Survivors want to be voice for bereaved at Grenfell Testimony Week

The bereaved and survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire said they hope to be a voice for those who died and will call for change as they come face-to-face with representatives from organisations they hold responsible for the disaster.

Grenfell Testimony Week is being held in London from Tuesday, after an agreement reached last year following a High Court case which saw a judge approve a global settlement of compensation claims made by people affected by the 2017 blaze.

A legal hearing in May 2023 was told there had been a settlement of about 900 cases and a global sum of about £150 million compensation agreed.

Hanan Wahabi said she wants to be a voice for her relatives who died in the fire (Grenfell Memorial Commission/PA)
Hanan Wahabi wants to be a voice for her relatives who died in the fire (Grenfell Memorial Commission/PA)

Organisers of the four-day event said it is being held to give bereaved, survivors and residents an opportunity to “speak directly to representatives from the defendant organisations that many of them hold responsible for the fire”.

Hanan Wahabi survived the blaze but lost her eldest brother Abdulaziz El-Wahabi, 52, his wife Faouzia, 41, and their children Yasin, 20, Nur Huda, 16, and Mehdi, eight.

Before speaking at the event, she said: “I miss my family incredibly and I have to be their voice. I often think about what might have been – how my life would be with my big brother, his wife and their three children still in it.”

She described her sibling as “a wonderful father, husband, son, uncle and brother – as well as community leader and friend” and said he would likely still be working as a hospital porter now if he had lived, while his wife “would still be doing her amazing work in the community” and their “three lovely children” would be “growing up and laughing with friends and family”.

Georgina Smith has channelled her emotions from what happened into her artwork (Georgina Smith/PA)
Georgina Smith has channelled her emotions into her art (Georgina Smith/PA)

Ms Wahabi said Testimony Week “is a chance for me to share some of the devastating personal impact that night has had on me and my family – and to try to give some of the organisations that I hold responsible an insight into the horror faced by my brother and his family”.

She added: “It is a chance to reflect on the magnitude of the ongoing impact of that night, and the many failings that happened.

“What happened that night shows the worst of the built environment, housing, emergency services and central and local government. It is symbolic of a total lack of humanity and compassion, of putting people before profit, of a refusal to learn and change.”

Survivor Georgina Smith, who lost her good friend, 12-year-old Jessica Urbano Ramirez, in the fire, will have her artwork on display as part of Testimony Week.

Aged 19, Ms Smith is believed to be the youngest person to take part in the event, describing herself as an artist and activist.

She said: “All I wish for is change. A change to the systems which put us in this position and a reconsideration of whether the people who are in power are suitable to be making these decisions.

“I struggle to believe they have the correct morals and ethics to be doing so and it’s costing lives. I want not only my work but my words to sit with everyone and stay with them forever.”

She said her wish for the future is to see “charges and justice for those who lost their lives, the bereaved and the community”.

Her artwork, which features family scenes and memories of happier times in the tower, is a means of “creating the life we were meant to live”, she said.

She added: “The process of making work about Grenfell is reflective but also a form of my resistance to those who caused it.

“Every emotion I have felt gets channelled into my paintings as well as everyone else’s emotions.”

Arconic, which supplied the cladding on the outside of the tower, said it has made a “significant financial contribution to fund the organisation” of testimony week but regrets that no representatives can attend.

Representatives from Celotex, Exova, London Fire Brigade, Kingspan, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Rydon, and Whirlpool Corporation are due to attend, as well as representatives from the Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Georgina Smith said she is “creating the life we were meant to live” in her art (Georgina Smith/PA)
Georgina Smith said she is “creating the life we were meant to live” in her art (Georgina Smith/PA)

A spokesperson for Kingspan, whose insulation products were used in the tower, said Testimony Week is “an important event and we are committed to being there”.

London Fire Brigade said three senior officers will attend each day, adding that its “focus is on listening to the bereaved, survivors and residents” as the service continues to “learn, change and improve so that tragedies like this never happen again”.

Insulation firm Celotex said it is “fully supportive” of the event and “respects its importance to the bereaved, survivors and residents”.

RBKC council leader Elizabeth Campbell said it is important she attends, adding: “I would encourage anyone who has a leadership role in any of the organisations or companies involved in Grenfell to be there as well.”