Bristol City Council has committed to increased fire safety measures for the majority of the city’s tower blocks after campaigning from tower block residents and members of ACORN. This follows a fire in Twinnell House on 25th September in which Abdul Jabar Oryakhel sadly lost his life.
Firefighters at Butler House, Bristol. Credit: Dave Betts, Bristol Live.
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”. Muuse describes council treatment of her and her son since as adding “trauma after trauma”.
There have been further fires at Eccleston House and Barton House, 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 [at Eccleston House] 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.”
Since the tragedy, residents of Twinnell House and other tower blocks in the BS5 area have been getting organised with community union, ACORN, launching a campaign to highlight their concerns of inadequate fire safety in the tower blocks and demanding action from the council.
Residents in every block in the area have signed up to be part of the campaign, flyering, knocking over a thousand doors and having conversations with their neighbours.
On Thursday 13th October, residents organised an accountability meeting, inviting Bristol Mayor, Marvin Rees, Cabinet Member for Housing Delivery and Homes, Tom Renhard, and head of housing management and estates, Fiona Lester, to hear their concerns about inadequate fire safety in Council tower blocks.
While none of the representatives from Bristol City Council attended, over sixty residents and the media did.
“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!” Amran Arab, Hadaya's mum, ACORN member and Corbett House resident
Since the accountability meeting, several residents' meetings have taken place and a list of demands, including sprinklers for all of the council’s tower blocks, fire safety wardens until they are fitted, and regular fire safety check with outcomes made public, has been delivered to the Council.
In a press release from Bristol City Council on 8th November, they have announced that they will:
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 in coming weeks
start to install sprinklers in a limited number of blocks
set up residents’ meetings in all blocks to hear concerns that residents have
“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.” – 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" said Shaban Ali, ACORN member and Barton House resident.