Wednesday’s devastating fire that engulfed the 24-storey Grenfell Tower in north Kensington, not far from Ladbroke Grove, has left at least 17 dead and raised serious questions about the quality and management of public housing in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC).
In response to the tragedy the local community immediately rallied round to help survivors and their families, offering shelter, food, blankets, toys and clothes. Churches of all denominations (including some long-time participants in Notting Hill Carnival), mosques and Muslim associations, and other community and welfare groups have all been playing their part. Local people’s open-hearted generosity has been the one positive aspect of the fire.
However, few have found any good words for Grenfell Tower’s owner, Conservative-controlled RBKC. Community spokespeople have flayed the council for failing to co-ordinate the disaster relief effort. On her blog, new Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad has consistently highlighted poor social housing as a serious and deep-seated stain upon one of the world’s wealthiest urban areas.
Substandard housing and an apparently uncaring council have particular resonance for older carnivalists. As we were reminded at Notting Hill Carnival’s Golden Jubilee celebrations last year, the annual celebration started in September 1966 as the Notting Hill Fayre, organised by the London Free School (LFS).
The LFS was a community self-help group that tried to tackle social problems in poorer parts of the borough neglected by the council. The biggest single issue was housing. In the 1960s, people were being crammed into damp and near-derelict Victorian slums, where they were at the mercy of rapacious landlords and their thuggish enforcers.
Council blocks like Grenfell Tower (built in 1974) were meant to have been the answer to those problems. Forty years later, those towers seem to have become the problem. The council, meanwhile, has been left looking as mean-spirited as it did in 1966, when it pulled funding from the carnival just before it started.
Soca News offers its condolences to all those affected by the fire at Grenfell Tower.