CategoryCharity Work

Justice for Grenfell, how we helped.

Only a handful of you will know that I have a second line of work. When I’m not looking after and running a skate park and a successful online store, I’m a presenter. My early career in radio, scraping an existence and a living finally blossomed into well paid presenting work in the corporate world. The majority of my presenting work now comes from London and the surrounding area. I love London, not just because of its plentiful work, but also because of the people who live there. I have a mixture of very wealthy and very humble friends in this city, and the one thing that unites them all is the diversity; It’s good to be different.

I love how everyone is accepted and anything goes. You’d walk down the street thinking something looked totally normal, when in fact if you had that same look of fashion, specialised shop, or event going on in another town, or city then it just wouldn’t work.

On Tuesday the 13th of June I had work in London. It was one of the hottest days of the year and I’d stayed over with one of my closest friends. Andy, or my Hertfordshire husband, as he’s also referred to on the count that I used to stay with him more than my actual husband, had put me up for the night. We boarded the train and raced into London. An 8am start in Trafalgar was waiting for me. The day was long and a massive success for our client. After work, Andy collected me from my hotel where I had been working, and we set about finding dinner. Alfresco had to be the tonight’s choice, for the weather was too good to do anything else. Somehow I lost all track of time and found myself driving back home to Wiltshire at 1am, still buzzing off my London experience. London had been too kind and I didn’t want to leave.

The next day a very sleep Diana was greeted with a huge mug of coffee in bed. My wonderful husband knew just how to wake me – this was to be a two-sugar day for sure. Scrolling through Instagram I saw a post by George Clark (Channel fours Restoration Man, to name just one of his many successful TV shows). I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Post, after post of a huge tower block engulfed in flames. This wasn’t a third world country, but London in 2017.

Resembling something out of 9/11 I felt sick as I then started to read the NEWS. Babies being thrown out of windows, people jumping to their death avoiding flames and toxic smoke, families trapped in burning smoked filled rooms, People frantically waving for help from their windows trapped with no way out. This was real life horror. I felt helpless and sick. Like many, I wanted to help and knew I couldn’t. A massive wave of guilt crept over me. I’d had such an amazing time in London while others were suffering. I know it sounds stupid and I wasn’t even close to the fire, but if I had of then I would have been there trying to help. That’s the type of person I am.

So many people sacrificed their lives that night. I read a firemen’s blog from that night. It ripped me apart reading how they had to make split-second decisions on whom and how to save people. If you get the chance please read their story, as it gives you a factual account and insight into how lives were saved that night, and how deadly the condition were fought.

My day just dragged at work as I kept this wave of guilt hanging over me. I decided I needed to do something and with the help from my staff we set up a donation station at the ATBShop Skate Warehouse (our little indoor skate park in Swindon). I urged people to give what they could in the form of clothes, food, and toiletries. I asked people to donate on the official ‘Just Giving” site if they wanted to donate money. I called our extreme sports community via social media asking for help and support and they answered. In fact, the BBC even called to interview ATBShop on our efforts.

Generous families from all walks of life supported our cause. Children’s designer clothes with tags still on, a huge mixture of food, toys still in their boxes, fresh toiletries and bags more of much-needed aid arrived. The news changed explaining that Grenfell Tower had been overwhelmed with donations and wasn’t accepting more aid. Luckily, we had stated from the start anything unwanted would go to the Prospect Hospice in Swindon – another amazing worthwhile cause! I think people just wanted to feel as if they had helped. Like me, they had watched the NEWS and were moved. The giving of these donations almost felt like therapy.

Finally, Saturday evening came, when we were to drive down to London with the collected aid. Our vehicle loaded with more than just emotion, we ventured into London to help support the victims of the fire.

As we drove ever closer to Kensington, through a break in the London skyline, we could see the tower for the first time as we came off at a roundabout near to Kensington. Our Satnav still voicing out directions, and still a good 15 minutes away from the location, we felt numb at the sight.

