Arts important in humanising injustice, says Grenfell campaigner

The arts must continue to highlight and humanise the injustices of major scandals, according to a Grenfell Tower resident and campaigner who predicted a disaster months before the fatal fire.

Edward Daffarn said the public outcry in the wake of the recent drama on the Post Office scandal made him see the importance of television, theatre and other artforms in “keeping issues alive in the public consciousness”.

A three-part BBC drama series is planned about the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire which claimed 72 lives, but director Peter Kosminsky has said he will wait for the public inquiry to deliver its final report before starting work on the scripts.

Ed Daffarn said he believes the arts play an important role in humanising injustice (Karis Pearson/PA)
Ed Daffarn said he believes the arts play an important role in humanising injustice (Karis Pearson/PA)

The production team previously said it has interviewed people and been in contact with all known Grenfell campaign groups for advice and assistance, although there has been opposition from some bereaved and survivors about having a drama.

Mr Daffarn said he recognised that what happened at Grenfell is “a very, very sensitive issue”.

In an interview with the PA news agency, he said: “I understand that everyone has their own idea about what is appropriate with Grenfell and what isn’t appropriate. I completely understand that.

“For me personally, and I know that there are many other people who feel the same way as I do, I feel it’s really important that we do have plays, we do have documentaries, we do have art installations, we do have docudramas, that highlight Grenfell.

“That highlight the injustice that we experienced, that highlight the lack of progress around the issues generated by Grenfell.”

A piece of art about the fire went on display in the Serpentine South gallery in London last year, with its creator Steve McQueen saying he was determined the disaster is never forgotten.

A play, Grenfell: In The Words Of Survivors, ran at the capital’s National Theatre last summer, based on the first-hand account of survivors of the blaze.

Mr Daffarn said: “The one thing that the Post Office drama has made me understand is how important docudramas, art installations, documentaries, plays are to keeping issues alive in the public consciousness.”

He said the “danger” of Grenfell disappearing from people’s minds “is that the changes that we’re still waiting for seven years after Grenfell will never be enacted”.

Mr Daffarn had long campaigned around safety issues at Grenfell Tower and in November 2016 warned in a blog that “only a catastrophic event” resulting in serious loss of life would bring an end to the “dangerous living conditions” in the block.

The subsequent inquiry into the fire heard how some residents, including Mr Daffarn, felt they were perceived as troublemakers for raising issues with the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO).

Tower block fire in London
The Grenfell Inquiry has said its final report will not be published before April (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Mr Daffarn said there was a thread through various scandals such as Grenfell and the Post Office that “little people raising concerns are not listened to”.

More than 700 Post Office branch managers were convicted after Fujitsu’s faulty accounting software Horizon made it look like money was missing from their shops.

The outcry from across the country which followed the ITV programme sparked the Government into long-awaited action with the Prime Minister promising fast-track legislation to overturn the convictions of those subpostmasters wrongly-prosecuted in England and Wales.

Mr Daffarn said it was “a difficult watch” due to similarities he saw in his own experience of being dismissed when raising concerns.

He added: “It’s so upsetting that it takes a drama-doc on television to get those people that we’ve elected to do their jobs.”

On the power of drama, he said: “There’s a humanity that touches you when you see a character on television playing someone who is like you and I, and you realise that ‘actually, this could’ve been me or it could’ve been someone I knew’.

“It’s not happening to some figure that you can’t imagine, it all becomes very real and very tangible.

“It just breathes a humanity and a life into something that can feel quite distant if you’re reading it in a newspaper or hearing about it on the radio.”

Listing other scandals including Windrush and Infected Blood, he said they all show cases of citizens not being respected or listened to.

He said: “I think that these scandals need to come together to form the basis for a change in the way that we think about people and the way that we treat people as a society.”

The Grenfell Inquiry has said its final report will not be published before April.