Grenfell and the Social Housing Crisis: How Kensington and Chelsea Council Behaved Like “A Property Developer Masquerading as a Local Authority”

Justice for Grenfell: banner on a march in central London on June 16, 2018, just two days after the first anniversary of the fire in June 2017 that killed 72 people (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.




 

In a meeting of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee on June 20 to discuss ‘Local Authority Support for Grenfell Tower Survivors’, Ed Daffarn, one of the survivors of last June’s entirely preventable tower block fire, in which 72 people died, reported an exchange with Kensington and Chelsea Council’s Chief Executive, Barry Quirk, who took on that role a week after the fire, which cuts to the heart of the problems facing those living in social housing in Britain today.

Daffarn told MPs that, at a meeting wth survivors’ organisation Grenfell United, Barry Quirk “said that RBKC [the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea] were a property developer masquerading as a local authority.”

Daffarn added, “Think about that. They were property developers masquerading as a local authority. They failed to keep us safe because they had higher priorities – getting their hands on the land, this massive goldmine they had.”

The confession by Quirk, who was formerly the Chief Executive of Lewisham Council, is significant because, when every aspect of social housing is made subservient to the money-making opportunities offered by housing development, residents of social housing are no longer actually safe in their homes. Read the rest of this entry »

Celebrating 400 Days of My Photo Project ‘The State of London’

A composite image of the latest photos from Andy Worthington's photo project 'The State of London'.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, photographer, commentator and activist. Check out all the photos to date here.




 

Back in March 2011, my life changed when I was hospitalised after a blood clot had turned two of my toes black. Doctors at St. Thomas’s Hospital, opposite the Houses of Parliament, saved my toes — a mercy for which I am eternally grateful to the NHS — but after I recovered, my life changed again when I began cycling across London on a daily basis — and taking photos everywhere I went — in May 2012.

When I got ill, I had managed to give up smoking, which would otherwise have killed me, but I then started piling on the pounds instead, on a steady diet of biscuits and cakes, and so getting back on my bike on a daily basis seemed like the perfect way to get fit.

I’d been a cyclist since I was about four years old, but like many useful habits, it had become sidelined as I smoked too much, and also as a result of my obsessive sedentary lifestyle as a writer, researcher and commentator and activist on Guantánamo, which had consumed my life since 2006. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: Grenfell 1st Anniversary – The Silent Walk and the Solidarity March

Photos from Flickr by Andy Worthington of the Grenfell Silent Walk and the Grenfell Solidarity March on June 14 and June 16, 2018.Please check out my photo sets on Flickr – of the Silent Walk in Kensington on June 14, 2018 and of the Solidarity March in central London on June 16, 2018.

Please also feel free to support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.




 

It’s just over a year since the defining event in the UK last year — the Grenfell Tower fire, an entirely preventable disaster in west London, in which 72 people died when an inferno engulfed a 24-storey tower block in North Kensington in west London, and I’m pleased to be posting photos from two recent Grenfell-related events as my contribution to trying to make sure that there is no let-up in the pressure for justice and accountability following the first anniversary of the disaster last June. 

The first photo set is of the Silent Walk for Grenfell on the actual anniversary. Silent Walks have taken place on the 14th of every month since the fire, in the vicinity of the tower, and on the anniversary, on Thursday June 14, thousands of people turned up, from across London as well as from other places in the UK, to show solidarity with the survivors and the local community. The Silent Walks are extremely moving experiences, and the 1st anniversary walk was, of course, no exception.

The second photo set is from the Grenfell Solidarity March in central London, starting and ending outside 10 Downing Street, and including a visit to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on Marsham Street, organised by the survivors’ group Justice4Grenfell and the Fire Brigades Union. Read the rest of this entry »

Grenfell One Year On: How Can We Feel Safe in a Country That Regards Everyone in Social Housing as Inferior?

The Silent Walk for Grenfell, December 14, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Exactly one year, ago, an inferno engulfed Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey tower block in north Kensington, in west London, with such speed and ferocity that 71 people died, and a 72nd person died this January as a result of injuries sustained that night.

It was a disaster that should never have happened, and the fact that it did cuts to the heart of how Britain operates in the 21st century.

The tower block was built of essentially incombustible concrete, and the process known as compartmentalisation was meant to ensure that any fire that broke out would be contained within the flat in which it broke out, with every other flat supposed to be able to resist the spread of fire for an hour, giving the fire services time to arrive on the scene.

In fact, fire leapt up the tower like nothing anyone had seen before, clearly indicating that every safety measure that was supposed to prevent an inferno had drastically failed. At the heart of the disaster were measures taken that had fatally corrupted the structural integrity of the tower. In order to make the tower appear more attractive, new cladding had been applied to it, but the cladding was flammable, and had created the inferno that took so many lives. Read the rest of this entry »

2,000 Views of The Four Fathers’ Video ‘Grenfell’, Remembering Those Who Died and Calling for Those Responsible to be Held Accountable

The Silent Walk for Grenfell, December 14, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.





 

Today is 350 days since the defining UK-based horror story of 2017 — the fire that engulfed Grenfell Tower in north Kensington, in west London, on June 14, 2017, killing 71 people, and leading to the death of a 72nd person this January. You can find profiles of all 72 victims here.

Last summer, I wrote a song about the fire for my band The Four Fathers, lamenting those whose lives were so “needlessly lost”, and calling for those responsible — “those who only count the profit not the human cost” — to be held accountable. We first played it live, at a benefit gig for a housing campaign in Tottenham, in September, recorded it with a German TV crew at the end of October, and released the video in December, and we have continued to play it live across the capital and elsewhere, making a small contribution to the effort to refuse to allow those responsible for the disaster to move on without a serious change in the culture that allowed it to happen. 

That culture — cost-cutting in the search for profits, rather than ensuring the safety of tenants and leaseholders — came from central government, from Kensington and Chelsea Council, from the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, which had taken over the management of all the borough’s social housing, and from the various contractors involved in the lethal refurbishment of the tower, when its structural integrity was fatally undermined. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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