(TW: account of the fire.)
Three years ago, I woke up to the smell of smoke and the sound of helicopters.
Three years ago, I watched the home of my friend, my creche, my childhood, go up in smoke.
Three years ago, our lives in North Kensington changed forever.
It still feels surreal, thinking back to those days and weeks immediately after the fire. I experienced things that I never thought I’d have to. The confusion and disbelief that this was actually happening. The tears and the hopelessness of people trying to find their loved ones, the haunting, soul-tearing scream of someone who’d just found out that their loved one hadn’t made it out. All literally taking place under the still smoking shadow of the high rise graveyard that Grenfell had become.
I lived for days, convinced, that I would hear the thundering crash of the collapsing tower at any moment.
I’ve watched a community torn apart. Only to build itself back up within days. Without the help of those meant to protect us.
We worked ourselves to exhaustion: co-ordinating, recording names, sorting through mountains of donations, comforting as best we could.
At the end of the day though, as traumatising as the experience was for me. I was one of the lucky ones. I had the chance to experience the aftermath. My home is still here.
I wasn’t Khadija Saye. A beautiful photographer whose dreams and optimism lit up every room she entered.
I wasn’t fifteen-year-old Nur Huda El-Wahabi, a joking, insightful, inspiring young lady, who died alongside her parents and two brothers.
I wasn’t Zainab Deen, described by her loved ones as beautiful, smart, warm, caring, who’d been celebrating her brand new job the day of the fire.
I wasn’t Moses, Raymond Bernard, at the heart of the community – an electrician, occasional DJ, a man who had lived in Grenfell Tower for over 30 years, and died sheltering six other residents in his flat.
I’m not one of the bereaved or one of the survivors. I can’t imagine what this time must be like for them. Individuals who three years after such a traumatic experience still wait for justice. Ex-PM Theresa May promised that all Grenfell residents would be rehoused within three weeks – three years later, there are seven households still needing permanent housing. This is a mourning community who continue to wait for a delayed Inquiry.
One of the few glimmers in such a dark time was meeting Nick, a survivor of the fire who had lived at Grenfell for years, whose wife never really recovered from the experience and he lost her as well in the months afterwards. Despite all of that, his optimism and positivity is unfailing. He took a trip around the world about a year and a half after the fire, visiting 23 countries, using the time for his mental health to also spread the message of Grenfell Tower globally and talk to fire stations all over the world.
Today, my heart goes out to them and I write this for them.
So that people understand some of the emotion that hangs over North Kensington today, and why it’s a topic which constantly comes up in our conversations and covers our social media. We wish it didn’t have to. I saw a video today where members of the bereaved described their experience of Grenfell three years on. One woman, Corrine, talked about the resilience that she and her family have shown, but also mentioned how the injustice has continued. She said that if the fire had been in another, richer, part of the borough, the progress would have been faster, change would have been more significant. I disagree. The fire wouldn’t have happened in a wealthier part of Kensington and Chelsea.
I wasn’t planning to write anything today. It’s an emotional time to think back on. But I think it’s even more important to keep the conversation going. I’m so proud to be from North Kensington.
I write this because today is a day of reflection. The story and spirit of Grenfell will live on through us.