‘We have a history of turning tragedy into triumph.’

Anu Shukla speaks to the Kensington residents  fighting back against gentrification and housing crisis, months after the fire at Grenfell.

March 2, 2018 · 7 min read

Over a thousand people walked in silence through the driving rain on Valentine’s Day in solidarity with victims and survivors of Grenfell Tower. The date marked eight months since the high rise building near Latimer Road in north Kensington went up in flames, leaving at least 71 dead.

Every month, the Grenfell community and its supporters march in silence to demand justice for those who perished in the fire on 14 June 2017.  Valentine’s Day marked the beginning of a new route for the march, which began at Kensington Town Hall. The silent crowd made its way past Holland Park and Notting Hill Gate, bringing traffic to a standstill in the world’s richest borough.

One member of the Grenfell community later explained: “We feel contempt and disdain from local government. We asked for a representative panel on the Public Inquiry, they refused. Our words are falling on deaf ears so we thought we’d bring the march to the rich side of town where they can hear us better.”

Young people, the elderly and those in wheel chairs joined the march with banners, some of which read: Justice, Dignity, Grace, Love and Just Us. Groups such as Stand Up to Racism and Unison walked in solidarity with the Grenfell community and campaign groups such as Justice4Grenfell and Grenfell Speaks. Meanwhile, the people of Manchester held their own silent march. Bristol and Liverpool join next month.

As the silent march came to a close, crowds packed out the Westway’s Maxilla area where organiser Zeyad Cred quoted hip-hop artist and local resident Lowkey with the words: “We have a history of turning tragedy into triumph.”

It was a historical reference to the roots of the Notting Hill Carnival when the local Afro-Caribbean community’s response to race riots in the area, and to the murder of Kelso Cochrane, became a catalyst for the infamous street festival. He added: “Look at the history that runs through north Kensington. All we’re doing now is continuing that struggle, we’re continuing that fight because we’re born to do that here, it runs through our blood.”

In a powerful speech, Lowkey, who was also there, said answers should be demanded from planning and communities minister Sajid Javid for deploying Saint Gobain – the supplier of the tower’s flammable cladding, Celotex – to the Building Regulations Advisory Committee (BRAC).

He added: “Building regulations and the regulations of many other industries in this country, are being dictated by the captains of those industries who are looking to maximise benefits for their companies. “This is what we have to fight. This is where we have to direct our energies and our force.”

Moyra Samuels from Justice4Grenfell said the impact of the Grenfell fire was spreading across the UK because working class people everywhere recognised the impact of austerity and the fact it could have happened to them. She said “It’s really heartwarming the way they’ve been sustained in terms of numbers. Today, it was incredibly cold and raining and still we had a fantastic turn out.”

But she added: “There are 297 tower blocks across the UK which still contain flammable cladding similar to that used in Grenfell Tower. “The cladding still hasn’t been removed. So what’s happening in Grenfell has an impact on the whole country.”

Moyra said the marches held each month are a testament to the spirit of community – but at the same time, the people of Grenfell were also losing faith in the process of justice. She said Theresa May’s rejection of a diverse decision-making panel was one of many issues for the community to deal with.

“People feel their voices are not being heard, so this creates lack of trust as to whether the inquiry will deliver justice. And then there’s the criminal investigation – eight months on and still not a single arrestThey’ve also lifted the amnesty for undocumented migrants. It just shows a lack of compassion. It’s not a huge number of people really, it’s just cruel and nasty. Bereaved families have only just buried some of their dead, but their visas have now expired and the inquiry hasn’t even started.

“So you can see this is about a government that is uncaring, and that is, I would argue, anti-immigrant, racist, and anti-working class. Therefore, the fight is not just for us, but it’s for the whole country really. Because the whole country is experiencing attacks on vulnerable people in some way, shape or form.”

Meanwhile, with survivors still living in hotels, she said it was time for the council to ask the government for money to buy homes. “We need unity, right across the country so we can make sure that this never happens to a community again, ever. But we also need to change attitudes to social housing because it’s not just housing survivors who lost their homes, but it’s housing all the homeless in this country.”

Nearly nine months on from the tragedy at Grenfell, it seems that our government continuously abandons the vulnerable in the pursuit of profit, and shows no level of accountability to the communities it has let down. However, the resilience shown by the community at Grenfell illustrates they are committed to getting justice for those who lost their lives in the Grenfell disaster as well as being a voice for those vulnerable to the government’s uncompassionate and callous practices.

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