In Brutal Presence: Documenting the Impact of the Grenfell Tower Tragedy
Just over a year ago, on June 14, 2017, a 24-story block of public housing flats in West London’s North Kensington district caught fire, resulting in the tragic death of 74 victims while over 70 others were injured. The name of the building, Grenfell Tower, is now the identifier synonymous with the tragic incident, raising widespread criticism over the city’s standards for low-cost housing.
Leaked emails and reports confirm that after undergoing a major renovation, sprinkler systems were never installed in the housing block, which was also encased in exterior aluminum cladding—a low-budget alternative to zinc . The aluminum panels that were used contained an incredibly flammable polyethylene core, so that when the fire began on the fourth floor, it quickly spread throughout the entire building, continuing to burn for the next 60 hours.
Concerned with the impact that this tragic event has on North Kensington residents, photographer Nicola Muirhead documents the voices of those affected by combining their words with portraits in her series In Brutal Presence. Here she presents a selection of images and stories from the project in order to prevent this tragic event from fading from public consciousness.
The tragedy of Grenfell Tower has awakened the London community to the issues surrounding social housing in the most violent way—and in a broader context—to the negative impacts of gentrification and “regeneration” projects on social inequality in London. The fire of June 14th that consumed almost 80% of the tower block should have been a self-contained incident within that 1970s brutalist structure. Instead, the flames turned into a fireball, helped by the newly fitted cladding placed on the building to “beautify” its appearance for the luxury apartments nearby.
Grenfell Tower’s remains after being engulfed in flames on June 14, 2017, burning for the following 60 hours. © Nicola Muirhead
The severity of this event has left a physical and emotional mark on the community of North Kensington, and many residents have been dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and flashbacks of that terrible day. These nine residents reflect on the event, as well as the many other threats that the council imposed on the community just months before the fire of Grenfell. Regeneration plans were set in motion for the Silchester Estate and Lanacaster Estate of Latimer Road, to be torn down beginning of September 2018. It was the fire at Grenfell that stopped those plans from happening—for now.
Many fear the threat of social cleansing is still in the cards for residents. For decades, the residents and their families have been fighting with the council in an attempt to prevent their lives from being uprooted from the community. This is the reality of social housing in London’s richest borough. The following quotes were collected between June 14th 2017 until the present. They are a resident’s insight into the complexities of housing in North Kensington. It is a story they have lived, and re-lived, for generations in the borough of North Kensington.
This documentary series seeks to highlight their thoughts and perspectives, using interviews and portraiture to narrate the story as they reflect on living within the wealthiest borough of London. It is a chance for the subjects to share their lived experiences—their hopes and fears in this ever-changing reality that is London.
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Source: Lense Culture