The grim remains of a charred building seemed to stand almost alone in the London summer red sky. Thinking back now, I wouldn’t have even have recalled if there were any other buildings surrounding Grenfell Tower, as your eyes drew onto this now iconic building, which stood like a burnt out car.

Hollowed out, with its chard remains, the crimson evening sky pierced through the now dark brown tower. A skeleton of the skyline is the only way to describe this building. The beautiful summer dusk light shone where every windowpane once stood, acting as a chilling reminder of nights past. Forget what you’ve seen in the NEWS, nothing could prepare you for this sight.

We parked and started to walk towards the tower. Worlds apart we walked past a mixture of council houses, and houses that we knew would cost millions to live in. It’s reported that flat prices in this area fetch on average £1.3 million, so when you hear Grenfell Tower had over 120 flats inside, your thoughts on how much a private block would fetch on that site sends a chill down your spine. I remembered by husband saying… “Just wait until they demolish that building and put up luxury apartments.” I dumbfounded replied that there would be a massive outcry if that was to ever happen. Stuart then said “They are selling off the NHS at the moment and no one cares. Give it a few years and this will be sold off for private land.” I knew he was right. Government’s are clever like that.

The closer we walked, the more somber the atmosphere became. For such a noisy city, the silence was almost deafening. Voices so quiet and softly spoken were all that you could hear through the heat of this London evening. Missing signs seemed to lead us to the tower – attached to fences, phone boxes, doors, post boxes and photo booths. In fact, there was no space left uncovered. Any surface area an A4 photocopied a piece of paper could be stuck to, there was a photo or a handwritten note attached.

Walking further into North Kensington you could see piles of makeshift shrines laid scattered around the area paying tribute to friends, family, and strangers. Doorways were full of flowers and cards; walkways were lit by candles and decorated with handwritten messages. Mountains of toys piles high in tribute to children lost in the fire just broke my heart. I reached for my husband’s hand – he just held my hand tighter as we walked in closer past the cordoned off police area in front of us. Taped off access only to the surrounding flats prevented us walking any closer in.

We ventured around and onto station walk where masses of people gathered like a congregation on the street. Everyone looked lost; this was a community still in shock wondering around, searching for answers. A man with a drum started to play. A few taps in he would stop. The music just wouldn’t come. There just wasn’t a tone for the sober mood, which shadowed over the street where we all stood like a grey cloud.

I lit a tea light; I offered more to strangers who stood staring in disbelief. It may sound silly, but I had this sense of just being there was helping. This community wanted to know people cared as they grieved and waited for answers. We all came to their side, to show our love and support in the only way we could. It didn’t feel much, but it felt as if it helped.

Suddenly a group of talented children began to play violins. “Near, my God, to me” played flawlessly by these children, who seemed to pull a crowd of lost souls together. Everyone stood together united in grief. Some recorded them on their phones; others rocked their children in their arms. Hearing and watching the children play crusted me. This was the song used in the Titanic film as the last song played before the ship sank. For everyone who stood there watching this was raw emotion finally tuned.

As you walked further in, all walks of life pulled together handing out food and drink from all sides of the road. From biscuits on a tray, to fully cooked hot meals, it was all free to anyone and everyone. Makeshift picnic areas loving laid out on the floor for all. This was a caring community responding to a disaster with a lack of government help.

There were no charity’s branded volunteers, or government officials, just ordinary people piecing a broken community back together the best way they could.

This multicultural, gathering of faith, race, and society saw first hand, was breathtakingly beautiful in light of such a horrendous tragedy. The kindness hit you like a bullet, making you want to hug and thank everyone you saw for their kind efforts.

Reading the walls of comments, half filled with anger and half filled with sorrow, it had everyone thinking about how this fire could have happened in such a developed, sophisticated country? There are just so many factors to take into consideration. This small kitchen fire should have never ended this way.

Firstly was there a fire alarm, and if so was it loud enough and did people hear?

One of my firefighter friends asked how many of us hear a fire alarm when we are out and about and think nothing of it? I know recently I’ve been to the hospital for treatment and have heard an alarm go off several times and thought nothing of it. If you lived in a tower block and heard an alarm would you react and rush out or just think “kids” if it was in the early hours of the morning?

