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Grenfell: Community shows great strength after tragedy

COMMUNITY FOCUS: Members of the local community stand together at last year’s Notting Hill Carnival

MEMBERS OF the local community in the area that surrounds the Grenfell Tower have spoken about how a sense of unity has strengthened them a year on from the tragedy that claimed the lives of 72 people.

In dif cult times, people often look for leaders to provide stability and hope. Instead this leadership has been provided by the diverse local community, which has shown strength, resilience and dignity in gathering together and organising events despite the lack of clarity from local and national elected officials.

Survivors, bereaved relatives and justice campaigners have been active in keeping up the pressure as the public inquiry opened and organised a petition demanding a representative panel be added to the inquiry into the immediate causes of the fire.

They have also organised silent walks on the 14th of every month to remember those who lost their lives. Among those who has led the community response is Sierra Leone-born north Kensington resident Tarek Gotti.

The father-of-three, who lives a few minutes away from the tower, has during the past
12 months self-funded 26 events for Grenfell Tower survivors, their families and local residents.

To extend his charitable work Gotti is in the process of establishing a charity, Little Angels 4 Grenfell, to fulfil his mission.

The charity, which was named by his children, brings locals together in various settings where they can experience emotional support.

Gotti said he decided to set up the charity after he witnessed his young children grieving following the loss of their school friends who died in the fire.

HEARTBROKEN

Speaking to The Voice, Gotti weeps as he repeats his children’s reaction to their bereavement. He said: “I have to listen to my kids all the time saying, ‘I have lost my friends because of you. You’re an army hero, why couldn’t you save them?’


PICTURED: Tarek Gotti

“I have been crying non-stop for the last year. I’m heartbroken. All I can do now is provide the love and affection for the local people and have an open house where I can feed them.”

Another local north Kensington resident, Yvette Williams, applauds Gotti’s efforts and says it is a reflection of how the community has come together. She said: “Characters like Tarek have resulted in much healing to the community. He has brought individuals together from different races and ages and fed us at his events so that we can spend time with each other and draw close to each other.

“The inquiry will be a litmus test for political will in this county and hopefully for change.”

Williams, campaign co-ordinator for Justice4 Grenfell, also applauds the way in which
the local community has come together. She told The Voice: “I don’t believe many communities would have responded as positively to a similar disaster.

"Our resilience is a legacy of the Windrush Generation’s achievements, which has helped release a unique community spirit. At times when I have felt weak there has always been local personalities available at marches or various events to add strength and provide encouragement for the cause.”

On the night of the disaster Gotti and a group of friends were among the first individuals to enter the tower block, helping residents to escape during the initial stages of the fire at 1.05am.

But as the fire engulfed the tower block from 2am onwards the role of Gotti and the other first responders, as they like to be called, changed.

Describing the night’s events, Gotti said: “As people evacuated the building I realised they would need water and chocolate to recover. That’s when I told the guys from the local community who wanted to break through the police cordon to calm down and I helped to mobilise the community to ferry water, hot food and dates to the site.”

For approximately 12 hours, Tarek and a group of first respondents carried food and liquids from their own provisions, local shops and restaurants in shopping trollies to assist survivors and their families.

Later the first responders started collecting donations of food and clothing at a local housing estate.

Gotti added: “Survivors and firemen have approached me and said if it wasn’t for your water and assistance on the night of the fire I wouldn’t have been able to cope.”

Gotti admits that the last year has been challenging. He suffered burns to his legs and stomach and according to his doctor is now experiencing survival guilt. He said: “I saw seven people jump to death from the tower and it has affected me terribly, but I am determined to help my community.”

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