Grenfell Tower

Firstly, our hearts go out to the victims of this terrible disaster. We are currently looking into the best ways we can support the victims of Grenfell and there families, if you have any ideas then get in contact. We will do our best to make them happen.

Grenfell Tower is in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, one of the richest boroughs in the country. The fact that the tower is in the Notting Dale ward, one of the borough’s poorest, and is ranked among the most deprived 10 per cent in the UK shows the extend that class division exists in such a small space.

“If you walk south-west away from the still smouldering Grenfell Tower block, in ten minutes you will find yourself on tree-lined streets of white stuccoed townhouses which back onto private gardens. Walk for ten more minutes and you’ll reach the gated, leafy Kensington Palace Gardens, where Saudi princes, global plutocrats and ambassadors live in mansions worth £41m on average. It is the most expensive street in the country.” (Pascale Hughes, iNews).

The average salary in Kensington is £123,000 – the highest in the UK. The median salary – the centre point of all salaries in the area – is £32,700. The median shows the huge gap in salaries – the mean is pulled up by the really high salaries at the top. No other local authority in the country has such a large gap between high and low earners (iNews).

The residents have been reporting potential safety and fire hazards to the council for years, however there cries for help were ignored and now it’s too late. This ward has been under a Tory MP until recently replaced with the first ever Labour MP, Emma Dent Coad, however holds a Tory majority on the council.

It has also been reported that the contractors used the cheapest aluminium coated panels, which are reportedly outlawed in the United States over safety fears, as part of an £10m regeneration of the tower block last year.

The panels, known as Reynobond, were allegedly the only ones available to contractors that were not fire-resistant. Reynobond sells fire-resistant panels for £24 per square metre, a £2 increase on the standard version.

A salesman for the US-based company has since told The Times that the version used on Grenfell, referred to as PE, was banned in American buildings taller than 40ft over fire safety reasons “It’s because of the fire and smoke spread. The FR (variant) is fire-resistant. The PE is just plastic” (The Times).

Anab Hussein, a resident from an adjacent tower block told The Standard “Everything they do is the cheapest of the cheapest. I am the same as those people, I live in the apartment and have kids. It could easily have been us. They came and refurbished my flat a few years ago and did everything as cheap as possible. So many lives have been lost and it’s for what – £2? We are talking about so many people dying for just £2 – it’s shameful. This could have been stopped. People want answers.”

There was no fire alarms, no sprinklers and only one fire exit. And it gets worse, Theresa May’s new chief of staff Gavin Barwell was one of a series of housing ministers who sat on a report warning high-rise blocks like Grenfell Tower were vulnerable to fire for four years. A former Chief Fire Officer and secretary of a parliamentary group on fire safety the other day revealed successive ministers had had damning evidence on their desks since 2013 and nothing had happened.

Barwell, who was housing minister until losing his seat in last week’s election, promised to review part B of the Building Regulations 2010, which relate to fire safety, but the review never materialised (Mirror). This shows that no matter what anyone says, this issue is political and our Government must be held to account, as well as the property developers.

What is even more shocking is they spent 10m trying to make the flats look more appealing to the wealthier residents, whereas it would only cost £768m to fit every at risk tower block flat in the UK with a Water Sprinkler. The Fire Brigades Union confirmed that no building had ever managed to set fire when fitted with sprinklers.

The council responsible for Grenfell Tower has been accused of carrying out unacceptable financial practises after it emerged the borough had stockpiled £274m of usable reserves following years of chronic underspending. Labour MP for Tottenham David Lammy said very serious questions needed to be asked about why the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea was running a budget surplus despite repeated warnings from residents that the block posed a fire risk. Now only this, but in April, Tories handed a £1bn pound tax cut to richest.

Conservative MPs have voted against proposed new rules requiring private sector landlords to ensure their properties are fit for human habitation. Most themselves private landlords. A Labour amendment to the government’s housing and planning bill, designed to ensure that all rented accommodation was safe for people to live in, was defeated by 312 votes (all Tories) to 219 in January 2016, a majority of 93 (Guardian, Parliament).

