Grenfell – Memorial to Human Dignity

 

Grenfell Tower. Memorial Site towards Human Dignity

 

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Dies ist eine längere Version des Orginals “Zwischen den Welten”, welches am Freitag 25.8.2017 in der taz erschien.

ENGLISH VERSION

Text and pictures Daniel Zylbersztajn

All Rights Reserved 2017

Text appeared originally in a shortened version in the German newspaper taz

on 25th of August 2017

 

FOREWORD

This is a longer version of the original which was published in taz on 25th August 2017 The retranslation into English was written by the author.
Why an English version?Already, when conducting research, people who were interviewed, asked if the text would be kindly available in English.

It was felt that it would be important, as the text tried to look beyond the immediate tragedy.

Many people only spoke to me, because taz is a unique newspaper. Its total independence and structure that makes it owned by communal shareholders and not by the state or private funds was very important to some, who made it clear, that had I come with a camera and suit from any of the main channels, they would have told me where to go.
Sadly, within the UK media environment, there are few papers that operate like taz. Another reason why this article should appear in English translation.
Last but not least taz, due to length restrictions, could not publish the full length of the submitted draft. This meant some parts were left out.

Following,  is a translation of the full original draft, giving full background, and that was already a shortened version of itself.
Many of the people spoken to were seen in one-to-one interviews, sometimes lasting up to two hours. The bits that are included within are the bare bones of those interviews, brought together in a unique way. Still, the shorter German version in taz keeps the key findings and thread, whilst not going to some of the specifics. These elaborations possibly also mean more to those who are familiar with the social politics of Great Britain and London anyway and not your average German reader.

I would like to thank all those who gave me their time so freely and generously. I envied in a way your community spirit and humanity to the point I could not help myself but return over and over again. In total, I spent many days and hours over a span of four weeks in North Kensington, and locals began to recognise me and greeted me. Most of that time was unpaid and carried out due to a sense of moral duty and obligation, something that is not an essential attribute amongst some journalists I encountered, some of whom were rather pushy in their ways with survivors. Traumatised people should only be pushed to be asked to answer questions and retell their trauma when we can be sure that that is what they want and feel safe with.  In some meetings, I took however precise notes of what survivors told the council. Others treated the survivors like athlete stars at the Olympics queuing up for their own individual media statements. But these were neither athletes nor stars, who can be  savvy and experienced with the media lot.

GERMAN INTRODUCTORY REMARKS

The English version of the text begins after these short remarks in German. Just scroll down.

Dies ist eine längere Version des Orginals, welches am Freitag 25.8.2017 in der taz erschien.  Übersetzung auf Englisch  Daniel Zylbersztajn
Wieso auf Englisch?
Bereits als die Recherchen begannen, fragten Leute, ob es den Text am Ende bitte auch auf Englisch geben könnte. Sie verstanden, dass der Bericht über das Inferno des Grenfell Towers hinausgehen würde, mit einem Blick in die Vergangenheit. Dabei kam es zu sehr vielen Gesprächen im Laufe von vier Wochen, viel davon in mehrstündigen Interviews. Was hier in der längeren Version steht, sind die Meinungen einiger der Menschen, die am meisten repräsentativ waren, auf die Essenz dessen was sie sagten reduziert. In der taz Druck und online konnte davon leider weniger untergebracht werden als hier. Die Längen sind dort nun mal vorgegeben und eine ganze Seite ist im Grunde schon ein Zeichen des ultimativen und stärkst möglichsten Akzents. Der Grundsinn des Textes blieb der Version in der taz erhalten, doch in dieser Übersetzung des Originals gibt es weitere Ausführungen. Sie mögen unter Umständen mehr denjenigen sagen, die mit der Sozialpolitik Großbritanniens vertraut sind, auch deshalb also auf Englisch.
Jene mit denen ich sprach, war die Unabhängigkeit der taz, im Sinne dass sie einer Kooperative gehört, Grundbedingung ihrer Aussagen. Eine Tageszeitung, wie die taz gibt es in Großbritannien nicht im gleichen Umfang. Auch deshalb also eine englische Version.
Ich möchte mich bei allen, die mir ihre Zeit gaben, und mir vertrauten bedanken. Ich habe die vielen Stunden über vier Wochen nahezu unbezahlt in recherchiert, Grund war die Tatsache, dass ich als Journalist das Handwerk besitze, mich für meine Mitmenschen einzusetzen und glaube, dass ich dieses in Fällen wie diesen tun muss, gleich wie groß der EInsatz.
Bei den den Recherchen stieß ich auch auf Journalist*Innen denen es wohl mehr um die große Story ging, die dann ihren Namen trug. Einmal bei einem Treffen zwischen der Stadtbehörde und den Überlebenden verschwieg mir eine Kollegin so lange einen Namen einer Überlebenden, den ich nicht richtig hörte, bis ich ihr sagte, dass ich für Deutschland schreibe, und sie keine Angst haben brauche, dass ich ihr was wegschreibe.  Bei einem anderen Treffen warfen sich Journalisten unmittelbar danach auf die Überlebenden mit Mikrofonen und Kameras. Es glich irgendwie dem Drang an Athleten bei der Olympiade in London 2012, wo jeder Journalist auch ein Wort mit dem Star wollte. Doch dies waren weder Stars noch Athleten, sondern traumatisierte Menschen, deren Treffen wir als Journalisten observierten. Ich war bei meinen Recherchen dennoch im Kontakt mit Überlebenden, saß sogar unter ihnen, sprach und lachte mit einigen, und hatte mit einer Überlebenden, die außerdem Familienmitglieder im Feuer verloren hatte, Abendessen, gemeinsam mit Yvette Williams, und mit einem anderen war ich direkt auf Whatsapp verbunden. Interviewt habe ich aber trotz der Nähe absichtlich niemanden, obwohl ich die Möglichkeit einigen anbat. Stattdessen gab ich menschliches Mitgefühl, drückte Hände und gab Ermutigung. Ihre Aussagen bei Treffen mit der Stadtbehörde schrieb ich jedoch im Detail auf. Hier wollten Überlebende ja sprechen und gehört werden. Ich sah es also als  meine Aufgabe diese Menschen nur dann zu interviewen, wenn sie das ausdrücklich auch wollten, und wenn es ihnen keinen weiteren Schmerz gibt und auch nur dann wenn es SInn macht. Als Sohn eines shoaüberlebenden Vaters war dies etwas, was ich von meiner Familie lernte. Journalisten haben zwar eine Berichtspflicht, aber sie müssen dennoch taktil und ethisch arbeiten. Es ist etwas, dass in der Welt des oft unterbezahlten Journalismus mit vielen überambitionierten Talenten nicht selbstverständlich ist. Interviews müssen hier im Namen der Betroffenen durchgeführt werden und nicht als “Schmankerl” eines Textes. Ich hoffte, dass ich dennoch beweisen kann, wie man auch ohne dem einen umfangreichen Bericht auf die Beine stellen kann. Ob das geklappt hat, können nur die Leser*Innen beurteilen.

