Man who lost flat in Northampton tower block fire says: 'My heart goes out to victims of Grenfell'

Jem Brown lost his flat in Newlife Building 2 back in January. He says the Grenfell Tower fire brought back horrible memories.
Jem Brown lost his flat in Newlife Building 2 back in January. He says the Grenfell Tower fire brought back horrible memories.
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"For me it was a nightmare, there are no words that described the feeling that I had, it was complete devastation - my whole world had been taken away."

The words of Jem Brown, 48, who lost his flat along with 25 years worth of possessions, after a fire broke out in the Newlife Building 2 in Spring Boroughs.

The Chronicle & Echo spoke to him in light of the devastating Grenfell Tower fire in West London.

On January 10, earlier this year, more than 40 firefighters were called to tackle the flames on the fifth floor of the 11-storey high-rise building in Lower Cross Street.

Jem said on the night he was out with a partner, while his 17-year-old son had popped to the shop near the flat.

He said: “I’d gone out with a girlfriend for a meal and I stayed over at hers and at midnight I got a phone call from my son shouting down the phone ‘somebody is trying to kill us, I’m sure’, but they weren’t, the flat was just up in flames.

“He was absolutely devastated and he didn’t know where to put himself.

“He was ringing me, shouting down the phone, screaming down the phone and crying down the phone, I just didn’t know what else to do I got back as quickly as I could.

“We went round the back, and we could see the flames going up the side of the windows – I knew he wasn’t inside because he rang me – it was pure horror, the flames lit up the sky.”

On the night, up to 80 residents had to be evacuated from the PA Housing tower block. But despite extensive damage, only two people, including Jem, were not able to return to their apartment.

Five flats were damaged on the night and four flats directly above Jem’s floor were considered to be damaged from the smoke.

Jem, who has lived in the flat for five years and has been residing on friend’s sofas and in a hotel for months after the fire, said it was upsetting that he will not get his possessions back.

“I’ve lost all my stuff and things like photographs, just general stuff, which has been in my family for years has all gone.

“For me it was a nightmare, there are no words that described the feeling that I had, it was complete devastation - my whole world had been taken away. The memories, I can’t ever get these back now.”

Jem, who is set to move back into the flat within 14 weeks, also lost a picture of his daughter's handprints painted when she was a baby.

He adds: “The fear and anguish the people in the London fire must be feeling, this is so close in my mind. Bless the people who are no longer here, my heart goes out to their families, I am blessed I have my life and will rebuild my life, with family and friends behind me.”

A spokesperson for PA Housing said: “In Northampton we manage the Newlife apartments, which meet all current fire safety standards.

“We will also continue to work with the local fire authority to carry out all necessary assessments to ensure our customers’ safety.

“Both towers were fully refurbished in 2006 and have brick slip and render cladding, which is not flammable in any way.

“The insulation used is rock wool, which is not flammable and is designed to prevent the spread of fire. The frame and core of the building is concrete which will further help contain a potential fire. A caretaker is also on site.”