It’s now one year since the devastating fire which shocked not only the community of Grenfell but the entire country. After witnessing the outbreak of the fire early on the morning of 14th June, I could never have imagined the final scale of destruction.
As soon as we realised just how critical things had become, my colleagues quickly loaded up our van with thousands of water bottles, clothing, mattresses and sleeping bags. Working alongside neighbours and local service-providers, on that scorching hot day, we anxiously provided what we could to those affected by the awful tragedy. The fire happened during Ramadan, so we also sponsored community iftars, so people could come together at the end of the day to eat and find support from each other.
I was working at the time as Mosque Relations Officer in partnership with Al-Manaar mosque and was familiar with the local area. I was therefore stunned to witness such a huge sense of panic in the area as distraught families were looking for loved ones and neighbouring areas were also evacuated. However, amidst this confusion and distress, I also witnessed an entire community come together. People of all ages, religions, ethnicities and cultural background – from all walks of life – joined forces and demonstrated exactly why I’m proud to be a Londoner.
London is a city that we’re all proud of. Known by the world as a compassionate, multicultural hub of diversity, I saw with my own eyes just how special London can be and just how much we can achieve when we work together.
As an aid organisation, we knew that it would be more efficient to work within a coalition, so we worked as part of the Grenfell Muslim Response Unit (GMRU), alongside other major Muslim NGOs including the National Zakat Foundation, Muslim Aid and Human Appeal. Together, we raised vital funds to support families in need who had lost everything – and in some cases everyone dear to them.
The GMRU provided vital and sensitive support, such as emergency housing and advice as well as financial support. Eden Care provided a community-based bereavement service. It was wonderful to be part of a response where agencies put aside their differences and competition and just focused on doing what was right for the survivors.
However, despite this incredible effort and the huge acts of solidarity shown within the community, significant lessons must be learnt from the response on the night and the following days.
One recommendation was that all UK-based aid agencies should formulate their own UK disaster response team. I’m pleased to say that Islamic Relief already had a UK disaster team of volunteers – they had responded to floods in Cumbria back in 2017. And it is thanks to them that we were able to respond to the Grenfell tragedy so quickly. We, therefore, welcome this recommendation and hope that this will set the tone for a more locally-based, coordinated response in future.
Secondly, we must give praise to the incredible role of community-based organisations. Thanks to faith-based institutions and other community-based bodies, families were given the support they needed, in line with their beliefs and values.
Thirdly, we have a responsibility to ensure that the families who survived this disaster receive the support they need from local government. Grenfell has become a mirror of the socio-economic -divide within London and within Britain as a whole and whilst for many of us it feels as though the fire only happened yesterday, a whole 12 months have passed. Yet, families and affected individuals are still in limbo, still living in temporary housing and still longing for a greater sense of closure. They deserve and need much more than they have been given.
For example, should there be a compensation law to ensure that families who lose loved ones during similar catastrophes can access compensation in future? Should there be new safety and security regulations for old buildings? Should landlords be held to account if they don’t meet basic security requirements in their buildings? And should there be an official networked emergency response mechanism, including civil society groups, faith-based organisations and government agencies?
The long-term emotional impact of Grenfell cannot be brushed under the carpet. For those who have lost loved ones, are unable to build a new home, and are still struggling a year later, the anniversary of Grenfell brings yet more tragic, bitter memories. We must never forget the tragic events of June 14th and we must listen to communities’ concerns – especially regarding safety. Councils, communities and NGOs should work together to build a greater sense of trust with the aim of developing closer working relationships. Unless we engage, listen and work together, we risk repeating this tragedy. One year on, we must move forward and in doing so, we must acknowledge that lessons must be learnt – for everyone’s sake.