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Volunteers at mosque that welcomed Grenfell victims say they’re still traumatised seven years on

By Adrian Zorzut, Local Democracy Reporter 

Volunteers at a mosque that welcomed victims during the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire have said they’re still haunted by the scenes they saw seven years ago.

Abdurahman Sayed was at home resting after a long day at Al-Manaar mosque and the adjoining Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre when he received a message from a colleague in the early hours of June 14. 

The colleague informed him that a nearby tower block had caught fire and asked whether the centre should shelter victims.

“I just replied to that message and said ‘open the door and let anyone who wants to come in’,” the 56-year-old chief executive of the mosque and centre said.

He recalls the centre being in chaos, with hundreds of victims streaming in as donations of clothes, shoes and toiletries poured in, along with volunteers.

Halls at the Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre have been renamed after the Grenfell tragedy (Picture: Facundo Arrizabalaga)

In the days that followed, Mr Sayed worked 20 hour days and collapsed from exhaustion. At one point, when asked during a press interview about Eid celebrations, he began to cry, imagining one of his colleagues who had lost his wife and children in the fire celebrating alone.

Mr Sayed said there was no coordinated response from the authorities, and that other emergency centres often had to ask Al-Manaar for Arabic and Farsi translators.

He also criticized Kensington and Chelsea council, which had stepped in to house victims in temporary accommodation, saying that they failed to provide a clear action plan for the services they promised.

Despite the chaos of organizing crisis response, Mr Sayed said it was the funeral prayers which proved the most difficult.

Abdurahman Sayed in the Al Manaar Mosque and the Muslim Cultural Heritage (Picture: Facundo Arrizabalaga)

He said: “Some of the prayers we had, there would be five coffins or more and you could see in those coffins the size would be different, small and larger ones.

“You could tell this was a whole family that had perished in the fire. That was very traumatising.

During the pandemic, the centre became a distribution hub, teaming up with the council and Age UK to deliver food and goods to vulnerable residents. It also ran a pop-up clinic where residents could get their vaccine.

The centre now runs permanent counselling services onsite, which Mr. Sayed said helps survivors deal with the trauma of the Grenfell tragedy.

A general view of the Al Manaar Mosque and the Muslim Cultural Heritage centre (Picture: Facundo Arrizabalaga)

Despite this, Mr Sayed and his colleagues admit June is always a painful time of year.

Cllr Elizabeth Campbell, leader of Kensington and Chelsea council, said: “Our thoughts will always be with the people who lost their lives, their loved ones and their homes on June 14, 2017. 

“This council could and should have done more to keep our residents safe before the fire, and to care for them in the aftermath.”

A second and final inquiry report on the Grenfell Tower fire is due to be released on September 4.

Pictured top: Abdurahman Sayed in the Al Manaar Mosque and the Muslim Cultural Heritage centre (Picture: Facundo Arrizabalaga)

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