To effectively learn you need both piecemeal and systemic change. But our response to catastrophes tends to be piecemeal. So, in the case of Grenfell, we will alter some regulations and change what products can be used on high rises, and it’s critical we do that.
But will we alter the conditions holding in place our negative bias against social housing, or our continued failure to ensure diversity of representation at board and senior executive level, or our reliance on the myth that regulations guarantee safe outcomes?
‘Making the water visible’ is a first step in enabling systemic change. That is what I attempt to do in the book - to make visible why our failure to learn makes sense.
In terms of how to enable systemic change, this requires disrupting the system, which will demand experimenting, innovating and learning, all of which require a move away from a command and control, rules-based leadership style.
NV: Do you think we will see systemic change in the next decade?
GK: There is little evidence that the kind of bold, courageous, principled leadership needed to enable systemic change is present within key stakeholders, from government to corporates to the housing sector.
The one ray of hope for disruption is residents. We are seeing co-ordinated efforts across the country from those caught up in the building safety crisis. And they will not stop until they see change.
So, perhaps we will, but I don’t believe systemic change will come from within government or industry.
NV: What do you think is achievable in the next 3-5 years?
GK: Well, that would be 7 to 9 years after Grenfell.
I would like to answer this purely from an outcome perspective. It has to be achievable that within this time frame:
People are either
· Living in a knowingly safe home.
· Or if a home is not safe, then clear, affordable and innovative mitigations are in place that ensure residents are, and feel, safe.
And the funding of remediating historic safety issues sits with those who created them, not with innocent leaseholders and residents.
But we are in no way on track for this.
NV: Do you think there is a real desire for change from both the corporate and government worlds?
Commitment and desire for change shows up in outcomes and actions, not in spin or rhetoric. While there are some examples of good practice and change, these tend to be the exception, not the rule.
In four years, we have completed remediation on only 35% of the 455 high rise buildings with ACM cladding (the same as on Grenfell) and we have no national data available on the scale of safety issues faced nationally. We are facing a crisis. We do know that there have been nearly 3,000 applications from private high rise residential buildings for help with other types of dangerous cladding, and we know there are multiple issues with cavity barriers, fire-doors and ventilation systems. I hear estimates that between 25% and 75% of high and medium rise buildings have serious safety issues.
When the government says it’s given an unprecedented 5.1 billion to remediation – that is only for limited work on façade remediation and only for high-rise buildings – estimates range between £15 and 50 billion being needed to remediate historic errors. Where is this money coming from?
That the government and corporate worlds have not come up with a workable solution for funding remediation – and have been willing to leave leaseholders to pay for historic errors is an action that betrays any spin about a commitment to change.
NV: What has your experience of working with Senior Executives been to date?
GK: Well, I’m very fortunate in my work. By the time I’m working with an organisation they are authentically committed to change and understand that their own leadership is critical to that.
So, I have a very positive and very skewed experience of working with Senior Executives.
One where they are willing to look at themselves in the mirror and be bold and courageous in creating environments where people feel safe to raise concerns and willing to invest in correcting systemic issues such as overly burdensome procedures versus simply blaming the front line for errors.
It is a privilege to partner executives who are authentically committed to change.
NV: What has your experience been of working with national government?
GK: Well, until fairly recently at a national level, all I met with was closed doors. I attempted to participate in working groups post-Grenfell but was either politely fobbed off or ignored. That has changed somewhat, probably due to having more of a profile.
It does concern me that there is a very small, elite and closed group of people who are involved in solutions post-Grenfell. And in many cases, they were in positions of power and influence pre-Grenfell. There does not seem to be a welcoming of diverse voices and views.
NV: Do you think enough has been done to engage with residents on necessary political change?
I have been appalled at the consultation process. They are inaccessible, tick-box exercises that I’ve stopped participating in. The same can be said of the numerous surveys done under the guise of gathering residents views.
Why have we not seen the use of citizens forums, or the creation of a national body of residents’ associations? Or trained and paid a cadre of residents to gather the views of their neighbours.
NV: How can residents raise their collective voice?
GK: At a local level, through vibrant residents’ associations. My husband co-chairs ours at Trellick Tower and they are able to put pressure on the council. They work strategically with other resident associations, businesses and organisations to present a united front to drive change when working with the RBKC.
At a national level, join and support those caught up in the cladding scandal and building safety crisis. Whether it be supporting them on twitter or joining a local protest. They have a large presence on twitter.
And follow and support Grenfell United and other organisations calling for justice post-Grenfell.
Also – VOTE! Get more informed and vote. Your voice counts and you have no right to complain if you didn’t.
NV: What key messages would you like to convey from the book?
GK: That our current system is perfectly designed to ensure we won’t learn from catastrophes, from Grenfell to Covid. And relying on government to change is a flawed strategy.
If we’re to disrupt the status quo we need to engage in some different and challenging conversations.
Hope lies in the democratisation of change. In the tiny steps we, as citizens take, every day to move us to a new place. It lies in the green heart on Grenfell and the red hearts on the embankment for the pandemic.