In the critical 24 hours after the fire, it was essential that residents felt that they had a voice, and a set of demands that they embraced to build a pathway back out of the insanity which had so suddenly surrounded and engulfed them.
It was essential that the residents association stepped in and gave them that voice.
On Monday 10 June, the day after the fire, the council granted Pete Mason, the chair of the Barking reach Residents Association, the microphone, at a highly charged meeting organised by the council to discuss the way forward.
He very briefly pointed out that there were new flats already built but unoccupied on the Riverside development which could be put aside for residents. Those that were for London and Quadrant to rent out in the near future should be placed at residents disposal. This was consequently arranged.
He stated that the landlords were responsible and should pay for the removal of the flammable cladding throughout the estate, and not the residents.
He announced that the Residents Association had organised an emergency meeting at the Rivergate centre for that Thursday, the 13 June, and that everybody should come. He also called a meeting of Samuel Garside House residents for the following day, Tuesday 11th June. The residents Association committee itself met on the Wednesday 12th to finalise the resolutions and agenda.
The committee assiduously emailed the various managing agents, developers, landlords and their agents, and made many other arrangements for the day.
On the Tuesday, 11th June, the residents association organised a meeting of Samuel Garside House residents in which their demands were drawn up from scratch, to present to the big residents association meeting on Thursday and from there to the landlords and managing agents.
On 12th June the Architects Journal had already reported that: “Developer ‘highly likely’ to replace wooden balconies after Barking Riverside fire” (https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/news/developer-highly-likely-to-replace-wooden-balconies-after-barking-riverside-fire/10043041.article)
The chair recalls: “Walking down Bastable Avenue after attending the walk in centre on Wednesday 12 June with councillor Cameron Geddes, I met council leader Darren Rodwell and Matt Carpen on their way to the centre. Asked if he would be attending the Residents Association meeting by Cameron Geddes, Rodwell told Geddes that was his (Geddes) job, but then assured me that they, meaning both the council and Barking Riverside Limited, had been in intensive talks with Bellway Homes and that Bellway would attend our meeting with a worked out proposal. I felt he strongly implied the view, without stating it, that Bellway was entirely to blame for the fire, and would be paying the cost.”
On Thursday our meeting convened and there was standing room only for most who came.
Our minutes state:
200+ members, with 150+ signed in
- Pete Mason, chair of Barking Reach Residents Association (BRRA)
- Venilia Amorim, treasurer of Barking Reach Residents Association (BRRA)
- Camilla Sheldon, Office of James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for Housing
- Matt Carpen, managing director at Barking Riverside Limited
- Alex Selsy, regional manager for London at Pinnacle Places
- Ian Gorst, London and South East regional chairman at Bellway Homes
- Eyvind Andresen, head of legal and portfolio services at Homeground
- Hugh McGeever, managing director at Residential Management Group (RMG)
– Tony Hughes, regional director at Southern Housing was invited but was not present
- Nuno Amorim, secretary of Barking Reach Residents Association
- Councillor Bill Turner, London Borough of Barking & Dagenham (LBBD)
- Councillor Cameron Geddes, London Borough of Barking & Dagenham
- PC Gary Jones, Thames Neighbourhood Policing Team
- Simon Garrett, Managing Director, Residential, Mace Ltd
- Case worker for Margaret Hodge MP
- Arnold Tarling, FRICS Surveyor
- Shaun Murphy, Senior Partner, Edwards Duthie and Shamas, Solicitors, with other solicitors from his company
- Helen Pattison, Socialist Party London regional organiser
- Pat Lee, London and Quadrant regional organiser
- Serena Madhvani, assistant headteacher, Riverside School, and Samuel Garside House resident.
The meeting inevitably expressed the anger of the residents. It began with a minutes’s silence for the Grenfell disaster victims. It lasted for three hours. A video of the meeting is shown above.
Despite a willingness on the part of the council, the developers and the builders to rectify the issues without cost to residents, none would accept liability and therefore blame for the fire, apologies were therefore in short supply.
Many impassioned speeches were made by residents who were at that stage lodged in cheap hotels a day at a time, or were even expected to return immediately to the undamaged parts of the building, while the balconies remained in place, if slightly altered with some but by no means all connecting wood removed.
Three resolutions moved by the officers of the Barking Reach Residents Association were discussed line by line in a long process of assessment of the problems facing residents. One was unanimously amended when it was pointed out that the government was also to blame and had not been indicted by the resolution. The resolutions were then passed unanimously.
One key statement in the resolutions is this, from resolution one:
“That Bellway and the others involved in the construction, design and management of the estate were negligent because they failed to address their minds to the obvious risk from the wooden constructed balconies and cladding despite previous concerns raised by residents.”
The resolutions speak for themselves, and repay reading. The more wide ranging conclusions will be touched on in my conclusion.
Bellway Homes presented, or attempted to present, their case for removing the balconies and Barking Riverside Limited presented an overview of undertakings by Bellway to rectify the situation in consultation with and without cost to residents, which undertaking was distributed in letter form earlier that day. It can be concluded from the video that it was the fact that Ian Gorst refused to depart from his script so as to give the apologies and assurances that the residents demanded, that brought the interruptions and outbursts of anger which made it impossible for Mr Gorst to fully present the plans that Bellway had made.