Five Years Since Grenfell: London Will Never Forget

Five Years Since Grenfell: London Will Never Forget
A picture stuck to a brick wall of Grenfell Tower, with a rainbow shooting out from the top
It's five years since the tragic fire, and many questions remain. Image: M@/Londonist

We all remember where we were when we heard the tragic news of the Grenfell Tower fire.

It's five years today since a devastating fire swept through the 24-storey residential block in North Kensington, killing at least 72 people, injuring more than 70, and causing lasting emotional and financial damage for many more residents and neighbours.

Grenfell was without a doubt one of the grimmest chapters in modern London's history — and one of the bitterest too.

A mural showing a heart and a woman
Many of the Grenfell memorials double up as protests against the perceived failures of addressing the tragedy. Image: M@/Londonist

A litany of negligence, errors and lawbreaking led to the tragedy. Grenfell Tower, built in 1974, had been retrofitted with aluminium composite material (ACM) — a combustible cladding, which caused the fire spread rapidly from its source — a faulty fridge on the fourth floor. There was no sprinkler system in place, which is the case with thousands of high-rises up and down the country. There were no evacuation plans for disabled tenants (even though it's law that there must be). Residents inside the burning building were instructed to 'stay put', but then ended up trapped in the blaze.

While horror, disbelief and sadness were among the first reactions, anger soon followed. How had this been allowed to happen? Who was responsible? What was going to be done to ensure nothing like this ever happened again?

A high rise near Grenfell Tower projected with: '2 years after Grenfell this building still has no sprinklers'
There was no sprinkler system in place at Grenfell Tower. Image: Grenfell United

Though the then-government brought in new regulations limiting the use of ACM, and funded £1.6 billion towards the removal of it from buildings across the UK, this was nowhere enough — and, with landlords often unwilling to fit the bill, many residents of buildings with ACM found themselves facing steep bills. Earlier in 2022, it was announced leaseholders in buildings of 11 metres-18.5 metres no longer have to cover the cost of cladding replacement, although many still wonder if the earmarked £4 billion will be enough.

Then there is the question of accountability. At the time, then-prime minister Theresa May promised "No stone will be left unturned", yet the general feeling is that this hasn't been the case. The Grenfell Inquiry — still ongoing, due in part to delays from the pandemic — has brought much evidence to light, including the fact that the government failed to warn the building sector about the dangers of ACM; and that emergency procedures set by the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) — responsible for Grenfell's refurbishment — were 15 years out of date.

Many feel that action and justice from the findings has been sorely lacking, and that lessons learned from Grenfell are yet to be adhered to. In a recent article in the Telegraph, Grenfell survivors said: "We know who the guilty are but they remain free."

A collection of leaf-shaped memorials to Grenfell on a wall
Grenfell Tower Memorial Wall. Image: M@/Londonist

Yesterday, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: "Over the last five years the Grenfell community have shown enormous dignity, strength and unity in their fight for justice. They have also shown remarkable courage in campaigning for improved public safety for all while navigating their own personal grief and recovery.

"The response from the government, building developers and owners has been woefully inadequate and fallen well short of what the families and survivors had a right to expect... it is disgraceful that the Government has so far failed to complete a single recommendation directed at them from the first phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry — leaving too many Londoners at risk in high-rise buildings."

As for the Grenfell Tower building itself, the Justice4Grenfell groups says the government has consistently failed to listen to residents and to consider the impact of demolishing it.

The treatment by the powers that be, towards people of colour, and those who live in poverty, has often be thrust into the spotlight since that fateful morning on June 14, 2017.

This evening, a silent walk led by the bereaved, survivors and residents of Grenfell will take place close to where the tragedy unfolded. People will donate toward the Grenfell Quilt — which will eventually grow to the height of the Grenfell Tower.

Others will reflect at the various memorials to Grenfell which stand bright and bold in London, particularly in the area of west London surrounding the tower. Many aren't the kind of sombre memorial we're used to — instead, they cry out things like: "The Truth Will Not Be Hidden", "You Criminals, You've Got the Cheek to Call Us Savages", "JUSTICE" and "WHY?".

Immortalised with the symbol of a green heart, the Grenfell tragedy will never be forgotten by. Whether or not it will ever be properly and satisfactorily addressed is a different matter.

Last Updated 20 June 2022