Britain marks one year since horrific Grenfell Tower fire with day of remembrance

At the foot of the now-shrouded high-rise, survivors, relatives of victims, members of the local community and representatives of the emergency services fell silent at midday for 72 seconds, one for each of those killed

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 June, 2018, 9:23pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 June, 2018, 9:23pm

It was a day of green: scarves, ribbons, lapel badges, balloons, T-shirts, head wraps, all in the vibrant colour now identified with the devastating fire a year ago at Grenfell Tower.

At the foot of the now-shrouded high-rise on Thursday, a crowd of survivors, relatives of victims, members of the local community and representatives of the emergency services fell silent at midday for 72 seconds, one for each of those killed by the catastrophe.

They were joined in their mark of respect by the Queen and Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall on a visit to Ireland, MPs, Downing Street staff and the congregation at a memorial service at St Helen’s church in north Kensington.

Shortly before 1am – the time the fire service received the first emergency call – a procession had reached the tower, now topped with banners bearing green hearts and the words “Grenfell: forever in our hearts”.

The names of those who died were said by their relatives and friends, accompanied by a drum, before pinning their pictures at the “wall of truth” – a section of the fencing around the tower featuring messages and candles.

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At 1am, Grenfell and a dozen other tower blocks in the area, and 10 Downing Street, were illuminated in green.

At the nearby St Clement’s church, the Lord’s Prayer was said every hour – the only words punctuating a 24-hour silent vigil that will end at 6pm with a service led by Graham Tomlin, the bishop of Kensington.

The vigil was one of a number of commemorations, which include church services and special prayers of remembrance at al-Manaar mosque. A silent walk – the latest of a series held on the 14th of each month since the fire – will begin at 6pm near the tower and end at Kensington memorial park.

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Father Alan Everett, the vicar of St Clement’s, said the local community had been “dreading this week. The anniversary has stirred things up for many people. None of us quite know how we’ll feel. There’s been some discussion about re-traumatisation.”

He added: “Almost everybody will be massively relieved when it’s over. Most people just want to get through this week. A background of distress and fear has been building.”

Everett was woken on the night of the fire and went straight to his church. After switching on the lights and opening the doors, people from Grenfell Tower and the surrounding blocks arrived seeking shelter and solace.

On Sunday, St Clement’s dedicated a garden of remembrance on the north wall of the church, facing the tower. The following day, Prime Minister Theresa May, who said this week that her response was inadequate in the hours and days after the fire, came to lay a wreath of white roses with a card saying: “In memory of all those who lost their lives at Grenfell Tower. They will never be forgotten.”

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Everett said he hoped the garden and church could be a place of peace and sanctuary. “It’s been very positive to turn a really grotty space into something rather beautiful for the community.”

On Friday schoolchildren across the country were being asked to wear “green for Grenfell” to mark the anniversary, and raise funds for local charities. Schools are being asked to share their activities and photos on social media, using the hashtag #GreenForGrenfellDay.

Sandra Ruiz, whose 12-year-old niece, Jessica Urbano Ramirez, died in the fire, said: “Green for Grenfell Day is an opportunity to celebrate community spirit up and down the country. In the days after the fire a community of volunteers surrounded us and helped us through the most difficult of times.

“If there is to be a positive legacy from this tragedy, we hope it is that we celebrate and emulate here in North Kensington and across the country the community spirit that we saw in the days, weeks and months after the fire.”

The inquiry into the fire, which began hearing evidence this month, has paused for this week to allow core participants and others to take part in commemorative events.