It was around 9.30 in the morning on 14th June when a neighbour knocked on my door to ask if I had seen or heard the news? That is when I first became aware of the tragedy of Grenfell Tower. My immediate thought was ‘what can I do’? Although a natural empathetic response it had to be turned into some practical effort. I rang Simon, the Virger at my own Church, St Mary Abbots in Kensington to ask if there were any plans. He explained that the Area Dean was assembling volunteers from the Anglican churches across Kensington.
I managed to get up to St Clement’s Church, right alongside the Tower and was swept into an unbelievable scene of action at the Church and the Clement James Centre alongside it. The speed with which services and volunteers had been pulled together by faith organisations and the voluntary sector was truly amazing. Local businesses became involved in supplying food, water and general supplies. People from across the borough and indeed London and beyond came to donate clothes and goods.
What struck me at the time, and has always stayed with me, was the sheer variety of people there – all ages, faiths, nationalities, ethnic backgrounds – all working together without hesitation to offer comfort and gather goods and resources.
It was important to keep busy and fight the feeling of helplessness and bewilderment. How could this have happened in Kensington? How could this have devastated a community and had such a profound impact across the borough, across London and indeed the world? Those questions have been asked endlessly and will be answered by a public inquiry – frustratingly long-running to many who want answers – but how else could it be if there were to be a genuine examination of all the facts.
Kensington will never be the same again. It has been said by so many people and I echo it here. The Council faced an unthinkable, unbelievable tragedy on its doorstep, the like of which could never have been imagined. There have had to be many conversations and there has been an honest admission that mistakes were made and lessons have to be learnt – and most of all residents expect to be listened to and never ignored again.
The hope that I have drawn from Grenfell for the future is the ability of communities to come together, support each other and change. Politicians and officers must always listen and communities must be willing to engage honestly with the Council and with each other.
As the events are held across Kensington today to commemorate the second anniversary of the tragedy and remember the 72 people who lost their lives, I believe people and communities have proved they can become strong in adversity but they need to remain strong to forge a better place for all in the future. That is the least we can do for those who died, those who survived and those left to mourn.
I Can Never Forget Grenfell