I had a spell a year or so ago of being the Diocesan Emergency Response Officer and it was with horror that I heard about the awful tragedy known as Grenfell Tower. The human tragedy is colossal and it was encouraging to see the way that people rallied round to give practical help for the refugees from the fire. It was good to hear that local churches were in the forefront of extending a hand of compassion.
My job as Diocesan Emergency Response Officer was to be aware of Community Resilience principles and ensure that there was a plan so that in the event of a major catastrophe the churches would be ready to act. I devised a plan and tried to implement it but found considerable inertia. It is one of the age old problems of setting up Resilience plans that the attitude is all too often a metaphorical pat on the head and, “There, there dear boy, it will never happen.” My plan was never rolled out in my time and it sat rusting on the website and gathering dust on the shelf.
Then Shoreham happened. The awful air crash impacted on so many lives and people turned to the churches to seek help and express their emotions and distress. Local churches did a fantastic job, but were snowed under and it was realised that local churches across the diocese needed to be coordinated in the event of catastrophe. The plan was taken out and dusted off, adapted and is now being rolled out across the churches of East and West Sussex, the aim being to be ready, not if something else happens, but when.
Camden Council leader Georgia Gould has said, “The Grenfell fire changes everything.” I hope that is true. Lots of people in official positions are coming out and declaring how terrible it is that cost cutting has led to inadequate standards. It sounds very laudable, but how many of them, politicians and senior leaders have been involved in other similar decisions that impact on the health and wellbeing of people unable to choose not to accept cheap and substandard living conditions? The tragedy is that people need a Grenfell Tower or a Shoreham air disaster before anyone is willing to face up to the need for proper, robust Resilience and safety planning?
Tower blocks are currently being reviewed for safety and works carried out, but in communities and Councils all over there will be countless battles on other issues to protect the vulnerable in our society from politically expedient cost cutting and safety shortcuts that are further disasters waiting to happen. I hope the clarion cry will be, “Remember Grenfell Tower!”