Twinnell House resident says ‘every day has been hell’ since moving in six months ago

A woman has described her ‘nightmare’ experience since moving to Twinnell House in July last year. Nia Gruffudd moved to the tower block in Easton following five months of sofa-surfing and sleeping rough after having a dog meant there were difficulties finding suitable emergency accommodation.

Ms Gruffudd said that she has constant problems with damp, mould, noisy and leaking pipes as well as silverfish and that her electric meter has a burning smell. She said that it took her a long time to get over the trauma she experienced on September 25 last year when a fire broke out resulting in the death of Abdul Jabar Oryakel and several injuries.

Ms Gruffudd, who experienced homelessness as a result of domestic violence, said she can still hear the sound of fire engines going off in her head and doesn’t feel confident that having fire marshals is enough to protect residents. While the cladding in two tower blocks in Barton Hill have recently been made safe , Ms Gruffudd has been told the work at Twinnell House could take up to two years to complete.

READ MORE: Bristol tower blocks: More than half have flammable polystyrene cladding

“I felt glass smashing on my head.”

Nia Gruffudd’s GP has confirmed that her dogs provide her with emotional support.
(Image: Nia Gruffudd)

When Ms Gruffudd stepped out of the block to take one of her chihuahuas out to go to the toilet on September 25, little did she know after returning from a short walk the noise and commotion she could hear was the result of a fire. She had joked to her friend who was visiting that evening, ‘I better take both of them with me in case there is a fire’.

That night she witnessed Mr Jabar Oryakel on the floor but it wasn’t until she tried to re-enter the building after her short walk with the dogs that she looked up and saw the fire. Ms Gruffudd said: “I came back and I saw that guy with his face flat on the floor and I asked if he was alright because there was no one around him and that was the guy who died.

“Then I saw this guy who was shouting, ‘police are coming! Police are coming!’ And then he ran out with burns all over his hands.

“I thought they’d been in a fight. Then I felt glass smashing on my head and I thought someone was throwing glass out the window. I went to go back in the building and the police were there and they said don’t go back in the building. Then I looked up and it was an explosion, it was mad. I walked all the way to Old Market and I could still smell it burning.

“There could be another fire. My fear is the place would go up in flames because the cladding is not safe. In my flat I’ve reported so many times that there’s a burning smell coming from my electricity meter. The pipes from the boiler are making constant banging noises.

“I’ve rung them so many times and they don’t come. They keep making appointments and then not showing up. I just turn into an anxious mess and I turn it all off, they keep telling me it’s safe but it sounds like it’s going to blow up.”

Still no sign of sprinklers promised in 2019

Residents of Bristol's tower blocks gather for a vigil and march at Twinnell House to mark two months since the fatal fire
Residents of Bristol’s tower blocks gather for a vigil and march at Twinnell House to mark two months since the fatal fire
(Image: Paul Gillis/Bristol Live)

In 2019 Bristol City Council announced that sprinklers would be installed in every block in the city. But when fires broke out in both Twinnell House and Eccleston House , the lack of fire safety measures began to unravel.

A Bristol Live investigation revealed in November 2022 that only one tower block in Bristol had been fitted with sprinklers and Avon Fire & Rescue Service confirmed that the Eccleston House fire was spread by the expanded polystyrene (EPS) cladding used on the outside of the tower block.

ACORN members living in Tower Blocks then led a grassroots campaign which demanded fire safety measures be put in place to which they were told would be carried out. Although Bristol City Council committed to make the cladding safe, Ms Gruffudd is concerned that sprinklers are not being installed despite Tom Renhard informing ACORN that they would, alongside it being a legal requirement for new buildings above 11 metres.

When councillor Tom Renhard, the cabinet member for housing, appeared for an interview with the BBC he explained that it could take 10-15 years to complete the re-cladding of the 38 tower blocks in Bristol which have EPS cladding. A fire safety expert who was present questioned the time frame.

Arnold Tarling, a fire safety expert, told BBC Radio 4’s World at One show the council could take the cladding off much more quickly, by using abseilers instead of waiting for scaffolding. He said a major fire in London six years ago spread through polystyrene.

Twinnell House is currently covered in scaffolding and the children’s play park is full of plastic road barriers, which seem to be randomly scattered. It doesn’t surprise Ms Gruffudd that there isn’t being any work done on the playground, she believes that the council put the fences up create the impression that the playground was being renovated after the fire when the building was drawing media attention.

Residents say the block “gets ignored”.

Twinnell House play park
(Image: Yvonne Deeney)

Ms Gruffudd is not alone in her concerns. Following the fire several residents made complaints at subsequent meetings and one single mother who had previously lived on the top floor had a battle with the council to be rehoused elsewhere after the fire left her with post traumatic stress disorder and she was expected to return despite not feeling safe.

Another resident who spoke to Bristol Live reiterated concerns raised in meetings with the council following the fire that the safety of residents “gets ignored” by authorities, despite repeated incidents involving the sale and use of class A drugs in and around the block. In 2020 similar complaints were made with one dad who sent his son to live with his mum after the 11-year old had been approached by drug dealers who had asked the young boy if he wanted to work with them.

Ms Gruffudd who lives on the second floor always takes the stairs because she has two dogs but said she regularly encounters human excrement on her way down. Following support from CHAS (a local housing advocacy service) she has recently been given alternative housing but her time at Twinnell House has taken a toll on her mental health. “It’s horrendous here, every day it’s been hell. If I had to live here for a year I would probably kill myself,” added Ms Gruffudd.

Bristol City Council has been approached for comment

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