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Grenfell survivors express their grief and anger at St Paul’s memorial

14 December 2017


Hope: the Grenfell heart banner is carried in procession by Fr Gerard Skinner of St Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church, Notting Hill, and Imam Fahim Mazhary of the Al Manaar Mosque, to the hymn “Be still, my soul”

Hope: the Grenfell heart banner is carried in procession by Fr Gerard Skinner of St Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church, Notting Hill, and Imam Fa...

DEEP and raw grief for people who perished in the Grenfell Tower fire, in June, and anger at unanswered questions surrounding the tragedy, came to the surface of a service of national remembrance for the victims, held in St Paul’s Cathedral, on Thursday morning.

The occasion marked six months to the day since a fire all but destroyed the residential building in White City, west London, killing 53 adults and 18 children, including an unborn baby (News, 15 June). A public inquiry, led by Sir Martin Moore-Bick, into the causes, building standards, and the Government’s response to the tragedy, is ongoing.

The families and friends of the victims, survivors, their families, and other community members most closely affected by the tragedy, were seated beneath the dome. Representatives of the faith communities, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, were seated together on a dais installed at the front of the cathedral.

In his address, the Bishop of Kensington, Dr Graham Tomlin, hoped that justice would be given to the community. “Today we ask why warnings were not heeded; why a community was left feeling neglected, uncared for, not listened to.

“Today we hold out hope that the public inquiry will get to the truth of all that led up to the fire at Grenfell Tower; that it will listen to the hopes, fears, and questions of those most directly affected by it; and we trust that the truth will bring justice, and that justice will enable true reconciliation and the eventual healing of the divides in our life together that this tragedy has revealed.”

A pre-recorded sound montage of anonymous voices from the Grenfell community, describing their experience and the aftermath, was played during the service, including of residents and survivors calling for justice and criticising the Council and the response of the Government. “I just want a place when I can start over; I just want a home again,” one child said. An oud was played by the Syrian musician Rihab Azar before and after the recording.

Dr Tomlin, who supported the emergency services alongside fellow clergy at the foot of the blazing tower in the early hours of 14 June, said: “That night was to change the live of so many in this cathedral and beyond today. Since then, it has been a long six months.

“Many still struggle with their memories. There are still far too many living in hotels in a kind of limbo; not sure what the future holds. There are so many unresolved issues and questions; and it is hard to live with uncertainty. And yet in the midst of that unimaginable tragedy, we saw something extraordinary.”

He described the generosity of the community, churches, mosques, and community centres, and the “tireless” bravery and resilience of the emergency services. Remarking on the diversity of people who volunteered, including Muslims who were fasting during Ramadan, he said: “For a moment, we all lost our fear of each another. We lost our obsession with ourselves, and we reached out across the city in love for our neighbour.

“It was a glimpse of what our society could be like: a place where we were more concerned for our neighbour’s well-being than we were about our own.”

Places of worship were at the heart of the response. St Clement’s, Notting Dale, opened its doors as soon as news of the fire had spread, and was the collection point of hundreds of donations, alongside the Al Manaar Mosque, Notting Hill Methodist Church, and Latymer Community Church (Comment, 26 June).

The Chapter at St Paul’s Cathedral had worked closely with Dr Tomlin, the Al Manaar Mosque, survivors, the families of the victims, and the wider community on the arrangements for the service.

It was set to variety of music, including from the Ebony Steel Band, who played “Halleluiah”, and an Islamic girls’ choir from the Al Sadiq and Al Zahra Schools, who sung In Sha Allah, meaning “God willing”. They sang: “Do not despair and never lose hope because Allah is always by your side. You will find your way.”

A specially-commissioned banner incorporating the “Grenfell Heart” — a green heart-shaped London Underground logo bearing the name of the tower — was processed into the service by Imam Fahim Mazhary of the Al Manar Mosque, and a local Roman Catholic priest, Fr Gerard Skinner, to the hymn “Be still my soul”.

The logo was designed by Charlie Crockett and Kyle Devolle, who set up the online shop Love4Grenfell to support the residents. The banner was taken to a silent vigil due to take place around the Grenfell Tower after the service, and which has taken place on the same date every month.

Other hymns were “For the healing of the nations” and “Oh God our help in ages past”. The cathedral choir also sang the anthems: “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of the Lord” and “I saw a new heaven”.

The prayers were led by other representatives of the faith communities, including the Vicar of St Clement’s, the Revd Dr Alan Everett, with sung responses. At the end of the service, the faith leaders read an act of commitment to support the community and to bring justice in the wake of grief. The congregation also committed to support the community.

Children from the primary schools in the area then scattered green hearts, some bearing the names of the victims, on the steps of the dais and around the cathedral, in memory of those who had died, while the choir sang “Somewhere” from the musical West Side Story.

The blessing was given by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The service of memorial was attended by the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Harry, who afterwards met survivors and the bereaved.

Others in attendance included the Prime Minister Mrs May, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, the leader of the Labour party Jeremy Corbyn, and two Government ministers. The singer Adele, and actor Cary Mulligan, who helped to raise funds in the aftermath, were among the congregation.

Dr Everett said afterwards: “The cathedral staff have worked very hard to understand the feelings of the people of North Kensington. Their deep and attentive listening has been impressive. The memorial service was imaginatively and beautifully crafted, and captured widespread feelings of both grief and anger, both of which were reflected in the Bishop of Kensington’s sermon.

“I hope that those present felt that their pain has been acknowledged, and that they have found some comfort from the solidarity which was expressed this morning. We now have to make sure we move forward to address the issues this disaster raises for us as a nation.”

The Revd Robert Thompson, an Hon. Assistant Curate at St Clement’s, and chair of the Grenfell Recovery scrutiny committee, who also attended, said that the service was “truly moving” and a reflection of the diversity of the community affected by the Grenfell Tower disaster. “The Bishop of Kensington, in calling us to listen, love, and build a better city, brought out strong themes of the Christian faith that others could also relate to,” he said.

“Reconciliation rests on justice being established in the first instance. That process is the long-term goal of those of us of Christian faith, but it is at present some way off, as it first requires that the Government and the council increase the quality and pace of the Grenfell response in order that trust can be rebuilt.”

Members of Kensington and Chelsea Council, which has been accused of ignoring health and safety concerns of residents of the tower, did not attend in official capacity, at the request of the families.

Read the full text of the Bishop of Kensington’s sermon here

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