How remembering the victims of Grenfell will be so much harder this year

By Julia Gregory, local democracy reporter

A survivor of the Grenfell Tower fire who also lost his wife to the disaster said this year’s anniversary will be hard because coronavirus keeps people apart.

Nicholas Burton escaped from his flat on the 19th floor of Grenfell Tower during that horrifying night three years ago which claimed the lives of 72 people including his wife Pily.

He said the anniversary on Sunday  (June 14 ) “is a time for sombre remembrance”.

He and others who survived and lost loved ones will have private time at the memorial near the wrecked 24 storey tower in North Kensington.

And he said it will be hard not being together with others  to support each other.

“You really want to give someone a hug. It’s going to be very weird, it’s a poignant moment. It’s difficult., especially as we are a kind of family. The pain and the healing are still very raw,” he said.

Mr Burton said  the community has come a long way with its campaign to remove dangerous cladding and for safer homes.

But he added it was important that people put safety first this year and  maintain social distance.

Karim Mussilhy, the vice chair of campaigning group Grenfell United invited people to “join us virtually from your home.”

Mr Mussilhy, who lost his uncle Hesham Rahman in the fire, and said: “We are living through another tragedy – Covid-19 – and it has affected our community.”

“But even apart we remain together until justice comes.”

Whilst the bereaved and survivors mark the anniversary with their own private moments everyone is invited to join in three virtual events.

At 11am an online service will be presented by Father Philip Corbett on his own – due to coronavirus rules – from All Saints Church in Notting Hill.

The service  has been arranged by Clarrie Mendy from Humanity for Grenfell who lost her niece Khadija Saye and cousin Mary Mendy  in the fire.

Father Philip will introduce  filmed music including  a performance by Grenfell survivor and Britain’s Got Talent finalist, Leanne Mya. Artist Sophie Lodge has made decorated doves, one for each of the 72 who died . They will be displayed outside.

And recordings will be played of politicians and community leaders pledging to work together to “make our local  community  a place where everyone is valued”.

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Later in the day at 6pm Grenfell United will screen a virtual Silent Walk – the monthly commemoration of the fire – via its YouTube Channel

Bells will ring out and the names of the 72 who died will be read out at this multi-faith vigil.

Buildings will be lit up green – the colour associated with Grenfell – and there will be a two minutes silence in honour of those who died.

And residents on the Lancaster West Estate – which included Grenfell – and the wider community will display green lights and hearts.

And throughout the afternoon and evening Grenfell United and Grenfell Silent Walk will screen conversations with community supporters and guests.

All this week Green for Grenfell is urging people to share acts of kindness in memory of those who died in 2017.

The Bishop of Kensington Graham Tomlin who is one of the faith leaders involved in the commemorations said because of coronavirus it had  proved “quite a challenge to commemorate the fire”.

He said: “It’s important when moments like this come along it is  that we do that act of remembering, partly as an act of support for those for whom the memory of the fire is still very vivid. The people who were bereaved, the people who lived through, it’s still a very live issue for them. The rest of the country moves on but for them it’s something that they live with every day. It’s an act of solidarity for them.

“Remembering is crucial because if we forget we then we  repeat the mistakes of the past.”

“Part  of the importance of remembering Grenfell is we need a new normal in the world of building safety and  housing, as well as coronavirus. Grenfell was an opportunity to do that rethinking and reimagining housing, reimagining building safety and being a lot more careful in the way we manage housing stock.”

He continued: “We must not lose the opportunity that Grenfell gives us to make significant changes to our housing policy and to building safety.”

He drew parallels between the fatal fire and coronavirus which has brought issues of inequality and safety to the fore.

“That sense of inequality in our society has been revealed by coronavirus. Spotlight on that was also shown at Grenfell as well.”

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