Community Solidarity after Grenfell

by Eleanor White

On the 14th of June early morning, I couldn't sleep due to the heat and my ongoing battle with insomnia. I was scrolling through twitter trying to pass time and boredom when I found out about the Grenfell fire. When images of the fire began to emerge, the only thing I could think of was how unbearable the summer heat was, and how the fire would have only exacerbated the intense heatwave we have been having in London for the locals who lived nearby. I just presumed there wouldn't be victims. But how wrong was I? I live just over 5 miles away from Grenfell in South London and was able to smell the fire as it was happening early in the morning.

As I woke up the next day, I realised that things were a lot worse than I had initially thought.. News of locals helping organise donations of clothes and toiletries began to appear on social media. . Here were local residents and different community groups taking time out to help those who had lost everything. It showed how we can come together in solidarity regardless of our national, ethnic or religious backgrounds for those in need, with the and how willing people were to donate in a situation where the local authorities gave out very little information. It seemed to go into overdrive when I went there on Thursday late afternoon. No one knew anything about how many survivors there actually were or even how many people had died, but people kept on wanting to donate goods. It seemed never ending - all these people arriving with goods for victims.

The overwhelming majority of donations came from normal, everyday working class people, which is somewhat outrageous considering how disgustingly wealthy the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is. I met women and men from Liverpool, Birmingham, and Kent who had travelled to help, religious groups from Bromley, Brighton and Plymouth as well. From every religious background too, various Muslim groups, Jewish groups, Sikh groups and plenty of individual Christians. These people were ordinary folk who just wanted to help their fellow human beings in their time of greatest need. A lot of them had been involved with collections for refugees in Calais and in Greece as well, while for others this was their first time being involved with such a large-scale community effort. None of these people had any connection with the Council of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, let alone any governmental body connection at all. The local authorities were nowhere to be seen and were not responding to anyone’s calls about where the sorted donations were supposed to be going.

While the generosity shown by people from normal, everyday working class backgrounds was touching and powerful, what had the greatest impact on me were those donations that came from those from stereotypically, white middle-class people. The yummy mummy in her maroon coloured 4x4 Range Rover to deliver bags of goods and as I was checking to see if they were clean, I noticed blood stains on the bed sheets. These donations were completely unacceptable.

Another volunteer I was speaking to had a similar experience, a woman had arrived with designer paper bags and in them were black sacks of clothes. She opened the black sacks and in them there were various coats, but they were damp. And as she took them out of the bag she realised there was mould growing in the armpit of one of the coats in particular and it was also growing on all the other coats as well. And there was the white woman who came down to volunteer but then left not long after - she didn't like "the tension in the air", because there were a few black and brown people rightfully frustrated, angry and annoyed by the traumatising events of what had happened.

That being said, the cross-community collaboration to support those in need was amazing. With the Grenfell Tower fire happening right in the middle of Ramadan, there were lots of Muslims fasting and staying together while breaking their fasts together, but still coming out to help those in need, every single day since the fire. The overwhelming sense of community I felt from everyone coming together was amazing - it shows, by force of example, that there is an alternative to the cruel, austere and uncaring values of the ruling class that have been force-fed to us for so long.

While I was packing boxes with for survivors on Thursday 16th, there was one Muslim guy who kept on calling me "sister" and "Queen Irish". He was fasting but he made sure everyone was drinking enough fluids in the dry dead humid heat. He then delivered a massive Iftar meal for all, regardless of religion. He got me some food before himself. When I declined because I wanted him to eat something before me he said, "Sister I fast so I can appreciate those around me, helping our fellow human beings".

And there was the Bosnian woman, who was easily twice my age, who told me I would make a good mother because I was able to calm down some rightfully annoyed teenaged boys, local to Grenfell Tower who were arguing about whether or not there should be a riot. One-half of the group kept on arguing that they wouldn't be listened to if there was a riot and the other half was arguing that they would never get listened to if there wasn't a riot. I only intervened to prevent the boys from taking out their frustrations on each other physically, as things got quite heated very quickly.

They calmed down and helped us pack boxes for the survivors, then one of the boys asked me where in Ireland I was from and wanted to know why Sinn Fein wouldn’t go into coalition with Labour. He pronounced Sinn Fein as Sin Fee-Inn, much to my amusement. And I explained because every MP has to take a vow of loyalty to the Queen and as Sinn Fein support Irish reunification and an end to British imperialism in Ireland they wouldn't. He was kinda shocked by this and said, "but I wouldn't want to do that for the Queen when she's so filthy rich", along with him calling her an "inbred fuck" and that he agreed with Sinn Fein because the British had been "annoying" the Irish for too long. To say this conversation was surreal would be an understatement. Here was at most a 16-year-old black working class Londoner, telling me he supported Irish reunification and agreed with Sinn Fein and wanted an end to the Royal family.

Latymer church, over time, has become kind of a meeting point, where local businesses and various different churches, mosques and temples and individuals are all coming together to share food for free for this new community.. Along with them were some not so local businesses and more some commercial interests - such as phone networks handing out water and sim cards to locals. The most surprising business participating in all of this was an estate agency who had an ice cream van handing out free ice cream on the Saturday 18th. This really startled me because estate agencies are the same people profiting from the housing crisis in the UK, and depriving people of their deposits and not putting them into tenancy deposit schemes as they are legally required to and skirting around the law for their own convenience while putting total fear into their clients in minimum wage jobs scared about paying rent 2 days late, and them getting shouted down the phone at by some condescending ego driven estate agent.

The survivors of Grenfell Tower deserve the best and only the best. Just because someone has lost everything doesn't mean they are entitled to only the scraps from your table and the rags from the wardrobes of your privileged middle-class lifestyles. Dumping designer mattresses beside local churches to Grenfell Tower may seem like the right thing to you but those that come from working class and/or immigrant backgrounds and that live in social housing do not need your soiled, dirty clothes because your consumptive waste isn't fit for human purpose. The victims of Grenfell at the end of the day, are also human just like you yummy mummies, and Tory loving bankers.

Grenfell is a bleak reminder of how the class divide in the UK, and globally, is a constant injustice that is literally killing those that are working class he white upper middle classes of the UK like to think about the working class as not being deserving or being as hard working but this is just an attempt to skirt round the issue.

Adequate housing is a human right and one would assume that adequate safe housing for all should be a top priority for any government in power, regardless of their class status, but, alas, in Tory austerity Britain, it is not. Housing should be a top priority regardless of their class background. And with the total sheer fuck up by Theresa May in terms of an adequate response and how little has been even clarified by the RBKC Council regarding this shows how little the life of those from the working classes matters to the Tories. The death toll being slowly revealed suggests that it's deliberately being spaced out to prevent any rightful outrage and it’s a cover up - that much is obvious. But Grenfell was 100% preventable and now innocent working class adults and children from migrant backgrounds had to die for profit.

They are few but we are many.

Photo: ChiralJon


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