The Samuel Garside House fire took place on the 9 June 2019. It spread rapidly and completely destroyed eight flats and damaged many more. Some saw the destruction of all their belongings, including irreplaceable family possessions.
More than 30 families of the 79 dwellings were displaced for many months. More than eight families are still displaced and will not return until more than one year after the fire took place. It is not possible to describe the distress that was engendered by the fire, the dislocation and the trauma.
We promise, as a residents association, that we will not forget.
A Barking Riverside Fire Safety workshop involving Samuel Garside House residents, the Barking Reach Residents Association, Just Space working with the University College London, the British Red Cross, and Phil Murphy, independent fire safety consultant, was held on the 7th June 2021.
The conference followed up on the two inquiries held after the Samuel Garside House fire so far – the one by the council and the one featured on this website, a resident-led Inquiry organised by the Barking Reach Residents Association. The Thames Ward Community Project facilitated and the Barking Reach Residents Association chaired.
The conference revealed the astonishing failures of builders, developers, local authorities and government to safeguard the fire safety of residents.
The purpose of the event was to:
Develop resident-led solutions for fire safety by engaging with residents.
To use the opportunity of the meeting to develop wider community resilience.
To engage with wider partners and stakeholders.
To analyse the two fire enquiries to learn lessons and agree actions.
To research and expand our knowledge on fire safety.
To gain respect for a resident-led approach to fire safety.
To gain recognition for resident’s proactive efforts to bring about additional safety measures.
To bring forward next steps that residents can take action on, such as developing an action plan.
The Community Resilience Programme is supported by Aviva; enabling the British Red Cross and local communities to prepare for, respond to and recover from crisis. Find out more about our partnership, here
Phil Murphy, former firefighter and Fire Safety Enforcement officer, now an independent consultant, presented a slide showing the problems caused by cladding and other failures to keep building fire safe.
“Two years on from the fire and Council and Resident Enquiry what stands out to me is that residents will need to need to put in place our own fire safety action plan.”
This was agreed by all unanimously.
“It is good to see the British Red Cross, University College London and Phil Murphy supporting the solutions residents are proposing. It would be good to have further engagement from the Council and I would like to know what their response is to our resident enquiry and its recommendations. It is admirable that the resident focus is still to propose solutions and not wait for others to act on a fire safety action plan. I want to suggest as an agreed action of this meeting, that members of this group of residents take their solutions and action plan to the council leader and BRL, at the earliest opportunity, because it will genuinely be for the good of all”
This was also agreed unanimously.
British Red Cross Recommendations
That local groups self organise, spread awareness of community needs and assets and clarify who will do what in an emergency.
Use low-cost additional safety equipment eg, fire retardant bedding, matting; home fire safety visits and early referrals from relevant services.
The British Red Cross advised they could supply residents with first aid, mental health and fire marshal training courses and run emergency scenario exercises.
Downloading the “Emergency App”.
Engage in workshops to create emergency plans, map local assets, signpost informational materials and train residents in preparation for a fire.
The outline of these workshops would be:
Workshop 1 would focus on gaining a deeper understanding of the community by assembling contextual information of the community. Tuesday 20th July 6pm-7:30pm.
Workshop 2 would give residents an understanding of the key groups and key people that can help them respond and recover from a fire. Tuesday 14th September 6pm-7:30pm
The final two workshops would cover the actions a community would take in a fire safety action plan. Tuesday 28th September 6pm-7:30pm & Thursday 30th September 6pm-7:30pm.
British Red Cross reflections on working with communities
“In the aftermath of Grenfell one of the biggest operational challenges for BRC was matching volunteers’ skills and capacity with the scale and depth of trauma being experienced by people in the community and leadership on the ground. Ultimately this experience told us that we should have better coordinated with the community and when an emergency happens, we must reach out – from the start – to both the larger local organisations as well as the real grassroots groups. This involvement is key to maintain and strengthen trust with communities through the process of response and recovery. Looking back at this emergency British Red Cross learned that we need to have a much better understanding and connection with communities and grassroots groups.
Parallel to these BRC Learnings, the role of community resilience at the statutory level – in emergency planning, response and recovery has increasingly become a strategic part of Local Authorities’ duties set out in the Civil Contingencies Act (2004). The 2019 Resilience Standards for London specifically included Community Resilience as one of the key assessment areas.
This concept has gathered momentum and a more developed role for communities is highlighted in frameworks such as 2021 London Resilience Partnership Humanitarian Assistance Framework. This framework indicates that local voluntary, community, and faith groups may have a vital part to play in individual and community recovery.”
C-Tech Hush ActiV Grade C Domestic Fire Alarm Kit (HAK/1).
StaySafe Home Fire Safety Kit with Spray.
Drager 5500 Parat Fire Escape Hood.
Phil recommended that we determine appropriate improvements to fire safety measures, based on a Personal Fire Risk Assessment. Click here for details.
In the discussion, the view was expressed that the government was increasingly relaxing and deregulating the building regulations, including the recommendation of “stay put” policies rather than evacuation policies in the case of a fire. The Grenfell tower fire was used as a counter example to the stay put policy.
Barking Reach Residents Association chair Pete Mason said that for decades governments, both Labour and Conservative, had been privatising and cutting the inspection regimes, on the basis that buildings were increasingly built to higher standards and greater safety, while on the contrary, there had been a trend to buildings being built to an increasingly lower standard, with more dangerous, more flammable materials being used, and lacking cavity barriers.
