Safety improvement work being carried out at South Tyneside tower block after Grenfell Tower disaster

Durham Court, in Hebburn
Durham Court, in Hebburn

Work is being carried out at a tower block in South Tyneside following a safety review in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster.

The tragedy in London, which claimed the lives of at least 80 people, sparked an order by South Tyneside Council’s chief executive Martin Swales to review into fire safety procedures at high rise blocks, schools, leisure centres and residential homes for the elderly.

Irene Duffy

Irene Duffy

Investigation work into the buildings raised a “low risk” issue with the window panelling and voids at Durham Court in Hebburn.

Now flats in the 18-storey block are being upgraded to enhance safety.

Retired airline worker Doreen McGuiness, who has lived in Durham Court for eight years, said: “You can live your life in fear, or you can get on with it, and I don’t feel any more scared now than I did after the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

“The building has two staircases and there’s smoke alarms too, so I think we’re ok.”

Doreen McGuiness

Doreen McGuiness

Retired social club stewardess Irene Duffy, 71, who has lived in her two-bed 11th floor flat for two years, said: “There are definitely a few concerned people living here.

“I had heard about possible issues with some of the window panelling and I’m aware that a sample has been taken away. I do feel a little more reassured, but living here is still a bit concerning.

“There have always been signs up outside the flats which give advice to stay inside your flat if there’s a fire in another part of the building, but that’s exactly what the people in Grenfell were told.

“Since Grenfell, even bigger signs have been put up, repeating that advice. It’s a little hard to know what to think.”

The order sent out by Mr Swales also asked for an “evaluation into the benefits of a sprinkler system”

A South Tyneside Homes spokeswoman said: “I want to reassure residents in Durham Court, and indeed all our tower blocks, that they are safe.

“The issue we identified presented a very low risk, however we were keen to rectify it without delay, so we are looking at solutions.”

Durham Court is one of four council-owned tower blocks in the borough. None are clad in the same material as that used on Grenfell Tower.

Although the council was not required to test its cladding, the material was sent away for testing. The Building Research Establishment (BRE) has since notified the council that due to the samples not being Aluminium Composite Materials (ACM) they did not deem it necessary to test.

Hebburn councillor John McCabe said: “We have taken all the necessary precautions that we are able to undertake, but we can never say anything is 100 per cent. We have taken into consideration every check that can be done.

“My main concern and always has been is the removal of a fire appliance from Hebburn station. The station officer has explained what the procedures are now. I just hope we never have to prove them wrong.”

Elizabeth Ovington, 72, a Durham Court resident for seven years, said: “I was concerned before Grenfell, and I’m concerned now.

“There has been a residents’ meeting with South Tyneside Homes and the other agencies, where they mentioned that they were testing the windows, and they also talked about possibly installing sprinklers, which is something we’ll have to wait and see about.

“The fire brigade has been called to minor incidents here a number of times over the years and they always seem to get here quickly, which is very reassuring.”