Grenfell fire survivors urge council not to axe volunteer therapists

Diane Taylor
Officials say they are aiming for a single provider of regulated therapy services for Grenfell survivors. Photograph: David Mirzoeff/PA

Survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire have expressed dismay after the local council said it would axe the services of 15 volunteer complementary therapists who have been supporting victims for the past seven months.

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has told the therapists that they must leave their positions at the Curve community centre in west London by Friday 26 January. The therapists belong to Complementary Support Teams UK (CSTUK), a service that provides support for victims of disasters, which has been helping around 150 survivors of the Grenfell fire.

It is unclear exactly what services will replace those provided by CSTUK, though a number of therapists remain at the Curve. A draft strategy document from the council says the aim is to have a single lead provider of regulated complementary therapy services, linked to the NHS, for Grenfell survivors and that the council will be recruiting therapists between now and April. The council says the volunteer therapists are welcome to apply for jobs at the Curve.

However, Jane Lawson, who set up CSTUK and volunteers with survivors, said that many of the volunteer therapists combine their help for Grenfell survivors with day jobs in clinics, teaching and other commitments.

“We have 150 survivors and other residents on our books who we are currently providing therapies to. They are in the middle of a programme of therapies and this programme is going to be cut on Friday,” said Lawson. “We have built up relationships of trust with the survivors. Many survivors don’t want to use services provided by the council. Is the council not listening to what survivors want?”

CSTUK also says the council intends to restrict future complementary therapy treatments to just four sessions per person. Lawson says her team currently tailor sessions to each individual survivor and do not have a limit.

Distrust between survivors of the Grenfell fire and the local authorities is strong, and those being supported at the Curve did not wish to be named when speaking to the Guardian. One survivor said: “Since the fire, my partner hasbuilt a relationship of trust with her specific therapist. She finds it hard to trust anyone after being let down so many times. I find it very disturbing that they want to take this as well from us. They have already taken everything else from us.”

A second survivor said: “I lost everything, my house and someone I love. The only thing keeping me more focused are the regular therapies I’ve had. I love these guys. To see them go is a great loss.”

A third survivor urged the council to reconsider: “These volunteers have given up their time to support us. It’s not right that these generous volunteers are being prevented from continuing. I’m asking that they are allowed to continue to support us.”

The council insists that despite the 15 volunteer therapists having their assistance terminated in the next few days, therapy services will continue uninterrupted. The draft strategy document states that there are four lead therapists and three other therapists at the Curve. It is not clear if they will be immediately able to absorb all the work done by the 15 volunteer therapists or whether the 150 people currently receiving therapy from the CST volunteers will be happy to transfer to them.

A council spokesperson said: “Therapy services continue uninterrupted at the Curve – we are standardising our early-years service, which is delivered by paid professionals, with our adults’ service, which was delivered by volunteers. We thank the volunteers for the fantastic work they have done and we very much welcome their application should they wish to be part of this new service, which is closely integrated with the NHS and other partners.”