are still hard at work supporting survivors and holding the community together.

We spoke to one such person, Rajaa Chellat, an integrative counsellor who is working in a collective of therapists under the name My Shepherd.

“This kind of trauma has never hit a community like this before”

The Work

The group provide support for survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire and affected local residents. The sessions are held at the offices of local charity Making Communities Work and Grow, and group therapy is also provided every Monday morning at the offices of the Westway Trust. The service is funded by West London philanthropists and this has recently been boosted by local authority money.

We asked Rajaa what the motivation of her and her colleagues is. “We saw a gap in provision early on, a lack of emotional support from the authorities, and this is an ongoing issue”.

Three weeks from the day of the fire, which killed 71 people, Rajaa and her colleagues we able to offer desperately-needed therapeutic support. The My Shepherd team includes an art therapist, a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) specialist and an American therapist whose son was killed in gun crime in the States.

“This needs to be long term,” Rajaa told us, “I’m passionate about it. This kind of trauma has never hit a community like this before”.

Personal Story

And the disaster has hit Rajaa hard. Members of her family occupied two flats in the tower. Those on the ninth floor escaped, but five relatives on the 21st floor did not and were all killed. These were Rajaa’s uncle, his wife and their three children.

Rajaa lives opposite the burnt-out tower, surely the most sickening sight in Britain today. It is visible through her window, and to protect her child the curtains stay closed at all times.

Rajaa’s passion for helping others has been her way of coping with the enormity of the situation: “I’m adamant that we keep this going because you would never expect this to happen in the UK in a building like that”.

“The whole community has PTSD”

Council

On June 14th as the tower burned, the Moroccan ambassador was on the scene. The king of Morocco promised to pay funeral costs for the victims’ families, and has been good to his word. Rajaa contrasts this with the less straightforward conduct of Kensington and Chelsea council.

The therapist told Urban Dandy that those engaging with the My Shepherd service have no trust in the local authority in Kensington, that there has been no serious change in the attitude of the council as the months have passed.

Rajaa describes the council’s approach: “It’s ‘let’s shut them up and not deal with the emotional side.’ But I think it’s time to open Pandora’s box. This is what the council’s missing, they’re not thinking of emotional trauma: The whole community has PTSD”.

More money is needed for therapy, says Rajaa, along with better organisation of NHS services, which are all over the place, geographically.

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Housing

Anyone looking at the Grenfell situation knows that housing policy is the key issue. Before and after the fire, attitudes to meeting the most basic need of a human being have been decisive. Rajaa agrees: “The survivors are spending too long in hotels. On top of that, people who lived in the tower and people who lived in the walkways (the low-rise blocks on the Lancaster West estate) are being treated the same, but the tower survivors should take priority”.

All the residents of Lancaster West have been affected, not just by the trauma of witnessing the fire close up, but also by the loss of a reliable gas supply ever since. All residents are now entitled to social housing and relocation, if they want to leave Lancaster West. How long this takes, where it will be and how secure it will be are all council policy decisions.

Of the people living in limbo that she has spoken to, Rajaa told Urban Dandy: “They don’t want to live in hotels, but they don’t trust the council when they offer posh flats in Kensington. They wonder whether council tax will go up. These things aren’t explained properly. My auntie, who was on the ninth floor, took one of the posh flats; she’s a teacher, she’s well-educated and has a stable income, but for those that have less economic independence, and without strong English, they’re scared to take new places”.

“Some people have been offered properties that are too far away, out of the borough, away from home. People feel genuinely trapped in the system, they’re in fight or flight mode. They’re just dealing with the practicalities now, they tell us: ‘I can’t deal with my emotions at the moment’”.

And what is prolonging the resettlement of the victims? “The authorities aren’t willing to give empty homes to the community.”

The borough has 1,200 long-term empty homes, 9,300 second homes as well 6,000 homes listed as owned by companies registered in tax havens. So, the real estate is available, but hasn’t been utilised for Grenfell survivors, and there has been no suggestion by either local or national government that the unused homes will be requisitioned.

“Drugs, alcohol and suicide will be the issues in 2018”

Health

The My Shepherd therapists are in a unique position to predict what 2018 will bring. And Rajaa’s assessment is grim: “Drugs, alcohol and suicide will be the issues in 2018”.

“People lack an understanding of trauma and the vocabulary to think about it and care for themselves. They say: ‘I’ll deal with it once the practicalities are sorted out’ – but the practicalities are a nightmare. And trauma can hit you whenever. It’s only going to get worse in 2018 unless we deal with the emotional side”.

Men

Things get even more dismal when the conversation narrows to men and their experience of the disaster. “Men aren’t gonna talk about it. They want to fix things, so they’re repressing their emotions.” So, men aren’t attending the counselling sessions on offer, and are emasculated by waiting for homes and justice, now a perpetual strain over which they have little or no control.

North Kensington

The North Kensington community will gather for another silent walk on 14th January to mark seven months since 71 lives were lost and many more scarred forever. And what of North Kensington, where Rajaa was raised, and where she contributes so much for so little material reward? She and her colleagues take the approach: “It’s not about religion, it’s about humanity. It’s about what you give. You ask: ‘what can I give?’ We will never not be on offer and the group is ongoing”

RBKC 2

Interview with the Leader of K & C Council

Urban Dandy was keen to ascertain the views of the leader of the council, Elizabeth Campbell, who had vowed to do things differently when she took over the post in July, after the previous leadership was forced to resign. We were curious about whether she could see this trauma outside the political prism of caution, maintenance of power and press release wordplay. Who is running the council in the borough’s hour of need? An emotionally shattered community deserves the respect of some obvious questions being answered…

But despite initially saying she was “happy to try and answer” our questions, the council leader failed to confirm that she would speak to us.

2018

On Sunday, the local community will gather near Grenfell Tower for its slow, silent march to honour those who died. Among those paying their respects will be many people like Rajaa, who have found the strength to nurture life in the shadow of death. There will be many schoolchildren who have witnessed more than they ever should. Activists, campaigners, neighbours, philosophical people…thinkers questioning who benefited from Grenfell not being safe, from the lousy treatment of the survivors. Asking what ideology can be so far gone that it cannot change course in the face of such horrors as Grenfell?

As writers, our only duty is to tell the truth. As politicians, their plan is to not give the game away. Hence, swerving the interview with Urban Dandy.

Our questions were about a series of political calculations that have been made: The calculation that the people in the tower were worth the fire risk in order to save some money; the calculation that there is less political damage done by not rehousing people properly; and there is much more to be gained by selling off North Kensington’s public services than by investing in them.

Another calculation made was: that it is better to ignore us than answer our questions.

All in the name of ‘regeneration,’ labelled by others as degeneration, gentrification, degradation, humiliation…

2018 begins where 2017 left off: Those marching silently in North Kensington represent life and dignity. Those hiding from scrutiny and justice represent a power system that stands for something very different.

Happy new year, from RBKC

 

Rajaa Chellat can be contacted at Rajaa@myshepherd.co.uk 07960776445

Rajaa’s colleague, Dr Sara Alsaraf can be reached at saraalsaraf@gmail.com

 

A timeline of the Grenfell disaster is here

Previous posts on gentrification and housing policy can be found here, here and here

 

By Tom Charles @tomhcharles