Politics

“Grenfell is a turning point not just for our community, but for communities right across the country.”

By Tanya Harrington and George Cook

As we approach six months since the Grenfell Tower Atrocity, the death toll has been revealed to be 71 and only 40 families made homeless have been permanently rehoused. There are still 203 displaced households who remain in hotels or B&Bs, including 40 children.

Gair Rhydd was fortunate enough to secure an interview with Justice4Grenfell Co-ordinator Moyra Samuels on the topics of the media and political response to the fire, as well as her thoughts on the future of the community.

COUNCIL AND COMMUNITY SUPPORT

Moyra first stated how much of the support in the immediate aftermath of the fire came from the community, as “people from across London,” came together in aid of those affected. She noted that it was community members who organised and set up donation centres, filling “40 warehouses,” with food, clothing and personal care products.

Community members housed the affected for days before the council stepped in to formally organise places for people to stay. A few days after the fire occurred, the Red Cross were also called in to provide assistance to the pre-established community effort.

Moyra felt that communication efforts from the government were “appalling,” noting that they had to create a taskforce when they weren’t communicating effectively and had to deal with “chaos on the ground.” Information was either conflicting or not delivered at all, which led to confused residents facing negative treatment at the hands of officials who expected them to have been better informed. Despite Theresa May inviting residents to speak with her, actual community liaison officers have only recently been sent out to deliver information to survivors and evacuees. Some residents are doubtful as to how helpful interaction with May can be if practical state support is only now being implemented.

This political response has faced a mixed response from those affected. With the memorial event on Thursday, there are concerns regarding the welcome some politicians may receive.

Samuels labelled it a “disgrace,” that Pagett-Brown and other councillors are still being paid despite ‘resigning.’ She was very pleased about the election of a Labour MP to the constituency for the first time in 44 years, which she said made her feel as though there had been some change. However, she questioned “the imagination or willpower of the council to change.”

She added, “I don’t know how we can change a particular culture within a council […] we want to see deeds being done which demonstrate a new culture is developing from the council toward social housing tenants.”

MEDIA

Samuels described the community as struggling to deal with the immediate “trauma,” of the fire alongside the intrusive and harrassing nature of some media professionals, which led to a sense of distrust and hostility between the two groups. However, “people like Jon Snow, particular journalists from The Guardian, have been very sympathetic and put out very powerful stories.” This has highlighted the predicament in which residents were put, as “the nature and impact of the fire was not clear,” to journalists, who may not have realised the effect their questioning would have.

The media had been slow in responding to particular narratives emerging from the atrocity, and were criticised for being “so focused on politicians and celebrities that the voices of ordinary working class people were ignored.” Samuels also highlighted how to the general public that it may appear as though the survivors were being “ungrateful” due to the “enormous climate of Islamophobia and anti-immigration” rhetoric. She also was keen to point out the impact that the atrocity has had on local schools and the families of children, which deserves more attention.

It is not just the media who has continued to focus on the Grenfell. Immediately after the fire, celebrities such as Akala were quick to offer their support. Samuels was extremely supportive and complimentary of how these figures have sustained their support for those affected. She added “Akala has supported from the beginning and people like Stormzy have made comments in some of his performances”. Such comforting actions by celebrities has been a welcome relief, and Samuels praised others like Lowkey “who was actually there on the night”.

At the end of the interview, we asked Moyra if she had anything in particular that she would say to the Government or to the KCTMO. If given the chance she would say “you have failed in your duty of care, you are indifferent to the needs of our community, you have shown persistent disdain for us, and you will not be allowed to continue in this way because we are a community that has found our voice and we realise that our lives are just as valuable as rich people”.

As a final closing remark, Moyra states how students should not take safety for granted and think that ‘things won’t happen to them’, because Grenfell has proven that atrocities can happen despite the efforts of people who campaign to highlight possible dangers.

Political Response

By Mark Wyatt

The immediate fallout from the Grenfell fire was a surge in overwhelming public support for the victims and all affected by the tragic event.

But eyes were immediately drawn to Downing Street and the response of the country’s leadership as well as its leading politicians.

Theresa May promised that everyone affected would be rehoused within three weeks of the fire when she visited the shell of Grenfell Tower on 15 June.

Fast-forward to six months later and four out of five families are still yet to be rehoused, according to support group Grenfell United.

May’s immediate response was to launch a public enquiry into the fire, but petitions still circulate across the internet demanding for the investigation to be led by a panel rather than Sir Moore-Bick and a legal team.

On the other side of the spectrum was leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn.

He openly condemned May’s response in his letter to her and spent a lot of his time working with support groups and calling for the empty private homes in Kensington to be “requisitioned if necessary” to home the survivors of the fire.

Corbyn visited the site of the fire on 14 June and followed this up with several visits to local community centres to talk to volunteers and victims.

Corbyn’s ‘ground work’ was largely popular with the public, who saw the Labour leader taking a much more active role in the community compared to Mrs May.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan released a statement on the day of the fire expressing his devastation and praising the emergency services, but he was very concerned about what it meant for residents of buildings identical to Grenfell.

“These are some of the questions that have to be answered. We have lots of people in London living in tower blocks.

“We can’t have people’s lives being put at risk because of bad advice or lack of maintenance.”

Moving Forward…

By Jessica Warren

The tragic events of Grenfell may have faded into the past for some, but for the residents of the Tower, the future feels uncertain.

Six months on, and over 100 households have still not been housed, in a borough where there are over 1,000 empty properties; one of the richest boroughs in the country. The issue of housing is recognised as one of utmost importance by Justice4Grenell, as the services and help is not being provided to even an adequate level. This week there is a national memorial to be held at St. Paul’s Cathedral, in order to commemorate the loss of over 70 lives. Here, survivors and bereaved families, as well as senior church members and politicians have been invited, in the hopes that alongside respecting families, it will also push forward the media coverage over the forthcoming inquiry.

It is important to note that people of all ages have been affected by this atrocity, and those with PTSD from the night, especially children who witnessed the fire, will struggle into the future. Many children have gone back to things like bed-wetting and not sleeping properly, from both PTSD and the instability of a lack of routine. It is issues like these, the widespread, immeasurable impacts of the Grenfell atrocity that will take a long time to heal. Other issues that have been thrown into this uncertain future is the terrible school cuts occuring in the borough that nobody is focusing on. By spending money on mental health, as due, cuts are being experienced by teaching assistants, and school services. The same services that know how to support these children who have experienced trauma.

Moving forward, it is important not to forget the atrocities of Grenfell, and the importance of the inquiry. People must be held accountable for the victims of the tower, for the families and children, but to ensure that events to this degree never occur again. Justice4Grenfell state that the atrocity is a “revelation to all of us of a neoliberal system in crisis”, revealing cuts in mental health services and fire services alike. The future cannot forget this.

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