Why we must keep listening to residents
The Grenfell Inquiry started again this week with more disclosures from cladding manufacturer Kingspan. In November, we heard that one of the company’s managers had openly said that professionals raising fire safety concerns relating to the company’s insulation should keep quiet or the company would sue them. In fact the actual wording used was taken from a series of internal emails and was a lot less polite. There seems to have been a total disregard for safeguarding the residents who would be living just feet away from their products.
But Kingspan wasn't alone. Virtually every link in the chain that resulted in a refurbishment that wasn’t fit for purpose and which led to the tragic events of 14 June 2017, has been proved to be damaged. From the architect with no experience of high-rise buildings to a testing regime that could apparently be circumvented, from what we've heard so far, the whole system of checks and balances appears broken.
As property managers it’s hard not to consider the fact that the building managers at Grenfell could have listened when residents raised safety concerns with them and acted on their complaints. The Grenfell Action Group had written a number of blogs as far back as 2013, highlighting issues from faulty emergency lighting and missing test certificates to the dumping of rubbish in communal areas by residents and blocked access for emergency vehicles. None of the problems raised directly caused the tragic fire. But there does seem to have been a culture of ignoring complaints.
This is one of the reasons why resident engagement has been made such a key part of the new building safety regime. In any group of people there will always be one or two that have a 'bee in their bonnet' about something and, if not satisfied that someone is looking into the problem (real or imagined), they can become a thorn in the side of their property manager. This doesn’t mean that they should be ignored or ridiculed. There may be a genuine problem to be dealt with and someone should always investigate – no matter how trying it may be.
This is the bread and butter of property management. It is what makes the job both rewarding and stressful - sometimes in equal measure. Property managers have a key role to play in the wellbeing of residents. An appropriate response may prevent an accident, a fire or even domestic violence if complaints are taken seriously. So residents should never be afraid to talk to their managing agent if they have a problem. And if you don’t think you will be taken seriously, escalate that issue to a line manager. It’s what we’re here for.
Author : Maryanne Bowring
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