Giving life to the lost - Grenfell community put first in moving memorials



14 June saw countless commemorations in remembrance of the 72 victims of the Grenfell tragedy. As with OBV, community groups, MPs and online observers all marked the date occasion in their own way.

Closer to where the disaster occurred, Grenfell United chose to continue giving life to those they had lost.

Their online memorial services aimed to allow people to ‘remember, reflect, and unite.' It included a video with reflections from the Grenfell community and focused on the subsequent recovery that bereaved family members and survivors have had to undergo since the fire. Repeatedly, we were reminded of the bravery of those that remain and of those who are no longer here. 

This was made immediately clear by the poetry of Shermia Edwards. Her great-uncle Raymond Moses Bernard inspired her verse. Bernard, who died on the tower’s top floor, had previously been described as “a modern day Moses” and “hero” by his sister. During the inquiry, it was revealed that he provided refuge to six people on the top floor of the high-rise as the fire consumed the tower.

Feruza Afewerki, a local photographer who lost her sister and her sister’s family to the fire, was also featured. She created the outdoor exhibition ‘gold & ashes’ to honour the victims of the tragedy.

The project lasted two years and captured bereaved family members and volunteers in the community. The proceeds from the photobook will be donated to charities that promote health and well-being, and Afewerki explained that the motivation for the project stemmed from the media portrayal of Grenfell victims. For her, this project is about the community telling its story.

“They [the government and the media] didn’t care for our humanity, they didn’t care for who we were as people. We weren’t valued. I think something about stopping and listening to someone’s story and taking their portrait shows that you care and I think that’s important. As well as telling our stories, we need to listen to our stories, and that brings a lot of dignity, honour and witness to the grief and the trauma that we’ve gone through. We do need to heal, we do need to support one another to keep moving forward, somehow.”

Feruza Aferwki

Nadia Aasili and Bobby Ross Power founded ‘Power hub’ in memory of Stephen Power who died on the 15th floor of the tower. A lack of support for the community left the pair eager to prevent people from “slipping through the net” and influenced the decision to establish the community group. This has seen them become a bridge between the community and important services such as the NHS Citizens Advice Bureau while also hosting activities surrounding music, sport, art and group therapy. As Bobby explained, this was an apt tribute to his father, a man well known for helping people.

“I wanted to do something in my Dad’s memory.

"Build a legacy for him and just show the type of person that he was instead of just being known as a victim from Grenfell.

"I wanted to show what he used to do on a day-to-day basis in a sense where he was looking out for his community looking out for people that lived in Grenfell Tower.”

These were just three of the many stories told in the film. Joseph John’s progress since the fire was also documented. He is a survivor of that night, having lifted his partner and baby son through the window of the second-floor to escape. Local authorities have let John down as he was left without a permanent home as of 2020.

An update on this status is not provided but he is now Director and Chairman of mental health orientated football club MINDS UTD. He spoke about how football has provided him with safety and ‘a family’ although the trauma still remains.

Other accounts given during the hour-long memorial focused on the life of the victims. This included the words of Rania Ibrahim on his daughters Hania Hassan (3) and Fethia Hassan (5) who both passed away. Abdulaziz El Wahabi (52), his wife Faouzia (42), their sons Yasin (20) an accountant student at Greenwich and Mehdi (8), as well as their older sister Nur (15), were covered by Hanan Wahabi, a survivor of the tower tragedy and Abdulaziz’ sister. 

Marco Gottardi (27) and Gloria Trevisan (26) were remembered in a letter by Marco’s parents read by a close friend of the Italian architect. The letter expressed the ‘immense pain’ generated by the absence of Marco and Gloria. Through their foundation Grenfell Love, Marco’s parents said they are committed to making sure Marco and Gloria’s memory never faded. 

Tribute was also paid to Clarrie Mendy who died last year. The organiser and campaigner coordinated the national memorial service only six months after the tragedy and was seen as an inspiration in the community.

She only wanted a united front to fight the fight for truth, justice, reconciliation and the prosecution of those responsible. Clarrie always had the spirit to champion the underdog and to try to bring change justice and a sense of belonging and community to all. I have no doubt that she would have fought for Grenfell even if she had not lost family members such was her passion and drive for humanity.

Melissa Mendy, sister of Clarrie Mendy

Naturally, there was continued focus on the need for accountability, but this was not before the failure to provide evacuation plans for disabled tenants was addressed. Shahrokh Aghlani lost both his mother Sakineh Afrasiabi (65) and nephew Fatima Choucair (11), to the fire. As he explained, his Mother struggled with significant mobility issues and could not make her way down the stairs:

“she pointed to her knee saying ‘I cannot walk down’.

"That is saying [that] if she wasn’t disabled or she was on a lower floor she would have lived.” 

More recently, there has been some movement to create provisions for disabled people in similar high-rises. The Home Office issued a consultation document on June 8. It outlined new requirements for personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEP) to be made for residents unable to self-evacuate from high-rise buildings. 

Sakineh hopes to see this come into law to protect people with mobility issues in the future. He describes the PEEP requirements as ‘encouraging’ but is looking for more and disability campaigners have also highlighted some shortcomings in the proposals. The consultation document suggests that the threshold for high-rise buildings is 18 metres in height or ‘having at least seven storeys’. Campaigners have warned that this definition fails to provide adequate cover for disabled residents below this range:

“Everyone should be able to evacuate a building in an emergency. We do not accept the proposal that only disabled people in buildings above 18 metres should be allowed a plan. No disability-specific research is offered to support the distinction.”

Sarah Rennie, co-founder of Claddag, a leaseholder disability action group

With the consultation failing to rule out the possibility of charging disabled residents for having a PEEP designed for them, it is clear to see why so many have questioned whether lessons have truly been learned.

The abiding sense of being failed by the local and national force was apparent throughout the documentary and was given the final act. In their own words, survivors, bereaved familly members and the community delivered a clear message as to why they continue to campaign for justice. Please watch. If you are still unsure why 'justice for Grenfell' remains as important a demand today as it was then, you'll soon understand why.

Mayowa Ayodele



A call to action...

For nearly 25 years OBV have fought to ensure 'Black and minority ethnic' participation and representation in civic society. Efforts in continuing to do so though, relies on your help. That way we can continue this fight for greater race equality. What would give us a tremendous boost is if today, you made that small donation yourselves, but even more importantly if you encouraged others to do likewise.