I grew up in council houses, in communities that stuck together and genuinely looked out for one another.
The majority maintained their little ‘castles’ as if they were their own, painting and decorating, tidying the garden and planting veg round the back.
Everybody who needed a house seemed to have one and you felt like you would have a roof over your head, whatever happened.
Forty years later we have thousands on housing waiting lists, people sleeping rough on our streets and private landlords chopping up houses into death traps in order gain an extra buck. Progress eh?
When developers do begrudgingly build social housing, it is often criticised for not being up to the same standard as the other houses on the same estate, although they will always meet the minimum standards – Money talks and that cannot be right when it comes to people’s safety.
That’s why so many people were angry in the wake of the awful fire which engulfed the Grenfell building in West London and took so many lives – needlessly according to some. They felt like second class citizens, like their lives didn’t matter, unlike those of their wealthy neighbours, whose multi-million pound flats overlook the charred silhouette, which for some has now become an eerie symbol of inequality and injustice.
Shock was my first reaction as I watched the flames spread viciously up the outside of the building, trapping so many, in that blackened graveyard in the sky. Then I felt sadness, for the families, the mums, the dad’s, the children and all those that had lost somebody close, in the most awful and brutal of circumstances – You can only imagine the horror of those final minutes as the flames crept ever closer.
Anger came next - How could this happen in modern 21st century Britain? Of course, no one yet knows why the fire broke out or why it spread upwards so quickly, in a way that the building’s design was supposed to prevent. It is clear, however, that something went badly wrong and that something must change. We are assured that social housing in this city is safe and Peterborough City Council are helping to bring rogue private landlords into line with their selective licencing scheme, which targets certain problem areas.
What I don’t understand is why every landlord in the country is not forced to be licenced – What have they got to hide? I have visited a number of homes of multiple occupancy recently and many look like they have been converted by Basil Fawlty’s builder – it would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. People are being forced through circumstance to live in conditions that I wouldn’t keep my cat in. It’s a national disgrace and politicians of all colour should share the blame and the guilt.
The only hope is that through such tragedy some good will come. The fire that swept through King’s Cross underground station in 1987 prompted tougher regulations and a fundamental rethink of approaches to fire safety. Let’s hope and pray that those that perished in North Kensington did not completely die in vain and that this disaster elicits a similar response.