Community hub started in memory of Grenfell resident helps survivors heal through activities

By Julia Gregory, Local Democracy Reporter

Picture the scene –  an art table covered with tubes of paint, glitter, blowing bubbles, paintbrushes and the sound of chilled out music and laughter as children enjoy playtime despite the rain.

Welcome to Our Power Hub where children and adults can get together and enjoy arts, face painting, playing computer games and even boxing.

It was set up in memory of Grenfell Tower resident Steve Power by Bobby Ross – who is one of his five children – and Bobby’s girlfriend Nadia Aasili, also known as DJ Isla.

Steve who worked as a DJ, lorry driver and chauffeur, lived in Grenfell for 32 years and knew many of the residents, fighting to keep the prayer room open for Muslim residents and keeping tabs on delays on building work there.

His daughter Sherrie told the Grenfell Inquiry “Our house was always filled with good vibes”.

Our Power Hub hopes to carry on the tradition.

As Bobby explained: “I wanted to do something in my dad’s name as he was an activist. I wanted to do something to be his legacy and show what he was, looking out for his community, looking after people from Grenfell Tower.”

Bobby Ross

“He looked after the underdog as well.”

Bobby said Our Power Hub “all started with trying to get everyone’s mental health back”.

“Not everyone’s good at sitting down in front of a therapist and talking about their feelings. Other people like to do different sorts of therapies whether it’s activities, or sport or art, depending on anything that individual prefers that will help them with their therapy, instead of sitting down in front of someone.”

Activities include arts and crafts, perfume making, music to heal and football.

They sometimes invite the  NHS and sports organisations to come along to some sessions and have chats to people – when they’re ready.

Bobby said people support each other talking about how they are feeling.He lived in the Tower for over 16 years.

“The older generation watched me grow up,” he said.

Now they’re watching him help his community through some of their most painful times.

“We don’t like to call it grief therapy sessions, but that’s what it turns out to be. It’s not actually therapy but before you know it, it turns into therapy from talking to each other and NHS staff as well.”

Mariko Toyoshima-Lewis at Our Power Hub

For Bobby, boxing has proved a big help and it’s been such a hit with him it’s now on offer to others.

He said he found it difficult to cope with the sense of loss after the tragedy.

“I was drinking, I was smoking after Grenfell for a good couple of years. Therapy wasn’t working, sitting down and talking to someone wasn’t working, I just wasn’t really expressing my feelings to anyone around.

“I took up boxing. It was the coach that made me enjoy it even more. It helped me mentally, it just  helped me deal with certain emotions that I couldn’t deal with before. I was more able to control it, deal with it and move on in a sense. It helped me a lot mentally and physically at the same time.”

It built up his self confidence as his fitness improved, tackling challenges such as test exercises, rope work and more sit ups as well as learning boxing techniques.

He’s now signed up to the Lancaster Run Club to run 10k a week.

And he said Our Power Hub did something very powerful for him too.

“My whole demeanour changed. When people give me feedback that the stuff we are doing helps, it helps my mental state too.”

He added: “I wanted people to experience how it made me feel.

“For me boxing’s worked, somebody else’s football might work, somebody else it might be art, it might be music, it might be somebody else’s, but for me boxing’s worked.”

So he invited some other people to try it out and was knocked out by their feedback.

Boxing coach Ahmed El-Alaoui  who runs Armz House gym said along with the physical benefits boxing “is a great way to communicate with many people who do not generally communicate” and helps relieve stress.

Now Our Power Hub offers boxing classes three times a week for men and another three classes for women.

They ran even during lockdown – virtually of course – to help people keep themselves strong mentally and physically.

And Bobby stressed that they don’t make decisions for others but try to “bring what they want to life.”

He said that people are going to have good and bad days but he’s found it useful to learn some strategies to help him cope with whatever’s come out of the Grenfell Inquiry and the painful anniversaries.

He said he was determined to support people.

“We want to empower our community again and the people. Let them know, it’s been a mad tragedy, it’s rippled throughout the whole community, but there is a way out of this, instead of just being so negative about it. All we’re trying to do is just open doors and give kids and young adults an opportunity they wouldn’t usually get.”

Our Power Hub is run by volunteers.

Nadia said: “After the fire it was a little bit hectic and nobody knew how to deal with this much trauma. We found there were a lot of people that didn’t want to reach out to services because they didn’t feel comfortable or were going through what they were going through. There was no support for a lot of people. I felt there were a lot of people slipping through the net. So we created Our Power Hub to try to be the bridge. “

Nadia Aasili and Jo El-Alaoui doing face painting at Our Power Hub

She added: “There was no direction, nobody knew where to go for help or what to do, especially for their mental health.  We started doing group therapy sessions and then it just grew.”

Nadia is pretty busy with art, finding images to inspire people, face painting and encouraging people to have a go, whether it’s the first time they’ve picked up a paintbrush or they’re keen artists.

She learnt how to paint landscapes by watching videos online during lockdown and is using her new found skill to help others.

“We were just trying different things whether it was fitness or art of music and the music to heal and the art workshop and the boxing have really taken off. It’s obvious that people’s mental health is on the floor and they need to be doing something to channel it,” she said.

She added: “The kids are doing amazing art, we’ll have to have a gallery soon.”

Grenfell survivor Mariko Toyoshima-Lewis has been coming to Our Power Hub for the community support it offers.

She lived on the third floor of the Tower and spent 20 months living in a hotel after the disaster.

She said: “I’ve been coming to Our Power Hub  all the way through, to forget about things and especially at this time.”

Because she was shielding during the pandemic she was not able to get out and about and cherished the opportunity to do art in person again.

She said: “It’s been really difficult and this really helps me.”

Keen artist fourteen year-old Mohamed El-Alaoui also helps out playing computer games with the younger children, and football and basketball when there’s good weather.

He said: “There are a lot of different age groups and different interests. Some might not like sport, but might like painting, it’s fun.”

And Nadia used music to help children learn how to be their own producer.

“The kids really took to it. They’re creating beats, writing music and the next stage will be recording stuff and shooting videos. It’s exciting.”

“There needs to be some legacy for all the people that were lost. Steven Power was a little Irishman who would fight to keep the Muslim prayer room open, the dog park open, whatever it may be he was coming at the council, at the authorities to try and make the community better and now he’s not here we just want to make sure that his fight continues and I feel that that would be the legacy for Steven Power, he deserves it.”

Pictured top: Volunteers Bobby Ross, Yusef Mazza, Nadia Aasili, Abdul Awad and Faris Moneim 

 


 

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