   

 

Bilder und Botschaften der Anteilnahme unter dem Westway 03

Grenfell Tower (Art Collage under the Westway). Rights: Daniel Zylbersztajn,  All Rights Reserved (c) 2017

 

ENGLISH VERSION START

Grenfell

That shocking charcoal black concrete block, reaching up almost 70 meters high dominating the district of North Kensington, appears most detailed at the Latimer Road underground stop. Standing here, the tower is not more than a few dozen meters away. In fact, it stands so close, that a significant regeneration plan of the Royal City Council of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC, in 2009) stated, “that Grenfell Tower blights the sight to the East”  and could become part of an area-wide demolishing and regeneration effort. At the time Grenfell was but a 24-storey building, erected in 1974. Today the building resembles a gigantic tombstone in the middle of London, a reminder of the violent deaths of at least 80 people on the 14th of June 2017, in fact, many claim that the fire took far more victims.

 

Latimer Road 2.JPG

Photo: Daniel Zylbersztajn,  All Rights Reserved (c) 2017

 

Anyone who disembarks the train and leaves the station here discovers immediate and omnipresent signs of collective mourning and open shared sympathy. You can see it from here all down the entire street and up until the 300 meters distanced flyover Westway, as well as on many of the surrounding streets: Notes, pictures, yellow loops, flowers and plush toys, and even now, over two months after the disaster, burning candles. Often photographs or drawings show perished children and senior citizen: Jessica, Moses, Kadija, Zainab and her son Jeremiah, even entire families. In addition, there is information about the makings of the local and national government, there are newspaper cuts, and updates of a variety of lobby groups, information about meetings for survivors and residents, or about current therapy and care options, such as those offered free of charge by volunteers in the nearby Portobello Park.

In another park nearby, a mixed group of young men smoke joints and talk about life.  An elderly woman bundles flowers on a special table every evening near the Ethiopian cafe, and yet some go to the pub Pig & Whistle in the shadow of the darkened tower. The father of a child who died in the fire is also sitting here, whilst football and horse-racing are flickering on the TV-screens. Locals report recent suicide attempts in the area.

 

Kleines Mädchen in der Luftblase der Aktion Heilende Kunst im Park neben dem Westway.JPG

 Free Therapy Session for a young Girl in Portobello Park. Rights: Daniel Zylbersztajn,  All Rights Reserved (c) 2017

 

 

Since the inferno, there were several meetings between the representatives of the municipal authorities and those affected.

The first took place in Kensington town hall, the others in the local Methodist church in the immediate vicinity of the fire ruin. All those with responsibilities, be it care workers, recovery workers or representatives of housing or policing, use these meetings in order to declare what they are doing for the community. So far, those affected by the fire complain about lack of services or adequate support each and every time. If the council lacked competence in the initial provision of the emergency support, or before the fire, or during the renovation of Grenfell Tower, they failed also with the support effort after the fire. The injured and beaten community had to help and support itself, amidst one of the richest boroughs in the UK, in fact, Europe. RBKC, which includes North Kensington, also harbours the wealthy parts Chelsea, South Kensington and Knightsbridge. Victims make it clear in speeches that go along this kind of speech:, “We are not people who seek charity.  Most of us work!  We want only what is due to us like to all so that we can continue our lives with a guarantee to safe housing, qualitative education and life, and above all the right to dignified treatment,”

 

Ich habe wenig Hilfe gekriegt, und hatte Glück das im Krankenhaus ein pszchiatischer Betreuer war, der mir erlabute ihn jeder zeit anzurufen, dagt dieser Überlebende aus Grenfell Tower

Survivors accuse council in a meeting of not doing enough   (c)  Daniel Zylbersztajn 2017 All Rights Reserved

Ihr seit zu bürokratisch zu uns überlebenden Jugendlichen, sagt dieses Mädchen den Vertretern der Stadt und Notdienste.JPG

Survivors accuse council in a meeting of not doing enough (c)  Daniel Zylbersztajn 2017, All Rights Reserved

 

North Kensington is not your average residential area. It seems much more as the essence of the potential that London can give. In her 1998 book on the history of the Notting Dale district, the area around Latimer Road and where Grenfell Tower stands, the author Shaaron Whetlor wrote in her introduction that “this district is less represented through its buildings, but mostly from the memories and stories of its cosmopolitan population,”

From Pig Farming to Carnival

Originally the entire area covering contemporary Notting Dale and North Kensington was once marked by abyssal levels of poverty, subject to much debate by reformers of the 19th and 20th centuries, It was here, where bricks that built London were made out of the local soil.  It was here, where once stinking pig farms stood, and where traveller communities stopped, or washer women cleansed and pressed clothes for the wealthy communities of South Kensington. It was and is also here where people of all origins later grew together. Already from the start, there were conflicts between the poor inhabitants of the area and the aristocracy.  For example, when the entrepreneur John Whyte constructed in 1837 a horse course across the area, the community resisted, causing the race course to close four years later. But the sale of Whyte’s land led to the construction of the very first solid houses in the area. Due to the stench and hygienic conditions, however, no wealthy families desired to move here. Over many years, English, Irish and Irish travellers, Germans, Jews from Poland, refugees from Spain and Portugal, Italians, immigrants from the Caribbean, Moroccans, Eritreans, Ethiopians, West Africans, Sudanese, Somalis and Eastern Europeans became residents here instead.

