Today, June 14, marks the two year anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire.
The tragic incident started shortly before 1am. The fire spread from the fourth floor to the top of the 24-storey building in around 25 minutes. It took 24 hours for firefighters to bring the fire under control, and 60 hours for them to extinguish it fully.
By the end, the fire had claimed 72 lives, injured 70, and left more than 220 people homeless. It was the deadliest housing fire in the UK since World War II.
Two years later, survivors of the disaster still gather once a month, on the 14th, for a silent walk to remember those who lost their lives in the blaze.
Two years later, 15 households affected by the fire still don’t have somewhere permanent to live and it is estimated 16,000 private flats are still wrapped in the kind of exterior cladding that fed the Grenfell fire, while 8,400 social housing flats are still waiting for dangerous cladding to be removed.
Two years later, out of 433 buildings with Grenfell-style cladding, less than 100 have had it removed or fixed. Three hundred and thirty-eight still bear the flammable aluminium cladding, while countless other high-rise buildings are clad in other types of flammable material.
Two years later, the 24-storey Grenfell Tower is shrouded in white plastic with the words ‘Grenfell, Forever In Our Hearts’ at the very top.
To mark the tragic anniversary, the campaign group Grenfell United are shining a spotlight on what still needs to change. Working with survivors and the bereaved, as well as residents in affected blocks across the UK, they are raising awareness of issues that urgently need addressing through a coordinated action.
In Theresa May’s recent resignation speech, she claimed the government’s response and the independent public inquiry into the Grenfell fire was one of the few successful achievements of her time as prime minister.
However, when the regulatory review was presented to parliament last year, many people were left bitterly disappointed.
The review did not recommend to install fire sprinklers on existing high-rises or new buildings below 10 storeys. It did not make second staircases compulsory, and the ban on Grenfell-style cladding only applies to buildings more than 18m tall.
2 years after Grenfell people are still going to bed at night in buildings wrapped in dangerous cladding, with no sprinklers & fire doors not fit for purpose. Join @GrenfellUnited to #DemandChange: https://t.co/aPuCJ1j4a7 https://t.co/nwP0IaQi1f
— michael sheen (@michaelsheen) June 13, 2019
As Jonathan Evans, chief executive of cladding systems maker Ash and Lacy, told The New York Times: ‘The government’s primary objective has always been to avoid the blame for Grenfell’.
While a spokesperson for the Housing Ministry said:
There is nothing more important than making sure people are safe in their homes, and that’s why the government is committed to improving building safety.
However, for Grenfell United, there is too little being done. And as time goes on, the risk of forgetting the tragic incident – and the overhaul in safe housing it should inspire – only increases.
The campaign group is made up of survivors and bereaved families of the Grenfell Tower fire. They have been tirelessly working since the 2017 disaster to campaign for safe homes, justice and change.
You can watch their most recent campaign video here:
On the evening of Wednesday, June 12, Grenfell United illuminated three tower blocks in the UK to highlight the dangers many residents across the country still face – dangerous cladding, lack of sprinklers, and faulty fire doors.
In London, Frinstead House – a 20-storey tower block just metres away from Grenfell Tower, on the same Silchester Estate – was lit up with the message: ‘2 years after Grenfell, this building still has no sprinklers’.
In Newcastle, the projection onto Cruddas Park House, a 25-storey block for over 50s, read: ‘2 years after Grenfell and the fire doors in this building still aren’t fit for purpose’.
In Manchester, the NV Building – a block of 246 flats, which is clad in dangerous HPL cladding not covered by the government cladding removal fund – was lit up with the words: ‘2 years after Grenfell this building is still covered in dangerous cladding’.
Speaking about the projections, Karim Mussilhy, vice-chair of Grenfell United, who lost his uncle in the fire, told UNILAD:
Our message to the government is simple but we needed the biggest possible platform to make them listen.
Last week I visited residents in Newcastle and I heard how they were raising concerns but being ignored. That’s what happened to residents in Grenfell before the fire. We have to change the culture in social housing so people are treated with respect.
By raising our voices together and uniting blocks across the country, we cannot be ignored. We are so proud to stand alongside residents in Newcastle and Manchester who have been campaigning to be heard.
Two years after Grenfell we are coming together and our voices can only get louder.
Hannah Reid, a dental nurse who lives on the Silchester Estate, told The Guardian:
This is not something we should have to fight for.
We are afraid the same thing [as Grenfell] could happen to us. The demands of the people of Grenfell were ignored and the same thing is happening to us. Not just us but all across the country.
London, Newcastle and Manchester. 1 night 3 cities. @grenfell_united shine a spotlight on unsafe housing across the UK. People are still unsafe in their homes 2 years after Grenfell! It’s time to #demandchange pic.twitter.com/Bvy5B6T6NA
— Karim Mussilhy (@KMussilhy) June 13, 2019
An investigation by Inside Housing recently revealed Gavin Barwell, who was housing minister in 2016 and 2017, received seven letters between September 2016 and May 2017 from a group of MPs who were responsible for scrutinising fire safety rules. Barwell received the last letter just 26 days before the fire at Grenfell Tower.
In total, 21 letters were sent between 2014 and 2017 to a number of ministers calling for urgent review and change of fire safety, especially in regards to tower block cladding.
In 2016 and 2017, the group received just three short replies from Barwell.
Labour MP David Lammy called the letters a ‘smoking gun in a man-made, preventable tragedy’. While chair of the all-party fire safety group, David Amess, told then communities minister Stephen Williams he was ‘at a loss to understand, how you had concluded that credible and independent evidence which had life safety implications, was not considered to be urgent.’
These are the letters sent by MPs to Gavin Barwell in 2016 and 2017 warning him to act on fire safety in high rises.
To set the scene, this was sent to his predecessor in 2014 – saying the fire safety group was 'at a loss' to understand why the govt was not acting pic.twitter.com/daS2mJzPP6
— Peter Apps (@PeteApps) June 13, 2019
Last Sunday, June 9, 20 flats in Barking, east London, were destroyed and 10 more damaged in a fire which ripped through residents’ wooden balconies. Luckily there were no deaths, though the incident highlights the need for further fire safety measures. In the wake of Grenfell, funds made available are so far available for the removal of aluminium cladding only, and not other combustible materials.
Of the tower blocks deemed at risk due to Grenfell-like cladding, 146 privately-owned blocks are still vulnerable, while almost 100 social housing blocks have still not been fixed.
Grenfell United is calling for tower blocks across the country to be made safe, and for residents to be listened to and treated with respect. It’s not that much to ask.
As the projections show, they want to see safe fire doors in all blocks, sprinklers in blocks to keep fire escapes clear, and for all dangerous cladding to be removed. The group are also urging the UK government to introduce a new, separate housing regulator that would put residents concerns above the profits of housing associations, and ensure residents were listened to and their issues acted upon.
Grenfell United are asking people to sign up here, use the hashtags #DemandChange on social media, and write to their MPs to help make tower blocks safe for everyone.
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.