Volunteers lost jobs and relationships as they committed everything to the relief effort in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, a co-ordinator has revealed.
Father-of-one Abraham Chowdhury put his day job on hold to help spearhead the emergency response to the tragedy, which left at least 80 dead and displaced hundreds more.
Speaking four weeks on from the fire, the 33-year-old set out the emotional toll the operation had on those involved.
The public response to the fire has been credited for providing the initial backbone of support for the victims and survivors, as hundreds of people donated masses of supplies.
During those first days, Chowdhury and around 20 colleagues worked through the night for three consecutive days to help at the neighbourhood’s Westway leisure centre, one of the main support hubs.
“We had some of the families staying there, it was so heartbreaking as in the middle of the night you just heard howling,” he said.
As the scale of the task became clear and hundreds of survivors tried to piece their lives back together, a core group of volunteers sacrificed their careers to continue their work.
Chowdhury travels from Wimbledon to the west London base of operations and temporarily shelved his career as a filmmaker, with his employer’s blessing.
He said: “A lot of the volunteers all have their own lives out there, their own work, it’s incredible to see how a lot of the companies out there have been so supportive.
“Having said that a lot of us have lost work as well, we have lost a lot of work, we have got that community support so we are carrying on.
“A lot of people I know have lost jobs because of this, have lost relationships, but we all know why we are here and continue to be here as long as the families need us.”
But the daily encounters with those whose lives had been devastated by the fire began to affect volunteers.
Chowdhury said his organisation, London Peacemakers, was hoping to secure counselling for many of those who were struggling psychologically.
“As a co-ordinator and one of the many volunteers working out there, my main concern after a week was seeing the team break down slowly, me breaking down at points and trying to hold everyone together.
“People who were so emotional they had to move on, take a few days, but the core team that stayed at Westway, seeing them break down one-by-one, get emotional, it was hard for me because I just felt responsible as a co-ordinator.
“We are not trained to deal with something like this.”
Kensington and Chelsea Council has been the target of much anger from survivors, who accused them of a slow response to the disaster which necessitated volunteers to take charge.
But Chowdhury paid tribute to them, alongside all parties who helped in providing support, including charities and religious groups.
“I can tell you honestly that these people are doing day jobs like we do and they are affected by it as well, we have seen some of them breakdown,” he said.
“I feel that anger and frustration, but it’s not the time or place to do it, it’s about getting together, uniting.”
What started as drawing up a floor plan for donations to be left at the Westway centre soon turned into a full-time role as Chowdhury helped organise donations and tried to build bridges between officials and survivors.
“What was so beautiful when you arrive is seeing that people from literally all over London, all over the UK, getting together as a united community and doing what they had to do,” he said.