IMG_0313.JPG

Whilst this kind of migration is by no means exceptional in London, it occurred probably much earlier here, due to the poverty in the neighbourhood. It meant that here desperate migrants often found the only affordable accommodation in small, tiny residential often substandard parcels. All this happened not without initial conflicts, however. In 1914 German immigrants were harassed. Then in the 1950s, immigrants from the Caribbean were regarded as making the already pitifully poor residential districts more crowded. It culminated to street fights and rioting in 1958. There were revolts and street fights and the appearance of the British fascist Oswald Mosley. The horror of the murder of the 32-year-old Antiguan Kelcho Cochrane by a white mob eventually led to the ending of such useless hostilities between the older local and the newer migrated inhabitants of a partially decayed and impoverished area.P

Nottinghill Carnival Vorsitzender Francis Pepe im Steeldrum Keller WIr halten eine Minute Andacht um 1500 am Karnevalmontag.JPGPhoto: Snapshot of Francis Pepe in workshop

Soon the Notting Hill Carnival, now Europe’s largest street festival came to be. In the words of some, such as Francis Pepe, the current chairman of the Notting Hill Carnival, as “a cultural affirmation,” in the words of others, like Leslie “Teacher” Palmer ( who is credited with the expansion of the street festival) rather as a “political and proud manifestation “.

Leslie Palmer 74 links wird das Wachstum des bis heute so zu erkennenden Notting Hill Karneval zugesagt Ich brachte mehr Züge hinzu Die Kampagne zu Grenfell sei dem Karneval ähnlich. EPhoto: Leslie Teacher Palmer on the left

Never give up your dignity!

Shirvin Best, born in 1954 in Barbados, who moved to London in 1964, lives not far from Grenfell in another tower. He says. that in his youth North Kensington was the place where he and other people of African-Caribbean background could hang out in relative safety. Best remembers that the police would often follow young men like him without real reason. But it was his grandmother who had admonished him back in Barbados, to never give up his dignity and not allow white racists to get the upper hand. “Look them in the eye and  let them see you as an equal”, she said. Shirvin did not fail to do that, also encouraged bz his father, including to racists like one of his former employers, of whom he later learned, that his daughter had married a man with same skin colour as himself, and who shed off all racism due to his grandchild and later his illness in old age, when only his daughter and his Caribbean son in law looked after him.

Shirvin Best vor Vernmisstenanzeigen beo Latimer Road Station. Ich kannte da einige1.JPGShirvin Best.

“We heard what happened in the USA and South Africa. It meant that I became shortly a member of the Black Power Movement here”. Later he would get a position in the London council for equality, as well as become an official community liaison person when the police would arrest young black men in Kensington, a task he proudly continues to this day.

From destruction to radical communal space. Westway

Soon enough, the once split communities had a new common focus. The Greater London Council (GLC) intended to build a flyover motorway straight over the area. In order to do so many parts of the area would have to be demolished. It led to a massive chaos and transformed considerable parts of the area into a wasteland. Higher than average air pollution continues to be an issue until this present day, due to this. That the spaces below the Westway did not become car parks is due to sustained pressure from the community at the time. The 23 acres granted for community use were a real victory. The communal usage of the spaces are guarded until this present day by locals, and most recently through a dedicated lobby group Westway23. There, in front of the Maxilla Club under the arcades of the flyover, and protected from all weathers and the dark, many locals meet for a chat, to play chess or to relax. It is here, where the community met after the disaster. The permanent arty space became a place with wall paintings that demand social housing or that remember the dead, or which accuse the state, the council or the system in general. Most recently it was also the location for some of the funerals.

Dieser Vorgarten vpr der Hauptzone der Communitz vor demMaxillaklub unter dem Westwaz wurde nach dem Inferno bepflanztPhoto: Community Space under the Westway

A left over and vacated area at the edge of the new traffic artery was taken up by people looking for cheap housing and became squatted. When the GLC and the council wanted to clear the area in 1977 the squatters declared the area as the “Independent Republic of Frestonia”. After the struggle, a compromise emerged, in form of the setting up of a housing cooperative, which exists to some degree up until this present day.  Former resident Lizzie Spring remembers how experimental and radical the area used to be. It enabled her to explore a variety of concepts, for her personally particularly pertinent at the time was the idea of militant feminism.  At the time, she lived very close to Grenfell Tower which was erected alongside other social housing estates in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She reports constant battles with the local council, for example in order to save a public bath on the spot that on which now the recently rebuilt academy school stands. Her radicalism continues up until this day, even though she has now reached her 60s, Now it are suggestions addressed to the Mayor of London. She intents to change social housing to a model where tenants possess more self-determination and responsibility, rather than the current state, “where social housing tenants are seen as brainless persons who need to be managed, perhaps in the way and manner the local authority viewed the occupants of Grenfell Tower.”

Local Council & Local Rebels

Wird weiterkämpfen und tut es seit den 60ger Jahren Meg McDonald.JPGPhoto: Snapshot of Mag Mc Donald taken in Tabernacle

Mag McDonald, 75, had moved in 1967 from Nottingham into North Kensington. She is also of the opinion, that since her arrival the community has never stopped to hold the local council to account. And she is not the only one who talks of a distanced council that fails to understand this area. “I remember, once we succeeded to have a building, which the council wanted to demolish, grade listed. RBKC had the building torn down regardless in the very night before the registration would have become valid.” Similarly, the popular Holland Park Comprehensive School was closed against protests, and reopened as a solely academic school, as this was closer to the values of the Conservative local authority. It came to no one’s surprise thus, when it became known that Elizabeth Campbell – she is the new Leader of the Council, elected after the inferno by the elected mostly Conservative representatives of the council, after the former leader Nicholas Paget-Brown had resigned –  had to admit, in spite of years as a councillor and cabinet member, that she had never been inside a high rise social estate flat of as they would have existed at Grenfell Tower. But the community managed to at least save one building from the fangs of the council and gentrification, just West of Portobello Road. Up until this day, it remains one the most important centres of communal, cultural and local political grassroots work, the so called Tabernacle.

