It’s one of those British tragedies that no one will forget. It’s there with Dunblane, Hillsborough, Aberfan. When something so awful happens, when children and families are lost.
An event where the images stay with you forever. And we all have a personal memory or connection to the event. The connection to Grenfell for me was the timing. It was Ramadan when a small fire in a tower block in North Kensington quickly spread. Many families in the tower were Muslims, many were getting up for their early morning prayers, some had even gone to the local mosque.
I was awake, like many Muslims that night, getting messages on my phone that something was happening. Is it on the news? Is it another terrorist attack? On our holiest month, Muslims in London saw families they connected with trapped and unable to escape.
I think being awake, seeing it unfold from a distance, and hearing stories of young Muslim men who had been at the mosque trying to save the residents or get help really struck home for me. This was a tragedy on so many levels, but it is important we recognise that this was, amongst other things, a Muslim tragedy.
And then there were reports that Grenfell was known by council officers as “little Africa” a derogatory way to describe the high number of immigrants living in the building. This shows two things, firstly that there was already a disregard for the residents living there, and a pre-conceived view of them, partly because they were predominantly non-White.
It was impossible not to look at the names of the dead and see how overwhelmingly they were Arab or African, Muslim. There were also European migrants, black British and white working class. When we talk about justice for those who died in the fire and those whose lives have been so unimaginably impacted by the events of that day it is hard not to see a story of the wider prejudices and inequalities in our society.
This is why Grenfell hurts. It highlighted the worst aspects of our diverse city. After recent Platinum Jubilee festivities that celebrated our city’s many connections to the world, Grenfell reminds us that not all is perfect and wonderful in our multi-cultural city.
Since I became a London Assembly Member in May 2021 fire safety has been something I have been committed to raising. In my role on the Fire, Resilience and Emergency Planning Committee I have consistently raised fire safety issues and been pushing for improvements in fire safety standards in the built environment. I also have an important role through the Committee in holding the London Fire Brigade to account and I have questioned them thoroughly on issues of fire safety, including their progress on implementing the recommendations from the Grenfell Tower Fire Inquiry Phase One Report.
Grenfell also uncovered a scandal beyond what anyone could have imagined in terms of the way buildings are constructed and managed, as we are still uncovering the extent of the mismanagement of our built environment in London. I continue to push the Mayor to stop working with developers who refuse to take responsibility for the buildings they have constructed, and have been working with Liberal Democrat colleagues in Parliament to push the Government to take more robust action to learn lessons from Grenfell and ensure they do all in their power to make sure buildings in London are safe.
In the fifth richest country in the world we should not accept, under any circumstances, that people should have to live in unsafe and dangerous buildings. We cannot, and must not, allow any of the lessons from Grenfell to be ignored.
And it is clear change is simply not happening fast enough five years on. We know that only 6% of flats with flammable cladding across the UK have been made. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Government only announced earlier this month that the type of cladding used on the Grenfell Tower, which is thought to have been the reason for the rapid spread of the fire, will be banned from all new buildings in England from 1st December.
As I walked quietly around at the Grenfell memorial it was evident to see the hurt and pain that continues. I talked to relatives who are still fighting for justice, but in the terrible circumstances, many of them struggling with some of the worst effects of the cost of living emergency. This is why I have been so actively involved with pushing for improved community engagement from the LFB, particularly with the Muslim community.
I will always use my voice to stand up for those living in unsafe buildings and to push for the change we need after Grenfell. We owe it to the many people lost that day to ensure a tragedy like this never happens again.