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Safety review underway one year after Samuel Garside House fire

SGHFTags Council

A year ago today (9 June 2020), a major fire ripped through a block of flats in Barking and Dagenham in east London, forcing 79 families to rush to safety.

Miraculously, no one was injured and all of the residents were able to evacuate in time, partly due to the swift actions of London Fire Brigade and partly because the fire’s timing on a Sunday afternoon meant that residents could raise the alarm.

The mixture of privately-owned, part-leased and housing association flats on the Barking Riverside development had timber clad balconies. This meant the fire spread across the whole block in just six minutes.

Today, one year after what could have been a tragedy on a scale similar to Grenfell, the majority of residents have returned to the block. Their homes are being repaired and their balconies are slowly being replaced with a safer, non-flammable material.

But the shock of what happened, and what could have happened, is still fresh in people’s minds.

Leader of the Council, Cllr Darren Rodwell, said: “While we are grateful everyone escaped, it was a traumatic experience that many will never forget.

“Eight families completely lost their homes and that’s not something you can easily recover from. Others lost pets and their life possessions. In the aftermath of the fire, we coordinated a huge response effort.

“We made sure people were not left in hotels by the insurance companies in the weeks that followed, and we commissioned a fire safety inspection. Since then, we have done everything we can to get answers for the residents.

“As always our local community stepped up and rallied together, donating clothing and essential items and raising £20,000 for the families affected.”

The council launched an independent fire safety review, in a bid to better understand what happened in the aftermath of the fire and what needs to change going forward.

Sir Steve Bullock, who is leading the review on behalf of the council, said: “What we’re doing is speaking to residents and all of the different agencies who were involved on the day and in the months afterwards - from the landowners to the developers and the block’s managing agents.

“What’s clear is that with a block which has multiple owners and managing agents, there are lots of players and it’s not clear who is responsible for what, so it falls to the local authority to pick up the pieces even though it does not own the property.”

The review is also calling on evidence from Hackney, Sutton and Bolton Councils, who have all experienced their own major fires in recent years and want to learn lessons.

Set to be published later this year, the review will include a list of recommendations that can be put to central government to ensure local authorities have the powers they need to act on behalf of their residents in such emergencies.

Anyone wishing to contribute to the review can still do so, by completing a short online form or by having an online meeting as the coronavirus pandemic has paused face to face interviews for the foreseeable future. Please email barkingfirereview@lbbd.gov.uk for further information before Monday 22 June 2020.

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