After a church service and march are held to mark the second anniversary of Grenfell Tower fire, residents say little has changed.
Sabah Yousef Abdullah was among scores of bereaved and survivors who gathered on Friday morning at St Helen’s church close to Grenfell Tower to light candles, pray and remember the 72 people who died following the disaster two years ago.
“I don’t know why I am alive if it is just to suffer for this,” the 72-year old widower said as he recalled the two years since his wife Khadija Khalloufidied in the fire.
“Once you feel something like this, it is stuck in you and no one can help. They might help you forget for a few hours, but once you are in bed you find you can’t sleep. I lost part of me.”
Dozens of white doves were released and hymns were sung during emotional ceremonies attended by the housing secretary, James Brokenshire, and the London mayor, Sadiq Khan.
The archbishop of York sent a message that recognised how the last two years had seen a “flow of pain and grief … so many lives lost, so many agonising memories”. But the event was marked by frustration and anger at the slow pace of justice.
Council housing blocks around the church were adorned with green scarves and the nave was packed with people wearing the same colour, holding pictures of loved ones they lost and carrying white roses to lay later at the base of the tower.
The bishop of Kensington, Graham Tomlin, told the congregation: “If we are honest, not much has changed.” He said the fire “should be a matter of national shame” and “the community deserves an increased focus” from the government, regardless of Brexit and the coming change in prime minister.
He said the disaster had been the result of “a lack of care, a lack of love for your neighbour”.
He spelled out a vision for change to come in five to 10 years in which “safety, security and wellbeing of those who don’t own their own homes” becomes a national priority, and we “learn not to build houses just for profit but to create communities”, which he said should be granted greater powers over their own circumstances.
When Ambrose Mendy, the cousin of the artist Khadija Saye who was killed, asked the congregation: “Has anything changed?” people called out: “No!”
He demanded an immediate resumption of public inquiry hearings, which have been delayed until the end of this year at the earliest.
Mark Fisher, the director general of the inquiry, was in the congregation along with Elizabeth Campbell, the leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which owned the tower, and Nick Hurd MP, the Home Office minister with responsibility for Grenfell.
The service was followed by a wreath-laying at the base of the tower and later a multifaith vigil and silent walk through the streets around it.
After the service, Brokenshire refused to discuss the fact that hundreds of tower blocks remain covered in Grenfell-style cladding, saying: “There will be time to reflect to the issues that are relevant.”
“Today is a day for those who lost their lives,” he said.
Photo Credit: 5 News