We need to Talk about Grenfell

16 Jun

ESOL is a community, like may others across the country, deeply affected by the Grenfell fire. Many of our students and teachers at English for Action are terrified and heartbroken in equal measure. Nasrine Malik of the Guardian writes that the victims were overwhelmingly migrants, from all parts of the world. Many of them were ESOL students. Our own students in Tower blocks in Tower Hamlets reported being able to see Grenfell burning in the distance. Others couldn’t help but picture themselves and their families when they saw the footage and heard the horrific accounts in the news. One of our students used to live in Grenfell and spent Wednesday scouring the streets for her friend, who still lives there.

How can ESOL teachers support our students and support each other at this time? And how can we channel some of the anger and thirst for change so that some justice can be done?

How can teachers support one another?

At EFA we have a staff Whatsapp Group, which has proved a really effective way to support one another, share experiences and lesson ideas. Sometimes we simply report little things that have happened in our classes, things that have been emotionally difficult or uplifting too of course, and sometimes we ask for help and ideas. It is more accessible than an email group or Facebook group and there are fewer barriers to participation.

Many of our teachers also belong to the ESOL campaign group Action for ESOL, which is another place teachers can share ideas and ask for support. ESOL teachers around the country will be dealing with students’ shock and grief and dealing with their own. We can ask each other for help and what has been effective in classes.

 

How can you deal with these feelings in class?

ESOL classes are really important spaces where people can talk to others about shared concerns and support each other. They are communities in their own right. It is very natural that people will want to talk about what is on their mind. This week that is likely to be Grenfell.

One way to approach it is to ask the class if they saw the horrible news this week/last week. The teacher can then gauge whether people would like to talk or not. It could be a good idea to put people into small groups so they are less exposed. The instruction could be “share some of your feelings in your group. Ask your classmates, “how are you?”.

Then you could board some of these feelings (angry, sad, overwhelmed, devastated, scared, tearful) and tell the group how your feel. Perhaps say you have lots of questions.

Students will probably have lots of questions too and could be good to put students into pairs to write down questions on sticky notes (if they have not developed the literacy skills to do this, they can create them orally and you can scribe them, walking around from pair to pair).

Questions could include:

“why did it happen?”

“who lived there?”

“how many people died?”

“how can we help?”

“what is the council doing?”

“who is responsible?”

When the students have created a lot of questions, you can cluster them as a whole class.  Clusters might have two, three, four or more questions. You can add a title, like “Causes”, “Responses”, “The Future” etc.

The question ‘who is responsible’? is a really important one. You could ask students who the key players are in the Grenfell fire. Students could use their smart phones to get information. Some ideas:

– Kensington Council
– Teresa May/David Cameron
– Housing Minister (Gavin Barwell)
– Minister for Local Government and communities (Eric Pickles and now Savid Sajid Javid)
– Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (managing the block for the council)
– Rydon (contractor who did the £10m refurb)
– Boris Johnson and now Sadiq Khan
Students could write a sentence or two about who each person or body is and why they are responsible. They could rank who they believe to me more responsible.
Here is an article in the Guardian about the complex web of companies involved. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/16/manufacturer-of-cladding-on-grenfell-tower-identified-as-omnis-exteriors?CMP=share_btn_fb

 

It’s really important people know who is responsible for safety of their own houses. ESOL students are overwhelmingly renters and it can be really unclear who is responsible for their housing. Some people don’t know who their landlord is and the system of sub-contraction and housing associations managing council owned-properties is obfuscating (some would argue, deliberately so). Students, could check with their classmates, search on the internet or after class, check with their neighbours and housemates if they are not sure. We checked the website of Tower Hamlets Homes who manage the housing blocks of some of our students in Bow. There is already a statement about Grenfell up on their site:

http://www.towerhamletshomes.org.uk/News/2016/Grenfell_Tower_statement.aspx

There is a contact us page and next week students will prepare some questions they have for Tower Hamlets Homes and send them in during the lesson.

Possible questions:

When was the last risk assessment?

Can we have a fire safety check?

What company supplied the fire doors?

 

How can students take action to improve housing?

EFA have been involved in housing activism for years now. It is consistently one of the biggest priorities for our students (and teachers). In 2015 we organised a housing and ESOL day to explore how housing activists and ESOL teachers and students could work together for housing justice. We have worked really closely with Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth and had some big successes winning improved conditions for many of our students thanks to their support and relentless energy.

Here are some of the ideas our students, teachers and activist friends have had that we can do  to improve housing conditions:

  • Learn about our rights
  • Organise meetings with housemates and neighbours to share concerns and make plans
  • build local housing action groups
  • Stop evictions
  • visit the housing department of the council
  • accompany people to meetings with landlords and councils
  • demonstrate  inside the council
  • occupy buildings
  • Call the council/housing association/landlord to follow up emails
  • Tweet the councils/housing association to publicly shame them into fulfilling their promises or take action

You can ask your class “what action can we take to make our housing safe?” Or, “what action can we take to improve housing conditions”? It’s nice to focus on things we can do and not only things that other people can do, like government or landlords. Not to say that we need to make our own improvements but that action planning can focus on what can we do to force those responsible to act? Ask students to discuss who will do the action, why and when.

One idea that works well is to cut out symbols of action on paper or card and distribute several to students in small groups. One one side they write the action and on the other side why? who? when?

eg. Hold a community meeting to collect questions we have for our housing association

why? We need to get organised

who? Roberta and Aisha with help from neighbours

When? Before the end of June

Please share your ideas and resources with us at English for Action. Please share groups and actions that you are involved in. If Grenfell teaches us anything it is that we cannot trust the government, local authorities and private companies to look after us. We need to organise, learn and take action together to keep ourselves safe and to bring housing justice for all.

 

 

 

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