THE BLOG

From Grenfell To Grenfell - An Umbilical Cord

25/06/2017 19:11 BST | Updated 25/06/2017 19:11 BST
AFP

We too are called Grenfell. By which I mean Maidenhead Synagogue, which is situated at Grenfell Lodge. As a result, I have had numerous members asking the same question: what is our connection with the tower block that suffered that dreadful fire?

The simple answer is: none that I could find. We are so named because this area is built on land once owned by William Henry Grenfell (later Lord Desborough) who was a local notable. It is unclear whether Grenfell Tower was built on property he also owned in London, is linked to another person of that name, or was simply chosen at random as a pleasant sounding address when it was built.

But there is a deeper answer to the question "what is our connection with the tower block?" - that they are fellow human beings and so of course there is an umbilical cord that links us to the victims

It is both an altrusitic response, with us thinking "how terrible to have suffered in that way", both those that died and those that survived but emerged traumatised, with nothing remaining of their possessions

We also react from a self-centred perspective: what if it had been me caught up in it? What would I have done? How would I be coping now?

It is fascinating to see how responses have changed since the fire. At first, there was extraordinary empathy, with people around the country moved and pained by it. Black/white, Brexiteer/Remainer, religious/secular, it made no difference and our common humanity rose to the surface

There was also amazing generosity, both financial and practical: people organised pop-up soup kitchen in the neighbourhood, or set up clothes stalls for them, while solicitors and social workers provided instant advice centres on how they could claim benefits, apply for new bank cards and obtain lost paperwork.

But those positive responses were quickly accompanied by anger, and on two levels:

One was that of relatives and friends who knew that those living in the tower had alerted the authorities to the fire risks and, it was felt, had suffered because of the lack of action by those who had a duty of care

The other anger was one step removed, often by those less immediately involved, but who saw the fire as symptomatic of the equality gap: that wealthy people lived in safe tower blocks while poor people lived in unsafe ones, and died as a result

This led to the Movement for Justice by any Means Necessary trying to lead a "Day of Rage" on Wednesday, which some people saw as a legitimate attempt to highlight the inequality gap, but which others regarded as a crude attempt to hijack the tragedy for political ends.

But the fire also begs some personal questions: if we had been living in the Tower, and if the fire alarm had sounded in the middle of that night and we were told we had a moment to collect a few items and then leave right away, what would we have chosen?

Would they have been immediate items, such as a good pair of shoes, jumper and coat? Would they have been practical, such as bank cards and passport? Would they have been sentimental, such as a some photographs or other treasured items? Maybe the car keys, assuming we had one and it might not be caught up in the fire. Surely our mobile phone, both to contact relatives and for all the information stored in it

It's a thought process makes us realise what the actual residents went through when told to leave. Maybe it is useful checklist for us to bear in mind if ever we are in a "got-to-get-out-quick" scenario for whatever reason.

Grenfell Lodge...Grenfell Tower...there is no link and every link...and we pray that lessons can be learnt so that it never happens again.