Christian theology knows a bit about limbo – it isn’t a position in which residents of dangerous towers should be left, write bishops Graham Tomlin and David Walker
Talk to people in the North Kensington area and it won’t be long before you encounter a deep sense of betrayal.
The community around Grenfell Tower felt alienated even before the fire, feeling they had little control and say in decisions on housing and the local built environment that affected their everyday lives.
The fire itself, of course, had a seismic impact on the local community, which continues to live with the devastation that hit them on the 14 June 2017.
Yet, even now, nearly two years on, things are not much better.
Grief takes time to take its course, but is complicated when you feel that your brother, mother, aunt or friend died needlessly and that since then nothing much seems to have changed.
Meanwhile, many people still live with anxieties over reports of toxic air and soil in the local neighbourhood, ongoing mental health issues of depression, fear and the difficulty of getting back to normal life.
The public inquiry has paused. Having heard evidence for seven months, since December of last year nothing has happened while the lawyers prepare for the next stage, working through the vast pile of papers and documents related to the fire.
“It is hard to move on with your life while so much remains unresolved, the causes of the fire remain unclear and those responsible for what happened have not been identified”
However understandable the delay, the effect on the bereaved and the survivors is significant. It is hard to move on with your life while so much remains unresolved, the causes of the fire remain unclear and those responsible for what happened have not been identified.
And it is not just the Grenfell community. Across the UK, the cladding that seems to have played a major role in the Grenfell Tower fire was found on nearly 500 buildings, around 170 of them private residential blocks.
Only 10 of these have had their cladding removed.
A stand off between government and private owners, each expecting the other to pay up, has left leaseholders stuck in the middle, with neither government nor freeholders are wanting to foot the bill, waiting for the other to blink first.
While the announcement earlier this month of a fund for aluminium composite material-clad towers was welcome, many blocks have other materials and are therefore not covered. As a result, leaseholders are being presented with bills of up to £80,000 to get rid of the cladding on their buildings, even though it is not their fault that the cladding was there in the first place.
They too are stuck in limbo, unable to pay the bills, yet finding it increasingly stressful to live in a property that feels vulnerable to the same fate as Grenfell.
We are more aware of mental health issues than ever before and both in North Kensington and in residential developments around the UK, this issue is not going away, it is getting worse. Studies suggest higher levels of anxiety, sleeplessness, depression, suicidal thoughts as a result of what is increasingly being called the cladding scandal.
“They too are stuck in limbo, unable to pay the bills, yet finding it increasingly stressful to live in a property that feels vulnerable to the same fate as Grenfell”
Christian theology knows a bit about limbo. Often described as purgatory, it is imagined as a state between life and death, or as Dante put it: “Here may indeed be torment but not death.”
It is not a place to stay for long, not a place of permanence. Yet homes are meant to be places of stability and longevity.
When one of us asked a survivor of Grenfell why the comfortable hotel he had been staying in did not feel like home, his reply was “because it is temporary”. We cannot live for long in limbo, in transitory suspension.
We human beings need hope and a future and cannot live without one. The only obvious solution is for government to set aside a fund to enable the removal of cladding from residential blocks and set a deadline as to when it needs to happen by. Only then will this tragedy begin to find some resolution and people will be enabled to rebuild their lives.
Graham Tomlin, Bishop of Kensington and vice chair of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on Housing, Church and Community; David Walker, Bishop of Manchester and chair of Wythenshawe Community Housing Group
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