Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott comfort grieving relatives following the national memorial service yesterday at St Paul’s Cathedral for those who died in the Grenfell Tower fire, writes Adwoa Korkoh.
They were among the 1,500 people who attended the multifaith service held six months to the day of the disaster, which claimed 71 lives, 18 of them children.
Around half of the congregation were bereaved families and survivors, and the rest from the wider community, emergency services and volunteers. They were joined by members of the royal family and a number of political leaders.
A banner bearing the ‘green Grenfell heart’ was carried down the aisle to mark the beginning of the service, which included music by the Ebony Steel Band, the Portobello Road Salvation Army Band, a girls’ choir from the Al Sadiq and Al Zahra Schools, and the St Paul’s Cathedral Choir.
In an address the Bishop of Kensington, the Right Reverend Dr Graham Tomlin, appealed to people to reach out so that Grenfell became no only a “symbol of sorrow, grief or injustice” but also a turning point when London learned to “listen and love”.
A sound montage of voices of former Grenfell residents expressing their emotions about the disaster rang around the walls of the ancient cathedral, providing one of the services most powerful moments. Another was when local school children scattered green hearts they had made to remember classmates who had died as Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Somewhere’ was sang.
Nyalissa Mendy, pictured to the right of Corbyn, is a cousin of mother and daughter Mary and Khadija Mendy who perished in the fire, which occurred despite warnings from residents to Kensington and Chelsea council about glaring safety lapses in the tower.
Anger over the disaster and the council’s slow response to offer support to the victims has led to campaign that ultimately challenges successive governments’ austerity policies.
“It was a moving and powerful service that brought everyone together and was a unified acknowledgement of the tragedy.” said Nyalissa. “People no longer feel so alone. Now we have to continue the fight for justice.”
Her sister Clarrie Mendy, founder of campaign group Relative Justice for Grenfell, approached the Church of England in July calling for a national memorial service.
“The service has demonstrated how people have been affected by what has happened,” she said. “The Church has responded but the government needs to do much more to help survivors and to ensure that disasters like this never happen again. Actions speak louder than words.”
Later that day in the shadow of the burnt out tower, hundreds of people from the local community marked the six month anniversary with a ‘silent march’, holding candles and banners aloft. Similar marches have been held on the 14th of every month since the fire on June 14.
“We shall keep on marching until we get to the truth of what happened,” said Clarrie Mendy.