I am part of a team of volunteer counsellors, psychotherapists and art therapists at Kids on the Green who are working with survivors of the Grenfell tower fire and their friends and relations. I am also providing supervision for volunteers and staff as they cope with the huge trauma they are seeing. We are working with an amazing team of helpers who are giving up so much time to help make this work a reality for as long as it is needed. Everywhere there is kindness. The organizer Zoe is dynamic, clear headed and empathic and with other wonderful people is making Norland open space a place for children and adults to come and play and paint, talk and grieve, eat pizza and spin hula hoops. Local shops big and small have generously donated fruit and snacks, drinks, paints and other craft materials, toys . A circus troupe has been offering their time for nothing . We now have a wonderful tent too.
We will be continuing the work through the winter indoors and are now planning and organising for this.
The little children seem fine on the surface but you only have to look at their pictures to see their distress – they use many colours but black predominates. They concentrate really hard on what they are doing. Adolescents are more direct but subdued.
Around the tower lie garlands and swathes of flowers; carpets and tapestries of cards , memorials and desperate pleas for help in locating the missing. People are quiet and sad, talking in little groups, shocked and disorientated. The whole atmosphere is too still. Schools have been shut and children moved to new schools. Some children are having to do their exams and they don’t stay and paint but walk away to study. Many of the childrens’ friends are missing. They say: ‘where is Jane or Jamal or Alex?’ Nobody has seen them and they lived on the 18th floor and the 20th floor and the 16th floor and we all know they are dead.
And the government, central and local? There is very little or no official help.. Everything is being done by volunteers.
The tower itself is just a black shell with many empty holes yawning into space; a constant reminder of what has happened.
So many kind people have donated money and food but the survivors did not get it for rather a long time. Most are now housed in hotels but they have no idea how long this is to go on for. A grand hotel sounds nice but after a while it feels a bit like a prison when you are cut off from everything familiar and you have lost everything. This is a predominantly immigrant community and they set an example of compassion for each other and care and patience in spite of everything which makes me feel humbled. It is heart breaking. I am supervising some marvellous people called Total Family Coaching who are working in the hotels with survivors overnight – I can’t tell you how amazing they are.
I display above of a picture painted by a three year old. For reasons of confidentiality I am only showing a corner. I think it says it all.
Juliet Emerson, October 2017.