Bürgermeistern Council Leader Elizabeth Campbell versichert das alles getan werdePhoto: Elizabeth Campbell at a meeting with survivors and the local community

In 2009 RBKC declared that Notting Dale should be completely knocked down and rebuilt. All sorts of reasons were named, amongst others, that the area would not be economically diverse enough. Michael Jardine, a successful architect, who lives in an estate nearby,  and who was amongst others involved in the construction of the London Olympics site, noticed, that the plans the council had, would double the number of persons in the area, but not in favour of socially disadvantaged groups in whose interest the regeneration was advertised as. Other reasons the council listed for the regeneration were, that “Grenfell Tower blights the view to the East from Latimer Road Station”, and that the roads of the social housing estate would be irrational and repairs expensive.

20170723_184747Photo: “Grenfell Tower blights the vision to the East from Latimer Station”, the council claimed in 2009. It certainly does now!

Not short of that, they also listed crime rates, in spite of the fact that crime was about average here unlike in the wealthy parts of the borough Knightsbridge and South Kensington, who have much higher rates of crime. The council was however so incompetent that they mistakenly suggested to demolish and regenerate the areas around the Westway against all local agreements and prior defeats against the will of the community, they even forgot to notify the Westway Trust, who administers the space. „As a matter of fact RBKC made so many mistakes, that we were relatively optimistic that the regenerations efforts would lead to nothing,” argues Jardine. Again and again the community spoke out against aspects of the plans, and RBKC was forced accordingly to change its details or format.

Piers Thompson is an Oxford graduate and DJ. Thompson lives in a  semidetached house of a 1970s estate opposite Grenfell which he and his wife bought because he admires for its 1970s architecture. ”I was always a rebel who had grown out of punk, ” he describes himself. He explains, that he and others had caused so much havoc against the regeneration plans, that they had regained 22 percent of the area the council had previously intended for a complete demolishment and regeneration. Amongst those 22 percents were especially those places, where obstructive people like himself live. By now, end of August, and after the fire,  he has assurances that the rest of the estate will also not be touched.

Piers Thomspon Viele sahen mich wie Papa an.  WIr leitetn eine Kampagne und gewannen 22 Prozent der zu regenrierendne Zone zurück Wir machten ihnen zu viele Probleme.JPGPhoto: Piers Thompson

There were people like Thompson who lived in Grenfell Tower too. It is by now a well-known fact, that the Grenfell Action Group continuously warned about the safety of the tower block in the event of a fire. Alongside, it is known that the group was threatened with legal action should they continue to raise awareness. According to Thompson the council attempted to display such people as gone by, mentally unstable,  losers who would cause unnecessary problems. Michael Jardine adds here, that some member of the Grenfell Action Group would now feel shattered since the inferno. If they had been listened to,  people would not have lost their lives. They are not the only ones whose lives are not like before now, however. Not only survivors of the inferno or family members of victims are affected. Piers Thompson also talks about his teenage daughter, who, together with a friend, followed the death of one of their friends on snap chat. Thompson knows, that when the renovation of Grenfell Tower was first discussed with residents,  “they listed things like working elevators, better lighting, stuff like that. Nobody said a word about the external area. The outer appearance with its cladding was more something that related to the needs of others, precisely as it is listed in 2009 in the regeneration plans of the council. And whats more, besides the outer area of the tower, the school in front of the tower was rebuilt, some argue it wasnät necessary either. Unfortunately, it was expanded in such a way that the new Academy made it immensely difficult for the fire brigade to access the tower in the night of the inferno.

So stellte sich die Stadtbehörde die Zukunft vor. Neubau auf abgerissener Zone, Im Hintergrund ein alter TowerPicture: New Model Housing with golden art!

Whilst Grenfell was being renovated, RBKC ordered a small industrial area on the other side of the underground station Latimer Road to be taken down and rebuilt with a model social and private housing mix. Looking from the platform of Latimer Road Station, one spots a modern looking brick building. On its roof facing the station stretches an enormous and unnecessary appearing art piece made out of golden balls that extend themselves in different directions like a flower bouquet. Again, and again, the council’s regeneration papers raised the point of the potential of the area, in accordance with the general rise of the value of properties in the area. Too bad, that this was an area inhabited by poorer people when the areas South from here transformed into millionaires strips. Buildings once occupied by several families on different floors were converted into single occupier mansions, into which the spill off of Londons establishment moved. The council may have wished for more change in that direction hence their attempt on Notting Dale.

Künstler beim Bemalen einer Säule .JPG

Conservative & Labour

When Emma Dent-Coad won the parliamentary seat of Kensington on the 9th of June for Labour, with a majority of 20 votes, and just before the inferno, many assumed it to be a surprising victory. But the truth is that Nord Kensington had always been a Labour area. The privilege of the Conservatives to dominate the area was a matter of changes to the electoral borders of the area. In those years when the area included more of the wealthy South, the Conservatives won, in those years in which more Northern regions were part of it, Labour won. The current borders exist since 2010. They include tiny parts of Notting Hill and Holland Park, but not Chelsea and South Kensington.

But when it comes to the council, there is a problem, because here South Kensington, and Chelsea are part of the same authority alongside North Kensington. It is the council, not the MP,  that makes decisions in questions of planning, and it is dominated by the Conservative Party for a long time, Elizabeth Campbell was a member of the same cabinet, which was responsible for the regeneration of Notting Dale.

