June 13, 2019 / 11:41 PM / 5 days ago

Grief and safety fears: UK reflects 2 years after Grenfell blaze

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - On the two-year anniversary of the Grenfell fire on Friday - Britain’s worst blaze in decades in which at least 72 people died - many people expressed grief and frustration over the failure to improve safety in social housing.

The west London tower block inferno sent shockwaves around Britain, leading to a public inquiry - which is ongoing - and a separate police investigation that could result in criminal charges, while Britons debate community cohesion.

Here are some quotes from people affected by the blaze.

NATASHA ELCOCK, CHAIRWOMAN, GRENFELL UNITED, SURVIVORS’ GROUP

“If we want to stop another Grenfell fire, we need serious change – change that will genuinely make a difference to people living in social housing.

“The government introduced a new regime for the banking industry after the financial crash, it should be doing the same for the housing sector. After all, what could be more important than people’s homes?”

MATT WRACK, GENERAL SECRETARY, FIRE BRIGADES UNION

“Countless homes are still wrapped in flammable materials, while warnings from tenants about risks to their safety go ignored.

“We risk sleepwalking into another catastrophic loss of life. We demand urgent action from government to ensure that the events of Grenfell Tower can never happen again.”

MIKE LONG, REVEREND, NOTTING HILL METHODIST CHURCH

“The news story this anniversary is that there is no news – a sense that little is happening, at least that is visible, when the enquiries and investigations will still take a long time to deliver results.

“The waiting and uncertainty is very hard for many people.”

JAMES BROKENSHIRE, HOUSING MINISTER

“This government is determined to improve building safety, to search for the truth and to ensure no such tragedy can ever happen again.

“I know the community are still grieving as they await answers and justice ... I am committed to continuing to support the community and remembering those whose lives were lost.”

LEILANI FARHA, UNITED NATIONS SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON THE RIGHT TO HOUSING

“Grenfell is very much about inequality – not just inequality in housing, but inequality of political power and voice. This is a phenomenon I see everywhere I go.

“Those who are low income, living in social housing or homelessness, are simply not recognized as experts in their own lives ... Grenfell residents were well aware of the risks associated with the cladding, but their concerns fell on deaf ears.”

SADIQ KHAN, MAYOR OF LONDON

“Two years on – too little has changed. Lax building rules have been left untouched. Too little action has been taken to change how people in social housing are treated.”

ELIZABETH CAMPBELL, LEADER, KENSINGTON AND CHELSEA COUNCIL

“Grenfell was a national tragedy. Since that day our primary focus has been responding to it, particularly rehousing the former residents of Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk, as well as organizing practical, emotional and humanitarian support.

“Council staff have never stopped caring and never stopped working, and this will continue to be the case when every family is in their new home and starting to rebuild their lives.”

SUSAN BRIGHT, LAW PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

“Grenfell shocked the nation. It revealed a number of regulatory failures in the way that we construct buildings.

“Two years on we still do not have information on the full extent of the problem, but we do know that many thousands of people are living in buildings that are unsafe.”

ABDURAHMAN SAYED, HEAD, AL-MANAAR MUSLIM CULTURAL HERITAGE CENTRE

“I want us to remember those who passed away and to remember the spirit of unity and solidarity that was displayed in the aftermath of the fire. To remember all the volunteers and donors who really showed humanity at its best.

“Going forwards, we need more community health services and a critical evaluation of the emergency response to the tragedy, with the aim of drawing useful lessons for the future.”

LEE BURKWOOD, LONDON RENTERS UNION

“We urgently need a housing system that puts the safety and needs of ordinary people front and center rather than kowtowing to investors and other private interests.”

POLLY NEATE, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, SHELTER, HOMELESSNESS CHARITY

“Tinkering with the current system just isn’t good enough when people have lost trust in it to keep them safe.

“We stand with Grenfell United in calling on the government to establish a new consumer regulator, which inspects social landlords and listens to groups of tenants when they say something isn’t right.”

GRAHAM TOMLIN, BISHOP OF KENSINGTON

“We have to shift our democratic culture from a centralized top-down mode to one that gives more agency to ordinary people over their own lives and the decisions that affect them.

“As an act of resistance to this lack of care, just take an interest in your neighbors, however different they are to you.”

Reporting by Adela Suliman @Adela_Suliman; editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and property rights. Visit news.trust.org for more stories.

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