We need to talk about Grenfell Tower and we need to talk about it, now.
There are so many things I want to say.
So many things I and many others have witnessed and been exposed to.
Two weeks ago something happened which will add an uneasy syncopation to our history forever.
Something happened that highlighted the great divide we have in this country, not only with race, but more-so with class.
On the 14th June 2017, London truly was burning as a fire broke out in a single flat, caused by a faulty fridge, near Latimer Road which quickly spread to take out an entire tower block. The violent orange flames engulfed the building and became what I can only describe as a waste incineration, only with human beings inside.
When I first found out some of my family were affected, I felt incredibly sick, worried for them and also guilty that the family had not seen each other in a number of years. So much so, I had not pieced the two together when I first saw news reports coming through.
Neighbouring flats were also evacuated as the fire spread like an inferno (owing to the buildings plastic cladding which was placed over the block of homes, allegedly to make the tower block look more presentable to affluent buyers in the area). Accounts were shared of people wrenched out of their sleep in the middle of the night, running for their lives with nothing but their underwear and bed-clothes on.
And then there are our firefighters and emergency services, who have gone above and beyond their call of duty and the toll Grenfell has taken on them too.
No amount of training can ever prepare you for a tragedy like this. None.
For most of us, we will never be able to process what we see played on the TV over and over again, like a scene from Independence Day.
We will never be able to fathom people’s entire livelihood, gone, in a matter of moments. Peoples lives stolen.
We will never be able to imagine the heat, the smell, the smoke, the toxicity, the violence of the flames. The sounds, the cries for help.
We will never be able to understand the anguish so many families and friends feel, STILL two weeks later not being able to confirm if their loved ones, currently labelled as ‘missing’, are in fact deceased. An unknown death toll. We will never be able to fathom, the impact of trauma and post traumatic stress, not just for those in Grenfell but for those in surrounding flats that look opposite, neighbours, the local community, not to mention the added intricate layer of homelessness.
There are so many things I want to say about the local council (RBKC) and the seeming lack of protocols in place to deal with crisis and call in support, quickly. About council officials using ‘bullying tactics’ advising residents in evacuated neighbouring properties; experiencing shock and post traumatic stress, to return to their homes (facing Grenfell) and if not, be deemed as making themselves intentionally homeless.
There are SO many things I want to say about housing association TMO still insisting neighbouring properties are safe and advising tenants to return home, allegedly in contrast to advice given by health and safety officials and in the absence of gas, electricity and hot water, simply advising residents to shower in a local sports hall centre.
I won’t talk about the droves of people coming down and treating Grenfell as a tourist attraction and taking selfies in-front of it.
I won’t talk about the thousands of boxes in storage filled with toys, nappies, toiletries, new clothes, shoes bedding, that volunteers worked for days and nights on end to sort, that couldn’t get to those affected due to ‘red tape” between the volunteers and council who cannot (or would not) distribute information as to who is where, so aid can get to those who need it most, quickly. Instead, the majority of it lies in storage. I have never been so frustrated by a system so fundamentally flawed.
But I will preserve my energy and focus on the helpers instead. To share a picture of humanity at it’s best.
A Tale of Humanity
I want to paint an alternative picture to the mainstream media, depicting an untrue picture of the people who resided in Grenfell; as unemployed denigrates of society. Creating further divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots”
I want to paint a truer picture of some of the people who lived in Grenfell and its neighbouring homes.
Of the human beings, the friends, the families, the CHILDREN. My Dear colleague Ana Ospina’s 12-year-old niece Jessica still remains unaccounted for and her family showing such immense togetherness and strength through such adversity, now homeless. The doctors and nurses, the students, lawyers, teaching assistants, teachers, the musicians. MY family, completely and utterly devastated.
I want to paint a picture of the businesses who saw this as an opportunity to service their community and help and those that sat on the sidelines.
To The Queen and The Royal Family who showed my family and many others such compassion sincerity at a time they needed it most. To be treated like human beings, to be listened to. To be understood.
Trauma brings out the absolute best in humanity.
I felt compelled to first volunteer 36 hours after the news hit and have been volunteering in some capacity and supporting ever since. When I first arrived at Ladbroke Grove I didn’t know what to expect, but what I witnessed will stay with me forever. The ‘black’ building described by some as a crime scene, that looks so much more sinister in the flesh than on TV.
Complete strangers generosity and desire to help was quite powerful. Not just from the local community, but from all over the UK. The quiet, calm and power that surrounded us.
The camaraderie. Kind nature and unity… Helping from all walks of life, all races, gender and religion and age. It was lovely and might I add, unexpected, to see humanity at its best. Even school children and young children helping sort and pack boxes…
I ended up unknowingly spending some time volunteering at The Muslim Centre in Portobello road, and had to visit the mosque to aid with perishable food drop offs. I was welcomed with open arms into their community, a community that is often the target of hate and de-humanised by the press.
On my way home that night, I even bumped into an old school friend. A bitter-sweet reunion. Also worried for the safety of some young people who he works with, who are missing and shared common concerns over this horrendous reality.
Strangers, friends, professionals, youth centres, places of worship and communities opening their arms and holding each other, bearing each others grief. Listening to each others account of events. Listening to horror stories that people are living and breathing right now.
In volunteering, it highlighted the generosity of some and not others: Businesses such as William Hill donating truck loads of storage boxes and transportation and leading brands such as Paperchase wanting to charge pittance for masking tape.
There are a LOT of questions to be answered. A lot of anger and oh my, such palpable anguish.
The companies involved with the building work of Grenfell are alleged to be looking at corporate manslaughter. This is Enormous and could have been prevented by simply caring about the health and safety of residents.
But we aren’t innocent either. We have a lot of work to do in ourselves and in society about how we view people, about our own bias, about the assumptions we make about people based on their tier of accommodation. To acknowledge growing scarcity in our culture, the great fear we are projecting onto each other and how that effects how we behave, how we view each other, how we choose to intervene, or not. We have to remember we are human beings first.
For now I am choosing to focus on the helpers.
The communities coming together to help not only my family, but others affected too. The overwhelming donations from people not only in London but all over the UK exceeding 2 million in monetary donations and growing. Those offering refuge, monetary and those simply offering time, offering help to people process and grieve.
To those who offered me help, a listening ear, donated to help my family, sent me train tickets so I can do more volunteering; your kindness will never be forgotten.
This will be a long road for Grenfell and its fragile, yet strong community. I’m sure ongoing help will be needed, so if you can use your skills, your connections and your power to serve those who cannot advocate for themselves right now. Please do.
Help and Support
If you or someone you know has been affected by Grenfell tower please reach out for help.
Victim support are currently open 24 hours and supporting Grenfell and nearby properties who are experiencing trauma. They can provide ongoing specialist support for individuals and families which may include trauma aftercare and counselling for example and a dedicated case worker:
0808 168 9111 ( 24 hours)
Drop – in services are also being offered at Westway Sports Centre, 1 Crowthorne Road; provided by The Red Cross emergency response Team for interim support. This is currently available 24 hours, 7 days a week and can also be contacted via 0800 458 9472
If you have any questions or need help with sign-posting to appropriate support, you are also welcome to contact me firstname.lastname@example.org
Header image source: Eyevine The Sun