‘It’s not my home’: Barking fire resident living life on hold this Christmas

PUBLISHED: 15:00 24 December 2019

Fire damage after the blaze at Samuel Garside House. Picture: Luke Acton.

Fire damage after the blaze at Samuel Garside House. Picture: Luke Acton.

Luke Acton

On June 9, 2019, people living in Barking’s Samuel Garside House were told to leave their homes as a fire climbed the front of the building.

While some were able to return in days, Ruby Khatun, a housing lawyer will still be living in temporary accommodation this Christmas.

She owned a flat in Block C, the one worst hit by the fire. Her side of the building wasn't the side that saw flames engulf the wooden balconies, but her flat and her belongings were damaged by the fire brigade as they fought the blaze.

Six months on and after a parade of reports and promises from the companies involved and the council, she still doesn't know when she and her husband will be able to move back to the home they bought in 2013.

The pair are now living in another Barkingside development - Lawley Mansions. It's so new it doesn't yet appear on Google Maps.

She and her husband are on a six-month tenancy agreement, so unlike some home owners in neighbouring Block D, she hasn't been asked to move back.

Ms Khatun has visited her home, but said she wasn't encouraged by what she saw. Cracks had crept along her walls in the bedroom and living room.

"I'm a little bit hesitant now to go back," she said. "Until we get a structural surveyor to say, 'It's safe, you can all go in,' I'm a bit scared."

When the fire started, Ms Khatun was driving out of the building's basement car park and going to a relative's. Someone showed her the news on their phone and she rushed back. Her husband was at work.

"I was standing outside, helpless," she said.

A report released in October commissioned by the council said the wooden balconies are still a "significant" fire risk. The companies that run Samuel Garside House have said they've managed that risk by putting in place things like a 24/7 manned fire watch.

In Ms Khatun's home, the authority's surveyor found "evidence of excessive external cracking to brickwork" and cracking in a horizontal window support in the bedroom.

For Ms Khatun, the balconies are still a worry. The wood is still on the building. Work to replace the balconies with a metal design is due to begin in 2020.

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"I'm scared of the fact that they're taking so much time to take down the balconies and replace it," she said.

"The fire risk is still there."

That worry doesn't do anything to distract from the fact that she's not where she belongs.

"The accommodation I'm in, it's nice, it's comfortable, but it's not my home. I'm living out of suitcases.

"Although we don't celebrate Christmas, we still do in a way because it's a holiday time."

Ms Khatun's family is from Bangladesh, but she was born and raised in England.

"We cook, we eat, we talk. I can't do any of that," she said.

"I can't even unpack everything."

"I don't want to spread anything out and then say we're going to leave tomorrow."

It looks like she won't be able to move back in the immediate future. She's had an email from the building's manager Residential Management Group saying her home is inaccessible: it's a building site and a health and safety risk for her and her husband.

"Our lives are hanging," Ms Khatun said, "but it's like I'm a robot.

"I'm just going through the motions, but I'm not living. I'm not in my home."

The company HomeGround represents the owner of Samuel Garside House, Adriatic Land. A HomeGround spokesman said it's worked with all parties to make sure necessary repair works are completed and additional safety checks are put in place to reassure residents.

He added: "Some residents' apartments have taken longer to repair due to more extensive damage, and return dates for other residents have had to be extended at their request because of individual items of work still needing attention."

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