Was it true fire crews couldn’t get close enough to the building? They were there it’s been reported in under 6 minutes from the first call, but many reports explain how fire crews struggled to get onto the site, due to narrow gates and cars badly parked.

We are also discovering that gas pipes, apparently were laid to the entrance of the building and had been reported several times as a safety concern. As a building with only one shared exit and entrance – this does raise serious safety concerns.

What about the “Stay Put Policy”. One thing for sure, we learned nothing from the 6 people who tragically lost their lives in the 2009 fatal fire in Lakanal House, South London – another council run block of flats. This “Stay Put Policy” only works where flats are contained and fire safety is carried out to it’s very best. Yes, it is maybe for the best if a flat is correctly fitted with fire safety doors and the correct amount of “fireline” board – that residents stay in their flats until fire crews can get to them safely and out of a building without any injury. No one wants people hurt trying to escape causing more distraction away from putting out a raging fire. However, badly fitted insulation, and dangerous cladding just gives no one a sporting chance, along with a lack of fire doors and fireline board.

Although there are so many hindering factors to how so many people died from such a small fire, for me the cladding of the building had to be at blame. Every firefighter I know said the same thing. The building fire just spread too quickly – like nothing they’ve ever seen.

It has been widely reported that the fire crews put out the original fire, but somehow the cladding caught and then spread the fire up and outside of the building.

In the first few days’ reports came to light stating that the cladding was 100% safe, despite chunks of burning insulation raining down on Kensington. The cladding, however, had been signed off by a fire expert team, so should have been safe. The focus shifted quickly to how the cladding was fitted. Could too much of a gap be to blamed? All of the corporate companies involved in the 10 million pound refurbishment raced round to pass the blame.

Residents annoyed that they were told cladding designed to help “insulate” the building could now have been the sole reason why so many died. Listening to residents, they felt cheated as the main reason behind the cladding was more for aesthetics, rather than energy saving. Who would, after all, want to overlook a block of 60’s styled run down flats when they’d just paid over a million pounds to live in the area. Kensington council said that the cladding was mainly designed to save residents money on their heating, but if you’d believe that then you’d believe anything.

Angry signs and banners littered the surrounding areas to the tower demanding justice and answers. “Tories have blood on their hands” read one signed. Angry residents asking why a private limited company, who appeared not to care, could be left in charge of so many lives; This is government privatisation at its very worst, and with more privatisation on the Tory horizon, no one stands a chance.

Several blog posts explaining and outlining dangers had been met with threatening legal letters from the private company in charge of Grenfell. KCTMO legal team explained legal action would follow if more slanderous comments were made on social media. I can’t help but hope these people are held accountable and brought to justice in this soon to be very complex legal case of corporate manslaughter. The fact that the former Conservative housing minister, Gavin Barwell apparently delayed a fire safety review for four years on the Grenfell Tower, just adds to the fact that the Conservative party had failed these people over and over.

Did you know a fire sprinkler system would cost just under £140k to install? Yes, you may think that’s a lot of money – but not when you think they had just spent around 10 million on making the building look nicer, you realise that 140k is nothing. After reading up on sprinkler systems, I found that it is very unusual for anyone to die in a building fitted with them, and pretty much unheard of that double figured deaths have accrued. With all this in mind, you have to ask yourself why were they not fitted as standard in large buildings, regardless of age?

Nicolas Paget- Brown, the Conservative council leader, said with all the renovation work being carried out on the building, that residents didn’t want any more disturbances. Yet there is no evidence of any such discussions between the council and the residents apparently. I personally can’t see GAG – Grenfell Action Group, turning down sprinklers after they had been reporting fire concerns since 2013.

Apparently, there’s been no fire report in the last four years even though GAG had expressed concerns that fire equipment was out of date and that fire extinguisher equipment had been condemned and that rubbish was building up in stairwells.

It’s also not well known that a Kensington council amassed 274 million after years of underspending, yet decided to give a £100 refund to all their top rated council tax payers. That massive amount of money could have gone into retrofitting such safety devices, which would have saved lives. This is North Kensington looking after their elite and not their most venerable.

