‘If there’s a fire I’d be trapped. It’s terrifying’
Archway wheelchair-user’s 15-year battle for an escape route if tower block blaze erupts
26 April, 2019 — By Calum Fraser
Janet Grace at her flat
A TERRIFIED wheelchair-user has battled the council for more than 15 years to adapt her flat as she believes she will be trapped if a fire breaks out.
Grandmother Janet Grace lives in a two-floor flat at an Archway tower block, with a wooden sill in the doorway between her bedroom on the second floor and the balcony.
As she is paralysed down the right-hand side of her body – the result of a botched operation in 1999 – Ms Grace does not have the strength to pull herself over the obstacle.
She fears she would be stuck if there was a fire.
Her case again highlights the anxiety that many people with disabilities in the borough have about fire escape procedures, as the Tribune has previously reported.
Ms Grace, who has two daughters and a grandson, said: “This lip on the bottom of my door may seem like nothing to people who can walk but it’s like a mountain for me.
“If there’s a fire I’d be trapped. It’s terrifying. I have daughters and a grandson and I don’t want to be left roasting here.”
She believes that if the bottom of the frame could be flattened then she could wheel herself onto the balcony she shares with her neighbour, who has agreed to help her to safety.
But the 58-year-old said she has been arguing with the council since the sill was left in place after she had the flat adapted in 2002 through a disabled funding grant application.
Wooden sill blocking way to balcony
“There is so much repetition,” she added. “It’s maddening. I have groups of people coming in to look at a problem. Then they go away and send a letter which leads to nothing and we’re back to the start.
“It’s not just me, it’s all people with disabilities.
“You come and sit in my wheelchair for a week or even a day. That little lip in the doorway might not seem like a problem but it is a mountain.”
She added: “Disability is an issue you seem to have to fight all the time. It’s not about sympathy, we want empathy and understanding. We feel like we’re not getting this.”
Ms Grace did not want to move away from her flat at the six-storey Shreveport House tower block on the New Orleans estate after her operation because she felt she was part of the community.
She was worried that she would become isolated if she moved somewhere else.
Disability campaigners are calling on the council to bring in personalised emergency evacuation plans (PEEPs) for the frail and vulnerable.
The bespoke “escape plans” are tailored for individuals who may not be able to reach a safe place unaided or within a satisfactory period of time.
Ms Grace said: “Why are there no procedures for evacuating social homes? Look how many people died in Grenfell when they were told to stay put.
“I want to be able to get out like everyone else does.”
Islington’s housing scrutiny committee called for PEEPs to be produced for estates the council manages last year.
It wants to encourage housing associations and landlord Partners for Improvement, which looks after about 6,500 homes, to do the same.
But the Town Hall’s official response said: “PEEPs are still considered an unreasonable burden on landlords, but more importantly would be very difficult to implement effectively in practice.”
A council spokesman said: “We’ll contact this resident and see how we can help them to access their balcony more easily, and will carry this work out as a priority.”