Socialist Worker

The Grenfell Tower fire and the anger that refuses to fade

by Alistair Farrow
Issue No. 2579

Under the Westway in Ladbroke Grove the call for justice for Grenfell Tower still echoes

Under the Westway in Ladbroke Grove the call for justice for Grenfell Tower still echoes (Pic: Guy Smallman)

A silent march next week will mark five months since the Grenfell Tower fire in west London. It will express the fury that survivors still feel—and their determination that the issues the fire raised must not be ignored.

Grenfell, and the treatment of victims that followed, exposes the contempt that those at the top have for working class people. Just ten out of 203 households have been permanently rehoused so far. And thousands have been left to suffer trauma and other mental health problems without the support they need.

“We were put in hotels,” Mahad Egal told Socialist Worker, describing the immediate aftermath. “We expressed concerns that hotels were just more tower blocks. We felt uncomfortable.

“The Premier Inn hotel in Hammersmith—my knees started shaking as soon as I saw it, it’s a glass tower.

“It’s traumatic. We can’t cook for ourselves, both my wife and I are traumatised by cooking over open gas flames. It’s a reminder of the fire and we haven’t had enough time to recover.”

Mahad lived on the fourth floor of Grenfell Tower with his wife and children. If he and his wife hadn’t been awake for Ramadan at the time of the fire, they and their children may well have been among the fatalities.

Now they are living in temporary accommodation. “A lot of families are in the same situation as us—in serviced apartments or hotels,” said Mahad. “We’re going into the fifth month and kids are still in hotels.

Mahad Egal - “Can you make temporary accommodation a home? You can’t because you know it’s not your place”

Mahad Egal - “Can you make temporary accommodation a home? You can’t because you know it’s not your place” (Pic: Guy Smallman)

“The kids ask what happened to the home. Can you make temporary accommodation a home? You can’t because you know it’s not your place.”

Joe Delaney lived on one of the walkways connected to Grenfell Tower on the Lancaster West estate. He was evacuated on the night and his home made uninhabitable. He’s still living in a hotel room with his two dogs.

“I’m in limbo,” he told Socialist Worker. “For a start, the council couldn’t find me a hotel which was dog friendly.” Joe said had to tell the council how to find one.

“It’s a rule at the hotel that you can’t leave the dogs there unsupervised,” he said. “So every time I go out they have to come with me. That’s pretty much stopped me from working.”

Kensington and Chelsea council is doing nothing to end the limbo and help people into secure accommodation.

Mahad said, “Kensington and Chelsea council has said apartments are too expensive and that they are hoping people stay in hotels until December.”

Joe said, “The council keep saying they can’t rehouse us quickly because there’s a shortage of social housing. Well, whose fault is that?

“I’m on the council scrutiny committee. I made it clear at one meeting—there’s no way I’m moving into temporary accommodation. If you move me that’s it, I am moved and I will stay.

“There are things the council could do to build houses on council land. They want to do a number of redevelopment projects—why not just build council housing? They can afford to.”

And yet Joe views himself as one of the “lucky ones” out of those evacuated after the fire. “I’ve heard some absolute horror stories about some of the hotels people have been placed in,” he said.

Survivors have been put in temporary accommodation and hotels across London.

We’ve been scattered—there is a Grenfell diaspora across London

Joe Delaney

That forces children to go to different schools and makes it harder for people to get to work.

It separates people from their neighbourhoods, friends and family at a time when they need familiarity and support more than ever.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Joe. “We’ve been scattered—there is a Grenfell diaspora across London. They’re trying to fit people wherever they can as quickly as possible and as cheaply as possible. No thought is given to it whatsoever.”

There are dozens of stories like Mahad and Joe’s, but they are not being heard. Instead, the right wing press wants to focus on stories such as fake insurance claims.

They hope to introduce ambiguity into the coverage of Grenfell and make people doubt survivors’ claims.

That will help keep the pressure off the Tories. But survivors and local residents are very clear about who they blame for the fire.

Joe slammed the council and the local Tenant Management Organisation (TMO). “Whatever is most convenient for them is what they will try and push through, and to hell with the consequences,” he said.

One example of this is the complete absence of the council and the TMO during and after the fire.

