LONDON'S DEVASTATING FIRE. Why was I so compelled to visit Grefell's charred aftermath? Because... LIKE A MOTH TO THE FLAME I had no choice
WEDNESDAY JUNE 14th, 2017 1:00AM- FIRE BROKE OUT- GRENFELL TOWER
This was not a terrorist attack!
It is believed to be started by a faulty appliance. The fire broke out in Grenfell Tower, an apartment building in the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea not far from where I live. Grenfell is located in a pocket of social deprivation within one of the wealthiest areas of Britain. London's wealthiest borough yet its poorest neighbourhood.
The blaze ripped through the 24-storey building containing 120 flats leaving hundreds of residents trapped in the high rise building. Within one hour the building was completely engulfed in flames. A terrifying speed. Witnesses could see people jumping from their windows or flickering their lights on and off hoping to be seen and rescued. The death toll is currently 79 and likely to keep rising as emergency crews continue their search. People are still missing.
Sunday- 4 Days Later, I Visit Grenfell
Not too sure why I was there or what to even expect. The charred X-ray remains of a burnt out building, the flowers, the candles and a sweet sickly smell of burning incense. People desperately searching for loved ones assumed dead by everyone clinging to any shred of hope. It hit me like a two by four across my chest. This was sadder and more powerful then I even could have imagined. Reminded me being in New York City shortly after 9/11. Signs and posters of dead or missing people plastered everywhere. Flowers piled up waist high and the waxy puddles of burnt out candles. Church had just let out. I could hear singing.
A beautiful voice singing sad yet powerful songs about hope. I looked around me. I took it all in.
People held onto hope as they held signs with the faces and names of missing family members desperately praying that they were still alive. Chances are they are not. These two men below were particularly moving. After hearing their emotional pleas I felt compelled to hug them.
You didn't have to listen too hard to hear the stories.
THEY SURROUNDED ME.
All around me there were the victims, volunteers, those coming to pay their respects, press and the curious like myself. I didn't even think to bring flowers. I felt guilty. On the fenced barricade there was a hand written sign that read, "Stop taking pictures please. This is not a tourist attraction". I felt very, VERY guilty...as I took a picture of the sign telling me not to take pictures. I was far too privileged and not worthy of being in the presence of such a horrible disaster.
In the middle of this make shift community support centre, underneath the overpass the crowd collected items of need, prayed, sang and donated money and goods, whatever ever they could. The singer stopped as the crowd needed to clear a path for a firetruck as they were making their way to continue the search of the burnt out building. People stood and applauded.
GRENFELL, MORE THAN A FIRE
Grenfell has now become much more than an devastating fire. It has lit a bonfire and put a huge spotlight on the substandard inequalities between the rich communities and the poor. The fact that building burned so quickly at an "unprecidented rate" said one firefighter, has been suggested to be a result of a inexpensive cladding, cheaper and more flammable then some of the more expensive options that the building was offered. This flammable cladding covers many, many low cost housing buildings here in London.
The local community is frustrated and angry in the wake of the blaze. Protesters looking for more than financial support took to Kensington Town Hall and 10 Downing Street. I could hear the sound of people yelling and chanting from my backyard as I live only a few blocks from Kensington's Town Hall.
SO WHAT NOW?
Prime Minister Theresa May, London's Mayor Sadiq Kahn and Queen Elizabeth all visited Grenfell earlier this week to pledge support. But May came under direct attack as it was reported that she did not speak personally to any of the victims. Residents were angered by this seeing it only as a photo opportunity for the Prime Minister and a reflection of a superficial caring from 10 Downing Street for the poorer neighbourhoods. Since May's first visit she has returned and interacted with the community.
That Sunday, Downing Street announced residents of the burnt-out tower block would receive £500 in cash followed by a bank payment of £5,000. The money will be taken from the Government’s £5 million emergency fund which they pledged would be spent on aid, clothing and food for the victims.
ONE WEEK AFTER THE FIRE
A newly formed Grenfell Response Team (GRT) comprising of local and federal government, social workers, British Red Cross, police an fire departments has provided £200,000 to the 180 families directly affected. 126 hotel rooms have been found to house the residents who have been made homeless. Further accommodation was found for 78 families who lived near the site but not in the tower.
Simon Cowell, the mega entertainment producer wasted little time and formed a British music supergroup to record a song in aid of the victims. A cover version of Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water. Part can be heard with moving images from Grenfell on this link. Over 50 artists took part in the recording and it is absolutely beautiful. It is now available on iTunes.
AS I LOOKED DOWN
As I tried the best I could to absorb the horror, loss and sadness that surrounded me I took a moment and looked down. Maybe to advert my gaze from those who had just lost everything. By my feet carved in stone around a small tree read the following. "Here in the 1960's the Notting Hill Group Ministry fostered remarkable housing solutions that have produced good affordable homes for generations". I wonder if anyone could have foreseen the irony? This concrete marker in the shadow of a massive burnt out "remarkable housing solution". Some say YES! And there lies the bigger problem. Proof once again don't believe everything thing you read, even if it is carved in stone.
In memory of all those who lost even a sliver of something dear at Grenfell.