Me and my camera in my home town, my capital city, my london
I was out of the country from Thursday to Monday and in the time I was away the shock & horror had turned to sadness and to frustration and when visiting the site that evening it was clear these emotions had manifested to resentment and anger.
It was incredibly hard to go down to Grenfell Tower but it was even harder to stay away. This area has been engulfed by the tragedy and there is no avoiding it no matter where you are. As you walk around the streets here no-one is talking about anything else and even though things carry on as normal, it is very far from normal. People are still shopping on Portobello Rd as usual but every shop, cafe and bar has posters with photographs of ‘missing’ residents from the Tower plastered all over their glass fronts by their families and loved ones desperate to cling onto a glimmer of hope . There is also a very eerie atmosphere wherever you go and it is unusually quiet.
When we went to the base of the tower by Latimer Rd many people were congregating. Some silent, lost in their own terrible thoughts as they stared upwards, some sobbing, grief-stricken whilst others had formed groups and were discussing how something needed to be done and that they needed to organise themselves. This is a community that has already been squeezed and squeezed and also utterly ignored for such a long time and they spoke as if this was the inevitable tragic conclusion of a long history of neglect and lack of concern on behalf of the council and the companies who operate on their behalf. They were very angry.
The tension around the site is still very high as you can imagine. A girl took a picture of the tower and a guy started shouting at her. ‘This ain’t the Eiffel Tower! What you taking pictures for?” I was incredibly discreet (even before this incident) when taking the photographs I have shown to you this week as was so acutely aware of being intrusive or insensitive but I have been photographing this area and its residents for years and to not document this in some way seemed wrong to me.
What was most heartbreaking being down there was the outpouring of love towards the victims. So many heartfelt statements had been scrawled on the walls around the area, so much feeling and compassion and sorrow and regret.
On Wednesday we went to a local volunteers meeting to see if there was anything we could do to help and met a huge number of people who had turned up in the stifling heat for the same reason. Despite everyone’s best intentions the meeting sadly sharply descended into chaos. The volunteers who had organised the event quickly lost control as they were bombarded with questions they couldn’t answer. Seeing their was no genuine leadership others started trying to assert their own ideas as to the best way forward and suddenly everyone was shouting over everyone else. Everyone there wanted to do what was best and to be useful and to contribute but everyone had a different idea of how to go about it. People are still too angry and their emotions too raw to be thinking clearly and their frustration at not being able to help the way they desperately want to was depressingly turned on each other.
The community in this area is very tight knit and unlike a lot of areas in London in that it really is a local community and people define themselves as West Londoners even over their own origins and this tragedy has rocked this neighbourhood to the core and it will be a long time before anything feels normal, if ever again.