Many locals state, that their vote for “Emma” was not even a vote for Labour, but above all a vote for her as a person. Dent Coad, who was a councillor prior to becoming an MP, and had attended many local campaigns. She was active not only against the regeneration plans of Notting Dale, but also in the campaign to save the public library of North Kensington, which the council had promised a private college, as well as the failed campaign of a community pub, or the campaign to save a further education college, which is fundamental for the teaching of English as a foreign language to new migrants. The council conceded on this only after the inferno. With 80 or more dead, Elizabeth Campbell perhaps felt she ought to assure the end of all regeneration plans and the saving of the library. Victories of this kind only come now with a bitter-sweet taste.

IMG_0221 (1).JPG

The organisation with the direct responsibility for the decisions and administration on social housing was a communal TMO. It was founded on the basis of intense community pressure in the 1980s. When RBKC finally agreed to it, it was set up or soon evolved in such a way that it appeared to the outside to be a democratic construct, whilst all important decisions could in fact only be taken by councillors who were members of the cabinet. Accordingly, the decision about the cost saving cladding of Grenfell was made by the Conservative councillor Rock Feilding-Mellen alone. He has resigned from his post since the fire and also left the area.

Justice4Grenfell

Justice for Grenfell vor einem Mosaik zur Erinnerung an die Opfer FrankosWhen Grenfell was burning and in its aftermath and the community was in need of urgent help. RBKC intended to manage and control the situation on its own. This is a point brought up by Yvette Williams. Williams is the daughter of immigrants from Antigua, precisely the country, out of which once the murdered Kelcho Cochrane came. „My family was very politically engaged and met leaders of the independence movement in the Caribbean. Dad was a policeman in Antigua and well-respected”.

Williams herself was actively involved in the campaign of a more contemporary black murder victim, the campaign for Justice for Stephen Lawrence who was murdered by racist thugs in 1993, whilst waiting for a bus in Elton, South-East London, and whose prosecution was hindered by an institutionally racist police force. She also worked on other projects in North Kensington, amongst others, to save The Tabernacle and the no longer existing location of local black politics and culture, The Mangrove, which fell under the axe of gentrification but had seen figures like Bob Marley, CLR James, and Nina Simone.

Rassistische Weerbung eines Marklers in Nordkensington von 2014, welche durch Yvette Williams und andere zur Rechenschaft gezogen wurde Foto Urban75.org

Foto Urban75.org

One other local campaign she was involved in, she mentions directly. A local estate agent in North Kensington put up racist advertising some three years ago, namely  that black people are born to dance, and whites to buy property.” „We gave the estate agent 24 hours to remove the ad and they followed suit.” That this attitude goes deeper also on other levels is perhaps illustrated by the fact that the new person with the responsibility for social estates, and with the brief of finding accommodation for the victims of Grenfell Tower, the Conservative councillor Kim Taylor-Smith, is also a person at home with property investment.

Still, according to the research of The Guardian newspaper, there are a total of 1652 empty houses and flats in Kensington, amongst others empty investments of New York former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a block with 26 empty units owned by Christian Candy. When the council claims, that the relocation of units to survivors of the fire may last up to 12 months, that fact alone is shameful. Atop, Taylor-Smith used the wrong language at one of the meetings with locals and survivors, labelling any potential new units as “the best memorial to the inferno.” Community members angered by this remark made him apologise instantly.

Kim Taylor-Smith - Stanley verplappert sich beim Auftreffen mit den Opfern, als er sagt, die neuen Wohnungen seien das beste Andenken für das Inferno. Er muss sich für diese Worte entwschuldigen 3.JPGPhoto: Kim Taylor-Smith (c) Daniel Zylbersztajn 

Or take the fact that the government had nominated Eleanor Kelly, the CEO of the London Southwark borough as an advisor for questions of social housing in Kensington. But it was Southwark in particular, notably a Labour council at that, that received a damaged reputation on the grounds of the regeneration of the 1970s Heygate Estate (see mz article https://dzx2.net/2015/05/05/eine-weltstadt-fur-reiche-world-capital-for-the-rich/) , an estate that was totally demolished and a discount price and for favours by the developer Land Lease at that. In fact, the similarities to Notting Dale are in part striking. Many observers understand Heygate Estate’s demise as nothing but social cleansing.

links Sarah Abdullah, 39 mit Tochter und Dermot zweiter von Rec hts kamen um Hilfe zu bringen, sie haben Wasser und Kleidung.JPGPicture: Aid given out on day of the fire by volunteers.

So when after the fire it became apparent that the community needed help, and the council would not be able to provide it, Yvette Williams set up Justice for Grenfell together with others. Posters of the group, that demand the resignation of the elected council are plastered throughout the area. Not once was it Williams job to face international TV cameras since and yet there was more to do than anyone imagined. Due to the patchy help from the council, Justice for Grenfell began to organise help itself, cover the social and mental needs just as much as the management of donations, demands for compensation, the questions and consultations of the forthcoming independent inquiry and the criminal investigation alongside political and media representation, a mammoth task.

Meanwhile, the council was able to improve its help arrangements, but it still has gaps. With help finally emerging as it should be, there is a help centre, there are key workers, social workers and so on in coordination with professional organisations, it almost appears as if the council would now try to compensate for its mistakes. Niles Hailstones, the chair of Westway23 and well-known community activist made it very clear in one meeting, when he complained about the brute force and suspicion by the police on the ground, who had thrown him and his son to the floor and attempted to put on handcuffs, under suspicion of carrying illegal drugs:

Niles Hailstones, von der Lobbygruppe Westway22 konfrontiert die Vertreter der Stadtbehörde und die Polizei mit Fragen und Anschuldigungen. Woglfahr ist nicht Gerechtigkeit sagt er (1) Ort Methodist Kirche.JPGPhoto: Niles Hailstones speaking out against Elizabeth Campbell

“Let me be clear,” he addressed Elizabeth Campbell directly:. „Charity is no Justice!” As man of Rastafarian belief, he added, that all that happened in Grenfell and after that, reminded him of the system, that exists since 500 Jahren years. Whilst he uttered these words, it looked as if Campbell rolled her eyes, and according to observers from the community, it was not for the first time.

