We can best honour the memory of Grenfell fire victims through our practical response

The nation’s sorrow in response to the Grenfell Tower fire remains palpable a month on from the event. It will surely and rightly be so for a very long time to come. As mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters and sons it is almost impossible for us to imagine the daily grief felt by survivors and the families of those who have died.

Baroness Diana Warwick is Chair of the National Housing Federation

Baroness Diana Warwick is Chair of the National Housing Federation

14 July 2017

As well as our hearts reaching out to the people affected, our sector has turned its efforts to the practical response. First, how we can best meet the needs of those who have lost everything with offers of accommodation, supplies and support. Then swiftly, within days of the tragedy, working with Government to test the safety of the tall buildings we own and manage, and reassuring tenants that their homes remain safe places to be. This work will continue with urgency while we collectively turn to the longer-term action needed. And I believe it is in this space that, as a sector, we can best honour the memory of the victims.

Housing associations are driven by their social purpose – to shape communities of which their customers can be proud. So it is no surprise to me that colleagues from across the sector have not hesitated to debate the clear challenges that this event poses and have not been reluctant to have difficult conversations. 

At sessions I chaired last week of the National Housing Federation board and leaders of the Federation’s regional forums the conversations were thoughtful, sensitive and measured. We talked not only of cladding tests, remedial works and extra safety procedures, but also about some of the more profound questions we must now answer. How can we strengthen further our customers’ voices in everything we do? How can housing associations lead the charge in driving up standards of house building and maintenance, not just in our sector, but across the board? Most importantly, what part can we play in ensuring this kind of tragedy never happens again? 

We need to answer these questions rapidly, but we can’t afford to be rash. Our progress must be meaningful. Partnerships between housing providers, the construction sector, local authorities and national government have to be central to the response and each must step up to play its role. 

There are already groups of our members working closely together on their local responses, and, to complement this, the Federation will facilitate the sharing of best practice. We are determined that we, and the sector, learn lessons from this tragedy. We want to make sure that our response is open, not defensive. It must be underpinned by a commitment to transparency with our tenants, key stakeholders and wider communities. The Federation takes responsibility for doing everything it can to ensure the experiences of this catastrophe lead to lasting change.

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