As the country remembers and mourns the loss of those who’s lives were cut short in Grenfell Tower, I am reminded of the novel by Dickens “A tale of two cities.” Never has the social economic divide been so grossly unacceptable.
I watched like many of you the tower engulfed with fire and smoke but naively thought there surely was a way out for the many trapped on the upper floors, flashing there phones in a desperate bid to garner help. This was of course London, 21st Century London who just some years ago hosted the Olympic Games not far from where the tower stood.
It became clear as the time went by and the numbers of those missing became higher and higher the tragedy was colossal. It was only when I watched and listened to the harrowing footage of Rania Ibrahim (a mother of two who live streamed the catastrophic event) did it hit me. As a mother of a three year old I cannot imagine the fear and hopelessness as she looked outside watching the smoke engulf her windows. Watching and hearing Rania was perhaps the ‘red coat’ moment that Spielberg depicted in the Oscar winning Schindlers List. It was the conscious moment that brought me from tears, disbelief and then anger.
After living in London for nearly nine years the social parallels between rich and poor couldn’t be more evident. At 22 years old my excitement of living in the “big smoke” a small town girl with big dreams believing the streets truly were “paved with gold.” The energy of Oxford Street, vibrancy of Camden and cultural nuances from Brixton to Edgeware Road embraces every sense of your being. For me it’s one of the best cities in the world but one that continues to “pretty up” its impoverished areas with multi -million pound properties built sometimes a stones throw away from some of the most run down council estates.
Unlike America there are no gated communities. Grenfell Tower built in one of the most expensive borough’s of London’s, Kensington & Chelsea held in some peoples opinions a secret that they tried to cover up. A secret that was covered with flammable cladding, a secret that refused to listen to the many residents who complained about how unsafe the building was.
In 2014 a development company won a £10m regeneration contract. After years of residents complaining about the heating systems and general state of the building perhaps now they thought they had finally been heard. In short the “pretty up” project was non other than a way to make the skyline appealing for other investors in the Borough, to blanket social housing so it wouldn’t offend in my opinion the many wealthy home owners that chose the borough as their home. Why else would they cover it with flammable cladding?
In the novel “A tale of two cities” Dickens writes “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,” Foolish prevailed in not protecting the residents of Grenfell Tower and lack of basic home protection from sprinkler systems to fire alarms all played a part. £10m to regenerate, was this not enough to afford alarms and sprinklers? The social economic divide goes much deeper and shines a light on some of the deeper issues of London.
Why in a borough that houses the future King of England can this have been allowed to happen? Walking a few minutes from Grenfell Tower into Kensington the social divide is all to apparent with designer shops and trendy bars, a reminder that London really is split into “two cities” London at the pinnacle of property investment from wealthy foreigners is becoming more divided than ever.
I am reminded of the talented artist Khadija Saye who lost her life with her mother, trapped in the upper floors. Khadija was on the cusp of recognition, her work had been exhibited at Venice Biennale and had caught the eye of a major director. Khadija born to a Gambian mother was beginning to flourish, winning a full scholarship to the prestigious Rugby school going on to study photography at UCA Farnham.
Khadija had everything in front of her but on that night her life was taken within the economic confounds that echoed her struggle and determination, one that she worked so desperately hard to flourish from. Khadija like so many that lost their lives, was special and talented. I can just imagine how proud her mother must have been with her accomplishments, how London had helped to elevate her daughter onto near world wide recognition, but who fatefully constricted them both in a tower the bellied the deep rooted social divide of this country. I think of her along with the many, many innocents who lost their lives.
As the community starts its long healing process my hope is for justice to prevail. I truly hope many lessons will be learnt from this tragedy and I like so many will never forget those that lost their lives.