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Council had attitude problem towards us before fire, says Grenfell survivor

Tiago Alves was on the 13th floor when the fire broke out a year ago, and is still waiting to be rehoused.

A survivor of the Grenfell Tower disaster has spoken of the difficulty residents had persuading the local council to deal with problems before the fire, claiming there was an “attitude problem”.

Tiago Alves, 21, was watching television on the 13th floor when the fire broke out a year ago.

He is still living in a hotel waiting to be rehoused.

In an interview with the Big Issue magazine on the eve of the first anniversary of the tragedy, he recalls being in a restaurant with family friends on the fateful evening.

“After dinner, we went back to our flat for coffee, which – our families being Portuguese – means hours and hours of conversation.

“At around 12.30am my parents drove our friends home to their hotel. If they hadn’t, it might have been very different. It is hard not to play it over in my mind.

We ran downstairs but my dad stayed and knocked on everyone’s doors on the 13th floor Tiago Alves, Grenfell survivor

“My sister had been in bed for hours as she was getting up early to do last-minute revision. I stayed up watching The Expanse on Netflix. I haven’t been able to watch it since.

“My dad swung the door open, and shouted that we needed to get dressed and get out. My sister was half asleep, going, ‘I have an exam tomorrow, why is everyone making so much noise?’ We ran downstairs but my dad stayed and knocked on everyone’s doors on the 13th floor.

“My mum was trying to ring us from downstairs to tell us the official advice was to stay inside. My dad was debating whether he should wake our neighbours and decided he would much rather they be annoyed at him for waking them up over nothing than not doing anything. He ended up saving everyone on the 13th floor.”

Mr Alves said people talked about the estate feeling rundown, but maintains that individual households were kept to a good standard.

“The problem was the communal areas where the council was in charge. We would spend weekends without hot water, there were electrical power surges, problems with gas pipes. A lot of the communal amenities weren’t dealt with properly.

To them we were just people living in social housing so what was the point in giving us a voice. They felt our voices didn’t matter Tiago Alves

“It was difficult to get them to listen to us. In some of the estates down from the tower, you could cross the road and that would be the difference between a social housing home and a house that cost £5 million. The council had an attitude problem towards us. To them we were just people living in social housing so what was the point in giving us a voice. They felt our voices didn’t matter.”

He describes seeing the tower every day as a double-edged sword, adding: “I see it as a symbol of our fight for the future and a symbol of what happened to me – the life I used to live, how everything used to be different. It is also a symbol of the big differences between the communities of North Kensington and the rest of Kensington and Chelsea.

“It is not going to be forgotten easily. It is a symbol of change – and I hope it comes to be seen in history as a turning point, where building regulations became about the health and safety of the people living in the houses more than the profits and attitudes of people in authority.”

The Big Issue is on sale on Monday.

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