Thousands gathered to recall the lives lost in the Grenfell Tower blaze a year ago
Thousands of people took part in a silent march of remembrance in the shadow of Grenfell Tower last night to mark one year since the fire that gutted the building and took 72 lives.
Participants came from across London and further afield for the procession, which was the culmination of a day of events that included church services and a vigil as well as a ceremony by the tower. Police estimated that 5,000 people took part.
Green scarves were handed out by volunteers. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, arrived for the march wearing a green sash as a sign of solidarity.
Corbyn wrote a message on the tower’s perimeter fence: “Love and sympathy to all at Grenfell. Together we mourn. Together we overcome.”
He told reporters the fire stood for “everything that is unequal and wrong about this country” and added: “This is the richest borough in Britain and the most deprived borough in Britain – Golborne ward is one of the poorest borough wards anywhere in Britain, in the richest borough.
“Somewhere along the line all those families who have not yet been rehoused, when the luxury flats are still springing up all over London ... sorry, people come first.”
Survivors, the bereaved and others affected by the fire were due to lead the march, with six giant papier-mache hearts emblazoned with the words dignity, grace, justice, strength, truth and unity. People carried placards calling for a full immigration amnesty for survivors, as well as “justice for Grenfell” and “united for Grenfell”.
Firefighters formed a guard of honour, laying their helmets at their feet, as the procession passed.
Ivan Costa, 23, who lived in flat 103 at Grenfell, said it was draining to relive the day. “It’s hard to remember all the memories that were left there a year ago. But being around the community, that’s helped us over the last year,” he said.
“Thanks to all the community for all the help and the support, every single month we’ve gathered here to do a march. It just kept growing.”
Vincent Archer, 51, a firefighter who was at the scene two days after the fire, said he came to pay his respects to the victims and show support for survivors. “It was not very nice and I haven’t been back since,” he said.
“All the marches that have taken place since, I’ve been working, but also I just didn’t feel up to it. I felt tonight on the year anniversary I would come back and see how I feel.” Silent marches have taken place on the 14th of every month since the fire, and one of the organisers said they would continue to be held in the future. “How can we stop something that heals so many people, that offers peace, that offers mourning, that offers a call for justice?” said Zeyad Cred.
“It sounds crazy but it gives people a voice, even though we’re silent; it makes people feel counted.”
The march took place on a day awash with green: scarves, ribbons, lapel badges, balloons, T-shirts, hats and headwraps, all in the vibrant shade now associated with the fire and the community’s response.
At the foot of the tower and at a commemorative service at the nearby St Helen’s church 72 seconds of silence were observed.
People stopped across the country for a moment of reflection. Those paying tribute included the Queen and Duchess of Sussex in Chester, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall on a visit to Ireland, the Palace of Westminster and government offices, the London fire brigade headquarters and the England squad in Russia.
At St Helen’s, candles were lit and prayers were said. Graham Tomlin, bishop of Kensington, said it was a day of “painful memories, a day we remember those 72 precious lives lost”. It was also “a day for justice, as we pledge ourselves again to the slow, patient search for truth and justice for those who lost their lives, and a day for peace”, he said.
Grenfell was “a symbol of pain and loss and a symbol of our failure to care for one another” but it could also be “a symbol of change and renewal”.
After the service, 73 doves – one for each life lost, plus one to represent lingering fears that there may have been other victims who were not identified – were released from baskets outside the church. Among those present were the Labour MPs Emma Dent Coad and David Lammy, and the leader of Kensington and Chelsea council, Elizabeth Campbell.
Shortly before 1am yesterday – the time the fire service received the first emergency call – the tower and a dozen others in the area, and also 10 Downing Street, were illuminated in green.
At St Clement’s church, near to the tower, the Lord’s prayer was said every hour through the night – the only words punctuating a 24-hour silent vigil that ended at 6pm last night with a communion service. Special prayers of remembrance were due to be said later last night at al-Manaar mosque.
On Wednesday night, the eve of the anniversary, people gathered near the tower for an iftar meal to break the Ramadan fast cheered and applauded as a London Underground driver stopped his train and unfurled a green banner in tribute to the victims.
Harvey Mitchell sounded the tube’s horn and shouted words of support.
Later, Mitchell said he lost a friend in the fire. Explaining his gesture of solidarity, he told Sky News: “That’s the least I could do for people who lost their lives ... let it be.”
▼ Participants in the silent march at Grenfell Tower, below left, wore green, the symbol of the response to the fire
▲ Tube driver Harvey Mitchell stops his train to hold up a green banner