Tuesday 19 September 2017

Irish woman who worked in Grenfell Tower describes 'grim and dingy' conditions

A terrace of houses is seen in front of the Grenfell Tower block that was destroyed in a fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville
A terrace of houses is seen in front of the Grenfell Tower block that was destroyed in a fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Emergency services personnel on top of Grenfell Tower in west London. Photo: Rick Findler/PA Wire
Demonstrators hold up banners during a march in Westminster, following the fire that destroyed The Grenfell Tower block, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
Demonstrators try to enter Kensington Town Hall, during a protest following the fire that destroyed The Grenfell Tower block, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
Extensive damage is seen to the Grenfell Tower block which was destroyed in a disastrous fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Sasha Brady

Irish social worker Siobhan Campbell who worked in Grenfell Tower has described the "grim" state of the building during her time there.

Ms Campbell worked in the social service office on the first floor of Grenfell Tower between 2005 and 2010, specialising in child protection and rehousing families.

She said she was shocked to hear about the London tower blaze and recalled memories of the cramped stairway of the building.

"I woke up Wednesday morning to emails from colleagues I worked with showing me links to the news. I honestly thought London had been attacked again. I just couldn't believe it, it was just horrific looking at it. I immediately thought about people trying to get down that stairway," she told Matt Cooper on Today FM.

"It was, maximum three people wide, concrete block stairway, which was the only external stairway in the whole building.

"It was encased, one side was cement and the other side was a cage. It was a totally enclosed stairway. So for me that was the hardest thing, just imagining people trying to get down those stairs. It was really difficult."

Extensive damage is seen to the Grenfell Tower block which was destroyed in a disastrous fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Extensive damage is seen to the Grenfell Tower block which was destroyed in a disastrous fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Siobhan said that the recent renovations on the building were superficial, made to look good from the outside only.

"It was a very grim kind of building. The renovation just made it look very good from the outside, but the inside was exactly the same. Very grim, very dingy. The stairway was the only one for people to come down during the fire," she said.

She said that most people think of Kensington and Chelsea as an affluent area but it's incredibly diverse. Siobhan described "pockets of deprivation" within the luxury borough that billionaires also call home.

One of her concerns is that survivors of the fire will be ripped away from their community because there is no social housing within that borough.

Demonstrators try to enter Kensington Town Hall, during a protest following the fire that destroyed The Grenfell Tower block, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
Demonstrators try to enter Kensington Town Hall, during a protest following the fire that destroyed The Grenfell Tower block, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Kensington and Chelsea Council said 110 households had been given temporary accommodation by Friday morning, and added that it is working to find more permanent homes.

"When I left Kensington and Chelsea Social Services to return to Ireland in 2013 there was no social housing in Kensington and Chelsea, " Siobhan said.

"I see on the news today that the chances of getting those families rehoused in the borough is minimal. Most of my work was rehousing people in Kensington and Chelsea but there are no social housing in that area so we had to move people to areas in East London and of course we just moved the problems elsewhere."

She added: "All those kids were in the local schools and they're just going to be ripped out of their community and told 'well, we've provided you with alternative accommodation'."

Demonstrators hold up banners during a march in Westminster, following the fire that destroyed The Grenfell Tower block, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
Demonstrators hold up banners during a march in Westminster, following the fire that destroyed The Grenfell Tower block, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

At least 30 people died in the tragic blaze, but that figure is expected to rise substantially. Of the injured, 30 remain in hospital with 15 in a critical condition.

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