As we mark the first anniversary of Grenfell, a new report examines what the diverse faith communities around the Tower did during and after the fire, how they were able to do it, and what we can learn from it.
Many commentators remarked on the level and effectiveness of the faith groups’ practical aid to those in need, particularly in the absence of a more co-ordinated official effort. At least fifteen separate centres run by faith communities responded.
Aid included acting as evacuation areas, receiving, sorting and distributing donations, offering accommodation, drawing up lists of the missing, supporting emergency services, patrolling the cordon, providing counselling and supporting survivors seeking housing.
In the first three days alone at least 6000 people were fed by a range of faith communities. This is alongside the more expected provision of space for prayer and reflection and hosting interfaith services of memorial and lament. After Grenfell, a new report from think tank Theos is a detailed study of that response.
Based on interviews with representatives of churches, synagogues, mosques, and gurdwaras in the vicinity, as well as from statutory bodies and emergency services, the report charts the faith groups’ response in the immediate hours, days and weeks after the tragedy.
The report shows how faith groups were able to respond in the way they did for a number of key reasons.
First, they were trusted. By being embedded in the community – indeed, by being made up of people from the local community itself – the faith groups had the networks, knowledge and relationships that enabled them to mobilise volunteers to reach people quickly and confidently.
Second, they were committed. The faith groups had history and roots in the area that went back decades, and were known to be there for the long haul. This enabled them to respond in the medium and longer term, just as much as the short term.
Third, they were invested. Most faith groups in the area had not only been around for a long time but had invested in and run buildings and facilities that they could make available quickly and flexibly.
In addition to this, the distinctive faith ethos of these groups enabled and encouraged them to respond with openness, hospitality and religious sensitivity to those in need.
The report outlines this activity, and while acknowledging that no response to a tragedy of this nature is foolproof, offers a number of lessons for faith groups and any others wanting to serve their community in the case of a tragedy. These include: be visible, be flexible, and intentionally build networks within the community and with statutory bodies and emergency services.
Yvette Williams, Justice4Grenfell said: “This is a welcome report and I hope it will stand as a timely insight for the future. The community has leant on many local faith leaders for strength and support following the disaster. All faith leaders should recognise the fantastic response they gave to the fire.”
Elizabeth Oldfield, Director of Theos said: “Grenfell was a horrendous tragedy, which ended over 70 lives, damaged hundreds more, and shocked millions. Yet, while it revealed signs of vulnerability, inequality and even indifference, it also showed a community, including diverse people of faith, that could respond with real courage and commitment.
“We hope this report will help us learn the lessons of this tragedy, and equip faith communities elsewhere to best serve those around in times of crisis as well as day-to-day.”
It includes commendations from Abdurahman Sayed, CEO of Al-Manaar Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre and Dr Alan Everett, Vicar of St Clement and St James.