Whilst some believe, that all people with more wealth in this area would be part of the problem, others hoped, that finally, all people would get it, and see how incredible and incompetent the leadership of the conservative Council of RBKC was since decades. So far, the prime minister Theresa May had admitted that the council was precisely this after the inferno when it did not act appropriately and fast enough. One observer, who did not want to be named, put it however in these words: The new ones, that arrive with much wealth would not buy property here, if it was not for the proud history of the area and with its immigrants, Portuguese cafes, Moroccan bazaars, Caribbean history and presence, Spanish school, the artists, the market and the Notting Hill Carnival. I mean if it was not like this they could move to other areas. At best I hope that Grenfell opens people’s eyes that the plans of the council could destroy precisely that, which is important to many.” How much people will understand will become evident in the 2018 local elections.

Community Symbols

 

IMG_0213 (1).JPG

Photo: Sophie Lodge sign come unity. (c) 2017 Daniel Zylbersztajn

One symbol of the unification of the community post-Grenfell was an art piece by local artist and community activist Sophie Lodge. During Carnival 2016 she created a massive heart in whose middle the name Community stood. On the day after the inferno, she asked the community to make art contributions with such hearts, Every day up until the beginning of the carnival this year she occupied Portobello Park and made these hearts with whoever wanted. Some will be carried also by the dance bands during the carnival,” she explained.

 

 

Sophie Lodge Künstlerin welche das  24Hearts   Kustprojekt unter dem Westway nach dem IUnferno startete 03.JPG

Photo: Sophie Lodge on the right. Photo Daniel Zylbersztajn,  All Rights Reserved (c) 2017

 

 

The community decided early on, that Carnival should take part in spite of the sorrow. It shows that we are still here”, declared Francis Pepe. and added that there will be a minute of silence during the carnival as well as religious ceremonies before the carnival, and possibly quiet marches when the bands pass by near the Grenfell Tower. In some ways, music is not necessary there. The black shameful form of the tower demands respect itself and tells the story of an impoverished neighbourhood, of lost human lives now and then, and the fight for dignity against an arrogant and ignorant council. A community in which people of all backgrounds grew together, and who have any reason to be celebrated by others in one of the biggest parties of the world, actually.  Never lesser so than now.

 

24hearts Campagne

Photo Daniel Zylbersztajn,  All Rights Reserved (c) 2017

24Hearts Herzen ein Kustprojekt unter dem Westway, welches Sophie Lodge begann

Photo Daniel Zylbersztajn,  All Rights Reserved (c) 2017

 

 

Unite Europe Demo 25th March 2017

Mein Bericht ist hier in der taz.  My report is here in the German taz

https://www.taz.de/Archiv-Suche/!5395409

 

London Underground / Brexit Dover

Dover Westhafen mit Sicht auf weisse Klippen, Rennovierung gesponsert mit Europahilfe

Revival of Dover Port with EU Money Photo: (c) Daniel Zylbersztajn (2016)

In the last few weeks I was busy researching  for German a magazine that comes out in August. But I also had two texts published in taz, which were however not put online.

  1. On the vulnerability of the London Underground to terror (contribution in a text of many authors) Read here in German
  2. On Europe, and Immigration fear in Dover (original report)  Read here in German Dover1

 

Deutsch

In den letzten Wochen arbeitete ich vor allen an Beiträgen für die Sommer Ausgabe eines deutschen Magazin. Zwei Texte kamen aber auch in der taz heraus. Sie wurden jedoch nicht online veröffentlicht.

  1. Über die Terrorgefahr in der Londoner U-Bahn (Hier Lesen)
  2. Über Europa, Immigranten und die Stadt Dover (Hier lesen Dover1)

 

 

Brexit Berichte – Brexit Reports

Diese Woche gab es zwei Berichte von mir zum Thema.

1.) Das Brexit Lager

2.)Wirtschaftliche und Sozialwissenschaftliche Konsequenzen des #Brexit

ENGLISH

This week I reported twice about the topic.

1.) About the Brexit Camp

2.) About the economic and socio economic consequences!

London: Demolition of social housing flats causes anger.

Translation: Daniel Zylbersztajn: Abriss von Sozialwohnungen sorgt fuer Streit

originally published in German in Taz, die Tageszeitung, Tuesday, 16th February 2015

see www.taz.de/Sozialer-Wohnungsbau-in-London/!5274362/

(translation Daniel Zylbersztajn) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED (taz.de 2016 / Daniel Zylbersztajn, 2016)

Great Britain: In the London area of Tottenham, a concrete social housing estate, erected in the 1960s, is to be demolished. They are supposed to be locations of social tension and drug dealing. The residents are scared of higher rents and being pushed out in the end.

Reporting from London, Daniel Zylbersztajn

In the centre of the estate with its many multi storey houses in Corbousier style, stands a playful concrete terrace block. The Broadwater Farm Estate in Tottenham, London, counts approximately 1100 housing units. Bad water pipes and some darker corners reveal that the concrete estate is worthy of an upgrade. A renovation should have been carried out years ago.

Broadwater Farm 4

Broadwater Farm, Courbusier Style at its best or worst.  Photo (c) Daniel Zylbersztajn, 2016  All Rights Reserved

But rather than renovating the estate, it appears that it is going to be “bulldozed down.” Not just that, no body lesser than the Prime Minister David Cameron has taken charge of this task. The 1960s buildings “with their dark alleys would be,” in his words, “a present for criminals and drug dealers and a poverty trap.” Decisively he argues for the bulldozing of the houses and the erection of totally new houses.

Arguments of that kind are not exactly new on the British socio-political landscape. In the 1960s many Victorian social housing units were demolished with similar types of justifications. Earlier, in the 19th century, large chunks of the London East End were “>>sanitized<< “for the welfare of the poor.”

