Just a few days before the one year anniversary, the shrouding of Grenfell Tower was completed.
Grenfell one year later:
The more we learn, the worse it gets
Seven minutes before 1am on 14 June 2017, Behailu Kebede, in flat 16 on the 4th floor of Grenfell Tower, was woken by his smoke alarm. He saw there was a fire in his kitchen, called the fire brigade and alerted neighbours on his floor. The first fire engine arrived arrived within five minutes, and the firemen entered the flat seven minutes later. However, in spite of hard work by eventually 250 firemen and 70 fire engines, the fire spread so quickly that four hours later the 24-storey building had been gutted, several hundred residents had been made homeless, and 70 had died. The next day saw the 71st victim, when a baby was still-born while the mother was still unconscious from smoke inhalation, and seven months later the fire produced its 72nd victim, when a 74-year-old dementia sufferer died after never having recovered from the distress of losing her home.
One year later, the Grenfell Tower disaster is still making headline news. Of the 209 households made homeless by the fire, only 82 have actually moved into new permanent homes. A further 116 are waiting for their accepted homes to be made usable, while five households still haven’t found homes they would feel at home in.
The ongoing Grenfell Tower inquiry is now beginning to reveal details that we didn’t know six months ago: about the extremely shoddy refurbishment, where flammable styrofoam panels and polyurethane foam had been used in addition to the “approved” flammable materials, and evidence that some fire brigade routines aren’t suitable for a fire of this scale. The more we learn, the worse it gets.
No individuals have yet been made responsible, but it’s almost inconceivable that all involved politicians, TMO officials, building material manufacturers, refurbishment contractors and building inspectors will escape charges of negligence or worse, either by the inquiry or by the police investigation.
The one year commemoration became a very solemn and nation-wide event, with a vigil, the monthly Grenfell march, church remembrances, concerts and 72 silent minutes. The recently white-shrouded skeleton of Grenfell Tower was lit up in green, as were 12 other tower blocks in the neighbourhood, Kensington Palace, Downing Street and Whitehall, The Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith, The London Eye, Heathrow Control Tower, Battersea Power Station, The Old Vic, Wembley Stadium, Wembley Park, York House in Twickenham, Hammersmith Town Hall, Islington Town Hall, Newham council’s two town halls, Nottingham Council House, Brent Civic Centre, Wandsworth Town Hall, Greenwich Council and Salford City Council. Even in faraway Gateshead, the local council lit up the Gateshead Millennium Bridge. Strangely, nobody seems to have thought of doing the same with Kensington Town Hall…
As part of the commemoration, BBC One showed a 90 minute documentary on 11 June, titled “Grenfell” and available on BBC iPlayer until 11 July, and BBC Two showed a 59 minute documentary on 13 June, titled “Before Grenfell: A Hidden History” and available on BBC iPlayer until 11 July. Both are well worth watching.
“Grenfell” consists of very personal interviews, mainly with survivors, volunteers and local politicians, and deals with the fire and the aftermath, up to the start of the inquiry on 21 May 2018. It’s very moving but at the same time uplifting, because of the many examples of compassion, generosity and community spirit.
“Before Grenfell: A Hidden History” concentrates on the history of North Kensington, from the 1840s to today (although most locals probably won’t agree that everything between Notting Hill Gate and Chelsea is known as South Kensington). It also describes the visions Peter Deakins and the other architects had when they designed Grenfell Tower and the Lancaster West estate in the early 1960s, and the joy the first tenants felt when they moved in.
The open area outside the brand new Kensington Leisure Centre’s cafe has become a place where people commemorate the Grenfell Tower tragedy, with the tower now shrouded in white.
A big Tube-sign-like heart on the hoarding surrounding the tower, adorned with stickers and messages, is a focal point for those coming to pay their respect. There is a suggestion that Latimer Road station, the nearest tube stop, should have its name changed to Grenfell as part of the planned memorials.
A Sky News video showing Grenfell Tower and surrounding tower blocks lit up in green on 13 June. It also shows parts on the monthly silent Grenfell march held that evening.
During a live Sky News report about a group of Grenfell commemorators on Freston Road sharing a late meal on 13 June as part of the 24 hour vigil, a tube driver stopped his train briefly on its way into Latimer Road station, wanting to show his solidarity. It later emerged that he lost a close friend in the fire.