THE families of those who perished in the Grenfell Tower fire, in June, valued “the chance to grieve” and to have their struggle for justice recognised by the public, at a service of national remembrance for the victims, held in St Paul’s Cathedral, last week, the Bishop of Kensington, Dr Graham Tomlin, has said.
The occasion, on Thursday of last week, 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 disaster, is ongoing.
Dr Tomlin, who gave the address, said on Tuesday that while it was “too early to speak of closure”, the service was a “positive first step” to this end. “Many felt that the service gave them a chance to grieve properly, some for the first time. It offered an opportunity to have their own suffering recognised and to sense that the wider nation had come together to recognise what they had been through and their continued struggles for resolution.”
Muslims from the area had spoken afterwards of a “huge, valuable, and powerful memorial service — one that will be remembered and appreciated by all”, Dr Tomlin said. Another said: “We as a Muslim community felt very comfortable and were honoured with the hospitality received and importance given to us.”
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, Dr Tomlin hoped that justice would be given to the communtiy. “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 of 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 those of residents and survivors calling for justice and criticising Kensington and Chelsea 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 for 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 a 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 sang “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 carried in procession by Imam Fahim Mazhary of the Al Manaar Mosque, and Fr Gerard Skinner, priest of St Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church, Notting Hill, 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 representatives of 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 supporting the community and to bringing justice. The congregation also committed itself to supporting 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 Archbishop Welby.
The service 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, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn. The singer Adele and the actor Cary Mulligan, who helped to raise funds in the aftermath, also attended.