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Friday, 16 June 2017

Grenfell Tower: a walk through a community in West London

Message from London Fire Brigade (LFB)
16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
Last summer I set up a goal of photographing tower blocks / high rise / multistoried building in London. I trekked east, south, north and west. I had a crush on anything brutalism, so I trekked even further. London is a jungle for housing. Some are new buildings, some are derelict and others were supposed to be knocked down, but got listed instead.

If you want to volunteer or help one way or another, see pictures below or contactgrenfellvolunteers@rbkc.gov.uk


Due to the fire emergency and people in need of help, I’m posting pictures first and below is my text written on 18 June. I went there on Friday 16 June and Sunday 18 June – The fire broke on 14 June 2017 – More pictures below my prose.

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 hundred of people passing boxes from a site to another
16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 This emergency gas work started weeks ago unrelated to the fire
16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain

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16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 Teenager passing on boxes supporting a missing teen girl t.shirt
16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 Notice board with help places to go to
16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 Jamie Oliver has also sent some of his chefs onsite:
https://www.facebook.com/jamieoliver/photos/a.10150336718739807.354708.27994914806/10155015451079807/?type=3&theater
16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 Tribute place
16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain

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16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain

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Mass on 18 June
16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 A block tower opposite Grenfell Tower
16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 Grenfell Tower view near Latimer Road Station
16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 A picture of Grenfell Tower before 14 June 2017
as pinned on the tribute wall
16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 Grenfell Tower on 16 June
16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 A spot where goods are being delivered. 
Still many LFB and police people around
16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 Grenfell Road, W11
16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 The van behind is off to many spots to deliver boxes
16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 The car of a missing man
16 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain


On 16 June, I made my way to Ladbroke Grove and bumped into a friend who is usually involved in the music scene (friend with some ex The Smiths etc). Let’s call her / him Val. So Val, a resident near Grenfell Tower for two decades was very angry and hardly slept: the money spent on the tower renovation was apparently less than its initial budget, plus the building protection was some cheap material and unsafe.
Val has been helping since the early hours of the fire! On Thursday 15 in the night, because of Ramadan, Muslims set tables and food to share with survivors.

When I arrived on site, mainly cordoned off, the first striking thing was human faces plastered on walls, bus stops, pubs, shops with a “headline” MISSING. I took pictures. Later I chose not to publish them in a frontal way but from far.

In that chain of solidarity, when they were passing boxes, I noticed a mix of population. That very mix that attracted me when I lived nearby in the 90’s up to 2004. I always had to go to Ladbroke Grove for its market, its fine vintage shops (mainly gone now), its young designers, its music scene (Drum & Bass was my favourite), its grain shop food that you could take away and eat it at Mau Mau next door, its experimental film progs... its cultural mixed crowd: from Arabic to West Indies, from white European to the Asian descent peeps. It was and still is somehow vibrating.
In that chain, I noticed a teen boy harbouring an A4 print of paper of a missing girl. I wondered if he knew her, if they were classmates, school friends, neighbours, family...
I took pictures of boxes being passed and in between vans, I asked if I could take a picture of him with that image glued to his t.shirt. He said “no”. I understood and went “No worries”. I departed and he waved at me to come back. There was not much time as another set of boxes started to wave in people’s arms. There was good humour happening. I switched back my camera and as the lens pointed in his direction, he dropped his smile, got his arms behind his back and looked at me in defiance. There was one click before a box reached him! I said “thank you” and he replied “thank very much”.
It was that moment when two human beings understand each other. It didn’t matter if he knew her at all actually. After all, it was about a symbol and an understanding of that gravity of life. Something he will now carry all his life. Something that will give him a good reason to be angry. Enough is enough!

I trekked all around, took pictures, talked to people or rather they talked to me. I didn’t belong to any TV crew and I was perhaps more approachable in their eyes?
By the car of a missing man, an older man from North Africa came up to me and showed me a picture of his friend Hamid on his smartphone. His son told me his father saw the tower burning from his tower in Paddington. He took a day off to support his father. There is no picture of Hamid anywhere he said. He was a single man living on the top floor.  I tried to be clumsily positive and sent my prayers to them. They said “thanks very much for talking to us”. I didn’t move. I couldn’t. I smiled weirdly. I thought it wouldn’t be a matter of healing to those who are being directly traumatised, but the close ones, those whose life is being changed... they will also have to adapt.
I stood there by the car with a journalist from The Independent. She was typing, I was thinking of the beautiful animation by Michaël Dudok de WitThe Red Turtle.
I crossed the road and asked the policeman if the figure of dead people was known. “people on the top floor didn’t make it”. Out of curiosity I asked if there were hundreds of people living in the tower. He nodded. Hundreds of people could be dead? He didn’t know for sure but his face and body language seem to agree. He added that the tower will be knocked down at some point.

On my way home, I picked up the Evening Standard in the street. I did some shopping near my Hackney home and the shop assistant asked to see the newspaper. She knew some people in the block. Are they ok? I ventured. They are all dead... the whole family she said.
Once at home, I checked my “Tower blocks list to photograph” and the Grenfell Tower was on it: a brutalism tower block design of 24 floors from late 60’s; 67 metres tall housing up to 600 working class people; planned to be demolished in 2014 (according to some rumours) but renovated in 2016.


Today, 18 June, I went back. There was some confusion, rumours, sadness. The tribute wall has grown: flowers, candles, teddy bears, messages on many walls and so many pictures of missing people. Some people might have chosen to stay in with their pets.
The whole area seems to be a desolate place, a cemetery of thought... a ghost village with that now blackened tower supervising the neighbourhood, still standing in defiance, resisting, deeply wounded... once sheltering hundreds of families and now being reduced to be a tourist attraction!

I heard kids telling their parents they knew those kids on the A4 papers glued on lampposts... I spoke to a 70 years old mother from Liverpool visiting her daughter who worked with many families in the tower, including the Boucair family. That very family who were friends with my local shop assistant. A mum Nadia, a dad and their three children Mierna (13), Fatima (11), Zeinab (3).
The lady’s daughter is sheltering some survivors. How long are people going to sleep in churches, community centres, halls, hotels? She guesses about two months...


It’s growling out there and this is not a single community but many standing together!

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 18 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 18 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 18 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 18 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain

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18 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 18 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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Tons of toys, clothes, food  
18 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 18 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 18 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 18 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 18 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 18 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 18 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 18 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 18 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 18 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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 18 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain
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18 June 2017 © Sybille Castelain

23 June, a new poster of a dog who managed to escape the fire but is now somewhere in the streets of Ladbroke Grove, if you found him:
https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-M08e2x_YfyQ/WU1hDSG6pmI/AAAAAAAADh8/P5AsyGQn5Ko5gApfBEHCu9H-lTP2C8k7QCLcBGAs/s320/IMGA0384.JPG



Sybille Castelain sybillecastelain@yahoo.co.uk

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