Two Years On From the Grenfell Tower Fire, A Growing Anger at the Way Those in Social Housing Continue to be Treated as Disposable

A photo of Grenfell Tower, lit up with a green light, and bearing the message ‘Forever in our hearts’, on the eve of the 2nd anniversary of the fire that killed 72 people on June 14, 2017, for which no one has yet been held accountable (Photo: Tim Downie on Twitter).

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Two years ago, I switched on my TV and watched in horror as flames engulfed Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey tower block on the Lancaster West Estate in North Kensington, in west London, leading to the loss of 72 lives.

To anyone with even the most cursory knowledge of the safety systems built into concrete tower blocks, it was clear that this was a disaster that should never have happened. Compartmentalisation — involving a requirement that any fire that breaks out in any individual flat should be able to be contained for an hour, allowing the emergency services time to arrive and deal with it — had failed, as had the general ability of the block to prevent the easy spread of fire throughout the building. Instead, Grenfell Tower went up in flames as though it had had petrol poured on it.

It took very little research to establish that what had happened was an entire system failure, caused by long-term neglect and a failure to provide adequate safety measures (in particular, the tower had no sprinkler system fitted), and, more recently, through a refurbishment process that had turned a previously safe tower into a potential inferno. 

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Radio: I Discuss Guantánamo and the Tidemill Campaign on Wandsworth’s Riverside Radio, Also Featuring Songs by The Four Fathers

Andy Worthington at a previous radio appearance, discussing Guantánamo in Northampton, Massachusetts in January 2015.

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On Saturday, I was delighted to be visited by Andy Bungay, from Wandsworth’s Riverside Radio, for an interview broadcast on Andy’s evening show on Sunday, in which we discussed Guantánamo, which I’ve been covering for the last 13 years, and campaigning for its closure, and the housing crisis in London, which I’ve also been involved in challenging for the last few years. I was on Andy’s show back in September, and it was great to have the opportunity to talk again.

The full show is here.

Our interview starts about 1 hours and five minutes into the show, with a discussion of Guantánamo, and, in part, the case of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, whose release in October 2015 I campaigned to secure, initially working with the Save Shaker Aamer campaign, and, over the last year of Shaker’s imprisonment, via We Stand With Shaker, a campaign I set up with fellow activist Joanne MacInnes. This involved creating a giant inflatable figure of Shaker, a PR stunt that might have been widely ignored, but that, instead, led to a hundred celebrities and MPs being willing to have their photos taken with the figure, and to call for his release.

At 1:22, Andy played ’Song for Shaker Aamer’, a solo version of The Four Fathers’ song, used as the campaign song for We Stand With Shaker, which was recorded live in Washington, D.C. in January 2016, where I played it at an event calling for Guantánamo’s closure on the evening before the 14th anniversary of its opening, with lyrics amended to reflect Shaker’s release. The part about Shaker being “back in London” got a big cheer from the crowd!

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500 Days Since the Grenfell Tower Fire, The Four Fathers Release New Single ‘Grenfell’, Remembering Those Who Died, and Calling for Those Responsible to be Held Accountable

The cover of 'Grenfell' by The Four Fathers, featuring a photo taken in North Kensington on December 14, 2017 on one of the Silent Walks that take place on the 14th of every month (Photo: Andy Worthington).Listen to the single here on Bandcamp, and please buy it as a download. All takings will be donated to Grenfell charities. The recording was produced by acclaimed musician and producer Charlie Hart, who also plays accordion on it.

Exactly 500 days ago, Britain changed in a way that has haunted me ever since, as 71 people died in an inferno that engulfed Grenfell Tower, a tower block in west London (one other survivor died in January this year, taking the death toll to 72).

This was a disaster that should never have happened, and that only occurred because those responsible for the structural integrity of the tower, and the safety of its residents, had decided that cost-cutting and profiteering was more important than people’s lives.

Those responsible include the Tory government, which failed to enforce recommendations after the Lakanal tower fire in Peckham in 2009, and actively worked to cut “red tape” when it came to housing regulations, Kensington and Chelsea Council, which abdicated responsibility for its tenants, handing their safety over to Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), an organisation that, although responsible for all of the borough’s social housing (consisting of more than 10,000 homes) repeatedly ignored explicit warnings by tenants’ representatives that they were living in a potential deathtrap.

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Radio: I Discuss London’s Housing Crisis, the Tidemill Occupation and Guantánamo on Wandsworth Radio, Plus the World Premiere of ‘Grenfell’ by The Four Fathers

The logo of Wandsworth Radio and some Lewisham campaign badges.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.




 

Last Saturday, I was on community radio station Wandsworth Radio for two hours, taking part in a freewheeling, wide-ranging political discussion with host Andy Bungay and regular monthly co-host Colin Crilly. 

The show is here, and below I’ve broken it down into various topics, if you’re interested in navigating to various discussions.

