Will you engage, do you have something to offer?
Tower Blocks UK aims to share information and resources for people who are concerned about tower block safety. We aim to help residents be heard and share examples of good practice, to share data and online training resources.
Can you help develop resources, can you help provide tower block residents with information, support, technical guidance, are you an architect or an engineer, a fire safety expert, a lawyer, a community worker, a journalist?
Will you join our pro bono panel?
Can you help make it NEVER AGAIN? Contact: Frances.email@example.com
Listening to tenants could help prevent a second Grenfell disaster - we must start now...
The Hackitt Review called for a “national culture of engagement” with tenants. The sector cannot wait for the government to get the ball rolling...
Dame Judith Hackitt, in her independent review of building regulations, argues that tenant engagement is crucial and recommends that the government funds local and national representative bodies. She is right, but I don’t think we should wait for the slow cogs of government to possibly turn – we need to get on with it ourselves.
Working with campaigning architect Sam Webb and social work professional Liz Lowe, we set up Tower Blocks UK in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire because there was a lack of organisations that could share information with and support tower block residents, and indeed tower block owners, to tackle these horrendous safety issues.
“I don’t think we should wait for the slow cogs of government to possibly turn – we need to get on with it ourselves.”
We met with and canvassed the views of many involved in housing, and found that austerity and funding cuts had decimated the tenants’ movement. Southwark Group of Tenant Organisations is the only remaining tenants federation funded through a tenants’ levy, a payment made along with rent. Cuts to legal aid have significantly reduced the number of advice centres and community law centres that are able to support tenants.
“Cuts to legal aid have significantly reduced the number of advice centres and community law centres that are able to support tenants.”
And local authority cuts to organisations such as Community Links, where I worked during the years of the Newham Tower Blocks Campaign, prevent such organisations from funding community development workers who can support tower block tenants.
Engagement first requires information. We responded to this void by creating an open access website where we share information with tenants, residents and all those concerned that Grenfell should never happen again. Engagement next requires accessible resources. With the University of Kent we are currently developing a health and safety checklist for tower blocks that can be accessed online by residents. We are preparing a guide for local councillors.
Importantly, engagement requires involvement in the decision-making process – this is key for Dame Judith. In her review she recommends the creation of a dutyholder for each tower block. This person will have responsibility for fire and structural safety, and crucially for ensuring tenant engagement and involvement in decision-making that could impact on their safety.
Dame Judith’s views are informed by the knowledge that Grenfell residents shared their fire safety concerns and that Grenfell Action Group predicted a serious fire in a blog post seven months before it happened.
She has also met residents from other areas, such as those on the Ledbury Estate, who have led the way in making the safety hazards in their blocks clear to their landlords and have highlighted the dangers beyond their own estates to other councils and the wider media.
“We saw in the reaction to the Grenfell fire that it was not local or national government that responded to the plight of the dispossessed and grieving residents and relatives, it was instead local people.”
We saw in the reaction to the Grenfell fire that it was not local or national government that responded to the plight of the dispossessed and grieving residents and relatives, it was instead local people – faith groups, voluntary groups and individuals. One year on, when so little has been done to make blocks safe we cannot wait for the government to be forced to act; we must continue to explore ways of supporting tower block residents now.
Further disasters have not been prevented – we need to act now.
The remaining element of engagement is diverse collaborative action. In our Ronan Point campaign, an effective collaboration by tenants, community workers, architects, technical experts, lawyers, politicians and the media led to an outcome where dangerous blocks were identified, emptied, tested and demolished. The findings then informed changes to the building regulations, and local authorities across the UK were instructed to make their blocks safe.
Frances Clarke is co-founder of Tower Blocks UK