Featured Image: Nottingham’s Garden Court North Chambers Barrister Christian Weaver who represented the family of 2 year old Awaab Ishak. Awaab died because the Housing Association he lived in failed to act to remedy mould and damp in their home. How a two year old in 21st century Britain could die from ingesting mould spores in a house unfit for habitation has rocked the nation.
In standing up and speaking out not just for Awaab and his family who came in 2016 from the Sudan of 2015, Christian Weaver is helping weave a new pattern for understanding how private rented, social housing tenants as well as people living in owner occupied properties are part of one diverse and united society. We need to stop thinking that people living in rented housing need to ask a hundred times for things that should be their right.
Mould and damp are problems throughout society, in fact around 14 million people (adults, teenagers, children, babies, older people) live in property that is damp but because we’ve got in the habit in the market society of collecting and dispensing statistics to suit whichever argument we’re presenting, rather than being able to look at the problem and work together to solve like class, race, gender and disability prejudice, damp and future mould is everywhere and we need to fix it.
The reason it’s not addressed is that structural and institutional issues across society are seen as unneccessary expenses to the frictionless operation of profit machines.
Well when a small child dies, though and everyone immediately thinks of Grenfell and the absolute lack of listening, care and priority that those tenants had within the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, how they were effectively ignored, ‘disappeared’ by institutional prejudice that complaints were to ’cause trouble’ by ‘troublemakers’.
The framework management company because of a norm of social exclusion, draw attention to the way everyone communicated, contributed to trying to get people out, to reduce the harm of the fire.
“Through that alleyway were the fire fighters on the ground.
“On the 11th floor there was a woman shouting: Is there anyone coming? We shouted out “Who are you with?” She said “I have a child”.
“They’re in their floor, they’re in a window but they can’t see what we can see on top of them, that building on top of them is red hot”.
“Let someone run through and tell them. They’ve got a matter of minutes before it spreads to her floor”.
‘What I love about the fire fighters was that they weren’t denying the fact that they needed us to communicate with them: because where they were they couldn’t see what we could see’
“See where the light is on the twelfth?”
“Trying to get in”
“See that ..alley.. the window below”
“So you’ve got to direct the water to the window above that floor”
“Alright I’ll get that passed as fast…”
“Through that alley way is the fire fighters on the ground. It was like a chain”.
“There you go water…..yes, yes, yes”.
When you realise what a denial of service actually means, in this case, that even during the Grenfell fire, because the fire fighters had to speak to the residents one person was overjoyed that the firefighters actually spoke to them, asked their advice and listened to them.
People in diverse neighbourhoods across the UK always having to wait, to try again, always wanting to rebuild the broken relationship that was not broken by the tenants it was broken by class and race prejudice and privileged greed.
The same privileged ignorance is at the heart of the inequality of access to services in Rochdale Boroughwide Housing’s failure to respond, to react to Awaab’s parents enquiries and pleas over a very protracted period is part of this systemic race, class, north south way of running things.
Now it’s a change the world issue.
It’s a world we all live in, have experience of and can help to change.
For once it’s not just inside housing, it’s hit the neighbourhoods, it’s connected to what should happen on the site of Grenfell Tower after the Grenfell Inquiry (see also the massive emotional and psychological impact that Grenfell and Covid have had on 18-34 year olds in Brent, Lambeth and Nottinghamshire in Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing’s (MTVH’s) survey of young people’s perception of their future through housing):
We need to make things work for everyone, all the time and then some more. I think that the Grenfell site should, without question, become a new affordable housing community, a 20 minute neighbourhood to commemorate the lost lives and to really give back, to enfranchise the dead and the survivors in a new kind of society.
For Ishak too, there should be a school built for him, or a park and a beautiful home for his brave parents.
As a country we shouldn’t again do what we did to the Lawrence Family after such terrible injustice so much intense pressure that their marriage ended. We should be keeping Mr and Mrs Ishak together and helping them rebuild a decent and happier life so they can eventually plan to have more children. Let’s not let them down. Our country has been run as a free market wild west and it’s destroying so many lives. We need to build the framework of a new kind of service, new kinds of services without hierarchy but with brilliant skills and a willingess to create a better understanding of what the neighbourhood is and can be, how the neighbourhood is the oldest and paradoxically the most transformational unit of the economy: our neighbourhoods need to develop their own unique identities that will reconnect us and the wider world.
We need to see, feel hear our neighbourhoods full of conversation, activity and events. We need to start to tell the stories of people in our neighbourhood and understand how to deliver great services for everyone. It starts with everyone thinking that they want to make things work all the time for everyone.