Thursday, 13 July 2017

Grenfell Tower one month on. Notes on a vigil.

Lost for words.

Despite living for a while in the shadow of the tower and having witnessed the unbelievable made horrifically real I felt like an intruder.

A community glued in grief came together in silence. A deafening silence. A numbing silence.

The emotional exhaustion is palpable, one senses that it is collective adrenaline alone that is holding things together. In a sense the local authorities inability to deal with the tragedy and the need for the community to take control meant that many were too busy to fall apart in the immediate aftermath of the fire.

RBKC demonstrated that it is not fit for purpose when it comes to 'Local Authority'. It has no authority here now. The only valid authority is in the collective hands of the community.

The fire insulted every sense:  Smell, touch, taste, sight, hearing and fear as well as those arcane, primeval, intangible senses that cannot even be named. As the fire died, an ember, a spark, ignited another sense: A sense that has been smouldering for centuries... A sense of injustice and enough IS enough.

At the vigil I sensed an almighty presence,  a collective ghost. Not here to haunt but to demand justice and change.

Shhhhhh.  Give it time to think and work out a plan.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Lowkey, Grenfell Tower and Portobello Radio.

A rough cut of Lowkey's Grenfell thing first aired here on Portobello Radio. At 46.30 if you cannot be arsed to listen to the entire show. Gang of Four a little later.

Listen and weep and then rage.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Shit was the jackals last thought.

There once was a jackal, a lazy, greedy jackal who wandered the forest taking what he could find in
way of sustenance; small mammals, unwary birds and especially eggs stolen from unattended nests. It was a living but rather too much like hard work for his liking.

One afternoon the jackal came upon a peacock preening beside a pool, comparing himself favourably to Narcissus and Brad Pitt.

'Hello'. Said the jackal. 'Ding dong the dinner bell rings'.

'Hold your horses'. Said the peacock. 'I'm all feathers and sinew, all gong and no dinner, you'd find more meat on a petit four.'

'But I'm hungry'. Said the jackal. 'And I am partial to a canapé .

I have a plan said the peacock. and he explained: Let us enter the forest and while I mesmerise the beasts and the birds with my fabulous feathered fan you shall have free range of their nests and their burrows and eat to your fill.

And that is what they did, the peacock preened and recited Pam Ayers and Shelley whilst the jackal gorged.The jackal promised to look after the peacock in return.

That night the Jackal lay down with the peacock and they entertained each other with congratulations and fabulous tales of cowardice and treachery.

They carried on their symbiotic relationship for some months until one day the creatures of the forrest went to the peacock to complain about the thefts from their nests and burrows. Unbeknown to the peacock the jackal was listening from behind a bush as the peacock firmly laid the blame on the jackal.

That night the peacock lay down with the jackal. The jackal ate the peacock... Sure enough all gristle and pomp,  before choking to death on the wishbone.

'Shit'. Was the cock wielding felon's last thought.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

My 'post Grenfell' Utopian dream.

One result of the Grenfell disaster must be a complete change in attitude to social housing and the people living within it. Grenfell has opened a can of worms, the can is labelled Grenfell Tower but now opened we find the contents be, not the occupants but RBKC, successive governments and a privileged elite. For decades we have been miss sold the notion that poor people are the problem. It is time to turn that notion on its head.

A tower block is a village.

Villages traditionally grew organically in places that were not accidental or random but because of a natural resource or a social need: it may have been a river crossing, a water source, geological or agricultural resources, a major crossroad, a castle, a church, a need for a staging post for weary horses and travellers... The list is endless. As villages grew in size elements arrived to support the needs of the people...  The village pump or well, the pub, the baker, the village store, the village hall, the church, the village bobby. These services were provided by enterprising villagers or incomers who themselves became part of the community. Modern transport systems and the out of town superstore have put paid to much of the self sufficiency of small communities but much is still there, most importantly the village green which is sacred.

A tower block is a village.

Through careless planning, disregard for the inhabitants and thoughtlessness over the past 70 years or so these 'villages' have been erected throughout Britain. Villages intentionally created without the infrastructure that would allow soul or character to flourish. Multi story carcass parks.

My Utopian vision:

In my tower block there is:

A village green on the roof, planted with wild flowers, a children's garden, bee hives.

Within the building on a mid level floor that is open plan, a cafe and small kids play area by day then a peaceful meeting place in the evening, perhaps a gallery space too,  a place for  children birthday parties and the like. A social place, a village pump. This must not be stigmatised by the patronising title of 'community centre'. Multi purpose spaces can work, Westbank Gallery under the Westway is a good example.

A floor for teenagers with a pool table perhaps, a pinball machine, sounds,  a soundproofed practice room for the Joe Strummers of the future... Ask them what they want and, within reason, give it to them.

A shop or two.

A women only space, a refuge from men.This is not a modern concept, the W.I has existed for generations.

Four lifts, two stairwells, one built into a central concrete core to act as fire escape.

At ground level, a double height entrance lobby, lots of plate glass to break down the barrier that exists presently in such buildings with their steel doors and blank walls. A 24 hour concierge. A seating/meeting area (in an hotel this would be called the lobby lounge and would be considered essential).  Perhaps a small cafe  also catering for a seating area outside the building.  A lavatory/washroom.  I could go on.

My tower will not be clad. It will be painted on a 5 year cycle. The design/colour scheme will be decided by a competition open to all. It will be as dazzling as a honey coloured Cotswold village in its way.

The cost and practicalities. Where is the money going to come from?

Ring fence the council tax and rental income and plough it back into the building and its occupants. Put in place additional subsidies. Scrap Trident.

The services created within the building create jobs. Give those jobs to residents and provide them with training and support if needed.

Treat people with respect and they will invariable reciprocate. Treat people with respect and they will invariably respect their environment.

Regeneration should apply to the occupants as well as the real estate. This applies to all social housing schemes, not just high rise.

Trust me... I'm a dreamer.