Grenfell One Year On.
Today marks the one year anniversary of the tragic Grenfell Tower Fire. Think about what you and your families have done in this past year… celebrated birthdays, watched your baby do their first steps, family holidays, first day at school, new jobs, new house. Sadly for the families who lost loved ones in the early hours of June 14th 2017, their lives have never quite been the same again.
We woke up about 6am that day because the noise of helicopters which had been circling in the sky for hours during the night, had woken us up prematurely. I woke to find our roof hatch open, so I climbed up the ladder to find Tye standing on the roof. “What’s going on? What’s with the helicopters?” Tye waved at me to come and look.. “it’s been on fire all night”. Oh. My. God. This sky high tower block had thick black smoke billowing from it and was filling the sky, a sight this we will always remember so so clearly. I covered my mouth in disbelief and shock. Those poor poor people, families, STILL inside the building at 6am, STILL in a blazing fire, roaring through their homes causing devastation. “It’s called Grenfell Tower on Latimer Road and its been on fire ALL NIGHT” Tye told me. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. I felt sick to my stomach. Even from this distance, we could see visible orange flames through charred windows. Harrowing scenes. “Where are the helicopters spraying water down onto it? Why aren’t there Planes soaking it in water?” I couldn’t believe it. Tye didn’t have the answers to my many questions. We watched on utterly helpless for a good half an hour.
We discussed straight away that we were going to go down there to see if we could help in any way. Tye took harry to school as normal and we arranged that I would meet him down there somewhere. Grabbing a black bin liner, Stanley and I threw a load of teddies into it because all I kept thinking was THE CHILDREN. They’ll find comfort in these teddies, they’ll need something because they would have lost everything. Loading the full bin liner onto our buggy and stan on a scooter, we briskly walked towards Latimer Road (which is approximately an 8 minute walk). The streets of notting hill were EMPTY. Portobello road (usually bustling) was eerily quiet. As we got closer, roads had been closed off, Ladbroke Grove had a convoy of about 9 fire engines parked up, with police visible on every street corner. This was like a scene from a movie. As we headed in the direction of the tower, the air became thicker and heavier. Small bits of ash were floating all around us. The gutters had debris laying in it. We made it as close as we could and followed the tens of people that had the same idea as us- bags of donations, buggy’s loaded with items and carrier bags. Maxilla Social club, a stones throw from the Grenfell Tower were taking donations. Volunteers were speedily organising goods into categories across long tables. Mens clothes in one corner, bed linen, a toy table, children’s clothes in age groups etc. People had even prepared FOOD which had been laid out as a massive spread. We were all clearly thinking the same- These residents of the tower will NEED things. They’ve got no homes to go back to.
With the world’s press everywhere you turned and the surrounding streets filling up with emotional and horrified locals, the community spirit was INCREDIBLE. All barriers were down. Strangers were hugging strangers. Shoulders were being used to shed tears on. But one question we all kept asking was WHERE ARE THE SURVIVORS? Where was everyone from Grenfell? Over the next few hours, it became apparent. ANYONE that made it out of the building safely was sent straight to hospital. When I say safely I mean, those that were fortunate enough to escape the inferno by making it down the many stairs and those that survived the fall from their windows when they risked their lives by jumping. Many to their death.
While the hundreds, soon to be thousands, soon to be millions of donations came flooding into West London filling up local Churches, Mosques, Pubs, Schools, Community Centres etc, the fire was still engulfing the entire tower. How anyone else was to make it out alive hours after it began would have been an absolute miracle. Temporary beds were set up in our local sports centre, volunteers were turning up from all over London. Counsellors, professional practitioners, priests, doctors. The sadness in the air was raw. The heat from the fire was INTENSE. The roads and pavements were littered with CHUNKS of cladding from the building. Ash made it uncomfortable to breath. I bumped into a neighbour of my sisters who lives a couple of streets away from us. Her and her granddaughter had walked in to our local builders merchants and got kindly given hundreds of dust masks, so they took it upon themselves to hand out down at the site. People were turning up with trolleys of water, toothbrushes, toiletries. But still WHERE WERE THE GRENFELL RESIDENTS?
It wasn’t long before everyone knew in their hearts that there were very little survivors. YouTube videos and phone message extracts were slowly being leaked and the reality of the events of that dark night started to unravel. Families told to remain in their homes until the firefighters reached them. Children huddled in bathrooms with towels being used as draft excluders. Desperate parents throwing their children out of windows in the hope of survival. Totally heartbreaking.
The days following the tragedy, we regularly went down to light candles, say prayers and unite with the community. The atmosphere for weeks was spooky, it’s so hard to explain. Until you go through such a trauma on this scale, you really can’t understand. ‘Missing’ posters were plastered everywhere, people holding all their hope on finding their loved ones- that they may turn up. Unfortunately they never did. Although it is publicly recorded that approx 70 people died from the Grenfell Tower Fire, it is a FACT that there were hundreds more. Bodies were being removed in body bags for weeks after.
Having covered the aftermath and local news on my social media, from the very beginning, my followers were quick to offer their services and help as volunteers. Everybody wanted to show their support and help in any which way they could. Money was being raised left right and centre, so it was only a matter of time before I jumped on board. I was approached by a friend Carly, via Instagram, who wanted to put on a Fundraising event and she said that her and another friend thought the 3 of us would make a good team. The plan was to turn around Event plans within 6 weeks…the sooner the better, when we knew people had the enthusiasm to want to do something/ anything. With Carly’s expertise in Charity fundraisers and Donna’s black book of Brand contacts, our brainstorming meetings pulled off and we managed to organise a night of entertainment with those involved offering their services for FREE. We secured the Cuckoo Club in Mayfair, alcohol sponsors, food, decor, a fantastic line up of comedians: The Scummy Mummies and Dara O’brain, live music from Wilford Social and a line up of top KISS radio DJ’s. We had an insanely incredible collection of raffle prizes to be won and tickets for the night were only £30. We raised just shy of £6000, which ALL went to a local charity made up of a small team of outreach workers called ‘The Real Community’ who were working alongside survivors and families affected for the Fire at Grenfell. What an achievement. What a night.
For us, we get on with our lives, never forgetting, hoping for justice of some sort, helping to re-build our torn community. The people that lost their lives on June 14th are our neighbours. Members of our society who go to school with our children, who shop in our local grocery shops, attend our local youth centres, drink coffee in our coffee shops. Upstanding residents who pay their council tax, who petitioned for YEARS for safe housing, for regulations to be met. All of which could well have saved their lives on that fateful night. Friends, families, firefighters, ambulance crew…so many scarred with the memory of the terror. Struggling to ‘move forward’ until Justice is done.
When you tuck your children into bed tonight, please remember those innocent victims who ONE YEAR AGO today, were tragically woken by their senses and subsequently died a horrific death grasping at their world and their everything for what was to be their final hours.
We will never forget you. Rest in Peace Angels.
by Laura xx