Like most other healthy, happy 10-month-olds, Henry Bartley’s main interests in life are eating, sleeping and practising his crawling technique. But Henry’s life is different from most other babies in one crucial way. He was been born into the heart of Britain’s cladding crisis, which has seen thousands of people trapped in unsellable, and possibly lethal, homes in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster.
His family home is a one-bedroom flat that his mum, Zoe Bartley, bought seven years ago when she was a single twenty-something keen to get a toehold in the property market.
Today, that starter flat is home to not only Bartley and Henry, but Henry’s dad, the family’s pet cat and dog, and — at weekends and during holidays — Henry’s half brother and sister from his father’s previous relationship.
“We have been stuck like this for the last two and a half years and we don’t know how much longer it is going to go on for,” says Bartley. “It is overwhelming. Henry is crawling now, and so close to walking. I want him to have a garden, and more space to play, but until our flat is repaired we are stuck here in a home that is too small and potentially very dangerous.”
Bartley, who is now 29 and a paralegal, bought the Chelmsford flat back in 2017, the same year Grenfell burned down. She paid £57,000 for a 30 per cent share of the property. The remainder is owned by housing association Swan Housing.
By the start of 2020, Bartley was coupled up and she and her partner were ready to sell the flat and invest in a larger home together. They only realised that something was terribly wrong after they found a buyer and had an offer accepted on a family house nearby.
The sale fell through after it emerged that Bartley’s building had not had a fire safety check known as an External Wall Fire Review (EWS1) carried out. Without the EWS1, a system introduced by the Government in the aftermath of Grenfell to try to ensure other tall buildings were safe, her property was unmortgageable.
If you had told me two and a half years ago we would still be here, I think I would have had a mental breakdown
When the EWS1 was finally carried out in the summer of 2020, it revealed a litany of problems — from flammable cladding, insulation, and timber balconies, to a lack of adequate fire breaks between the flats.
Homes & Property first spoke to Bartley at the start of 2021 when she was pregnant with Henry and desperately hoping the situation would be resolved before he was born.
“Surprise surprise, we are in the flat, still waiting for the remedial works to be carried out,” she says.
On a day-to-day basis, family life is “chaos”, Bartley adds. Henry still sleeps in his parents’ bedroom, even though many of her friends with children the same age have moved them into their own rooms. When her stepchildren — a 10-year-old boy and a nine-year-old girl — come to stay, they sleep on camping cots set up in the living room. This means that once the older children have gone to bed, the adults have to retreat to their room, keeping quiet to avoid waking Henry.
“We have been in this situation now for two and a half years,” says Bartley. “If you had told me back then we would still be here now I think I would have had a mental breakdown. I do still get very tearful about it now and then, but because it has all happened quite incrementally, I have been able to cut myself off emotionally and just get by from day to day.”
There has been one piece of good news, however. Swan has, finally, confirmed that it will not expect Bartley and the other residents to pay for the work that needs doing on the flats. “At least we are not going to be made bankrupt by this,” says Bartley.
But she and her neighbours have struggled to get any firm information about when work will start, how long it will take, or even precisely what is going to be done.
“They keep on saying that they are planning to do the work, and that they will do it at some point, but we don’t know when we will be able to sell and leave,” says Bartley. “There is nothing concrete.” When she does think about the future, Bartley is deeply worried about how much the housing market has changed since 2020.
“Back then we were looking at three-bedroom houses, but prices have skyrocketed so much since then that all we can probably afford to buy will be a two-bedroom flat,” she says. “I will never buy a leasehold property again. I would rather stay renting forever than risk this.”
A spokeswoman for Swan said that the full extent of the works required was still being assessed and would be confirmed later this month.
“Once we have reached a position on the liability for remediation of the system with the original developer of the scheme, we will be able to share detailed information with residents,” she said. “We are unable to share information on the scope and the timeframe for works until these legal matters are finished.
“We appreciate the emotional impact that the national cladding crisis has had on our customers and our dedicated building safety team is working diligently to progress matters as quickly as possible.”