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Finsbury tower blocks photographer: ‘Grenfell casts a shadow’

‘Your home should be a place of safety, not a symbol of neglect’

24 May, 2019 — By Emily Finch

A photograph by Adem Aydin that appears in his exhibition

ON the one-year anniversary of the Grenfell tower fire, hundreds of residents living in two Finsbury blocks were told that potentially unsafe clad­ding would need to be removed from their homes.

According to photographer Adem Aydin: “Those who weren’t paranoid or anxious in the building were angry. People living here had been expressing concern over safety for years to the council and the housing association. They were gobsmacked to be told their homes were now dangerous.”

Mr Aydin, 22, moved into the 13-storey Peabody Tower, off White­cross Street, when he was two years old. His childhood home, managed and owned by housing association giant Peabody, sits a stone’s throw away from another block, St Mary’s Tower – both were found to be encased in “concerning” cladding and insulation.

The photographer has spent the past few months documenting the current and former inhabitants of the towers for his final degree show at the London College of Communication, which opens on Thursday.

Photographer Adem Aydin

He said: “The idea came from the building works itself, every morning when I was still living at my mum’s I would open the window and see a dominant yellow from some of the material attached to the scaffolding. It sort of became a dominant part of my life and of the building. As work progressed to re­move the cladding so did the builders’ presence.”

Some of the residents he photographed told him they felt “lucky” that the potentially dangerous cladding around their homes was removed in the wake of the Grenfell tower fire – the 72 victims of the fire were never far from people’s minds.

“I didn’t bring up Grenfell when speaking to people but it was a subject raised by almost everyone. People here thought about Grenfell every day, looking at the blue scaffolding and seeing the fire wardens,” he said.

A public inquiry is currently looking into the exact causes of the fire at the 24-storey block in Ladbroke Grove but fire experts have pointed to the use of combustible clad­ding as a possible cause for how quickly the fire spread.

Another image from Mr Aydin’s exhibition

Mr Aydin said: “It makes me quite angry that this has happened. We’ve had several governments who have not prioritised social housing. My photos tie in to a very, very wide narrative within this country, this continent and even in the world, which is the capitalist neglect of working-class members of society. Your home should be a place of security and comfort, not a symbol of neglect. And people are fed up with the government and have a lack of trust in the council to look after them.”

Mr Aydin said he had seen first-hand how constant noise, overbearing scaffolding and fear of a lethal fire spreading can lead to a deterioration in someone’s mental health.

“Some of the people I spoke to had become depressed and anxious living in damp and dark conditions with their natural light blocked,” he said.

There is still scaffolding surrounding the two towers, with new cladding currently being installed. Work is set to continue until early next year – almost two years after the cladding was first uncovered.

“Peabody have been proactive but who told these people and institutions that it was a good idea to use specific material for cladding?” he said.

There have been a handful of positive experiences coming out of the ordeal.

“One woman I photographed told me that at the meeting where Pea­body told everyone about the cladding it was the first time she had met all the members of the community and everyone felt unified and were looking out for each other. She was proud of the community spirit,” he said.

• Mr Aydin’s exhibition Them, Not Us runs at the London College of Communication at Elephant and Castle until June 1. See www.ademaydinphotography.com

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