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Bristol tower block residents win fire safety campaign

Bristol City Council has committed to spend more than £22.3m improving fire safety and to install sprinklers in all council tower blocks in Bristol after campaigning from tower block residents and members of ACORN.

At about 2am on 25th September 2022, a fire broke out on the 16th (top) floor of council block Twinnell House in Easton, Bristol. About 90 residents were evacuated. Abdul Jabar Oryakhel died trying to escape the fire. He was seeking asylum from Afghanistan and was a married father of seven.

Residents reported smoke alarms in Twinnell House hadn't been working properly & they'd been woken by neighbours and police knocking doors. The
council announced the fire was started by an electric bike & fire doors and alarms 'worked as expected.'

Soon after, ACORN started doorknocking and talking to residents and quickly found that they were feeling angry & frightened. We spoke with Ahmed who had been to several meetings with the council but felt it seemed like a 'tick-box exercise,' and that the council was evading responsibility.
Residents were not prepared to sit around waiting for another Grenfell. They signed up to ACORN, agreed a set of demands and formed the Bristol Towers United: Fire Safety Now! campaign.
In every block people signed up to be part of the campaign, flyering, knocking over a thousand doors and having conversations with their neighbours.
We invited the mayor to an accountability meeting. He didn't bother to respond to our invitation, let alone attend, but with residents there to share their experiences and demands, and the press there to listen, the meeting went ahead. 
We heard residents recall fleeing the fire in fear, now terrified to return to Twinnell House. There was anger for historic tower block neglect and now feeling ignored.

Twinnell House resident and ACORN member Selma Muuse lives in a flat with her autistic son on the top floor of the tower. The fire broke out in the middle of the night, in a neighbouring flat, and she had to run from the top floor carrying her son, to escape. 

“I am traumatised by what happened. My son is traumatised. He has autism and since the fire and all the moving around, his wellbeing and his emotional state have not been good”. Selma describes council treatment of her and her son since as adding “trauma after trauma”. 
On the 20th of October, there was another serious fire, this time at Eccleston House in Barton Hill, leaving some residents injured, and many residents reporting they were traumatised and distressed by a sense that the council were not taking action in response.
Eccleston House resident and ACORN Bristol member, Sanna Rhone, said “The fire has added further stress and strain to my normal everyday life. I have had to have time off work. My home doesn’t even feel like my home anymore... I joined ACORN because I feel they can evoke change and give normal people a voice because we don’t feel heard.” 

Amran Arab, mother, ACORN member and Corbett House resident added, “As a mother of an autistic daughter, living in a tower block, I always have extra anxiety around fire safety. Disabled people, many physically and elderly individuals are put higher up which compromises their safety. It is about time Bristol City Council looks after their most vulnerable tenants! This ACORN campaign has given me the platform I need to voice all my concerns and I would encourage every Bristolian to get behind it as we all have families, friends, colleagues, students, patients, clients and many more living in such accommodation. Let’s keep the pressure on!” 
Since the accountability meeting, members continued knocking on our neighbours’ doors and holding regular meetings to plan the campaign. We delivered our demands to the council, put pressure on council representatives at public meetings, and planned a community vigil at Twinnell House to mark 2 months
since the fire and the death of Abdul Jabar. 
Just a few days before the vigil was to take place at the end of November, we got news of a huge win – the council accepted every one of the campaign’s demands!

As a result of this campaign, the council has committed to:

  • add 24/7 fire wardens into 27 additional blocks (making it 38 in total) 
  • publish fire safety check for all blocks and make them public
  • install sprinklers in all council high-rise blocks in Bristol
This is a huge win for our tower block residents. Waking watches are now active in 38 Bristol blocks, fire risk assessments were
published as we demanded, and the council has formally approved £22.3 million of funding for these fire safety measures, as well as committing to
approve further funding for the sprinklers in every council tower block in Bristol.
The game has changed since the community got together with ACORN, we have seen real commitments from the council that are dreams come true for many tower residents. It’s amazing” said Ahmed Sharif, ACORN member and resident of Twinnell House.

“It shouldn't have taken this long or needed to turn into a battle for the council as well as the mayor to see common sense and stick to promises made in 2019 post Grenfell but we're ecstatic our collective voice, along with the backing and support of ACORN, has been heard and finally action is being taken to make buildings safe. Families and their loved ones can now sleep easy." Shaban Ali, ACORN member and Barton House resident.

This win is down to the resilience and hard campaigning of Bristol's tower block residents and ACORN members. There comes a time when acceptance is no longer an option; that's when we come together & fight. We won't stop until sprinklers are fitted in every Bristol block!
To find out more, read this series of twitter posts describing the win, which includes some videos from members and links to press.

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