Londoners can build a new and better way of life from the Grenfell tragedy, the national memorial service at St Paul’s Cathedral was told today.
The Bishop of Kensington, the Right Reverend Dr Graham Tomlin, appealed to millions of people to reach out so Grenfell is not just a “symbol of sorrow, grief or injustice” for decades to come but also a turning point when London learnt to “listen and love”.
More than 1,500 people attended today’s service, around half of who were bereaved families and survivors, with hundreds more from the wider community, emergency services and volunteers.
It was being held to remember those who died, to show solidarity with the bereaved and survivors, and to thank the emergency services, the recovery teams, community response, public support, and volunteers.
The Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan were among the dignitaries.
Prime Minister Theresa May arrived for the service and entered St Paul’s through a side door.
In a powerful and moving address to a packed St Paul’s, Dr Tomlin said: “My hope, my prayer is that today we will pledge ourselves to change – from a city where we didn’t listen, where we didn’t hear the cries of our neighbours because we were too wrapped up in our own interests and prosperity, to create a new type of life together, where we are turned not inwards to ourselves, but outwards towards each other…
“In years to come, our hope is that the name of ‘Grenfell’ will not just be known as a symbol of sorrow, grief or injustice, but a symbol of the time we learnt a new and better way – to listen and to love.”
The truth behind how such an inferno could happen in one of the richest capitals on earth will emerge from the public inquiry into the scandal, he hoped, with the findings “bringing justice” to open the door to “true reconciliation” to heal divides now so clearly exposed in the city.
“Yet my hope and prayer is that this new year can bring new hope of a future, a vision of a city where we lose our self-obsession and listen and learn from places and people that we wouldn’t normally think of reaching out to.”
Six months ago, fire ripped through the 24-storey tower block in North Kensington, claiming 71 lives.
The building’s charred remains still stand as a stark reminder on the London landscape of the horror of that night and of the social divisions in the capital, with its huge wealth cheek-by-jowl with deprived communities.
Karim Mussilhy, whose uncle Hesham Rahman, 57, died after fire engulfed his flat on the 20th floor, said: “It is time to unite and pull together and that is exactly what we are all doing.
“We are channelling the frustration and anger into improving things.
“The service is the first time all the families have been together. It’s all very moving and brings it all back. Of course we want justice but today is a time to focus on the positives.”
The 48-year-old said healing would take a long time and that “the service and people’s faith is an important part of what’s getting them through”.
Mr Gabbitas said he had been immediately struck by the way the tragedy touched the nation, praising the “almost immediate spontaneous, visceral response of people wishing to help”.
He said: “Another unifying force was the presence of the sovereign, which seemed almost immediate again in terms of they hardly needed to be consulted.
“I think the nation at that point appreciated her being present, and particularly William and Harry, and I think that was a unifying force of which there were no politicians who managed that.”
The royals’ numerous visits to the community since the fire formed a thread which has led to their presence at the service, he said, adding: “That is wonderful that there is recognition at that level, and as I said it was one of the only unifying forces and at these times I guess we are more thankful we have a royal family and its place within our society.”
Samia Badani, one of the leaders of the community aid team Angels for Grenfell, added: “I was dreading waking up today with all the terrible memories. But out of adversity the community had been strong.
“We all feel a bit guilty and not having been able to help the victims as fire tore through the building. Now we must do something positive while putting pressure on their authorities to accept their responsibilities.”
The St Paul’s service was being screened at the Notting Hill Methodist Church which has been a focus for the community in their mourning.
It included a specially-commissioned banner incorporating the ‘Grenfell Heart’ on display and music by the Ebony Steel Band, the Portobello Road Salvation Army Band, an Islamic girls’ choir from the Al Sadiq and Al Zahra Schools, and the St Paul’s Cathedral Choir.
A pre-recorded sound montage of feelings and views from people from the Grenfell community was played.
Clarrie Mendy, whose cousin Mary Mendy and her daughter Khadija died in the fire, helped shape the multi-faith service.
She said she had asked for the event to be held at St Paul’s Cathedral, exactly six months after the fire, and that she hoped the names of the 53 adults and 18 children who died would be read out as a mark of respect and recognition.
“I hope there’s words that will just echo and resonate, and say, ‘yes, there is empathy, there is humanity, there is hope for the world’, because I think this service is the platform that can really start to change humanity depending on the right words and – it’s a church, people of God – how they convey the message to mankind.”
“I hope I’m just not hoping for too much, but I am expecting a lot from this service, especially words of healing, and of truth.”
Following the service this morning, bereaved families and survivors were due to leave the cathedral together in silence, holding white roses.
Dr Tomlin stressed that far too many Grenfell survivors were still living in hotels and in “a kind of limbo”, with just over 40 families in permanent new homes as Christmas approaches.
He also told how out of the “unimaginable” tragedy, the city “saw something extraordinary” with the flood of offers of help, including from a six-year-old boy, Alfie Lindsey, who turned up with his father with his pocket money tin, with around £60, that he wanted to donate to one of the Grenfell families.
The bishop also highlighted that there are still “so many unresolved issues and questions”, which the public inquiry, chaired by retired Court of Appeal judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick, and a huge police investigation are seeking to answer.
Mayor Mr Khan said: “Survivors are still grieving and traumatised, many will still be homeless this Christmas, and the community remains frustrated and angry – and justifiably so.
“I share their anger and will continue to fight to ensure that they get justice as quickly as possible.”
Councillor Elizabeth Campbell, leader of Kensington & Chelsea council, was not present at the service after some families said they did not want the town hall to attend in an official capacity.
She said: “It is only right that we respect the wishes of those involved in the service.
“We hope to rebuild trust, but we understand that we have a long way to go.”
The council instead marked the occasion with a minute’s silence at 11am at the town hall in High Street Kensington.
Hundreds of police officers have been involved in the widespread probe into the Grenfell fire, including into the tower’s renovation with cladding, and it has already taken more than 1,000 statements and seized in excess of 2,500 exhibits.