Grenfell, In the Words of Survivors

I had the pleasure of speaking with the executive directors at London Public Theater a while back, who were bringing Grenfell to St. Ann’s Warehouse. It is finally here. They invited me to see the opening night on Sunday. It is a short run, and I highly recommend getting there before it closes.

If you do not remember, Grenfell was a 24-story public housing building in London that caught fire in 2017, and 72 people lost their lives. This play is similar to a documentary, and based on a book, going back in time, meeting the community, hearing the stories, and understanding how this happened. It was a typical day in their lives.

If you know nothing about how buildings are built, you will have a bit of insight after you leave. Due to lax restrictions and little oversight, the shoddy, flammable products were used to construct this building. The company, of course, thought they could get away with it, although they have yet to be charged. The government takes a long time to process things like this. Today, the building sits empty, with a huge green heart looming over London.

Every time something awful happens and research is done on why, why is it that executives of companies know exactly what they did was wrong but let it go regardless? Each time, human lives are at risk, but was it because it was public housing they didn’t care so much? We have seen this movie too many times.

At least the ex-housing chief, Rock Feilding-Mellen, apologized for the lives “shattered” by fire. He says this will haunt him for the rest of his life. Yet it was not up to the deputy leader and cabinet members to question the information they had, and they believed that the company they were purchasing cladding from would not sell the government products that were a huge fire risk.

The performance is a slow crescendo of the day. We get to know the neighbors and the people, and above all, these people live in public housing and are the backbone of our communities. Anyone living in an urban area, such as NYC or London, to think otherwise, you are fooling yourself. Teachers, public servants, childcare workers, bus drivers, restaurant workers, and I could go on living in public housing, which is the center of our city.

See the play. It was exceptionally well done; it draws you in and will stay with you.