‘Grenfell had fire, we have floods’: Tenants take legal action against council to fix flood-hit homes
Grade II-listed Kensal House is a mile from Grenfell Tower and is being decimated by floods and sewage leaks. A resident charity has raised £2.6m to carry out emergency works and is joining tenants in accusing the local council of neglect
The 68 flats at Grade II-listed Kensal House in North Kensington, west London, were seen as an example of what social housing could be when they were built in 1937 as one of Britain’s first ‘urban village’ estates.
But residents living in the deteriorating block, originally designed by modernist architect Maxwell Fry, are now taking action to force the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) to carry out works after residents reported serious sewage leaks and damp throughout the building.
A Freedom of Information request submitted by residents found 317 reports of leaks and floods between 2016 and 2022.
SPID (Social Progressive Interconnected Diverse), a theatre company located in the community rooms in the building’s basement, raised a staggering £2.6m in funding to kick off emergency works and restore the property to its former glory.
But renovations were delayed until June 2022, with residents accusing the council of neglect.
Now, they are suing the council to secure compensation and damages for delays. They are also looking to secure a new roof and windows as well as new pipework including a replacement of a lead water piping and a lift for disabled access.
The council told The Big Issue it has agreed a programme of works with residents to “stop leaks happening as often”.
But SPID director Helena Thompson said the shadow of the Grenfell disaster hangs over the row. RBKC was responsible for the refurbishment of the tower, which burned down in 2017, and the High Court ruled last year it was liable for the deaths of four residents in the fire.
“We had floods, they had fires, it could be anyone,” Thompson told The Big Issue. “The rotting building is a metaphor for systemic neglect.”
SPID co-chair Sophia Ollivierre and her son Taevian were displaced from the Lancaster West estate opposite Grenfell following the fire.
Taevian, 13, started attending sessions at SPID following the disaster and Olivierre insisted the theatre company’s work played a big role in boosting his mental wellbeing as well as helping the traumatised community.
“Every session at SPID opens another door for him,” said Olivierre.
“Walking to school was like walking past a graveyard for him after Grenfell but SPID has done more for him than school has.”
Now she is calling for RBKC to carry out works on the building to secure SPID’s future and improve conditions for residents.
She added: “RBKC continue to fail in their statutory duties to Kensal tenants, including SPID and residents. It’s vital we unite to hold them to account. Suing them will ensure they finally fix Kensal’s leaks, floods and damp and compensate all affected tenants. RBKC are currently offering compensation to families like mine over Grenfell so the time is now.”
Former Kensal House tenants Sylvia Akajioyi, another SPID trustee, was rehoused last year after two floods at her flat damaged her husband James’s dialysis machine.
Akajioyi told The Big Issue she spent £12,000 to fix the toilet following the first flood in June 2021 but a repeat of the issue in November of that year damaged the refurbished toilet and left James unable to receive daily treatment for a kidney condition.
“We remember Grenfell, it was not far from my home in Kensal, and it could happen again,” said Akajioyi.
“That is why we are coming out and telling the council to do something now – before it is too late.
“I am grateful to SPID for their support in getting rehoused. It’s down to their legal action that my family no longer live in sewage water. So far the compensation offered us is unacceptable. We need to act together to get justice for what we’ve been through.”
Dan Hawthorn, RBKC executive director for housing and social investment, told The Big Issue discussions with residents were ongoing.
“Kensal House is Grade-II listed and 85 years old. Water pipes are embedded within the concrete floor, which makes finding and repairing leaks particularly hard, and the listed status makes it impossible to replace the pipes across the entire building.
“But of course we must do all we can. We’ve recently agreed with the resident association on a programme of works to help stop leaks happening as often, and we are piloting new ventilation units to help prevent condensation and mould.”