Churchill Fellow supports Grenfell Tower Survivors
Published: 20 Nov 2017
The now infamous Grenfell Tower is just minutes away from Churchill Fellow Zrinka Bralo's office and she's been helping survivors any way she can. Here’s her account of the past few months...
Grenfell Tower is situated just 10 minutes’ walk away from the charity where I work, Migrants Organise, in north Kensington. We have worked with and know many of the people affected by the fire, and I have worked there for more than 16 years - so we were all in shock, we are still grieving and we share a lot of anger about the tragedy and its aftermath with our neighbours and friends.
Immediately after the fire we helped sort out donations, which were overwhelming. We tried to establish where were the people we knew, responded to many enquiries from community leaders about services available, organised community meetings and responded to many offers from volunteers who wanted to do something to help.
The situation was very chaotic and we tried to be helpful and provide emotional support to community leaders, who were overwhelmed. Instead of the planned Great Get Together in memory of Jo Cox MP, we ended up talking to hundreds of people who were distressed by the Grenfell tragedy. Our mentoring programme for refugees and migrants gives us access to trauma councillors, who volunteered to help many people cope, whether individually or in groups.
We also provided support to a few undocumented migrants, who came forward and talked to journalists and media. Some of the coverage around undocumented people was misleading and unhelpful, so we had to deal with the impact of that too. Fortunately, everyone affected by the fire will be allowed to stay, but several months of uncertainty delayed access to services for some of them. The numbers reported were exaggerated: we are aware of only five people in this situation.
We have worked with lawyers who are representing survivors and their families. More strategically, we have worked with communities and individuals to make submissions to the consultation about the Terms of Reference for the Public Inquiry, to make sure that their voices are heard. Many trusts and foundations that fund the work of Migrants Organise offered us additional support, for which we are extremely grateful. As a result, we are currently recruiting an Organiser for north Kensington to work with communities and leaders on better representation and participation of minorities in local democratic institutions and processes.
We are still dealing with grief and sadness about the loss, disappointment and anger about the lack of adequate provisions for people affected. Many people are traumatised and it will take a long time to recover. So we are here for a long haul and will be providing support for many years to come, hoping that we can all learn some lessons and avoid repeating the same mistakes again.
Zrinka Bralo is the Chief Executive of Migrants Organise. For her Fellowship in 2014, she travelled to the USA to explore community organising models for migrants and minorities.