One of the long standing residents of Broadwater Farm is Clasford Sterling, 57. His mighty appearance and deep voice give him a natural flair of authority. “Broadwater Farm’s image is historically conditioned”, he argues, and continues, “that this has not much in common with the reality.”

Sterling, decorated with an OBE from the Queen, was born in Jamaica. Even back in the 1970s nobody would dare to bully him, he says. With football and pots full of colour, in order to rejuvenate some of the houses, he encouraged many of the young people on the estate, who had lost hope and direction, to take their lives back onto a positive path.

Oase Sozialwohnsiedlung. Mit Farbtoepfen brachte man hier orientierungslose Jugendliche zur Verantwortung.  Broadwater Farm 5

Broadwater Farm Mural. Young people freshened up the estate with pots of colour and became constructive. Now it is all to go. Photo: Daniel Zylbersztajn, (c) 2015 All Rights Reserved

In spite of this, the estate entered national headlines in 1985, when young people from across the area became entrapped on the estate,following a march against police brutality. The police cattled the youths in, which caused bitter fighting to emerge between police and the youth. The result was the brutal murder of a policeman.

It was only in the 1990s and under John Major’s government that the estate would receive a renewed injection of help, with 33 Million Pounds worth of investments. A community centre was built, the local primary school rebuilt, and later, thanks to lottery funding, the adjacent park completely renovated, offering a huge amount of leisure and sport facilities.

As a result the crime statistics of the area is below the London average for many years. Sterling reports, that the transformation is so remarkable, that he has received countless visits from national and international delegations. Broadwater Farm became known as the success story in terms of social estates that once experienced a rough time.

Admittedly, there are a few residents who are now in favour of the demolition of the concrete houses, but they are the minority. Most residents, especially those in the less fancy blocks, seem to be happy. In fact, quite a few have chosen to invest in them, and now own their flat as leaseholders. It was Margaret Thatcher who allowed the purchase of social housing units by social tenants.

In spite of this, Haringey the local council, intends to knock it all down. Even the smaller garden houses at the edges of the estate, as well as the school, are to go. If the council is able to sell the area to a property developer in a good deal, it may fix some of the holes, that the 30 percent austerity cuts from the national government has caused to their local budget. But the sell to such a developer would also have an extra bonus, by freeing the council from the burden of the administration of the estate.

Examples of this kind exist everywhere in London. On the Heygate Estate in the South-East of London 1200 real social housing units were replaced with but 300 new ones, after the old estate had been knocked down. The remainder was offered on the private market or on much higher rents up to 80 percent of market rate, known as “affordable housing.” Officially it was argued, that the well off residents would pull the less well off up. This so called >>win-win situation<< rarely set in however. With new and much more affluent neighbours most local prices in the area also rose.

This also worries people on Broadwater Farm Estate. They fear that sooner or later they would have to settle in regions far away from here and out of town. Facing such prospects, the community has decided to put up a fight to rescue the estate. The responsibility for the actual implementation of the sell off lies with the City Council of Haringey, a Labour borough, and it currently supports the measure wholeheartedly.

Lotteriegelder sanierten den Park mit vielen Freizeit und Sportmoeglichkeiten Broadwater Farm 6

Park Facilities, at Broadwater Farm

Sterling is unable to comprehend what on earth is supposed to be wrong with the estate. With a tired stare out of his office window, he insists that, “there is no good reason whatsoever, why this community should be destroyed. It is not criminally inclined, nor is it a poverty trap,” he says. The political winds of austerity rid Broadwater Farm of many of their former community workers. Sterling is now doing many of their jobs without pay and alone.

Broadwater Farm Clasford Sterling 3

Clasford Sterling in front of the Community Centre. Photo: Daniel Zylbersztajn, All Rights Reserved (c) 2016

END

For my report in taz, I also visited other estates. I felt that Broadwater Farm summarized what I found elsewhere. So above was the full published article. But for those, who like to read more background, here is the remainder of my research.

Packington Estate in Islington. Solutions for broken pipes and broken lives

There were supposed to be many social problems affecting the original 540 residents of the original 1960s Packington Estate. In deed some families were living an endless life of crime over several generations. When it emerged in 2003, that there were also problems with the gas pipes of the houses, the landlord, the city council of Islington, decided to sell the entire estate to a housing management company and developer, tasked with its rebuilding.

Packington Estate 1

Packington Estate Old and New. Photo, Daniel Zylbersztajn (c) 2016, All Rights Reserved

What is different on this particular estate, is that there was an insistence that the majority of the former residents should get rehoused here after the rebuilding had ended.

Bad Construction and Banned from town.

Many of those who already moved into new units, state that they are more or less happy, even though moving itself was a painful and difficult process, that lasted much longer than hoped and promised. Georg Smith, 80, argues that his new basement flat is rather beautiful. Still, he is not the only one, highlighting the fact, that the old units may have been chilly, but at the same time much were more solidly built than these new houses. “These are rather cosmetic”, he judges. “I am certain that they will have to be renovated again in 20 years, as the walls are totally thin, whilst the old houses were built of solid bricks.”

Another occupant, she is mother of three children, knows, that the schema was also used to rid the estate of >>bad families<<: “Residents who were known to be anti-social, were rehoused out of town,” she reports and adds “That is neither fair, nor does it solve the problems these people had,” But referring to the block with the private residents, she continues, that it would be the wealthy, who broke the lift recently, after a rather wild house warming party.

Packington Estate 3  Am Ende kann ich nicht klagen sagt George Smith, 80 vor seiner neuen Sozialwohnungsbleibebleibe1

George Smith, 80 is happy wit his new garden flat on Packington Estate, but says the new building won’t last long. Photo Daniel Zylbersztajn (c) 2016, All Rights Reserved

Packington Estate finds itself in an area of London, that once was poor and derelict, but where a studio flat today can cost up to 750.000 Pounds. Units that are sold on the open market are therefore very profitable. Every year the new estate takes longer to complete, the market price goes up by an average of ten percent. The developer is in no hurry, the completion already about five years overdue. Soon it will be like in the South-West of London, where property prices are sky rocket high.