Phil explained that the Grenfell inquiry had found that the invisible poisonous gases carbon monoxide and cyanide had travelled from dwelling to dwelling and killed many of the victims. He raised concerns that having unconnected smoke alarms in each flat is inadequate, because contrary to the assertion in the government guidelines, tests showed that dwellings are not sealed units, there is ingress from outside, so that poisonous gases can kill even before smoke is perceived, even before a family in another dwelling hears the smoke alarm of the dwelling on fire.
We learnt that in 2019-20 there were 36 fires that spread affecting more than two floors, i.e. on average one every 10 days, and that rather than having a proper alarm system and sprinklers in flats, we witness people running from flat to flat banging on doors and banging pots and pans.
Phil explained that unlike the image shown in movies, sprinkler systems do not sprinkle the whole building with water if a single sensor is set off, but on the contrary, they are merely activated at the source. he also suggested that they are not expensive to install, and recommended them for all blocks of flats.
Residents at the meeting were keen to discuss the introduction of sprinkler systems in their blocks, and in all new builds, with a second escape route, schedule a fire emergency trial day and implement safety recommendations in staircases.
The outcome of the meeting – which was attended by more than 20 local residents — was positive, with residents wanting to take part in an actionable list of proposals and keen to meet and engage with relevant stakeholders such as the council and the developer Barking Riverside Limited, but also with other organisations that will be able to assist residents put an action plan in place (such as British Red Cross and University College London).
Residents were keen to engage with the British Red Cross’s series of workshops starting on the Tuesday 20th July 2021 in order to put in place a fire safety action plan.
Put in place a Resident fire safety action plan with the help of the British Red Cross.
Request a formal written response from LBBD and BRL to the resident inquiry.
Request that BRL cease to use housing providers who do not do follow safety requirements, eg Bellway.
A smaller group of residents are to present a fire safety action plan to the BRL board and LBBD.
Building Regulations guidance in Approved Document B, which deals with fire safety, stipulates that external wall constructions should adequately resist the spread of flame.
The wooden balconies did not do that.
The evidence we have presented in this report to our Inquiry demonstrates that residents and the residents association knew the fire risks, the January 2019 fire risk assessment demonstrated it, yet the builders, developers, landlords and their agents Pinnacle and RMG either denied that fire risk or stated that the existing materials conformed to government regulations. This, it seems to us, side-stepped the fact of the real danger revealed clearly by the Grenfell disaster.
As of March 2020, the wooden balconies are in the process of being replaced. Planning permission was approved at the end of 2019 after consultation with residents, which was partially but not entirely successful, a different colour being imposed.
In February 2020, BRL director Matt Carpen had written to the owners of the approximately 233 houses and bungalows with wooden exteriors, stating that work to remove the wood would be discussed with residents in April and alterations would begin later that year. The covid epidemic appears at the time of writing to have cut across that.
At the meeting held by the Barking Reach Residents Association on the 13 June, attended by 200 residents, and those listed in the previous post from government, council, landlords and their managing agents, residents set down in writing their views on the causes of the fire. As stated, two were drawn up by a packed meeting of Samuel Gardside residents held on the Tuesday after the fire.
The resolutions 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.
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.
In the previous section, On the day of the fire, we record that Resident M contacted RMG about a barbeque on the other side of Samuel Garside House, no more than 40 minutes before the fire ignited on the other side of the block.
This shows two things. Firstly that sooner or later, given the wooden structures, a fire was inevitable, whether through stupidity or an accident – a firework, a kitchen fire. This is confirmed by the London Fire Brigade report, which concludes that the fire could have been started by “any small ignition source.”
Fires happen – a fire took place in the 20-floor tower block in which our chair, Pete Mason, lived for over a decade.
On the 3rd May 2019, one month before the fire, on the urging of residents of Samuel Garside house, the Barking Reach Residents Association (BRRA) wrote to Matt Carpen, director of Barking Riverside Limited (BRL).
“Following the BBC Watchdog programme shown at 8pm on Wednesday 1st May, which exposed Bellway for poorly fitted fire barriers (in wall cavities) which will not prevent fires spreading, residents have asked that the houses and flats built by Bellway on the Barking Riverside estate be investigated to see if there are gaps in the fire barriers here also.
On the 18 March 2019, the residents association officers called a “Safety Summit” meeting with Barking Riverside Limited (BRL), London & Quadrant (L&Q), Pinnacle Places and Residential Management Group (RMG) at the BRL office in Fielders Crescent, Barking, due to many concerns about safety on the estate.
Neither the residents or the residents association was notified of the results of the fire risk assessment that was carried out on the 28 January 2019.
“If a balcony does catch fire it should be noted that this will accelerate fire spread through either setting the balcony above alight or through entering the flats through open windows and this will put residents and visitors at risk of smoke inhalation and burn injuries”.
On 14 June 2017, a fire broke out in the 24-storey Grenfell Tower block of flats in North Kensington, West London, causing 72 deaths.
The fire risk to Samuel Garside House and its twin, Ernest Websdale House, was subsequently raised many times by both the residents association and residents. Additionally, 233 houses have wood cladding, and numerous flats have flammable cladding or balcony decking.
The London Fire Brigade report into the Samuel Garside House fire, dated 16 November 2019 and leaked in early May 2020, makes clear that the balconies of that block of flats, at 2 Depass Gardens, Barking Riverside, Barking, Essex, did not perform, when subject to test, to the government regulations requiring them to resist fire spread. The fire which took place in that block of 79 flats, the conclusion states, spread due to the “inherent combustibility” of the materials used in the balcony structure.
The Samuel Garside House fire spread rapidly up and across wooden balconies. In the immediate aftermath of the fire, a meeting of 200 angry residents called by the Barking Reach Residents Association, discussed, amended and then unanimously agreed the following:
“That Bellway and the others involved in the construction 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.”