From 9:00 to 15:00 we discussed the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, which I’m involved in, and which I’ve written about here and here, the latter linking to my article for Novara Media, The Battle for Deptford and Beyond.

From there, from 15:00 to 23:20, we moved on to discussing ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, the documentary film about the destruction of council estates, and residents’ resistance to the destruction of their homes, which I narrate, and we also discussed the Grenfell Tower fire, and the important work of ASH (Architects for Social Housing), including their post-Grenfell public meeting, ‘The Truth About Grenfell Tower’, which was where I met Nikita Woolfe, the director of ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, and we also discussed the extent of post-Grenfell cladding issues, and how the government has still failed to address them adequately. Read the rest of this entry »

Ten Years Since the Global Financial Crash of 2008, We’ve Been Screwed by Austerity, and Now The Predators Want Our Homes

An image summing up the global economic crash of 2008.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.




 

Yesterday, September 15, marked the 10th anniversary of the day the new world order that started under Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and continued under Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, blew up spectacularly when the banking giant Lehman Brothers went bust, precipitating a global economic crash that was the worst since the Great Depression of 1929.

The crash came about because investment banks like Lehman Brothers had been involved in risky, toxic deals that should never have been legal, primarily involving “sub-prime mortgages” — lending money to buy homes to people who couldn’t afford them, and then packaging those toxic debts up in other complex financial packages.

The collapse of Lehman Brothers, with debts of $613bn, started a domino-like collapse through the entire financial sector, which had previously thought of itself as infallible, and had been supported in this absurd notion by politicians and economists.

In response, governments spent billions bailing out the banks, while everyone else suffered. No senior banking executive faced prosecution for their crimes, but individuals lost money, businesses folded, unemployment was rife, and the easy credit on which so many people depended dried up. Immediately after the crash, it was at least obvious that others were suffering too — building sites across London, for example, lay abandoned, and even the rich felt the squeeze, but salvation, in the UK at least, was soon at hand when the Tories, with the support of the Liberal Democrats, were able to form a government after the general election in May 2010, and immediately set about creating a new narrative — that the problem was government spending, not bankers’ crimes, and that the solution was to cut public spending. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington: An Archive of Articles About Guantánamo, My UK Housing Activism, Photography and Music – Part 24, January to June 2018

Andy Worthington marks 6,000 days of Guantanamo on June 15, 2018.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.




 

This article is the 24th in an ongoing series of articles listing all my work in chronological order. It’s a project I began in January 2010, when I put together the first chronological lists of all my articles, in the hope that doing so would make it as easy as possible for readers and researchers to navigate my work — the 3,000+ articles I have published since I first began publishing articles here in May 2007, which, otherwise, are not available in chronological order in any readily accessible form.

I receive no institutional funding for my work, and so, if you appreciate what I do as a reader-funded journalist and activist, please consider making a donation via the Paypal ‘Donate’ button above. Any amount, however large or small, will be very gratefully received — and if you are able to become a regular monthly sustainer, that would be particularly appreciated. To do so, please tick the box marked, “Make this a monthly donation,” and fill in the amount you wish to donate every month.

As I note every time I put together a chronological list of my articles, my mission, as it has been since my research in 2006-07, for my book The Guantánamo Files, first revealed the scale of the injustice at Guantánamo, continues to revolve around four main aims — to humanize the prisoners by telling their stories; to expose the many lies told about them to supposedly justify their detention; to push for the prison’s closure and the absolute repudiation of indefinite detention without charge or trial as US policy; and to call for those who initiated, implemented and supported indefinite detention and torture to be held accountable for their actions. Read the rest of this entry »

Party in the Park, New Cross and Deptford 2018: Sun, Solidarity and the Struggle Against Social Cleansing

The arrival of a carnival procession of campaigners from the Old Tidemill Garden in Deptford to Party in the Park, a community festival in New Cross on September 1, 2018 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.




 

Welcome to Party in the Park 2018, in Fordham Park, New Cross. No fences, no huge metal walls, no entrance fee, no security checks — and no trouble. This was the community in solidarity, proving triumphantly that an open festival is infinitely preferable to the securitised fortresses that play such a divisive role in so many of London’s parks these days (see the big money festivals that, behind their soaring metal walls, take over much of London’s parkland every summer, and the debacle of the recent Lambeth Country Show, for example).

This was the fourth Party in the Park, after events in 2013, 2014 and 2016, but it wasn’t just the brilliant sunshine that made it such a great day, or the music from dozens of great performers (and with my band The Four Fathers honoured to take part). It was that thing I mentioned above. Solidarity.

