Since the fire at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington the resilience and unity shown by local residents and those further afield has been astounding. As one of the outlying parishes we have been affected by the tragedy in three ways. We have grieved; muddled and organised.
We muddled. We were drawn into the chaos of the fire with a series of events that led to the homeless in the area being offered ballet costumes alongside sleeping bags for the night ahead. The local churches and community centres near Grenfell were swamped with donations after the fire and had more clothes than they knew what to do with. They sent some back to homeless projects such as our own. The clothes arrived in the same linen canvas bags that our ballet group uses with the result that ballet costumes and clothes were offered together to the homeless. The costumes were rescued and crisis was avoided but the incident stays in my mind as illustrative of the strange days following the blaze.
We grieved. The Eucharist is the shared pain of the death of Christ and, in my church, we are each week drawn into its retelling. Grief and prayer were needed to anchor the story that was being dissipated within days of the fire happening. Speculation flourished. People were asking questions of why the fire had happened. Did the external cladding contribute to the blaze? Why was there no sprinkler system in the building? Conspiracy theories abounded. I was told that it was the sons of peers who owned the building company that had worked on the flat and for this reason they were not going to be prosecuted.
Political activism flared. Hundreds of people marched in protest in a self styled ‘day of rage’. I went to talk with the protesters before they left on their march and asked them to honour the dignity of those who had died. I admired their idealism but they were not marching in the name of the Grenfell Tower residents.
There was a rota of people available at the Latymer Community Church available to talk to those who had been affected by the fire. One lady took photos because she had lost friends in the Twin Towers Tragedy and felt a kinship with those who had suffered here. People came wanting to see the burnt out husk of the building for themselves. They talked of coming to pay their respects. One family came down from the Midlands and wanted to take photographs of the site. One lady said that they were going out to the O2 but wanted to come here first. Grief porn is the voyeuristic instinct of human nature such as when people slow down on a motorway to look at an accident. I told them stories of people who had died in the fire. Jessica Urbano was 12 years old when she was lost in the fire. Her family returned after five weeks later, quiet poised and dignified to and released balloons to mark what would have been her 13th birthday [#JusticeForJessie ].
I told people that the question of why there were no sprinklers and only one stairwell in the building would need to become a part of a national debate. They should email their MPs and bring it to their attention (justice4grenfell.org). We need solutions not scapegoats to make sure that a situation such as this never happens again.
We organised. The urge to do something in response to the tragedy is overwhelming and so in partnership with UK chart-toppers The Hoosiers, Alessi's Ark, Sam Swallow and more, we will throw open the doors of the church on July 27th for a fund raising concert in support of Grenfell Tower victims. We promise an evening of fantastic music to lift everyone's spirits in this difficult time and bring our community together. You can either turn up on the night, email me or else buy tickets off eventbrite: details off how to do so are available on my twitter account - @RevBobMayo. The concert will take place at 7pm in the wonderful urban setting of St Stephen's Church in Shepherd's Bush, 1 Coverdale Road, London, W12 8JJ.