Niles Hailstones, chairperson of the anti-regeneration Westway 23 campaign, looks after a bay under the Westway dual carrigeway which cuts the borough in half. On the night of the fire the space was used to store the donations that had begun to flood in.

Niles told Socialist Worker, “People are still coming to us today asking for bedding, for tins of food, stuff like that. It’s an indictment against the council which is completely unable to meet its responsibilities.”

Survivors are also being made to jump through hoops to access money donated to charities. The council should coordinate this, but often it’s left up to survivors and grieving families to seek out the help they need.

“I’ve got no idea how money is being distributed,” said Mahad. “We had a meeting with the charity commissioner and charity representatives who collected money in aid of Grenfell.

“There is a lot of stress and confusion because no one knows where to get funds from.”

The immediate material needs of survivors need to be met.

But that isn’t the only issue—a mental health crisis is already tearing people’s lives apart.

“I can’t seem to do anything other than focus on this Grenfell issue,” said Joe.

But he said that mental health support in the area is “an utter joke”.

“At the moment you can access six weeks of therapy, if you can get yourself onto the waiting list for therapy at all,” he explained. “They can’t scale up because they haven’t got the money to do so.

“The longer term support isn’t forthcoming because the money promised to the local NHS trust still hasn’t come through.”

Psychologist Dr John Green leads the Grenfell Tower NHS Mental Health Response at the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust (CNWL).

“I think this is the biggest programme there’s ever been in Europe, certainly in terms of mental health,” he said recently. “There’s never been anything like it.”

A fire alarm rang out across the Lancaster West estate last week, a drill for workers trawling through the wreckage.

There were people with diabetes and mobility issues placed on the 23rd floor. I hold the council and the TMO responsible

Mahad Egal

As it sounded, a group of mental health workers went door to door checking if people were all right. Two of them told Socialist Worker they had only been assigned to the Grenfell mental health operation the day before, four and a half months after the fire.

Green estimated that as many as 11,000 people in the area could experience mental health problems as a result of the fire. Each one of those 11,000 has their own story about the fire, and the horror and trauma they have witnessed.

Joe Delaney – “The council keep saying they can’t rehouse us quickly because there’s a shortage of social housing. Well, whose fault is that?”

Joe Delaney – “The council keep saying they can’t rehouse us quickly because there’s a shortage of social housing. Well, whose fault is that?” (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Yet under 100 mental health therapists have been allocated to the Grenfell Tower fire response, around 40 of whom are trauma specialists.

Some people will need a lifetime of counselling to come to terms with what happened. A spokesperson from CNWL told Socialist Worker about the scale of the mental health crisis unleashed by Grenfell.

“The NHS has screened over 1,300 people from the Grenfell area for trauma so far and more every week,” they said. “There are currently over 332 adults in psychological treatment right now and 50 children, but there will be many more. 173 have declined or postponed treatment for now—often because they need to be settled first.

“Screenings are for evidence of trauma—like post traumatic stress disorder, we are seeing high levels of this, but also other issues like intrusive thoughts, insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks and bereavement.

“It is difficult to project total numbers of people needing trauma treatment over the next three years. But we anticipate they will be high because of the high numbers of people exposed to the fire over all those hours.

“Some spontaneously resolve themselves, some can have memories revived from a trigger.

“For instance, we recently saw someone traumatised from the 7/7 bombings who only now needs assistance.”

Grenfell has left a deep mistrust of the council in North Kensington.

“We’re told that lessons have been learned by the council and that they’re extremely sorry,” said Joe. “Frankly, their actions to date don’t indicate this.”

Mahad said the story of Grenfell before and after the fire is one of “people being forced into circumstances they would not otherwise take”.

“There were people with diabetes and mobility issues placed on the 23rd floor,” he said. “I hold the council and the TMO responsible.

“They treated us with contempt and negligence and in the aftermath there was further contempt and negligence.”

Grenfell Tower Silent Walk Tuesday 14 November, 6.30pm, Notting Hill Methodist Church, 240 Lancaster Rd, London W11 4AH. Go to Grenfell Tower, Silent Walk, 14th November 2017 on Facebook

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