Grenfell fire survivors and bereaved to help to decide 'most fitting' tribute after new memorial commission announced

Proposals range from garden to black sculpture that would loom over west London skyline

Harriet Agerholm
Wednesday 12 September 2018 22:10 BST
The structure is currently wrapped in white plastic sheeting, with a banner bearing a green heart hung from the top, but there are still fears the tower is causing distress
The structure is currently wrapped in white plastic sheeting, with a banner bearing a green heart hung from the top, but there are still fears the tower is causing distress (AFP/Getty)

A Grenfell Tower memorial commission will be formed to decide what happens to the site of the disaster, with survivors, the bereaved and local residents to decide “the most fitting and appropriate way” to memorialise the tragedy’s 72 victims.

Survivor group Grenfell United described constructing the memorial as a “momentous task” that would help keep the tragedy in the minds of future generations.

The commission will consist of 10 community members who will sit alongside representatives from public authorities, including the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said.

Although the commission will not have executive powers, it will produce a report setting out its views on how the north Kensington site should be used, the design of the memorial and how it will be owned and managed. The Memorial Commission’s work is expected to take a minimum of a year, MCLG said.

The structure is currently wrapped in white plastic sheeting, with a banner bearing a green heart hung from the top, but there are still fears the tower is causing distress.

It emerged on Wednesday that some 1,200 people traumatised by the Grenfell Tower fire received mental health treatment in the year after the tragedy. The MCLG said NHS representatives would sit on the Memorial Commission.

Despite the concerns over mental health problems, members of the community say they want to leave the husk of the tower standing as a symbol of what they say was a horrific consequence of the government’s austerity policies.

Antonio Roncolato, who fled the 10th floor of the high-rise on the night of the blaze, told The Independent the tower needed to be demolished, but “some burned part of the tower must stay there as a reminder”.

“We have to have a little bit as a constant reminder so that it cannot happen again.

“You can have all the beautiful things you want – water fountains, statues with the victims’ names engraved … but we must have a little bit of a reminder of the cold truth, of the black. It’s an ugly thing, but it has to be there.”

Local residents are also concerned about the demolition process. Tomassina Hessel, who was evacuated from The Walkways, next to the tower, told The Independent: “For starters there is no health and safety or asbestos plan so residents are very concerned about the impact to their health during the process.

Labour MP David Lammy responds to documents showing official fire safety warnings were given at Grenfell Tower months before tragedy

“There are also objections to plans to dump the remains on the ground outside the leisure centre (next to the site) which happens to be right outside residential properties.”

She said the current plans to remove the debris involved knocking down flats to make way for machinery and construction vehicles, which residents were concerned about.

The community-elected members of the Memorial Commission will include five people bereaved by the fire, three former residents of Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk who lost their homes, and two representatives from the wider Lancaster West estate.

The voice of the bereaved would carry the most weight, equivalent to a 50 per cent representative vote, the MCLG said.

Adel Chaoui of Grenfell United said: “Creating a fitting memorial on the Grenfell Tower site is a momentous task.

“For bereaved families it is the final resting place of the loved ones that we lost in the fire. For the survivors, Grenfell Tower was our home, where we were brought up and raised our families. And for our community it is a part of our shared history.

“We have faith that bereaved families and survivors, working together with the local community will be able to create a fitting memorial to remember the lives lost, ensure what happened is never forgotten and be something this community can hold in their hearts for generations to come.”

Secretary of state for communities James Brokenshire said: “The government has always been committed to working with the community to create a fitting memorial, with the prime minister giving her personal commitment that the bereaved, survivors and community will decide what happens to the future of the Grenfell Tower site.

“This is an important step forward in honouring that commitment and it is only right that the community determine the most appropriate way of honouring those who lost their lives.”

Whatever the commission recommends for the site, Grenfell Tower will reportedly stand until 2022, since the remains of the tower are purportedly needed for evidential purposes for the public inquiry into the disaster.

The demolition of the building is estimated to take 18 months and involve floor-by-floor dismantling because it is close to residential buildings and a secondary school.

The announcement of the Memorial Commission comes after the National September 11 Memorial and Museum said it would give the north Kensington community a seedling from its “Survivor Tree”.

The plant was recovered from the rubble of the World Trade Centre after the 9/11 terror attack and tended back to health. The seedlings will grow to become “landmarks symbolising resiliency and hope”, the memorial said.

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