I have lived in my neighbourhood for over 35 years and think I know it quite well. My kids went to local schools, I have supported and worked for local charities and buy my food from the local street market. I have seen houses and apartments change hands multiple times and made friends with newcomers and said farewell to those who have moved on.
One thing I like about it is that there is a mix different types of people – families who have lived for generations in the same house, residents from overseas working mainly in finance, artists, musicians and showbiz folk, frontline health workers and the low paid and under-privileged.
Very wealthy people live literally next door to others in social housing – and for the most part we all get along. But it took a tragedy to strengthen the bond.
Like any area of London police helicopters can be heard both day and night and in the summer of 2014 I was woken by the constant whirring of a machine that seemed to be hovering nearby for a very long time. I tried to ignore it for an hour or so and then decided to get up early. I looked out of my kitchen window and saw the tail end of the helicopter ahead of me – it was obviously monitoring something either to the left or to the right. I looked to the left and could see nothing. I looked to the right and was shocked by what I saw.
A 24 storey building was on fire.
The Grenfell Tower tragedy was unfolding before my eyes and there was very little I could do.
My sense of helplessness and shock was considerable. I turned on the radio to see if there was any news about what was going on and the reports of people trapped was deeply upsetting. I knew there was no point in going to the site because it would’ve been inundated with the emergency services and other people. My role would come into play later.
Six years later many people are waiting for answers as to why the building was covered in inflammable material. Support, both physical and mental, has been ongoing and the neighbourhood and community has stepped up to help in any way it can,. The scars of those involved, as well as witnesses will take a long time to heal.
Many people have quietly worked in the background offering financial, emotional and physical support without wanting any acknowledgement. There is no doubt in my mind that awful incident has brought the neighbourhood and community closer together. When times are tough we seem to drop our indifference and arrogance and pull together but why does it have to take something so extreme to make this happen?
During the recent lockdown there was plenty of evidence of people looking out for each other and stepping up to help. Maybe after so much time spent in isolation, and having the opportunity to reflect on the abundance most of us have, there will be no return to the old ways. The shared experience and wish to understand the pain and loss will prevail for some time to come with the need to move on.
I believe it will be this which will build on the existing foundation of kindness, compassion and empathy in the years to come to create an even stronger and closely knit neighbourhood