Faith communities have been praised for their response to last year’s Grenfell Tower blaze amid calls to learn from the tragedy.
The distinctive ethos of faith communities enabled and encouraged them to respond with openness, hospitality and religious sensitivity to those in need, according to a new report marking the first anniversary of the fire.
After Grenfell, a new report from religion and society think tank Theos, examines what the diverse faith communities around the Tower did during and after the fire, how they were able to do it, and what the groups, and the rest of society, can learn from it.
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 6,000 people were fed by a range of faith communities, the report found. This occurred alongside the more expected provision of space for prayer and reflection and hosting interfaith services of memorial and lament.
Yvette Williams, of Justice4Grenfell has welcomed the report. “The community has leant on many local faith leaders for strength and support following the disaster,” she said. “They all responded fantastically to the fire.”
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.
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.
“Grenfell was a horrendous tragedy, which ended over 70 lives, damaged hundreds more, and shocked millions,” said Elizabeth Oldfield, Director of Theos. “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 lessons and equip faith communities to best serve those around in times of crisis.”
Picture: Flames and smoke engulf Grenfell Tower on 14th June 2017. (CNS photo/Andy Rain, EPA).