Kensington council responds to Grenfell Tower: 'We are doing everything in our power'

  1. Survivors living in hotels 'simply not ready to move'
  2. Council says it will have 300 properties by Christmas for survivors to choose from
  3. 'We know we have to win trust back, and we are determined to do that'
  4. 'We want to be judged by our actions and not by our words'

It has been six months since the London high-rise public housing block Grenfell Tower went up in flames. The June 14, 2017, fire killed at least 71 people.

As the public inquiry into the causes of the fire gets under way, many survivors of the fire remain in emergency accommodation.  Around 200 households, whose members lived in the tower and its surrounding area, still need resettling, according to local authority, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

A plastic sheet to cover the burnt out 24-story hulk has been partially installed and the tower is expected to be demolished in 2018, according to newspaper Get West London. It is unclear what will take its place.

Since the fire, council leader Nicholas Paget-Brown stepped down following ongoing criticism of the council’s handling of the disaster. Elizabeth Campbell was chosen as leader of the council and replaced Paget-Brown in July.

Read our full report on the volunteers on the ground at Grenfell Tower.

WikiTribune asked locals of the Lancaster West estate, home to Grenfell Tower, to put forward questions which we’d ask on their behalf of the council.

We were sent a statement from leader Elizabeth Campbell:

“We want those that want to move out of the hotels, out before Christmas. We are buying 300 homes before Christmas to give them as many options as possible.

“But people have to understand that we have to move at the pace of the victims and survivors here, this is not a numbers game – we are talking about traumatized families and children making very big decisions.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 4 in mid-December, Campbell still maintained that the organization expected to have 300 homes by Christmas, and that when families are ready to move “we will be ready for them”, as quoted in The Guardian.

Campbell defended the council’s actions, saying it had employed an “army of people” that was “working 24 hours a day, seven days a week because we actually really do care, we do want to get people rehoused”.

Separately, the council’s head of news sent answers to the questions submitted to us from the Grenfell community in an email.

Q: Is the council communicating with the survivors, their friends and families, and volunteers often?

A: Yes, directly, through meetings, one-to-ones and with groups. We also have several newsletters, text services, WhatsApp groups, and have people on a phone or in hotel lobbies to talk to at any time they are needed. Each family or individual impacted has their own case worker and housing officer.

Elizabeth has been to hotels, met survivors and community leaders, has attended the community meetings, has met people at the council and in their homes. She has been in the tower, the church near the tower, the curve centre and the Westway, she will continue to meet at many people as possible and dedicate her time to those impacted by Grenfell.

Luke works in the local area and walks through Kensington on his way to work. He says he’s sensed a “hardness and disregard” towards survivors of the fire from the wealthier residents. (WikiTribune/Francis Augusto)

Q: Does the council care about the people affected?

A: Absolutely, and we are doing everything in our power to do so.

Q: Have you been or are you going to go down to the community area under the flyover?

A: We know we have to win trust back, and we are determined to do that. We want to be judged by our actions and not by our words.

Q: Why were concerns about the safety of Grenfell Tower not taken seriously and turned into health and safety provisions before the fire?

A: This is a matter for the public inquiry.

Q: Why haven’t residents received all donations?

A: Donations are handled by the charity commission.

Lloyd and his young daughter live around the corner from Grenfell tower. He says that had a block of luxury flats burned down, there “would have been answers by now.” He wanted to tell the council it shouldn’t be in power. “It’s just sort of lip service, it’s not really doing anything concrete,” he said. (WikiTribune/Francis Augusto)

Q: What has the council been doing since the fire? What are the council’s priorities right now?

A: We have bought hundreds of properties, and started the process of rehousing people at their own pace. We are spending £235m (USD$310m) on the recovery effort and will have bought 300 homes by Christmas. We want people to move out of hotels if they are ready. We are supporting schools and teachers and engaging with communities. The council’s priority continues to be providing the services people need the most – every case is individual and complex and so needs an individual response.

Q: Why are some people still in hotels?

A: Many are experiencing huge trauma and are simply not ready to move or make a very big decision. The council has made a decision to continue moving at the pace of survivors from Grenfell tower and walk, and they will not be forced into a home they do not want. We will have 300 properties by Christmas for them to choose from, including brand new flats on the Kings Road and homes in W10 and W11.

Do you have a question for the Royal Borough Kensington and Chelsea London? Please submit questions in TALK and WikiTribune will put them to the council.

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      • Sources

        Independent Grenfell Recovery Taskforce Initial Report, RB Kensington and Chelsea response to Secretary of State, November 2017

        WikiTribune visited the area surrounding Grenfell Tower three times between August and September. There, we asked  community members and volunteers to tell us what they would like to ask or tell the council. This article is the result of the questions.

        The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s head of news, Nick Price-Thompson, sent WikiTribune the answers to the questions via email on October 27.

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