Adexon Remembers: The Grenfell Tower Tragedy


“I remember she was really screaming. It was very hard to understand what she was telling me."[1]

Despite the number of fire- related fatalities falling each year since 2003[2]; on the 14th of June 2017, 74 lives were lost in the country's capital.


Five years on, we look at the impact of the fire on the survivors.


The cladding

After the most fatal structural fire in the country since the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster,[3] the figure of Grenfell Tower has remained at the forefront of legal and public interest ever since; partly due to the large number of fatalities and injured parties, but moreover because of the ongoing issues relating to accountability and ACM cladding.


We now have irrefutable evidence of the impact that the Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) rainproof cladding had, particularly when used in conjunction with Celotex's RS5000 PIR insulation boards.


We know that the unsafe nature of the cladding, particularly in the cassette form, ‘failed fire tests carried out in 2004,’[4] a fact that was hidden by manufacturers and was not checked by planning and construction teams working on the project at Grenfell Tower.


We also know how the cladding when used in a quantity large enough to cover a tower block, was ‘like adding the fuel power of 19,000 litre oil tanker to the walls,’[5] and promoted the release of toxic smoke, ‘more dangerous than the fire itself, capable of causing death from inhalation […] in 2-3 minutes.’[6]


But what happened to the families who survived and lived in the tower or on Grenfell Walk?




What next?

"For these families, their homes now feel like a barrier to recovery. The harrowing impact of the Grenfell Tower tragedy of 14 June 2017 upon survivors and the bereaved will never fully heal."[7]

For the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire, finding new homes that felt secure and safe would have been essential to their recovery.


Despite this, by June 2018, a year after the disaster, only 41% of households were living in permanent accommodation, with the other 59% spread between emergency and temporary accommodation, including hotels, serviced apartments, or staying with friends and family.[8]


Pie chart demonstrating that only 41% of ex-Grenfell residents were in permanent accommodation 1 year after the disaster. 33% were in emergency housing and 26% in temporary.


5-years on, on the 1st of February this year, Deputy leader Kim Taylor-Smith, from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, said the council has moved 197 families into permanent homes while only four remain in temporary accommodation.[9]


While this is a vast improvement, the ex-residents of Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk report feeling ‘uncertain and anxious,’ as there was no clear process for how residents might ‘transfer to an alternative home,’ if they wanted to move again, leaving detrimental repercussions for individuals who have already suffered so much distress and fear.


Several residents had asked to be moved further from the tower in the aftermath but have now felt the loss of their community and wish to move back into the area.


Unfortunately, however, residents lacked ‘clear advice on support they would be entitled to if they moved again, such as capped rent fees and council tax reductions,’[10] and therefore felt stuck in the houses they had been moved into after the disaster, leaving them isolated and unhappy.


The Grenfell Rehousing and Allocations Project aims to improve the resident experience of applying for and being rehoused to a Council or housing association permanent home. It will build upon lessons learned from the response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the knowledge of residents with recent experience of the Council’s rehousing processes.[11]

In the interests of balance, it is important to note that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea are working on a Grenfell Recovery Strategy, which aims to change the rehousing and allocations procedure for residents of Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk, in response to issues such as these.


We can hope then that the survivors of the Grenfell disaster can find support from this project to alleviate any further housing struggles. This way, they may be able to feel safe in their houses once more.[12]


A covered Grenfell tower a banner that reads 'Grenfell, forever in our hearts,' with the iconic green heart symbol.

Systemic, nationwide change

Due to the events at Grenfell Tower that night, Dame Judith Hackitt completed her Building a Safer Future report, which alongside the results of the Grenfell Enquiry, has paved the way for systemic change across the construction and fire industries.


Both the Fire Safety Act 2021, which amends the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, and the upcoming Building Safety Bill, which received royal assent on 28th April 2022, have been produced in reaction to the terrible events that night.


Both publications seek to address the systemic faults within the construction industry and aim to ensure that lives are saved in future.


The […] issues have helped to create a cultural issue across the sector, which can be described as a ‘race to the bottom’ caused either through ignorance, indifference, or because the system does not facilitate good practice. There is insufficient focus on delivering the best quality building possible, in order to ensure that residents are safe, and feel safe.[13]

These hoped-for changes to the fire and construction industries can mean that the loss of the 72 lives was not in vain.


Their relatives can see that their loss and pain bring forth a rebirth of fire protection and building standards and they can be proud that their loss will go on to save the lives of others.


And they can hopefully be safe and settled in their choice of homes once more, allowed to rebuild their lives and grieve their relatives with all the facts laid bare.[14]



Grenfell memorial covered in signatures and bunches of flowers.

___________________________________________________________________________

[1] Control Room Operator Yvonne Adams quoted in BBC News, ‘Preventable deaths? The story of Grenfell Tower flat 113,’ published 25.03.2019, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/stories-47669937>

[2] Statista, ‘Number of fire-related fatalities in Great Britain from 1981/82 to 2019/20,’ <https://www.statista.com/statistics/291135/fire-fatalities-in-england/>

[3] The Chemical Engineer, ‘Piper Alpha: the disaster in detail,’ <https://www.thechemicalengineer.com/features/piper-alpha-the-disaster-in-detail/>

[4] BBC News, ‘Cladding: Panels failed fire tests 13 years before Grenfell, by Tom Symonds, published on 16.09.2021, <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-58584348>

[5] Inside Housing, How the product used in Grenfell tower cladding systems were tested and sold, Fred- Roderich Pohl, 2007 <https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/insight/insight/how-the-products-used-in-grenfell-towers-cladding-system-were-tested-and-sold-70011>

[6] Inside Housing, How the product used in Grenfell tower cladding systems were tested and sold, Fred- Roderich Pohl, 2007 <https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/insight/insight/how-the-products-used-in-grenfell-towers-cladding-system-were-tested-and-sold-70011>

[7] My London News, ‘Grenfell survivors “in the dark” as they struggle to settle into new council homes,’ by Hannah Neary published on 01.02.2022, <https://www.mylondon.news/news/west-london-news/grenfell-survivors-in-dark-struggle-22947144>

[8] Full fact.org, ‘How many households have been rehoused since the Grenfell Tower fire?’ published 13.06.2018 by Grace Rahman <https://fullfact.org/economy/how-many-households-have-been-rehoused-grenfell-tower-fire/>

[9] Kim Taylor-Smith quoted in My London News, ‘Grenfell survivors “in the dark” as they struggle to settle into new council homes,’ by Hannah Neary published on 01.02.2022, <https://www.mylondon.news/news/west-london-news/grenfell-survivors-in-dark-struggle-22947144>

[10] My London News, ‘Grenfell survivors “in the dark” as they struggle to settle into new council homes,’ by Hannah Neary published on 01.02.2022, <https://www.mylondon.news/news/west-london-news/grenfell-survivors-in-dark-struggle-22947144>

[11] The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, ‘Grenfell Recovery Strategy,’ last updated 26.10.2021 <https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/grenfell-response-and-recovery/progress-grenfell-recovery/grenfell-recovery-strategy/grenfell-legacy-rehousing-and-allocations-project>

[12] Image from PA Media, from BBC News, ‘Grenfell cladding email: Keep poor test confidential,’ by Tom Symonds, published 18.02.2021, <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-56115167>

[13] Dame Judith Hackitt in the Foreward to Building a Safer Future, Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety: Final Report published May 2018.

[14] Image from Insidehousing.co.uk, ‘Have the promises made after Grenfell been kept?’ by Peter Apps, published 12.06.19, <https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/insight/insight/have-the-promises-made-after-grenfell-been-kept-61684>

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