Community Cohesion – Part 2

18 Jun

‘Sombre’ was the word chosen this week by Her Majesty to describe the UK’s mood following the awful fire tragedy in West London.

Once again the media lauded heroic responses and the generosity of the wider public towards those shattered families who have lost everything.

Once again great community strength was exposed – and this time, sadly, evidenced by their repeated well-documented warnings of a disaster waiting to happen.

 

But, this disaster was very different.

After the Westminster Bridge car rampage, the bomb in Manchester, a terrorist arrest in Whitehall and the Borough Market/London Bridge van and knife rampage , this week’s consuming fire was  entirely of our own national making with no reason/excuse to attribute blame to some other malignant force.

This disaster was also very different in its aftermath.

Whereas in Manchester the local leadership response was strong and immediate (and in Central London we marvelled at the 8-minute incident closure) local citizens and the media have rounded on the apparent lack of Governmental and Local leadership actions.  The entire incident – from cause to conclusion – is raising fundamental questions.

Government Ministers, past and present, (and property-owning politicians with Landlord interests who voted against regulations on ‘fitness for habitation’) cannot escape or avoid deeper examination.  Those who happily presided over the debilitating drive to cut costs and reduce Local Authorities to mere agencies for the delivery of top-down austerity will be held to account.  As MP David Lamy said, we must now ask if the post-Thatcher shift away from public duty and towards private profit in the name of ‘efficiency’ requires us now to consider if the nation still believes in a welfare state with a safety net for citizens who fall on hard times.

The underlying design story is still unfolding – not least the marginal capital expenditure savings in chosing the cheapest building materials, the lack of sprinkler systems and alternative escape routes – but, beyond the physical, design failures in local empowerment and national democratic accountability cannot now be overlooked.

There are many factors that contribute to community well-being.   One of those is Resilience – particularly the preparedness for unexpected disasters.  From around the world, most of the examples of  Resilience programmes stem from ‘natural’ disasters – floods, tsunamis, earthquakes and wildfires.  But Resilience needs also to be present in systemic design of administration and governance.  The plight of ‘I Daniel Blake’ and a thousand other cuts to dignity imposed in thrall of efficient markets and a demonisation of local leadership has been exposed for its rampant retreat from the societal values that most of us hold dear.  Deep down, naively perhaps, we do not expect leaders to lead us astray.

Not surprisingly local people in West London are now angry.  They are now moving beyond the instinctive community-led support for their neighbours and re-examining these fundamental questions.

A week is a long time in politics.  The recovery from this dreadful week will take years.  It will demand new leadership at all levels of society.  In that process there will be a great deal of learning – and it is in that reflection, as a nation, we may find some redemption.

‘Sombre’ has more than a hint of thoughtful silent sadness.  The mourning process must be sober.  A national get-well plan is urgently required.

___________________

See also earlier blog:  Community Cohesion – 28th May 

Picture source: BBC

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2 Responses to “Community Cohesion – Part 2”

  1. walterwillcox June 18, 2017 at 2:58 pm #

    A erudite summary of our sad situation. Perhaps we should consider what we can expect of local authorities and Government. Manchester demonstrated how we can cope with an expected incident even if the detail was unknown. London Bridge demonstrated a similar reaction particularly with the quite astonishing elimination time – that included a “hero” who pointed the police response vehicles directly to the perpetrators.

    An unexpected fire with unplanned ferocity is a different matter so it is not surprising that the community feels isolated and not properly informed by bewildered Local Authority staff.

    Politicians may set up what they consider are sufficient resources until an unprecedented event occurs and are now attempting to defend themselves against blame whilst making unconsidered immediate solutions. Adding sprinklers to a building with similar cladding would be time-consuming, expensive and probably nearly useless.

    A public enquiry should be welcomed BUT certainly not before far more urgent matters are implemented immediately. The nation cannot afford to leave a potential fire bomb unattended.

    All residents of similar structures require cheap remedial actions immediately. E.g. Smoke hoods for every occupant including spares. Fire wardens on all floors able to inter-communicate possibly by mobile phones with evacuation instructions, stand-alone smoke detectors at every passageway point etc. etc. Every flat must be visited regularly to improve fire prevention awareness and evacuation training.

    In the medium term a more resilient evacuation design should be implemented. Perhaps a counter-ballanced rotatable “lollipop” roof-top helipad to swing clear of the smoke and fumes designed to evacuate perhaps the top third of the building. Self-returning zip wires perhaps on every other floor to adjacent high-rise buildings or new escape towers in at least four directions.

    In the longer term the removal of all similar cladding possibly to be replaced with far higher fire-resistant specification materials is required.

    We cannot avoid the use of high-rise buildings in large urban areas but there is no question that a great deal more careful design, and re-design, is urgently required.

    • GroupeIntellex June 18, 2017 at 3:11 pm #

      Thanks Walter for your well-considered comments – I must update you ASAP on our great opportunity with the 2018 ICF Global Summit.

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