Our drive back home after what felt like a pilgrimage to London left us thinking about everything. There are so many unanswered questions, and the first one being that no one knows to this day how many died in that building. I heard a lady stood “waiting” for news explaining that her sister was in the tower on a baby shower that evening. How many others were at that party? There’s other unconfirmed news that hundreds are still unaccounted for, yet the media said it will be less than 100? A family of five recently turned up unharmed and unaware of all the drama, which they’d caused, but where are the others? Lilly Alan famously ranted to Jon Snow, live on Channel Four NEWS that far more were missing than first thought for; yet the media downplayed the true scale of this horror.

The residents still complained openly during our visit that the media wasn’t giving a fair and balanced account of what happened that night and how many were thought to be dead. The math just isn’t right and the likes of Lilly Allan aren’t having any of it and are publicly standing up for those with no voice.

The media lapped up this NEWS story for days after the fire, twisting and exploiting ever piece of factual evidence to sell papers. Take the fireman’s helmet, which went viral. Everyone’s first thought was that the fireman had written his name on his helmet for identification purposes.

“You know it is not going to be good when you are told to write your name on your helmet before you go in.”

Everyone’s first thoughts were that the firefighters could now be identified from their helmets if things went really bad inside the building, and you know that’s how the papers were going to play it. However, the facts were that around 200 fire persons were needed that day, which was horrendous, and the point the fireman was trying to make – In other words “You know it’s going to be bad if 200 firefighters are here. ” The fact that they had all been asked to write their names on their helmets was so when they were on break they could identify their kit quickly for when they had to go back in. That’s why it was a first name written and not their last name. However, the media dramatised the events, which famously backfired on Twitter.

If the media can make you believe one thing then they can make you believe anything. Newspapers and media groups associated with the Tory party had already been kicked out of Grenfell for poor NEWS coverage by angry residents. You only have to read blogs and social media to get a real feel for how bad the NEWS coverage really was that night and thereafter.

Looking forward, it’s going to be hard to prove commercial manslaughter, and hold those only interested in profit to account. You only have to look at cases such as the Zeebrugge ferry disaster, to realise big companies can get away with literal murder. We must hope that this inquiry doesn’t drag into years, like the Hillsborough disaster. People forget, and the public will lose interest, and those murdered will be forgotten. This has to be acted on and kept in the public eye. So far the residents have complained of very little support – which was so beautifully orchestrated by Tressa May last week. If our very own Prime Mister can’t sort her act out over safety concerns to meet with victims, then what hope do we have?

I did like the meme that followed, where the queen ask Ms May to hold her crown – “She’s going in.” It is nuts to think that Prince William and the Queen can go into Grenfell along with the likes of top celebrity’s and Mr. Corbyn, yet May couldn’t. This Tory government appears to be a disgrace before, and now after the fire.

All we can hope now is that a transparent investigation can take place and that vital lessons can be learned from this disaster. Already fire checks have been carried out on several buildings which are now deemed to be unsafe. Like a ticking time bomb residents across the country have now been warned to evacuate, displacing lives and families. The effects of Grenfell to its victims and potential victims represent something of a war stricken community in its self. We talk about cuts and austerity, but these cuts have cost the country more than just millions its cost lives which you can’t put a price on.

With various politicians now backtracking on huge safety policies and legislation, can we really trust those in power to hold a proper investigation? Only one person has so far resigned over this disaster where many more really should have gone. Only time will tell if justice will prevail.

Thank you for reading my blog. I’ve only skimmed over the huge complexity and touched on parts of significant interest in this disaster because I felt, like many that Grenfell needed a voice. If you to want to help then please keep supporting Grenfell by writing letters to your local MP’s about fire safety so we can get a change in legislation, which can save lives.

Domino’s Urban Rider Games the reason why?

The Domino’s Urban Riders Games – I get asked a lot why we put on events at the ATBShop Warehouse, when they so obviously fail to make any money?