The theme of the festival was housing, and housing is at the heart of the problems we face on all fronts in the never-ending “age of austerity” imposed by the Tories since 2010, with ongoing cuts to all the services that are essential for a civil society to flourish, and with a relentless onslaught of greed on a key essential of life — housing. Read the rest of this entry »

Why We’ve Occupied the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford to Prevent Lewisham Council’s Demolition Plans

Join the Tidemill Occupation: an image I put together featuring a photo from the Old Tidemill Garden in Deptford on August 28, 2018, the evening the garden was occupied to prevent Lewisham Council from taking it back the day after, prior to its intended destruction.On Tuesday evening (August 28), campaigners occupied the Old Tidemill Garden on Reginald Road in Deptford, London SE8 to prevent Lewisham Council from taking it back on the Wednesday morning (August 29), and boarding it up prior to its planned destruction as part of the proposed re-development of the site of the old Tidemill Primary School.

The garden is a much-loved community space, and was developed by teachers, parents and pupils from the school 20 years ago. When the school closed, to be replaced by a new academy, the garden was leased to the local community, but now the council wants it back, to destroy it, and the 16 council flats of Reginald House next door, in order to build new housing with the housing association Peabody, some of which be for private sale, with the rest a mixture of Sadiq Khan’s London Affordable Rent (63% higher than social rents in Lewisham) and the scam that is shared ownership.

For many years, campaigners have been working to urge Lewisham Council to re-draw its plans to re-develop the old school site, which, astonishingly, were first proposed ten years ago. The campaigners have relentlessly pointed out that increasing the density of the development on the old school site will allow the council and Peabody to save the garden and Reginald House, but they’re simply not interested in engaging with the local community, or with the residents of Reginald House. 80% of residents do not want to lose their homes but have not been offered a ballot, despite Jeremy Corbyn’s promise last autumn that all proposed demolitions should involve ballots, a position since endorsed by London Mayor Sadiq Khan. Read the rest of this entry »

Year 2, Day 100 of My Photo Project, ‘The State of London’, Recording A City Gutted by Greed Since the Olympics

The latest photos from my photo project, 'The State of London', marking one year and 100 days since I first began posting a photo a day on Facebook.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.




 

Yesterday, August 18, marked one year and 100 days since I began posting a photo a day on ‘The State of London’, a Facebook page I established on May 11 last year, marking five years since I first began cycling around London on my bike, taking photos of whatever interested me. You can see all the photos to date here.

In the six years and three months since I began this photo-journalistic project, I have been out on my bike almost every day, cycling many thousands of miles across all of London’s 120 postcodes, and discovering that what interests me are the changing seasons, the changing weather, the River Thames and the capital’s other rivers, its canals, its parks, and my own idiosyncratic take on the built environment, in which I’m drawn to the old, the odd, the idiosyncratic, the run-down, the derelict and the abandoned, and also to social housing — the great post-war estates, currently facing an unprecedented threat from councils across the political spectrum, who, financially squeezed by central government, are entering into deals with property developers to demolish their estates and to build over-priced new developments from which almost all the existing tenants are priced out, an epidemic of social cleansing that is largely unnoticed by those who are not directly affected by it. 

When these homes are destroyed, social rents (generally set at around a third of market rents) are also conveniently wiped out, replaced by properties for private sale, for market rent, for “affordable” rents that aren’t affordable at all, being set at 80% of market rents, and for shared ownership, an alarming scam designed to fool renters into believing that they are property owners. To add to Londoners’ woes, housing associations, which have increasingly taken over councils’ housing role since the Thatcher years, have also been severely squeezed, and many have, in response, also joined the private property development gravy train. Read the rest of this entry »

Good News! Haringey Council Ends Its £2 Billion Social Cleansing Deal with Predatory Developers Lendlease

An image the StopHDV campaign made for the development vehicle being scrapped by Haringey's new council on July 17, 2018.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.




 

Good news is so rare these days on so many fronts that I want to celebrate what happened in Haringey, in north London, on Tuesday (July 17), when the new Labour council voted to halt the proposals, put forward by the previous Labour administration, to enter into a £2bn joint venture with the Australian property developer Lendlease, known as the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV), which would have involved a significant amount of publicly-owned land and assets being transferred to the control of the new company. In housing activist circles, Lendlease are notorious as the profiteering destroyers of the Heygate Estate in Southwark, which is currently being replaced by a new development, Elephant Park, from which all the existing residents have been socially cleansed.

The FT, the only mainstream media outlet to cover the story positively, wrote that the council’s decision was “the latest sign of public anger over lucrative regeneration schemes.” and proceeded to explain that, had the scheme gone ahead, “Lendlease would have provided development expertise and earned fees for managing Haringey’s commercial property portfolio.” However, as the FT added, “the scheme, which would have built 6,400 homes over 20 years and redeveloped the Northumberland Park and Broadwater Farm estates, became the centre of a bitter political feud at the Labour-run council, with opposition from leftwing campaigners, residents and Liberal Democrat councillors.”

I first covered the story last July, after the entirely preventable Grenfell Tower fire brought into sharp focus how disposable those of us who live in social housing are, in the eyes of those supposedly responsible for our homes and our welfare, and I then made contact with campaigners from the StopHDV campaign, and played a benefit gig in support of the campaign in Tottenham in September with my band The Four Fathers. 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, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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