When Francesco Loy Bell initially started Off The Block it was a lifestyle magazine aiming “to cover new, up-and-coming artists”. However, as soon as Grenfell happened, Francesco realised he could use his creative platform as a voice for change. “We live in a time where publications and art are mostly political, to the extent that, when it isn’t, this is a conscious decision rather than an oversight”, he tells us. “With journalism, there is a responsibility to shine a light on wrongdoing and utilise the platform for good”.
It’s been over a year since the tragedy stole at least seventy-two lives and displaced many more. Grenfell stands as a burnt out shell, symbolic of the housing and economic inequality in Britain, with justice still to be met for the people that suffered. Since the fire, almost a hundred tower blocks around the UK were found to have failed safety checks, reports Dazed. Yet management organisations such as Kensington and Chelsea TMO are still not held accountable. Remembrance is not just for anniversaries, and it is crucial that we do not let these voices disappear. Off The Block allows those affected throughout London to speak up and raise awareness; its proceeds go towards “rebuilding both the lives of people directly affected by Grenfell and the wider community”.
“One positive thing that came out of the tragedy was the immense sense of community that manifested itself straight away”, Francesco explains. “A big part of the magazine is about a Londoner’s intrinsic instinct to look after their own”. On this note, Off The Block strikes a positive tone; it highlights the power of voices when people come together. Also focusing on the young artists of London, the magazine “is a reminder that the people who make up the body of the city have so much in the way of positive creativity to share”. It strives to inspire its readers “to use their voice in a similar way to how [their] contributors do”, the founder comments.
The magazine enables locals to have their own say. In a section entitled Local Heroes, creative collective Something To Hate On, take us on a journey around West London talking to those directly affected by the fire. “The community came together completely harmoniously, donating food, water, clothes from the moment they could”, Shø tells us. “We spoke with the Irish couple who have been running Lanes jewellers for almost 40 years. Their anger about Grenfell was clear, but they weren’t as surprised as many by the government response; they’d been around for many wrongdoings”.
Other businesses they documented were Zagros Food Centre, a shop that “donated bottles of water to everyone seen going to help”. Using stripped-back, disposable photos, the project captures the unfiltered voices of the people and places. “The businesses help the community by simply being there”, the collective explains. “Any shop that has been open for years in a place that is being gentrified allows us to hold on to what our area is about. They know what Harrow Road was like before the Cooperative and Sainsbury’s were there, and that helps us understand where we come from”.
Off The Block celebrates the creativity that can stem from local roots; the positivity that can ensue when people come together. However, it is also being used as a tool for accountability, highlighting how the government is out of touch with those who are most affected by it. The magazine is nearly sold out, so make sure to donate while you can.
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