Justice for Grenfell: Tales of state neglect & community resistance

Grenfell Tower in 2021

Katie Sperring

Katie is a first year BSc Philosophy, Politics and Economics student at UCL. Her literary interests include radical and intersectional feminist theory and socialist theory. She draws inspiration from academics and activists ranging from Andaiye to Lola Olufemi. Her principal political interest is in the practice of decolonisation. Katie is also a Founder and Editor for the media platform Sistah Zine.

21st June 2021

Katie Sperring

I see trauma in the faces of all those that witnessed this Innocence in the faces of all those on the missing list See hopes unfulfilled Ambitions never achieved No I’m not the only one that sees the dead in my dreams Strive for the bravery of Yasin, artistic gift of Khadija Every person, a unique blessing to never be repeated Strive for the loyalty of siblings that stayed behind with their parents Pray that every loved one lost can somehow make an appearance We are, calling like the last conversations with their dearest Until we face, what they face we will never know what fear is We are, calling for survivors rehoused in the best place Not to be left sleeping in the West Way for 10 days We’re, calling for arrests made and debts paid In true numbers known for the families that kept faith We’re, calling for safety in homes of love They are immortalised forever, the only ghosts are us I wonder Did they die, or us? Did they die, or us? Did they die, for us? Ghosts of Grenfell still calling for justice

Excerpt: Ghosts of Grenfell by Lowkey

Monday 14 June 2021 marked four years since the Grenfell Tower fire in London killed at least 72 residents. Simultaneously, it marked many more years, decades even, of disdainful state neglect of working class and migrant communities in this country. This is something we do not always adequately recognise and problematise when we talk about Grenfell Tower; the events preceding, during and following this fire typify the all-too-frequent incident of a vulnerable community being repeatedly pitted against, and outright endangered by, a state that consistently prioritises profit over the safety and humanity of its communities.    Kensington and Chelsea Council turned over the management of its social housing stock to the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) in April 1996, amidst a series of privatisation efforts by the Conservative government of the time, led by John Major. Residents were supposedly able to articulate safety concerns to the KCTMO, but this was consistently not the case. In July 2009, a fire in Lakanal House, a residential building in Camberwell clad in material very similar to Grenfell Tower, was nothing if not prophetic of the similar danger posed to the Grenfell Community. Yet, still, concerns articulated by the Grenfell Action Group were ignored. By November 2016, the group concluded that “only a catastrophic event [in Grenfell Tower] will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the KCTMO”, with regards to failing to address concerns regarding “dangerous living conditions.”  Just a few months prior to the Grenfell fire, in March 2017, 19 residents had requested an independent fire safety adjudication following the installation of gas pipes in the building’s stairwells; these requests were ignored too.    The events preceding the fire reveal how preventable this incident was. More than that, they reveal that the responsibility for that prevention not taking place lies squarely with the inept private organisations tasked by the state with managing social housing stocks that rendered the residents of those housing stocks, who knew exactly what their community needed to be safe, voiceless. It is an indictment of this country’s state that communities should have to be in such resistance with the institutions supposed to care for them, and that they should have to struggle to make known that their lives are endangered, only to be repeatedly ignored, dismissed and ultimately lose their life or have to mourn the loss of a loved one. On another note, it is a testament to the strength and authority of community, where residents consistently articulated their concerns and took care of one another. However, that strength should not have to stand in opposition to the actions of the state.     In the immediate aftermath of the fire, these realities persisted. It was the community, rather than the state and its elites, who shored up the lives of remaining residents of Grenfell Tower and its surroundings. Communities flocked to St Clements Church to gather food and supplies for those in need, and the Hubb Community Kitchen was founded as a space for women to not only cook for their families, but find ounces of refuge, spatially and emotionally, from the wreckage of the fire in the folds of their community. Again, the fortitude of these communities is awe-inspiring but borne out of a tragedy that should not have happened, it is simultaneously heart-breaking.    Even more recently, the condemnable ineptitude and neglect of the state and its private branches persists. Four years after the fire, 1.5 million people still reside in buildings covered with flammable cladding. In June 2020, the Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Select Committee noted that in addition to 300 buildings that are awaiting remediation, a further 11,300 with combustible cladding require remediation, with approximately 1,700 being considered high-risk and in need of urgent attention. Further comments undoubtedly confirm with whom responsibility for this lies the Committee noted the inadequacy of the government’s £1.6 billion fund for remediation, noting that the cost of full remediation could be up to £15 billion.      That the government will not put forward the necessary funds to redress the vulnerability that persists for many communities typifies this Conservative government’s willingness to repeatedly prioritise profit over humanity. As recently as May 2021, a fire in a building in Tower Hamlets clad similarly to Grenfell Tower caused 3 residents to be hospitalised and dozens to require treatment for smoke inhalation. In this same month, the government rejected a bill to reform social housing, saying it would legislate “as soon as practicable”, but providing no meaningful indication of when this might be. Such events are testament to a “cycle of inaction and indifference” that this government seems more than happy to inhabit. How long must families wait for justice? More than that, why must they wait at all?    I began this piece with an excerpt from ‘Ghosts of Grenfell’, written by rapper and activist Lowkey. It was written just a few months after the fire. In it, he calls for meaningful action:  

We are, calling for survivors rehoused in the best place Not to be left sleeping in the West Way for 10 days We’re, calling for arrests made and debts paid In true numbers known for the families that kept faith We’re, calling for safety in homes of love They are immortalised forever, the only ghosts are us

Four years later, these exact calls still ring true. The government continues to evade accountability for remediation and safety. Communities continue to have to resist this intransigence to ensure survival. This is an all-too-familiar tale of state neglect and community resistance.  Ghosts of Grenfell still calling for justice.

Grenfell - Gold & Ashes

Gold & Ashes by Feruza Afewerki


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