Paul Sng’s Invisible Britain is a book of stories that are rarely heard. It is a book about people who are often marginalised in the media, neglected by politicians and ignored within society. Here, Corinne Jones tells her story.
I lived in Grenfell Tower on the 17th floor. It was my first permanent property in 10 years. Everything was temporary before that. I never felt comfortable sleeping in my room. I never thought of a fire, but the silver cladding on the building just reminded me of the Twin Towers. In the night, I used to wake up sometimes just thinking something would happen, and have that panic inside of me.
There was a family on my floor: a mum, dad, sister and two brothers. None of them made it out. The older brother had moved out a few months before because he got married, so it’s just him now. No brothers, no sister, no mum, no dad.
In the week after the fire, we were put in a single hotel room for the four of us for one week. I had to fight to get out of that. I went down to Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council offices on the Friday to complain, and was told to wait until Monday and they would sort it out, which I refused to do. Luckily, I had a good key worker that was able to fight our corner and get us a hotel that had two interconnected double rooms.
We were there for just under six months. There was no kitchen and we didn’t even have a microwave inside the room. It was a pretty expensive hotel, so you’d have some people in there that had money. It just didn’t feel right to be sitting down with people who were on their holidays. We never ate dinner at the hotel, because the food that they cooked wasn’t food that the kids were used to eating. And I had to go to my mum’s house every day after school just so the kids could do their homework.
There are people that are still in hotels. The council told us in November that we could choose a temporary property as long as it’s within a certain price bracket. I chose about 15 properties. Six weeks went by and nothing had happened. So I had to get in touch with a housing minister, after which I received a call from the council to say they’d got keys to a property for me to come and view the following day. I then moved in two days later. That’s what we have to deal with to actually move forward in this situation, because if you just relax and expect them to do their work, they’re not going to. You have to fight with them for everything and keep putting pressure on them.
We moved out of the hotel and into temporary accommodation at the end of November, but we still don’t know where we’re going to live in the long term. In February we were offered a flat I was happy with, and I tentatively accepted it based on fire safety and electrical checks being done. We were meant to move in there in May, but the flat failed the fire safety check. The checks should have been done before we even saw the properties, before they were even offered out to us. It’s like a numbers game, so that they can say ‘We’ve got another family that has accepted a property’. It looks good on their books.
Now we’re back at square one. I’ve got to accept that’s not the house we’re moving into. I’m not sure what’s next, but I want our next move to be permanent. I didn’t even want to move into temporary housing, because I didn’t want to have to go through the rigmarole of moving again.
As much as we can talk about the events of what happened the night of the fire, we are still in a fight. We are still at war. I’ve asked the council what type of training have the senior staff members had? Because it seems like they are not trained to deal with us. Sometimes they take it really personally and I don’t think they should, because we are upset and quite rightly so. A lot of times you can see them not being able to handle the situation in a good way.
The people responsible for the numerous different failings, from the windows that were made out of PVC, to the cladding that had polystyrene in it, need to go to jail. Everything was combustible. And on top of that, they underspent on the whole refurbishment. The senior members in the council were putting pressure on them to make sure that they underspent, in a borough that has the most amounts of money reserves in the whole of Europe. It’s just so insulting. I wish I didn’t have to deal with them at all. But we have no choice.
Invisible Britain: Portraits of Hope and Resilience, edited by Paul Sng is available on the Policy Press website. Order here for £16.00.
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Image Credit: Jenny Lewis