Reflections on the fire at Grenfell Tower

Kate Henderson, 12 June 2019

A tragedy like the fire at Grenfell Tower must never happen again. We must learn, reflect, and never forget the 72 people who lost their lives in the tragic events of 14 June 2017. All of us in housing must do everything in our power to make sure this never happens again.

I recently had the privilege of attending a Community Street Iftar, held in collaboration with Muslim Aid and Al Manaar Mosque, to commemorate the second anniversary of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. The experience was humbling as we honoured and remembered the Grenfell Tower victims. We heard heartfelt and moving speeches from survivors, faith leaders and politicians like London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan and Secretary of State James Brokenshire MP.

Listening to speakers at this event I was, as I have been many times over the past two years, struck by the resilience of the people and community that have lost loved ones and their homes in the fire. It is a community united in grief, but also connected by a sense of unity and hope.

We must honour that grief and hope by delivering change. The Government’s new proposals for stricter building safety regulations and accountability are an important step in the right direction, and housing associations welcome them. The safety of residents will always be our first priority, and we will work closely with the Government on their proposals.

But regulatory changes are only part of the solution. Dame Judith Hackitt, in her review of safety after the tragic fire, called for wholesale culture change in the nation’s approach to building safety. We need to go beyond compliance with regulation and urgently build a culture where safety underpins everything we do. The fire in Barking on 9 June only highlights the urgency of these required changes.

This culture change can’t happen without support at all levels, from frontline staff to senior management and boards. We’re already taking important steps, like our work with residents to build stronger, more balanced and more accountable relationships through Together with Tenants.

We must drive the same kind of cultural change in building safety. We can learn from one another, and from other sectors, and work together to get this right.

The fire at Grenfell Tower was a tragedy. I know there is little we can do to relieve the pain of those affected by the fire. We can, though, do everything possible to ensure it will never happen again. This includes building a regulation system that is fit for purpose and ensuring tenants are empowered to hold their landlords to account.