The Grenfell Tower community said they formed a “wonderful” bond with each other as they “came together” to recover from the disaster and fight for justice.
Nahid Ashby, who lives in Frinsted House tower block near Grenfell, said a “positive aspect” of the situation is how residents grew close in the five years since the June 2017 fire, which caused the death of 72 people.
Speaking to the PA news agency ahead of the fifth anniversary on Tuesday, Ms Ashby said the authorities gave them no support, so “the community came together” and “pulled ourselves out”.
“It was like we were all drowning and there was no one to take our hand and pull us out,” she said, adding: “That’s the positive aspect of it.”
The common ground found in the recovery process meant Ms Ashby also “met almost everyone around”.
“I’ve met more people in the last five years than I’ve ever made in my whole life because I’m a loner and I’ve kept myself to myself,” she said.
“It was a wonderful experience and it was actually quite surprising for myself that I could have so many friends.”
I’ve met more people in the last five years than I’ve ever made in my whole life
Nahid Ashby, Frinstead House on the Silchester Estate
Eman Yosry, who has lived in the Markland House tower block for about 40 years, said she has felt supported by her neighbours while mourning the death of people she had known since they were toddlers.
Ms Yosry, who chairs the Grenfell Nursery management committee, said: “The community was great getting together and you can feel how strong this community are and how resilient they are.”
Growing tearful, she went on to say: “I know a lot of people in the tower, some of them very very close friends and some I knew through the Grenfell Nursery as I chair the management committee so most of the people who died – I knew them as toddlers, so it was very very difficult and sad to learn everyday who [had died].”
Despite this, Ms Yorsy said the community “have been strong” and they “support each other”.
“That’s what we do and we can as a community, if we are given the chance, do a lot more but we need justice,” she said.
Samia Badani, 47, who lives in Bramley House near the tower, said the lack of justice has been a catalyst for bringing residents together.
In the aftermath of the fire, Ms Badani helped to set up the Supporting People And Community Empowerment hub (SPACE), which offers support and provides essentials to people in the area from a base near the tower in west London.
Ms Badani said the hub was part of the community’s response after the authorities left a “power vacuum” when they “abandoned” residents during and following the fire.
The community have often described how there appeared to be no official response or guidance from authorities in the area during the fire and in the aftermath, with many people left not knowing where to go or how to track down loved ones.
You can feel how strong this community are and how resilient they are.
Eman Yosry, resident of Markland House tower block
“What happened that night – because the authorities abandoned us – there was that power vacuum and as people, we were no longer … oppressed,” Ms Badani said, adding that they found the freedom to “fend for ourselves”.
“That bit of power that we took as a community, it began to grow after the fire because it was chaos” Ms Badani said.
She spoke about how everyone created a “safety net around one another”, adding: “That’s what we did as a community together because there was no one who cared about our public safety.”
“That’s what has been happening and we’ve been doing it on top of trying to heal,” she added.
The 47-year-old said “you don’t have to speak” when you glance at others in the street because “they know and we know they feel the same way we do – that’s what we’ve created in the last few years”.
But she said the community “still have a long way to go to heal”.
“It’s hard to acknowledge because it’s years of our lives that we are not going to get back.
“So I think it’s quite important that on the fifth anniversary we hold our heads high and say: ‘Yes we’ve suffered too, we keep going too, we’re resilient but that pain is still here.’”
A Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea spokesperson said: “The council has pointed out its own failings in statements to the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry and continues to participate fully.
“We are deeply sorry that the council did not do more to help bereaved, survivors and residents when they most needed help.”
On the community engagement and recovery, the spokesperson said: “We have a dedicated service for bereaved and survivors and over 95% of the over 700 bereaved and survivors are accessing this.
“We have recently made a range of changes to the service in response to what we heard from bereaved and survivors: they wanted more flexibility and control, so we have introduced new personal budgets for services, giving them more direct choice.”
In the House of Commons on Thursday, Housing Secretary Michael Gove said: “I apologise to the bereaved, the relatives and the survivors for the fact that, over the last five years, the Government have sometimes been too slow to act and have sometimes behaved insensitively.
“It is important that we now translate the actions they are demanding into real and lasting change.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Housing, Communities and Levelling Up said: “The Grenfell Tower tragedy must never be allowed to happen again and our thoughts are with the bereaved families, survivors and residents.”