Weak leadership at the Kensington and Chelsea council meant the local community had to step in and “fill the void” in the wake of the Grenfell disaster, a report has found.
The local authority was slow to provide direction and information, the report from Muslim Aid, published on Wednesday, says, meaning volunteers were “on the front line” and had to act swiftly to distribute food, donations, cash and provide support to those affected by the devastating blaze.
The head of Muslim Aid, Jehangir Malik, said: “I would have expected this chaos in a developing country, because almost always there is poor infrastructure. I honestly thought we had better disaster preparedness and response systems here in the UK. ”
He added that the “spirit of humanitarian action” by local organisations, businesses and volunteers “filled the void where there was a lack of official direction, coordination and information.”
The report said that in the first chaotic days and weeks, “there were examples of timely, effective action, much of it from local organisations with no experience or training in emergency response, complemented at times by key expertise from outside.”
The study of the response was launched in partnership with many local organisations and religious groups who provided key support to survivors in the aftermath of the fire, which killed 72 people.
The organisations include the Al Manaar Cultural Heritage Centre and mosque, the Clement James Centre, Notting Hill Methodist Church and the Rugby Portobello Trust – all of which are located near the charred remains of the 24-storey tower.
The report says it would be easy to dismiss Grenfell as a “one-off, compounded by the failings of a particularly flawed local authority”.
But it adds that “there are aspects that could play out again at a time when the frequency of disasters in the UK is likely to increase due to climate change, vulnerability to terror attacks and the inherent risks of life in crowded, unequal cities”.
The report offers a number of recommendations for helping UK disaster preparedness.
Draw on local capacities: In a major, complex disaster, local secular and faith organisations can draw on their local rootedness to act quickly and sensitively in line with the needs of communities they understand.
Context matters: Disaster response systems, behaviours and interventions all need to be tailored to the varying local socio-economic and cultural dynamics in the short and longer term.
Embrace diversity within emergency response: Diverse communities need to receive support that is sensitive to their varying needs.
Strengthen coordination: More effective mechanisms need to be developed, both by the voluntary sector itself and governmental authorities, to better harness the collective capabilities of the voluntary sector, including those offered by faith organisations, in emergency response.
Act and speak out: the voluntary sector needs to strike the right balance between practical action and finding different ways of speaking out in support of the needs and rights of the people who are affected.
Peter Herbert, from Lawyers4Grenfell, said there was a “race dynamic” in the way in which the council reacted to the disaster, echoing concerns raised in the Muslim Aid report that authorities did not know how to work with the local community.
“The aftermath proved that, actually, this borough was ill-equipped to deal with this community and have been for many years,” he told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme on Wednesday.
Kensington and Chelsea council and central government have received widespread criticism for their response to the aftermath of the fire, with many in the community telling HuffPost UK at the time that they had to take matters into their own hands to support one another.
Kensington and Chelsea council said it would not be appropriate to comment while the inquiry is ongoing.
A spokesperson added: “We are committed to learning the lessons from the Grenfell tragedy and therefore we welcome this report as part of the learning process.”