My reply: ”Sometimes it’s not about the money.” – Cliché?

Stuart and I both own and manage ATBShop and ATBShop Skate Warehouse. We haven’t any biological children but owning a unique business like ATB’ makes us feel like we do. A lot of things happen at the warehouse for the kids where parents comment, “You’ll never be a millionaires”. But in a way we feel richer in our lives for these gestures. I know it’s cheesy, and a little bit of sick has probably just come up in your mouth reading this, but we’ve always been like it.

I met a group of youths – or as I like to call them “Lost boys” who were living in a hedge. Yes, you just read that correctly a hedge. It was only last year (2015) that I some how discovered that these three youths were living in a hedge by the side of a busy Swindon Road. Bruce Street Bridges seemed to be the “Bain” of every Swindon driver’s life as the road works destroyed Swindon’s transport network, but to these three young people Bruce Street Bridges was home. They had zero money, no parents or family to fall back on, just a tent and some extreme sports equipment. One was a skater, one was a scooter rider and the other a BMX rider. It’s important to know these are not bad kids, just people who have found themselves in a bad situation.

It was so cold when I discovered them. When I say cold, I actually mean freezing; One day the temp’ fell below zero. They felt failed and betrayed by everyone and were barley keeping a job down between them. Huddled round an open fire made from pallets from the industrial estate they told me, the local council had offered little help. It was hard for the council, as Swindon has a severe homeless problem and housing was and is still short. Being young fit males made them nearly invisible on the long list of emergency housing for Swindon.

The youngest who wasn’t even 18 would have been chucked into some youth housing, but his loyalty to his other new found brothers made him want to stay living in the third would country conditions that was a Swindon ditch. I kid you not, their home looked worst than a Syrian refugee camp. At least at a refugee camp they would have had members of the red cross piecing back their life back together, not a crazy woman from ATBShop and a few kind people from Street Games – An organisation set up to help underprivileged youths in sport. We were far from qualified for this role.

These three lads 12 months on with a little help have a new life but the bottom line was that the “Oasis Skate Park” became a sanctuary to them and their friends when they all had nothing to do and no where to go.

For people not familiar with Swindon’s terrible but iconic landmark – “The Oasis Skate Park” is a metal skate park in dilapidation, built at the back of Swindon’s famous “Oasis Sports Centre”. Sadly this haven where no one judges your back ground – just your tricks and riding style is set to be taken away from these youths and other fellow riders in a recent set of plans from developers. The new owners of the site plan to replace the skate park with a grassy seating area.

For some of you wondering why we would ever want to save such a rubbish part of Swindon, then I ask you where will these young people go? Its more than just a hang out, it’s a second home and a place to exercise and socialise without bothering anyone but fellow riders. When these kids had nothing, the skate park offered them everything. It’s been this way for 30 years.

Stuart and I with a massive team including our generous sponsor Domino’s Swindon, put on a huge event annually to show case this “urban raw talent” that has evolved from such free spaces as the Oasis. This event is about showing Swindon what these spaces can achieve and whose life’s they will be effecting if they are removed.

They funny thing is when I started the Change.org campaign to protect this site for further generation, most were happy to sign but there were some very ill educated people who said level it who were in fact riders themselves. I hope they read this and see why I, and so many others feel so passionate about this site.
Financially the Oasis skate park is competition for ATBShop Skate Warehouse but for me personally it’s so much more.

Friday the 8th of April 2016 marks the second years of the Urban Rider Games or as it’s now known now – The Domino’s Urban Rider Games.

As they say “Actions Speak Loader Than Words.” And yes they do. This Friday we shall show Swindon there is a need to keep these places alive and funded, that there is a particular need to keep this space active for all to enjoy, rich or poor.

Without this space those kids wouldn’t have the friends they have and wouldn’t have found their new way to a better life. Two will be competing this Friday in the Games and we wish them the best of lucky.

Lets just hope the council wake up and save this special space and improve it for future generations.

https://www.change.org/p/swindon-swindon-borough-council-swindon-borough-council-save-our-free-outdoor-skatepark-at-the-oasis