Socialist Worker

'We will support Grenfell fire victims,' says Hillsborough justice campaigner

by Sheila Coleman
Issue No. 2560

Sheila Coleman from the Hillsborough Justice Campaign

Sheila Coleman from the Hillsborough Justice Campaign (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The Grenfell Tower fire has had a huge impact on some of the people around the Hillsborough Justice Campaign (HJC). The HJC has pledged support to the families and survivors of Grenfell Tower and will offer any assistance we can.

A group of us visited this week and met with some survivors and others involved in organising in the aftermath of the fire. It was quite harrowing. The grief in the area is almost tangible and yet there is a sense of a collectively borne out of the disaster.

The important thing for us was in the first instance to pay our respects to the dead. But also to let people know that we are around if we can help.

We don't want to tell people what they should do but rather to say, “We are here and we will support you”. We can be used as a sounding board for ideas and will offer advice. However, the most important advice we would say is to trust your own gut instinct and aim to keep as much control as is reasonably possible.

People may be able to learn from our experiences as campaigners. And hopefully they won’t have to go through what Hillsborough families and survivors went through for so many years.

Most of our work in the Hillsborough campaign was done in what I consider the dark years. We had absolutely no legal support for many years.  No one wanted to know us. And the important thing for us was getting the message out and not giving up.

Our main message was that people should stay in control as much as possible. Retain control of this – this is your lived experience. And don’t be cajoled into making major decisions at this time.

I understand the need for legal representatives and people have been very generous in volunteering advice. But lawyers are still going to be around in a month’s time. If there is an urgency for anything that supersedes establishing legal support, it’s establishing trauma counselling for people.

We know from Hillsborough that major trauma was not adequately dealt with, in some cases for many years. The sooner you can begin working with people who’ve been subject to trauma, the better the chances of recovery.

We also know that the establishment reorganises to protect its own. We can’t let that happen. The two immediate issues of urgency are immediate rehousing in decent accommodation and trauma counselling. Victims’ physical and emotional wellbeing must be the priority.

The Grenfell Tower Disaster has immense implications for government and the running of the country. It’s touched people right across the country and those who live in high rises are right to have particular concerns.

Once again, the poorest in society suffer the most. There has to be recompense and resolution. The public needs to respond to any calls for support from Grenfell survivors, families and campaigners.

They must also keep pressure on their local authorities to ensure an adherence to building and, health and safety regulations, in order ensure that people’s safety.

Ensure 

We can't bring back the dead of Grenfell, but we can ensure that this won’t happen anywhere else in Britain.

On a personal level it was immensely moving to be there. The enormity of it was hard to grasp. Looking at pictures on railings of missing people, those pictures went on and on. Where are those missing people?

We understand the reality of it—it’s hard to identify everybody. You feel for the firefighters. But you also feel for survivors who are still looking for family members, friends and neighbours.

We have to keep the pressure on to make sure there is no cover up.

The right wing now want to say this isn’t political. Of course, you can say it’s a terrible tragedy.

But you cannot say that what happened at Grenfell wasn’t political. The economics of British society led to it.

From everything we know it looks like that tower block was surrounded by materials that led to the fire escalating. It was about money and cutting corners. To say that’s not political is rubbish.

Those people have to continue making noise and we have a responsibility to make noise with them. We owe it to Grenfell survivors and campaigners to ensure this stays high profile and that people are given a voice.

And to make sure that it’s not depoliticised by co-opting people into the mainstream.

People are distressed. And it is emotional. But what we learned over the years was that those emotions are exploited to effectively depoliticise the issue.

There is a collective outpouring of grief over Grenfell but there’s also a resilience and that can’t be lost. Something has to come out of this that makes things better because you cannot let those people die in vain.

Sheila Coleman is an activist with the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and will be speaking at the Marxism 2017 festival next month. Go to marxismfestival.org.uk for more details

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