As I sit down and stare blankly at my screen, I continue to struggle to write this article. I normally write about music, whether that is concert reviews, artist interviews or reviews of albums. In all articles, I try and convey the genuine emotion that I, or an audience, would have felt when experiencing the sound of a new album, or atmosphere of a concert. However in this particular post, for the first time, I am trying to get across a vastly different set of emotions. The happiness and joy of music I normally would write about is replaced with a sadness, and anger. Where I would normally write about creativity and innovation, in this article, I am writing about devastation and destruction.
Throughout the world, tragedy is experienced on a daily basis. However, it is human nature to be more greatly affected by any incident occurring closer to home. With that being said, the Grenfell Tower fire, which has resulted in numerous fatalities and casualties, has struck a raw nerve with many Londoners, including myself. The proximity of what has occurred is only a small part of the why it has been so impactful.
The helplessness of those trapped inside made the incident all the more harrowing. With nearly the entire building engulfed in flames, there was close to no escape for those left inside the building. A few of the survivors who have been interviewed mention how difficult it was to see, so thick was the smoke. Advised to stay inside their flats, they were instructed to follow normal protocol of when there is a fire within a building. However, this was not a normal fire, and once it had reached the height of the building, the already desperate situation descended into one of even greater despair.
From various news stories, posted either by mainstream media or more niche outlets, we have been given a steady stream of information on the disaster. The current count of those who passed away in the Grenfell Tower fire stands at seventy-nine, although, the building comprised a hundred and twenty flats and could house up to six hundred people, so there is no doubt in many people’s minds, that the actual figure is much higher. Given what has been revealed about the renovation of Grenfell Tower, we know that the primary cause of the fire spiralling out of control was the use of ‘cladding’ around the building. Not the ‘Reynobond FR (fire resistant)’ cladding, which cost a mere £2 extra per panel, but ‘Reynobond PE’ cladding, which contains a flammable polyethene core. The very same type of cladding that has been banned in Germany since the 1980s on buildings over 22 metres tall, banned across the USA and banned in other parts of Europe.
We know that a resident’s organization, ‘Grenfell Action Group’, had been documenting their fears of the safety of the building for years, stating in a blog post as recently as November 2016, that “only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of ‘Kensington and Chelsea Tenant’s Management Organisation'”. Their damning indictment of the landlord fell on deaf ears, and now, no one will be able to hear the voices of many of the residents again. We know that such an absence of needed regulations in Grenfell Tower, was just an extension of the Tory government’s overall clampdown on ‘red tape’, with David Cameron as far back as 2012, proclaiming that a Conservative government would “kill off the health and safety culture” for good.
We know that the desire of the wealthy neighbours to not have an eyesore of a building in their midst was one of the major reasons the ‘cladding’ was installed on the exterior of Grenfell Tower. The ruins of the remaining building are now not only the eyesore that they were trying to avoid but a constant reminder of how the need for aesthetic pleasure, has led to needless fatalities. In one of the richest areas of the world, we saw first hand that the value of real estate, to some, exceeded the value of human life. We know that this stems from an inequality, a divide between the wealthiest and the poorest, and Grenfell is the most brutal example of the torn fabric of society today.
For all that we know, whether that is the failure of policy, the lack of regulation being implemented, or the material that caused such a blaze, we do not know probably the most vital piece of information – the final number of those who have died. Given the difficulty of identifying the bodies of those who perished in the fire, anyone who did not escape the building can only be labelled as ‘missing’. This must be absolutely agonising for the family members of the victims. It is already hard to accept the loss of a loved one. Not being able to receive the necessary closure required to take the first, small step in moving on, must be unbearable. Despite the chances of survival being almost zero, the faintest glimmer of hope is clung to, and to be left in this limbo, is unbelievably cruel.
It is almost as cruel as what the victims had to endure when surrounded by those monstrous flames on Wednesday 14th June. The majority of us witnessed the incineration of Grenfell Tower on a screen from the safety of our homes, but the victims did not have that choice. Imprisoned by an inferno of intense heat, the physical and mental pain that they had to endure is unfathomable. The fear that they experienced in the most terrifying of circumstances is unimaginable. No one should have to leave the world, in the way that they did. No one should have to lose his or her family or friends in such a manner. No one should have to go through what they had to. Although we have seen a beautiful response from the local community and complete strangers by donating necessary items, and also by volunteering, it is heartbreaking that despite all of the positive contributions, we cannot bring the lives that were lost back.
Two key things must occur in the wake of this incident. Firstly, a precedent must be set to prevent another disaster of this proportion occurring again. Anyone who contributed to the lack of safety regulations in the building, whether that was the absence of a sprinkler system, sufficiently working fire alarms, and poor placement of boilers and gas pipes, must be held responsible. More significantly, anyone directly involved in the renovation of Grenfell Tower, which led to the installation of the flammable cladding, must face criminal action. It is vital that those, whose actions cost the lives of many, pay the price for the irreversible harm they have caused. Justice must be served.
Secondly, we must remember the innocent victims of this tragedy, and use their memory to remind ourselves of how precious life is. None of these people nor their families could have predicted the events that were to unfold on 14th June. In a blink of an eye, many people had lost parents, children, relatives and friends, taken before their time. No words or actions can heal their pain, and there are now forever voids in their hearts which cannot be filled. I can only hope that those who have suffered, whether from losing their home, family members and/or friends to somehow find the strength to recover from this deeply traumatic experience. I hope that they receive the justice owed to them by those who are guilty of taking the lives of their loved ones. Finally, I can only hope that the victims of Grenfell Tower that are no longer with us are now in a better place and that they rest in peace.