I woke on the morning of the 14th June to see a picture on a close friend’s timeline on FB at 7.18am just as she landed at Heathrow after returning from Africa. It showed the plane’s engine and a massive plume of smoke over West London.
At that point I hadn’t seen the news & I was to find out later that this Tower & plume of smoke was in fact the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower.
I was born in a children’s home in Kensington near Grenfell in the 50’s & then adopted. I had also served in Surrey Fire Brigade in the 1970’s as a Firewoman Control Officer so this unfolding tragedy really resonated with me as I could also imagine the hell my modern day counterparts were going through as they took those heartbreaking calls in Control Centres.
As that awful day unfolded I saw that another extremely close local friend was sharing messages about her daughters best friend from school who lived in Grenfell Tower with her mother. During that awful night Kadija Saye & her mother Mary Mende were desperately posting to FB from the 20th floor until 3am, saying “she was unable to get out of the flat, that the smoke was so thick, please pray for me there is a fire in our council block. I can’t leave the flat, please pray for me and my mum.”
Khadija Saye was an acclaimed Photographic Artist who’s work was being displayed at the Venice Biennale exhibition.
At one point throughout that dreadful day there was a report that they had been rescued and Khadija’s friends and family rushed to hospital to find out that this report was incorrect and that they were still sadly missing. Their Missing Report No was M387. It was later confirmed that they had indeed perished.
Of course Khadija and Mary were not the only people to lose their lives that night in this tragedy, 70 other people are now presumed to have died in the same tragedy. I was particularly affected because although I did not know Khajida & her mother, a close friend did. I spent that day hearing their elation when it was reported that they were safe, and then their crashing devastation when it was confirmed they were not saved. This rollercoaster & my grief was compounded by the fact that my friend had just seen me through the most crushing and awful few weeks of my life when I lost my father. She even helped me arrange Daddy’s funeral at the local Church where she is one of the Church Wardens. Now she and her daughter and all their friends were suffering too & I was helpless.
I was a member of the FB Group UKQU & within hours after the fire, a Facebook group had been launched with the aim of collecting a quilt for each surviving tower resident. Within days the group had 500 members and eventually over a thousand. Many people wanted to help. A request for quilt blocks was put out and within days people from all over the world answered the call.
I found the Quilts for Grenfell Tower Group and joined it on the 18th June when I was numb and still reeling from the harrowing death of my father in May 2017. I had absolutely no intention of sewing then or probably ever again in the distant future, but my husband gently encouraged me to as a way of diverting myself from my own sorrow. I started sewing in our garden on an old crank sewing machine. I made the fronts & backs of 2 quilts in the end, and joined in with a group at the Swindon Quiltathon, a group sewing day at Swindon to finish off my own tops and backs, & help assemble other donated blocks into quilts. I took some donated blocks and wadding from a dear friend Shelagh Folgate.
I met a group of wonderful other Quilters on that day but the end result was mostly achieved by tag team quilting and the generosity and time of Long Arm Angels. I was lucky enough to be teamed up with an amazing lady called Mairi Burns from Lismore Quilting who eventually quilted my two quilts.
She also quilted the one that a lady called Dawn Bradfield had made up from my friend Shelagh’s blocks.
My contribution was just a drop in the ocean of a total of 1111 of quits that were eventually made and donated. There is an amazing blog about the herculean effort made by so many people to make the final distribution happen, which is well worth reading. The link is below.
The grief of Grenfell will never disappear from any of our memories and it never should be erased either, not just in due respect for all the lives lost, but for the warnings that should have been addressed before it even happened & lessons that still need to be addressed even now.
The Quilts for Grenfell FB group was such a close knit community of wonderful men and women that had come together in this tragedy, and were sad to lose touch. The Group was renamed GT Quilters and is still going strong now. In 2018 hundreds of Christmas Stockings were made and distributed locally to the needy & homeless filled with essentials & little treats. In 2019 the group is actively making drawstring bags and pouches with poppers for the RED BOX PROJECT which seeks to provide free menstrual products to young people in our local schools and colleges. You can join GT Quilters on FB if you are interested in helping.
The generosity of Quilters does not end there though. Many of the original members of Quilts for Grenfell & GT Quilters have joined together with hundreds of new members to work to make quilts for Care Leavers in support of the The Gold From The Stone Foundation. The Foundation’s primary concern is The Christmas Dinner project. The Christmas Dinner was founded by the poet Lemn Sissay MBE in 2013 with the intention that no care leaver would be left alone on Christmas Day. Again quilters wanting to help with this worthwhile project can find out how to join our wonderful group by viewing their FB page.
I will never forget Grenfell and the impact it had on so many people. I was privileged to be just a tiny part of this, just 2 double quilts made, and several contributed to, however the biggest gift wasn’t necessarily the quilts, it was what it gave back to the participants. It gave us purpose when we felt helpless after that awful tragedy, it gave us new friends, it gave us motivation, it gave us pride, and it gave us satisfaction knowing that once the quilts were donated that the Admin team shared our vision in ensuring the quilts reached the right recipients.