Sunday, 9 July 2017

WHAT WE HAVE CANNOT BURN


Through the shock and horror and heartbreak and continuing daily disaster for Grenfell Tower survivors and neighbours, one aspect has shone out.

We in the community (which I am part of) cannot and will not always agree, and may argue, disagree and dissent, but what we in North Kensington have with our many and varied communities and voluntary groups is beyond comparison. We have the most inimical and impressive and tight and extraordinary networks of love, help and support that outsiders simply do not understand.

And they’ve always been there.

When outsiders visit and declare publicly that ‘victims are poor, black and about to riot’ many, including myself, find this offensive and ignorant. Firstly, the victims are dead. Those left behind are survivors. Secondly, many are living on low incomes but not all, however they have all been impoverished by the horrific and avoidable train of events that began with the fire. Thirdly, while there are indeed black people among the victims and survivors, there are many many races and religions and not all identify themselves by colour. We have a mix and melting pot of a kind that represents humanity at its best; respect that. Finally, while indeed many people are very very angry indeed – myself included – can we accept that people are allowed to protest? Protestors may be loud and angry. This does not constitute a riot. Please stop feeding the headlines.

Yes we do have very poor people in Kensington and Chelsea, we have food banks and malnutrition and poor health, and this is unforgivable in a borough with £300m in Reserves, that prioritises vanity projects such as £26m spent on repaving Exhibition Road for tourists, or nearly £100m on Holland Park School, which was then given away to become an academy and changed its eligibility criteria so fewer North Ken children could apply.

And that’s just two examples.

RBKC is the ultimate ‘trickle-up’ economy, where working people are targeted and stigmatised and denigrated. Despicable. Priorities have been made that disadvantage low income families and are squeezing them out of the areas they have created. And yes it is social cleansing.

The Council failed us, unforgivably and in many ways. Platitudes won’t wipe that out. The Gold Command and then the Task Force are flawed, inconsistent, and disappointing. They see survivors as units and not humans. With all the human and financial resources at their command, they can’t match the efforts put in by our own communities.

The appointment of a judge who many believe will not be able to represent them is a further blow to people who have lost everything. Without trust, people will not cooperate with the inquiry. Without cooperation, it could be meaningless and flawed.

However well-meaning and well-resourced the organisers and authorities are, they have proved unequal to the task. They need to look to the incredible existing networks of local groups for the way forward.

Every day the various authorities continue to patronise and thank, and treat our people like children who need guidance from those who ‘know better’. Instead they need to listen and learn and act upon that learning WITH and not FOR the communities, who are the experts and leaders.

If they don’t, all the money in the world will not even begin to heal the disaster on our doorstep at Grenfell.

Emma Dent Coad

MP for Kensington