South-West London: Wandsworth. Profit 40 storey high avoided!

South of London’s busiest train inter-junctions, Clapham Junction, lies the huge Winstanley Estate. It too has many social buildings erected in the 1960s and 1970s. For quite a while the local council has intended to profit from the location in the name of regeneration. Eight years ago, they intended to built two 40 storey-high private residential towers next to the station. Local residents up in arms about the proposals, were able to prevent it in a long and protracted campaign, aided by the financial melt-down. But Wandsworth continues to take up the argument of “rotten buildings and anti-social people.”

Winstanley Estate 3 Dieses Gebaude ist bereits zum Niederiss verbannt

Bad pipes but outstanding neighbours! Condemned to be knocked down on Winstanley Estate.  Photo: Daniel Zylbersztajn  (c) 2016, All Rights Reserved

After years of battle with the local government, Cyril Richert, 43, of the Clapham Junction Action Group, has lost any hope of being heard by the council. “They do not listen to us,” he notes. This forced him and others to seek allies from the outside, in order to indirectly put pressure on the council. Occasionally there are even little victories, like when the investigation of Transport for London and established, that yet another tower Wandsworth had planned, stood exactly where a future exit is to be. Still, Richert accepts, that the total destruction of Winstanley Estate South of the station can not be halted any longer.

Good Life between murder and garden-houses

If one looks closely, there are but three eight storey blocks on the massive estate, that are in a real bad way. Occupants talk of bad windows and pipes, and yet report many outstanding and trustworthy neighbours. Many of the other houses are two storey high, and many even have generous gardens. Violent crime, even murder are not unheard of though, and still not a daily occurrence. The last murder happened three years ago. All this is not as bad as it was over 15 years, when it was, people say, really rough. But security measures such as cameras, security operated doors, and fencing stopped most of that.

Winstanley Estate 1

Cameron and the local council  call this a sink estate. The residents were not asked, it seems. Photo, Daniel Zylbersztajn (c) 2016 All Rights Reserved

All claim, that the community spirit and life is good here. The feeling of it being a bad estate, residents say, is but a feeling by external visitors, who mostly do not know the estate and its people. That sounds very much like what Clasford Sterling said about Broadwater Farm. Accordingly high is the amount of people on Winstanley Estate who bought their own council flat. “Poverty Trap?”, asks a 30-year old lady, when she learns of Cameron’s arguments to knock down 100 of the worst estates, including this one. “I grew up and went to school here, and today I am a medical doctor.” She adds, that it would be wrong to idealise life here, even her brother was mugged here not so long ago, “but it isn’t much worse than elsewhere in London,” she insists.

At the same time the 102 Million Pounds that Cameron wishes to spend to enable renovations on 100 estates are not much money at all, unless one makes deals with property developers.

Secure Tory Votes

In parts of Chelsea and Kensington the majority of councils homes these days are private property, courtesy of Margaret Thatcher’s >>Right to Buy << schema. That appears to be the dream of Wandsworth too. Winstanley is not that far from lucrative regions such as Nine Elms or the stretch along the Thames. The station itself is a good selling point. Tony Belton, councillor of the Labour Party for over 40 years and representing Winstanley, believes it is all but a political game. “The amount of social housing units relate directly to how many people will vote Labour or Conservative,” he explains. Cities with less poor and more private properties ensure secure votes for the blue party, so he believes.

Winstanley Estate 5 Orofitraechtig, Schon jetzt macht ein Markler an der Haltestelle Werbung

Too profitable to leave poor people here. Winstanley Estate as seen from Clapham Junction Station. Photo Daniel Zylbersztajn, (c) 2016 All Rights Reserved

 

Litwinenko Bericht- Litvinenko Report

Am 21. Januar 2016 wurde der Bericht des öffentlichen Untersuchungsausschusses zum Mord Alexander Litwinenko freigegeben. Hier meine Berichte in der taz.

On the 21st of January 2016 the report of the public inquiry regarding the murder of Alexander Litvinenko was released. I of course reported on  it for taz.

Lesen Sie auch  –  Read also:

Daniel Zylbersztajn: Interview Marina Litwinenko www.taz.de/1/archiv/digitaz/artikel/?ressort=sw&dig=2015%2F03%2F06%2Fa0088&cHash=45a58b2fa3df5c725ea1a0c2763f7c6d

In English Please!

Mein Kommentar zu Cameron und seine Englischklassen für Musliminen in Deutsch hier in der Taz  http://www.taz.de/Sprachkurse-fuer-Musliminnen/!5269263/

 

Full English translation of my comment on David Cameron in taz today, just in case some Brits don’t speak other languages:

David Cameron wants to invest 20 Million Pound in order so that Muslim women can learn English. Yes that is right, only women, in fact only Muslim women. And should they come through a family unification to Britain, they will have to have to take language classes within two and half years of arrival.

This is because Cameron believes that these women are not to be integrated without an ability to speak English, and this condition causes radicalisation, FGM and forced marriages.

In fact there are locations in which 20 percent of female migrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh do not speak English. Womens’ organisations confirm that at times this is due to the control of their husbands. But also many non Muslim migrants may have deficits in the English language, and some even think that quite a few Brits by birthright are not in possession of good English.

So it is astonishing that out of all things the budgets of local colleges was highly cut, exactly the places where many learn English, and that since the beginning of the austerity era, 32 organisations who specialised in helping oppressed women , had to shut due to lack of funds.

In many of Cameron’s new measures one can see above all one thing: He is a true Tory, who without a coalition partner finds himself in a situation that is just as socially isolated and who acts just as ignorantly, as apparently these women.

(C )2016 All Rights Reserved with taz.de. Translation Daniel Zylbersztajn