The fire at Grenfell Tower in London had an impact on all the housing associations in Britain, in particular those with high-rise buildings
Together Housing own 21 high-rise blocks that are occupied in Calderdale, Blackburn, Sheffield and Bridlington. Four of these have cladding, three being in Mixenden, Calderdale and one being in central Sheffield. Pendleton Together is a part of Together Housing Group which took over the day-to-day management of homes owned by Salford City Council in September 2013 under a contractual arrangement. Pendleton Together is responsible for the day-to-day running of all council-owned homes in the Pendleton regeneration area. This means Pendleton Together manages council properties, repairs, maintenance and collect the rent for these properties. More detail can be found at the Pendleton Together website at - https://www.pendletontogether.co.uk/. Nine towerblocks at Pendleton Together have cladding. As these blocks are owned by Salford City Council, so the majority of this document refers to our work on the Group owned blocks.
The Grenfell Tower fire began during the night of 13th / 14th June, 2017 and Together Housing issued an immediate statement of reassurance via their website and social media just after 12noon on 14th June. Internal statements were also issued alongside guidance to call-centre and front line staff on handling tenants’ questions.
Fire Safety Officers from Together Housing Group immediately began a process of reviewing all fire risk assessments and checking safety equipment in all of our high-rise properties. On 15th June we issued a statement via our website confirming that we would be reviewing the situation on a daily basis. A full update was sent to the board.
Following ongoing speculation that cladding had been a major factor in the cause of the Grenfell Fire spreading, the full leadership team met to discuss the implications and actions on Monday, June 19 . These actions were part of three core strands:
- Ensure the safety of our customers and ensure information on reassurance and safety was communicated to them.
- Ensure compliance with government and fire service requests for information and action
- Respond to the questions being raised by local, regional and national media
Together Housing’s approach was to form a specific task group, lead by George Paterson, Director for Property Development, to work on these areas full time with support from the fire safety team, the communications team and neighbourhood services. It was also established that:
- The board would be updated daily until further notice
- All tenants in high-rise blocks would be individually contacted as soon as the task group had fully assessed the situation
This team quickly determined that a full, independent, review of fire safety review in all of our high-rise blocks, starting with those with cladding, would provide the assurances needed that all of our systems, safeguards and materials were safe. Trident Building Consultants were selected.
On Tuesday 20th June we issued a statement to tenants which included information about the review as well as a dedicated email address, which went directly to the task group, that could be used for any questions that were not covered by the statement. Further guidance was also issued to staff. A letter was drafted and sent to all tenants in high rise blocks and delivered by hand to approx 1.5k tenants over a two day period.
On Wednesday 21st June inspectors attended our three blocks in Mixenden and on Thursday 22nd they attended our block in Sheffield and declared that, on the information available, the cladding was safe, however samples were taken and provided to BRE, the organisation carrying out tests for the government. We organised interviews with local media to ensure that our message of reassurance would be widely heard by tenants.
During the remainder of that week dates for drop-ins were organised for all high-rise residents to raise questions and every tenant in the cladded high-rise blocks received a personally delivered a second letter. We continued to answer queries and feature in the local, regional and national media. We feel that all of the articles fairly reflected our position and quoted extensively from our statement. We met with the West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service to go over our procedures and provide familiarisation with our buildings. All the feedback we received was constructive and supportive.
The following week, drop-ins took place at all of our high-rise blocks and a number of meetings took place individually with residents. Queries to the dedicated email address, via social media, the contact centre and from the media continued to be fielded daily.
On Friday 30th June we were informed by BRE that the cladding on our Mixenden properties had failed their safety test. We immediately contacted West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service, who visited the blocks and worked with us to reassess our procedure. A letter was drafted and hand delivered to all tenants in the block that day and a drop-in was organised for Saturday, 1st July. We confirmed that we would be removing the cladding and insulation as soon as possible.
On Tuesday, 4th July, we issued a joint statement with West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Services to reassure tenants and also carried out an interview with the local media.
On 7th July we were informed that the cladding on our Sheffield property was not the same as that on Grenfell and would therefore not be tested. However, we continued to maintain our daily checks of the building.
On 14th July we hand delivered a further letter to residents in our Mixenden properties updating them on progress. We have also used our text messaging service and further letters to facilitate tenants updating their information around evacuation (e.g. specific evacuation needs).
In Pendleton we have worked with the partnership and have begun removing cladding and replacing temporarily with cement boards. Further details on the work at Pendleton is available at https://www.pendletontogether.co.uk/our-news/news/pendleton-together-news/fire-safety-advice/
- We will implement the removal of the cladding and insulation in Mixenden (September)
- We will hold further drop-ins for tenants not in clad high rise blocks (imminent)
- We will prepare communications for wider tenants around the fire safety issues (medium term)
- We will organise a campaign for all customers around fire safety (medium to long term)