'Trusted, committed and invested'
The response of faith groups during and after the Grenfell fire, how they did it and lessons others can learn, has been examined in a new report
Many commentators remarked on the level and effectiveness of the faith groups’ practical aid to those in need, particularly in the absence of a more co-ordinated official effort.
At least 15 separate centres run by faith communities responded. Aid included acting as evacuation areas, receiving, sorting and distributing donations, offering accommodation, drawing up lists of the missing, supporting emergency services, patrolling the cordon, providing counselling and supporting survivors seeking housing.
In the first three days alone at least 6000 people were fed by a range of faith communities. This is alongside the more expected provision of space for prayer and reflection and hosting interfaith services of memorial and lament.
Members of Westbourne Park Baptist Church were among the local faith groups who responded.
After Grenfell, a new report from think tank Theos, is a detailed study of that response.
Based on interviews with representatives of churches, synagogues, mosques, and gurdwaras in the vicinity, as well as from statutory bodies and emergency services, the report charts the faith groups’ response in the immediate hours, days and weeks after the tragedy.
The report shows how faith groups were able to respond in the way they did for a number of key reasons.
First, they were trusted. By being embedded in the community – indeed, by being made up of people from the local community itself – the faith groups had the networks, knowledge and relationships that enabled them to mobilise volunteers to reach people quickly and confidently.
Second, they were committed. The faith groups had history and roots in the area that went back decades, and were known to be there for the long haul. This enabled them to respond in the medium and longer term, just as much as the short term.
Third, they were invested. Most faith groups in the area had not only been around for a long time but had invested in and run buildings and facilities that they could make available quickly and flexibly.
In addition to this, the distinctive faith ethos of these groups enabled and encouraged them to respond with openness, hospitality and religious sensitivity to those in need.
The report outlines this activity, and while acknowledging that no response to a tragedy of this nature is foolproof, offers a number of lessons for faith groups and any others wanting to serve their community in the case of a tragedy. These include: be visible, be flexible, and intentionally build networks within the community and with statutory bodies and emergency services.
Yvette Williams, Justice4Grenfell said,
‘This is a welcome report and I hope it will stand as a timely insight for the future. The community has leant on many local faith leaders for strength and support following the disaster. All faith leaders should recognise the fantastic response they gave to the fire.’
Elizabeth Oldfield, Director of Theos said,
‘Grenfell was a horrendous tragedy, which ended over 70 lives, damaged hundreds more, and shocked millions. Yet, while it revealed signs of vulnerability, inequality and even indifference, it also showed a community, including diverse people of faith, that could respond with real courage and commitment. We hope this report will help us learn the lessons of this tragedy, and equip faith communities elsewhere to best serve those around in times of crisis as well as day-to-day.’
Meanwhile, as the fact-finding stage of the public inquiry into Grenfell began, the Bishop of Kensington strongly stated that it’ll take more than apportion of blame and punishment of the guilty to bring about deeper change following the Grenfell fire.
The Rt Rev Dr Graham Tomlin, who has been working closely with community groups in the aftermath of the Grenfell fire and been a strong advocate for victims, said at a special Grenfell event last week (6 June), 'If the Inquiry produces its results, culprits are identified and perhaps given prison sentences, that would satisfy a certain need for justice, or even revenge, but it still would not resolve anything fundamental.
'If we allocate blame, punish the guilty, and then carry on as before, then there is no guarantee that something like this will not happen again, or even more, we will perpetuate the deeper conditions and attitudes that led us to this point.
'We might even issue new types of building regulations, or safety measures in construction, but even that I suggest would not be enough.
'The kind of repentance that Jesus calls for, and indeed the Grenfell Tower fire calls for is deeper - a radical look at the way we live together in our society.'
Dr Tomlin also talked about the need for society to move away from self-interest and suggested this starts with the issue of housing which he said had now become too linked to profit making.
The local community in Kensington was praised at the time of the fire for how it rallied together. Bishop Graham said we need to see that sort of togetherness throughout the year not just at the time of tragedy.
'We need to make mutual care our regular way of life, rather than a brief response to an emergency…we choose our friends, we do not choose our neighbours. We need a new story, a new vision of life that sees us as those not made to pursue self-interest but as those who are fundamentally connected to one another.'