On 14th June 2017, the world saw Grenfell Tower engulfed by fires for several hours. The tragic incident took the lives of 72 people. The cladding that caused the entire building to burn down was chosen because it was cheap, but also because it looked good.
On the third anniversary of this tragic event, we remember all the people whose lives have been affected. We now know that despite residents’ constant complaints about fire alarms, the building was not deemed worth prioritising in terms of refurbishment and safety.
Amongst 72 of the people who lost their lives in the Grenfell fire, more than half had arrived in the UK in 1990. Some were refugees, some had come here for a better life, some were disabled, but none of them had better options. The victims made up 19 nationalities and were predominantly working class, mostly from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, living in a building in one of the wealthiest boroughs in the UK. Despite the wealth of the borough, the cost and appearance of this building was prioritised over the residents’ safety.
When we first wrote about this incident, three years ago, we said ‘it seems like some lives matter more than others’, but sadly, this still rings true today. Despite the Grenfell tragedy, vulnerable Black, Asian and minority lives still seem as though they are not worth prioritising. Just over a month ago, Kayla Williams, a black woman from Peckham, died of Covid-19. She called emergency services, only to be told that she was ‘not a priority’. In the last couple of months, we have seen Covid-19 have a disproportionate effect on BAME communities, and, more recently, we have seen the police murder of George Floyd inspire a surge in Black Lives Matter protests across the world. With the anniversary of Grenfell Tower coming around, we are further reminded that the most vulnerable and disadvantaged will always be the first to suffer from circumstances they have not chosen to be in.
Twenty years ago, Sir Macpherson , responsible for leading the public inquiry into Stephen Lawrence’s murder, defined institutional racism as “the collective failure of an organisation to provide appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin”. Looking at Grenfell Tower residents’ complaints about their safety, there was definitely a failure to provide appropriate services.
Since June 2017, an inquiry has been ongoing to determine who is responsible for the incident . Was it the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, the Royal Borough of Chelsea and Kensington, contractors, manufacturers or the ministers who have constantly overseen the ‘weakening of regulations over several decades’?
n 2018, a resident of White City told Gal-dem that ‘when charities go away, and the media goes away, who is left?”. Sadly, charities, especially small BAME charities who support the most vulnerable, are constantly fighting for funds to alleviate the consequences of years of austerity and institutional racism, but we cannot do this alone. It is imperative that the Government recognises the dire effects of not prioritising marginalised Black, Asian and minority lives. We simply cannot have any more Stephen Lawrences, any more Grenfells, and any more Kayla Williams’.
At JAN Trust, we have worked tirelessly, sometimes with little budget, to support women and young people from the most marginalised backgrounds. We have supported people with immigrant heritage, refugees, empowering women to become independent. Our work often starts with undoing the racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia that many of our members have faced, but we are dedicated to supporting the most vulnerable communities including our Black, Asian and minority ethnicity community.
On the anniversary of Grenfell Tower, JAN Trust remembers the 72 victims, their families and all the people who have been affected.