Grenfell Tower memorial events mark one year after fire

Harriet Sherwood
Members of the public hold a vigil near Grenfell Tower to honour the people who died in the fire one year ago. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

It was a day of green: scarves, ribbons, lapel badges, balloons, T-shirts, head wraps, all in the vibrant colour now identified with the devastating fire a year ago at Grenfell Tower.

At the foot of the now shrouded high-rise block, a crowd of survivors, bereaved relatives, members of the local community and representatives of the emergency services fell silent for 72 seconds, one for each person killed in the blaze. Many stood with their eyes closed or heads bowed during the silence. Some held a single white rose.

They were joined in their mark of respect by the Queen, Prince Philip and the Duchess of Sussex in Chester; Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall on a visit to Ireland; MPs in Westminster; the England squad training in Russia; the headquarters of the London fire brigade; and the congregation at a memorial service at St Helen’s church in North Kensington.

At the tower, the Soul Sanctuary gospel choir sang Lean on Me before the silence and Bridge of Troubled Water afterwards. The names of those who died were read out, punctuated with the words “forever in our hearts” and the sound of someone sobbing.

Grieving relatives took turns to write tributes on the perimeter fence in marker pen. Among those watching were the singer Adele and the rapper Stormzy.

At St Helen’s, candles were lit and prayers were said. Graham Tomlin, the bishop of Kensington, told the congregation that the anniversary was a day of “painful memories, a day we remember those 72 precious lives lost.”

It was also “a day for justice, as we pledge ourselves again to the slow, patient search for truth and justice for those who lost their lives, and a day for peace,” he said.

Grenfell Tower was “a symbol of pain and loss and a symbol of our failure to care for one another” but it could also become “a symbol of change and renewal”.

After the service, 73 doves were released from wicker baskets outside the church, one for each life lost plus one to represent fears that there may have been other people who died and who have not been identified. Among those present were the Labour MPs Emma Dent-Coad and David Lammy.

The congregation then walked in silence to the base of the tower to lay wreaths, light candles and say prayers.

Earlier, shortly before 1am – the time the fire service received the first emergency call – a procession reached the tower, now topped with banners bearing green hearts and the words “Grenfell: forever in our hearts”.

The names of those who died were said by their relatives and friends, accompanied by a drum beat, and pictures were pinned to a “wall of truth” – a section of the fencing around the tower featuring messages and candles.

At 1am, Grenfell and a dozen other tower blocks in the area, as well as 10 Downing Street, were illuminated in green.

At the nearby St Clement’s church, the Lord’s prayer was said every hour – the only words punctuating a 24-hour silent vigil that will end at 6pm with another service led by Tomlin.

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The vigil was one of a number of commemorations, which include church services and special prayers of remembrance at al-Manaar mosque. A silent walk – the latest of a series held on the 14th of each month since the fire – will begin at 6pm near the tower and end at Kensington memorial park.

Father Alan Everett, the vicar of St Clement’s, said the local community had been “dreading this week. The anniversary has stirred things up for many people. None of us quite know how we’ll feel. There’s been some discussion about re-traumatisation.”

He added: “Almost everybody will be massively relieved when it’s over. Most people just want to get through this week. A background of distress and fear has been building.”

Everett was woken on the night of the fire and went straight to his church. After switching on the lights and opening the doors, people from Grenfell Tower and the surrounding blocks arrived seeking shelter and solace.

On Sunday, St Clement’s dedicated a garden of remembrance on the north wall of the church, facing the tower. The following day, the prime minister, Theresa May – who said this week that her response was inadequate in the hours and days after the fire – came to lay a wreath of white roses with a card saying: “In memory of all those who lost their lives at Grenfell Tower. They will never be forgotten.”

Everett said he hoped the garden and church could be a place of peace and sanctuary. “It’s been very positive to turn a really grotty space into something rather beautiful for the community.”

Schoolchildren across the country have been asked to wear “green for Grenfell” on Friday to mark the anniversary and to raise funds for local charities. Schools are being asked to share their activities and photos on social media, using the hashtag #GreenForGrenfellDay.

Sandra Ruiz, whose 12-year-old niece, Jessica Urbano Ramirez, died in the fire, said: “Green for Grenfell Day is an opportunity to celebrate community spirit up and down the country. In the days after the fire a community of volunteers surrounded us and helped us through the most difficult of times.

“If there is to be a positive legacy from this tragedy, we hope it is that we celebrate and emulate here in North Kensington and across the country the community spirit that we saw in the days, weeks and months after the fire.”

The inquiry into the fire, which began hearing evidence this month, has paused for this week to allow core participants and others to take part in commemorative events.