Socialist Worker

Grenfell inquiry hears from residents who raised the alarm

by Isabel Ringrose
Issue No. 2751

The North Kensington community continues to rally for justice.

The North Kensington community continues to rally for justice. (Pic: Flickr)


People living in Grenfell Tower were labelled “rebel residents” for raising safety concerns before the 2017 fire that killed 72 people.

The inquiry into the fire resumed this week with testimonies from the bereaved, survivors and residents.

“We wanted to have a safe place to live,” said David Collins, a resident from 2014 to 2016 who chaired the Grenfell Tower Residents’ Group (GTRG).

“We weren’t met in that desire. We never felt like we were met in our desire to have a safe tower.”

Evidence was being given about how the ­building’s ­landlord, Kensington and Chelsea Council, and the tenant management organisation who ran the tower (TMO), dealt with concerns.

The GTRG compiled complaints and attempted to raise them with the TMO and Rydon, who were responsible for the tower’s refurbishment that was completed in 2016.

Disregard

Collins said there was a “total disregard for tenant and leaseholder well-being,” by TMO and Rydon.

Grenfell campaigners protest as inquiry questions council and housing bosses
Grenfell campaigners protest as inquiry questions council and housing bosses
  Read More

He explained that residents had concerns about the refurbishment and ­building work in general—including the consultation process, safety, noise, quality, electric outage shortages, pipework and boilers. He said residents “wanted to be engaged in a group, not to be separated,” adding, “we didn’t feel individually we were being listened to.”

He added that individual residents were given “subtle threats” and said that raising complaints alone was hard “if you don’t have confidence or your mental health isn’t stable.”

Residents were forced to turn to local councillors and their MP. “No one else would listen to us,” Collins explained. “We tried every way we could possibly find to have a voice.”

The inquiry was shown an email from TMO project manager Claire Williams about a discussion with chief executive Robert Black.

“We discussed the fact that the preference was not to meet up with the Grenfell Community Unite group which could be a showcase for Mr Daffarn,” it read.

Edward Daffarn was another leading group member, who was set to give evidence later this week.

Blame

With his head in his hands, Collins asked, “How can you not listen to a tower block and blame ­someone for the problem because you can’t do your jobs? It’s a disgrace.”

Eventually, residents secured a meeting with Rydon and TMO.

But Collins claimed a Rydon supervisor told them “We should be grateful for what we had rather than grumbling about problems”.

TMO and Rydon’s complaints procedures were “time consuming and tedious”. Collins added, “They didn’t care about our concerns, they didn’t meet until forced to.”

“There wasn’t oversight or accountability,” Collins said about TMO and RBKC’s role in overseeing it.

The inquiry continues with evidence and accounts from more residents.


‘If we cannot get out, people will die’

Grenfell Memorials are a common sight in North Kensington

Grenfell Memorials are a common sight in North Kensington (Pic: Loz Pycock/ Flickr)


The inquiry also heard from Lee Chapman, the secretary of Grenfell Leaseholders’ Association.

The association raised concerns in 2017 regarding gas mains installation in the evacuation staircase.

Gas pipes were drilled through walls “in the cheapest possible way.” Residents warned RBKC, “If we cannot get out people will die.”

Chapman told the inquiry it was “a life and death issue” that “just wasn’t being dealt with”.

He explained that responses were “totally uninformative and generic” and there was “an us and them” relationship between the landlord and residents.

Chapman also spoke about badly installed windows and extractor fans.

Wind travelled through gaps in the new windows, which had been “shoved on quickly”.


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