Grenfell Tower: The London Fire

I watched this incident with more than usual interest. I worked in the ambulance station around the corner from this building, for more than twenty years. I have been inside on numerous occasions, to deal with the many 999 calls generated by such housing density in one place.

The area is North Kensington, close to better-known parts like Notting Hill, Holland Park, and Portobello Road, all accessed with an easy walk. Not far from that tower block, you will find houses that would cost millions to buy, alongside similar tower blocks in the same street. So, it is an area of great financial inequality, as well as one of the most racially diverse in London.

Blocks like Grenfell Tower once seemed to be the answer to clearing slums, and providing basic housing for ordinary working people and their families. After all, high-rise living is just as popular with the rich, who are willing to pay small fortunes for better-quality apartments in very tall blocks all over the city. But these blocks were not the same as those destined for the wealthy. They were built with costs in mind; rooms just big enough, the minimum level of outside space around them, inadequate car-parking, and a visible lack of safety features.

Inside, there were lifts big enough to take a coffin when necessary, but only a few people at a time. They didn’t always work either, which left the elderly and infirm trapped on higher floors, unable to manage the stairs. There was no ornamentation, no art on the walls, and no concierge to supervise the huge block. Much later, they became little more than a ‘dumping ground’ for the local council to house refugees, immigrants, and people discharged from mental health institutions. Inside the poorest standard of accommodation available, they placed the poorest and most vulnerable people.

Even during the much-vaunted refurbishment of this block, corners were cut, and costs saved. Warnings were ignored, alongside the pleas of those living there. It was never a question of if something like this was going to happen, rather than how soon it would. Since this tragedy, many questions are being asked, and the blame game has started in earnest. The council officials seek to exclude themselves from blame, by stating that they gave over the running of this property to a private company. The government ministers concerned seek to exclude themselves from blame, by putting the emphasis on the council itself. It has emerged that there was no contingency plan in place, to deal with such an event. It has also been stated that adequate fire precautions would have been ‘too expensive’. There is even the chilling likelihood that the number of fatalities has been deliberately played down, as many of the occupants do not have the language skills necessary to state their concerns.

Can you just imagine if this had happened in a luxury apartment block overlooking the river? Or maybe inside an iconic building, like The Shard? What if all those killed and terribly injured had been rich and influential people? Would they have had to try to occupy the council offices to get answers to their questions, or to arrange temporary accommodation? Those are rhetorical questions of course, and we all know the answers.

Poor and ordinary lives don’t matter. It’s as simple as that.

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22 comments

  1. Ian Gibson Photography

    That’s all true, Pete. I knew you’d have something to say about this terrible event.

    As soon as I saw the news I was transported back to North Ken of the 80s and 90s trying to work out how many times I’d been up and down in those lifts.

    I think the first job I did at North Ken was in Grenfell Tower; it was definitely somewhere on the Lancaster West Estate.

    I am sure will soon hear the high and mighty assuring us that ‘lessons will be learned’ from this awful tragedy. I think one lesson everyone needs to learn is that voting Conservative can seriously damage your health; if not directly from an inferno, then indirectly from an under funded health and social care system.

    BURN THE RICH!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • beetleypete

      I saw an interview with a tenant who clearly stated that his neighbour (4th floor) knocked on his door and told him his fridge had caught fire and he was unable to put it out, so they had better get out of the building. That was on the BBC, mid-morning of the main coverage. No doubt they have to have a proper fire investigation, but they seem to have forgotten about that man, and his fridge.
      Cheers, Pete.

      Like

  2. democratizemoney

    We call ourselves democracies. Yet, we do not find a way to bring equality to all. I watched with horror the news coverage of this, what little leaked through to our news and opinion channels. We all need to show rage at the treatment our governments and populations show to the poor.
    Warmest regards, Theo

    Liked by 2 people

    • beetleypete

      Thanks, Theo. That area is a small island of poverty, in one of the wealthiest parts of London.
      David Cameron once lived in a house not far from there, a short walk, in fact. But it was in a tree-lined, peaceful avenue, a world away from the squalor nearby.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

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