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Grenfell calls for societal change

Rt Rev Graham Tomlin urges us to radically change how we relate to our neighbours.

Tributes, testimonies, prayers and calls for accountability continue to pour out 12 months on from the tragic Grenfell Tower fire which left 72 people dead, 70 people injured and hundreds of people homeless.

Singer Beyonce and her husband, rapper Jay-Z, are among the countless number of people who have expressed their condolences amid the anniversary of the disaster. Since Friday, 15 June, the couple has grabbed newspaper headlines for paying an emotional” tribute during their On The Run II tour at the London Stadium to those who lost their lives in the blaze and the many who survived but have been sorely affected.

Around 10 days before the Americans spoke of their sorrow, the Bishop of Kensington, the Rt Rev Dr Graham Tomlin, indicated that we need to do more than pay tributes and apportion blame, as some have been doing, as he called on the people of London, and those further afield, to take stock of how we live and make a conscious decision and effort to love our neighbours each and every day, and not just when there’s a devastating tragedy. Love of this sort, he believes, will heal communities and prevent tragedies like this from happening again.

Bishop Graham made his comments at a Premier Lecture on Wednesday, 6 June, in light of the ongoing independent public inquiry, which was set up to examine the circumstances that preceded and followed the fire in north Kensington, London, and criticisms about the advice the Fire Bridges Union gave to residents who were trapped in the 24-storey tower block.

If the inquiry produces its results, culprits are identified and perhaps given prison sentences, that would satisfy a certain need for justice, or even revenge, but it still would not resolve anything fundamental,” said Bishop Graham, who has been working closely with community groups in the aftermath of the fire.

If we allocate blame, punish the guilty, and then carry on as before, then there is no guarantee that something like this will not happen again, or even more, we will perpetuate the deeper conditions and attitudes that led us to this point,” he added.

We might even issue new types of building regulations, or safety measures in construction, but even that I suggest would not be enough. The kind of repentance that Jesus calls for, and indeed the Grenfell Tower fire calls for, is deeper – a radical look at the way we live together in our society.“

Bishop Graham acknowledges and commends the various individuals, organisations and churches that pulled together during and after the fire: People from the north of the borough rallied round, as did those from south of the borough, often coming into streets they had never visited before, as did people from much wider afield. It was a brief moment when the barriers between us broke down, and we reached out to help one another in a time of need.“

Meanwhile, a new report from thinktank Theos, which examined what the diverse faith communities in the area did during and after the incident, has revealed that at least 15 separate centres run by faith communities responded, offering a range of support, including evacuation areas, accommodation and counselling. In the first three days alone, at least 6,000 people were fed by a range of faith communities, said the report.

Separately, the inquiry highlighted a man named Ray (read more about him here), who, on the night of the fire, had welcomed seven of his neighbours into his top-floor flat as they awaited rescue. Ray offered refuge to his neighbours, and during the inquiry it was found that they had sat on his bed, while Ray sat on the floor at their feet.

These examples of people stepping up and stepping in – a few of many – show our common humanity, that deep instinct to care for one another’s needs, that sense that we belong together and are fundamentally persons in relationship with another rather than mere individuals”, said Bishop Graham.

But Bishop Graham has stressed that radical societal change, underpinned by love, is needed to effect lasting change. We need to make mutual care our regular way of life, rather than a brief response to an emergency. We choose our friends; we do not choose our neighbours. We need a new story, a new vision of life that sees us as those not made to pursue self-interest but as those who are fundamentally connected to one another.” 

About the author

Naomi joined the Evangelical Alliance in 2018 as editorial content manager. Positions with publishers and within the marketing and communications faculty of a higher education institution, plus stints as a reporter, have enabled the media and cultural studies graduate, who has an NCTJ diploma in newspaper journalism, to hone the necessary skills and qualities to serve members well.

See more from Naomi Osinnowo

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