A day London will never forget
City Harvest driver, Moe Gentle’s memory of the day
Waking up on 14th June 2017, a day I will never forget. My daily routine of getting ready for work then turning on my TV to watch the morning news – I was watching the very sad news that Grenfell Tower was on fire. It rings in my ears “the 24-storey block of flats broke out in flames in the early hours of the morning and is still alight”.
My heart sank as many emotions were running through me, Grenfell Tower is only around the corner from me… all I could do was think about what I could do to help.
I rang Paula and said, “Have you seen the news? We need to get down there to see if we can help in any way”. I have never dressed so quick in all my life.
The next thing I remember is leaving my house. It was like getting smacked in the face… the smell of burning in the air was over-powering and choking. I was thinking to myself,
“If I feel like this coming out of my house, what must the people feel like in Grenfell Tower? Was there anyone in there? Will there be any survivors? It’s a high-rise building will people at the top of the block of flats escape?”
I got to work and filled a van with drinks and snacks, again, I have never filled a van so quickly. I didn’t know what we were going to be faced with when we got there, and didn’t want to go alone, so I grabbed Anthony and we made our way down to Grenfell Tower. A complete mix of emotions were running through my body. As we got closer to Grenfell Tower the smell of burning was getting really strong. We got our first sighting of the Tower whilst it was still alight with tears pouring down my face I knew we had to get as close as possible I continued driving as I turned on to Stoneleigh Street I could see the Fire Engines at the bottom of the road blocking anyone from going any further.
I decided to pull up right behind the fire engine, luckily there was a fire fighter that had returned. He said. “You can’t get any closer, stay here.” I rang Paula and told her where we were situated for Eileen to follow down with another van load.
Above: Left, Eileen. Right, Moe
We asked people passing us where would be best to deliver water and food. No one seemed to know until I spoke to a man called Sam. Sam was very helpful and told us it would be best to take the food to St Clements Church which is just round the block. He asked if we had a trolley and my reply was “No” he said, “Don’t worry, I will help you take everything there.”
As we rushed everything around to the church I noticed Sam look up at the Tower every time we could see it, I asked him if he was ok and his reply was,
“Not really, but I’m trying to be. I have family in there…”
My heart sank, I didn’t know what to do apart from open my arms and give Sam the biggest cuddle I had in me. He explained that he had to keep busy and keep helping.
Hold onto hope and pray that everyone from Sam’s family are well and made it out from Grenfell Tower.
We were stuck on the road for a while as loads of vehicles were turning up. I found myself looking up at the tower block watching burnt debris falling from the tower praying for everyone to make their way out of this nightmare. Praying that no one else got hurt and praying that we would just wake up and this all be a nightmare.
That wasn’t the end, once we got back to the depot floods of donations were coming in from everywhere. I think some people drove down from Milton Keynes and brought a van load of donations. We were at the depot sorting and taking donations in to the late hours. These donations came in for a number of weeks after, working with all the great people including QPR was a great sense of the community coming together.
It’s hard to write this and relive everything again especially as I know of two people who have lost their lives to this dreadful fire. Three years has gone extremely quickly and for everyone who is still suffering/having nightmares about the fire it would be nice for them to know that there are still people who care still people that think about it all the time and still people who would love to help you.
On the day City Harvest supported Edward Woods & Masbro Community Centres and as the days past we helped many pop-up groups. City Harvest continues to deliver to The Curve, The Hubs Kitchen at Al Manaar, Granville, Dalgarno and one of the local churches.
The grief felt by West London is still raw and has shaped our London community forever. We continue to support Grenfell groups who responded to the emergency, and the community continues to heal.
Above: Delivering food for the Grenfell emergency response centre
Above: City Harvest driver the morning of June 14th with a Grenfell resident
Ben Okri OBE