Friday thousands took to the streets in protest of justice for the victims, they stormed the council building and went on to demand Theresa May’s resignation, and then thousands were marching around the country yesterday too in protest to the Conservative/DUP deal (BBC, RT).

I am beginning to think we’ll see another General Election sooner rather than later and Labour will win, with a landslide. Since the election was called Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity has shot up whilst Theresa May’s has tumbled like nobody could have predicted. Keep up the pressure folks, Austerity is over, Theresa May has so admitted that Austerity was always a political choice and never a necessity. People realised this when Corbyn starting campaigning on the anti-austerity agenda, and made people realise that the cuts we have faced have had detrimental effects on our society and were not fair when the top 5% were having massive tax cuts.

Women who made a difference – Nancy Wake

Having had my arm twisted to do another article in the series I remembered a very brave woman, Nancy Wake. I found out about her returning from a trip in the Gran Massif in France with my daughter and French son-in law. I saw a museum signposted about the French Resistance where her contribution to helping the Resistance was documented. Her exploits and others of the Special Operations Executive inspired the film ‘Charlotte Grey’.

She was born in Wellington, New Zealand in 1912, but grew up from the age of two in Australia. After training as a nurse she used an inheritance, when aged 19, to travel to Paris, New York and then study journalism in London. She then landed a job as correspondent for the Chicago Tribune in Paris. In 1933 she was sent to interview the German Chancellor, Hitler, in Vienna and as a result she was filled with fear of the Nazis then on.

Having married a French industrialist, Henri Fiocca she was living in Marseilles when WW II broke out. Together they helped British Servicemen and Jews escape the occupation before Henri was killed by the Gestapo. Nancy then helped the evacuation of troops from Belgium before returning to France to join the Resistance forces and was such a ‘thorn in the side’ of the Germans they put a price of 5million francs on her head. She evaded capture on numerous occasions leading to her nickname, ‘Le Souris Blanche’ (white mouse). Her network was betrayed in 1940 but Nancy managed to travel through Spain to reach England despite being captured and tortured at one point.

She joined the Special Operations Executive (now the SAS) and was quickly trained up and parachuted back into France. Nancy helped to train and arm forces fighting the Germans in the lead up to the D Day landings. From April 1944 until the liberation of France, she fought alongside 7,000+ resistance forces against 22,000 German soldiers, causing 1,400 casualties, while suffering only 100 themselves. She was a fearless fighter, even killing a SS sentry with a judo chop. When the group she was with were compromised by German intelligence she cycled 300 miles in 72 hours to find another group with a radio operator to obtain new codes to get information back to Britain. Captain Henri Tardivat, one of her comrades in the Resistance, later described her as ‘the most feminine woman I know, until the fighting starts. Then, she is like five men.’

After the war Nancy continued to work for British intelligence until 1957. Having married again to John Melvin Forward, a former RAF fighter pilot, she returned to live in Australia, making unsuccessful attempts to get elected to parliament. She felt unappreciated by the country of her childhood. This led her to refuse decorations from the Australian government, with characteristic bluntness, she said they could “stick their medals where the monkey stuck his nuts”. In February 2004, she relented and was made a Companion of the Order of Australia. This was along with the George Medal from Britain and ten other honours from France, USA, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, making her the most decorated woman of the war.

“Freedom is the only thing worth living for. While I was doing that work, I used to think it didn’t matter if I died, because without freedom there was no point in living”

Her husband died in 1997 and Wake settled for a final time in London. There was little she enjoyed better than “a bloody good drink”, and to fund her lifestyle she had sold her war medals. “There was no point in keeping them,” she explained, “I’ll probably go to hell and they’d melt anyway.” In spite of this she did not die until August 2011, just short of her 99th birthday.