One year ago, decades of austerity, mismanagement and neglect came to a lethal conclusion in the Grenfell Tower block in west London. The inferno, wrote Claire Armitstead, was an “appalling reminder of how contemptuously many of London’s poorest citizens have been treated over decades of privatisation and mismanagement.” That such an atrocity could occur in 2017 in a Royal Borough running huge revenue underspends is a cruel irony, one matched only by the response to the tragedy, which has been criticized for showing the same callousness, racism and institutional failure that allowed conditions in Grenfell to become so dire—and which continue to characterize life for so many others in the capital.
Here, from Tales of Two Londons, an account of the tower block, its community and its environs, before and since the events of June 14, 2017.
Grenfell Tower: An Atrocity in Three Acts
Jon Snow, Grenfell Action Group, Anonymous
Act One: the Best of Times, the Worst of Times
(Jon Snow, 23 August 2017)
On the morning of 14 June 2017 in the middle of one of the very wealthiest boroughs in one of the richest cities in the world, a fire engulfed the 24-storey Grenfell Tower.
Even now we do not know the true number who died. The authorities say at least 80 people perished, the surviving residents say many more.
When journalists woke that terrible morning and Googled ‘Grenfell Tower’, they found a blog published eight months before. It raged at the Tenant Management Organisation and highlighted the dangers of the building and the disconnect between the tenants and the landlord.
A chronicle of death foretold not by any journalist but in a blog by the leader of the action group for those who lived in the tower.
Where are the once strong local papers that used to exist and served to inform national journalists? Gone. Yet the Grenfell residents’ story was out there, published online and shocking in its accuracy. It was hidden in plain sight, but we had stopped looking. The disconnect complete.
Amid the demonstrations around the lower part of the building after the fire there were cries of ‘Where were you? Why didn’t you come here before?’
Why didn’t any of us see the Grenfell action blog? Why didn’t we know? Why didn’t we have contact?
Why didn’t we enable the residents of Grenfell Tower, and indeed the other hundreds of towers like it around Britain, to find pathways to talk to us and for us to expose their stories?
In that moment I felt both disconnected and frustrated. I felt on the wrong side of the terrible divide that exists in present day society and which we all, in the media, are major players.
In July, the new leader of Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council admitted that she had never been up one of the residential towers that her administration was responsible for, despite at the same time being in charge of children and families.