Britain has faced one of its greatest modern day challenges with two terrorist attacks within two weeks. The things we hold dear in our country - principles of tolerance, respect and love - have all been, in the face of unthinkable destructive acts, challenged.
Working across major incidents and natural disasters, UK Rapid Relief Team (RRT), a volunteer organisation set up to support local communities in times of need teams, have travelled the globe providing support to emergency services and people affected. It seemed as if we had seen the breadth of human experiences and emotions. We were proved sadly wrong by the terrorist attacks that have taken place in the past month in Manchester and just this week in London.
Throughout these terrible events, within the confines of the crime scenes themselves, working with the emergency services, seeing those directly affected and watching the outpouring of emotion from the public, one thing is clear. Our nation is not, and refuses to be, terrorized cowardly and barbaric acts. Born out of hate, and designed to spread fear and mistrust, these deeds have, instead, done the opposite. In Manchester and London, where communities might have turned on each other, viewing with mistrust, instead there has been an outpouring of love.
Arriving at London Bridge the morning after the attack our team, which has run to over 20 volunteers, was met with absolute silence on the streets around the site - barely even the wind stirred and it seemed as if London was collectively holding its breath. By contrast, within the police cordon there was frenetic activity, as the emergency services continued gruelling work that had begun almost immediately; piecing together the events that saw, we know now, eight people lose their lives.
Every incident we attend shows us humanity at its most vulnerable. Professionals who dedicate their lives to public service, often placing themselves in direct danger, are working to their absolute capacity, balancing the desire to work as fast as possible with the endless concern that every move must be precise. This pressure can often become overwhelming, as the immediate tasks at hand leave no time to think of their personal needs. Food, drink and sleep are all forgotten, pushing people towards breaking point. When people commit their entire lives to protecting and serving the community, it is right and fitting that the communities seek ways to serve them too.
The immediate physical needs of the people we help are easiest to understand and measure. We arrived on Sunday morning, by the evening we had served over 1000 hot meals, with 400 breakfasts served on Monday morning from our arrival at 5.30am. That's not to mention the 1000s of teas, and coffees and cold drinks we served to emergency services as well as some of the residents who remain unable to return to their homes inside the cordoned area. Often by the time people reach us though, it's not just food and drink they need; physically exhausted and emotionally drained, we represent the physical embodiment of gratitude. The presence of a friendly face or a listening ear can help those who have been working, sometimes for 24 hours straight, find new resilience.
As the days have passed, the city has come back to life just meters away from Borough Market. Resilient Londoners have returned to their lives, but with a new perspective. The relationship between the police and public is notably different in London and Manchester to other events, such as incidents and natural disasters. A sense of recognition that everyone shares the same emotions: from the bobby on the beat or paramedic to journalists and city workers. We are all a nation in shock and mourning and that has reflected in the change in relationship. Just as the public have come to the site to share their thoughts and prayers, recognising those shared emotions with the emergency services, who, too, are struggling to come to terms with the events they have witnessed.
What we have seen is that London is not cowed, or angry, but more defiant and more caring. This is a country of tolerance and the very human interactions at the site of such horror show that we will not be beaten by acts of hate.