What’s the story?
A huge fire tore through a residential tower block in London’s North Kensington, killing at least 79 people on Wednesday 14th June. In the aftermath, many have suggested that the tragedy highlights the rank inequality in housing in Britain in 2017.
Having just suffered two major terror attacks in the space of as many weeks, Britain was rocked by a third but very different tragedy in the middle of June. Grenfell Tower, a large housing block in North Kensington, was ravaged by fire after what was thought to have been a small domestic accident. At least 79 people were killed in the blaze, of the estimated 4-600 people who lived in the building.
Fire safety experts claimed that external cladding – recently added to the building to improve its appearance – was a major contributing factor to the spread of the fire. The cladding used has come under scrutiny in the aftermath of the tragedy, with many claiming that a more fire-resistant product should have been used, while it was also noted that the building did not contain sprinkler systems or other fire safety features. Matt Wrack of the Fire Brigade’s union told the BBC that ‘something had clearly gone badly wrong’ with the building’s fire prevention procedures.
An immediate outpouring of public grief was soon supplanted by feelings of anger. The building is in a neighbourhood ranked in the lowest 10% in the UK in terms of social and economic deprivation, even though it is close to some of the country’s most expensive and exclusive homes, and the fire has shown up the huge inequality in the standard of housing in Britain. Some have even speculated that the potentially-faulty cladding was added to the building to improve the view from neighbouring multi-million pound apartments.
Alongside the outrage, there have also been signs of hope, and stories of people and communities coming together to support those affected by the fire. The church has been at the literal frontlines, with various churches opening their doors to receive those made homeless, or to collect donations of clothing and other essential items. Churches across the area have quietly been doing what they do best; supporting their local community, meeting practical needs, and demonstrating love at an hour when it has been most needed.
What have others been saying?
Andy Walton, writing on Christian Today, explored how the church responded in the wake of the fire.
Writing in the Guardian, Sam Webb said that the tragedy wasn’t just preventable – many people saw it coming.
Christian MP David Lammy gave several impassioned media interviews after the fire, demanding real change as a result.
#1 – SOCIAL JUSTICE
Jesus was only fulfilling the Old Testament priorities of God when he called on his followers to pursue justice for the poor, and ensure they were looked after. In telling the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10: 30-37, he shocked his listeners by explaining that all lives matter – not just those in our particular tribe. And through his ‘Golden Rule’ (Matthew 7 v 12) he articulates perhaps the core building block of western morality: to do to others as you would have them do to you. These ideas have more ancient roots though; the call to pursue justice and look out for the needs of the poor runs throughout the Old Testament. Examples include Isaiah 1 v 17 & 58: 6-12, Proverbs 31: 8-9, Jeremiah 22 v 3.
#2 – THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH
The church was a major part of the ‘first response’ to the tragedy, meeting practical needs and demonstrating love and care in the midst of great suffering. It was a fine illustration of the church at its best, stepping up to care for the city, and investing itself in kindness and action. The writer of Hebrews compels his readers, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (10 v 24), and at Grenfell effect we witnessed a positive domino effect as more and more churches and Christians became involved in the relief effort. And in 1 Corinthians 3 v 9, Paul writes “you are God’s fellow workers”, imploring us to join in with God’s work in the world. God was definitely at work in the aftermath of the terrible tragedy at Grenfell Tower, and this was often made visible through the hands and feet of his followers.
Points for prayer
- Pray for all those directly affected by the Grenfell tower fire, especially those made homeless, or who have lost family and friends.
- Pray for real change to happen as a result of the fire which prevents such a tragedy from ever recurring.
- Pray that if preventable mistakes were made, or profit prioritised over safety, that those responsible would face justice.
- Pray for the community around the tower, that it would experience healing and in the long-term, recovery.
Martin Saunders is Youthscape’s Deputy Chief Executive. A former editor of Youthwork magazine and the founding Editor of sister-title Childrenswork, Martin is a popular speaker and the author of various books including ‘Youth Work From Scratch’. He lives in Reigate, Surrey with his wife Jo and their four children.