April-May 2019 | Features

Bringing hope to the children of Grenfell

Bringing hope to the children of Grenfell

The horrific fire which ravaged Grenfell Tower in 2017 shocked a nation. Dick Nathan, Chair of Trustees for the London Rotary District, describes how Rotary helped rebuild a community in West London, where 72 people lost their lives in the 24-storey block of flats.

The generosity of Rotary members has brought new hope to a school located near the Grenfell Tower.

Following the tragic Grenfell Tower fire on June 14th 2017, many Rotarians donated funds to the Rotary Charity Fund (District 1130) with a view to helping the people who had suffered from the disaster.

The funds came in promptly and generously, and they were supplemented by Rotarians in the London Rotary District who had been equally disturbed by the events that night.

The funds were stored in an interest-bearing account whilst the trustees set about finding a project which could use the £15,300 that had been raised. The task was not easy.

There were organisations who wanted more money than we had – in some cases a lot more! There were professional advisers who wanted Rotary to pay all the money to them, as there would be no chance of recouping their fees from the Grenfell Community. There was ‘aid competition’ as well.

There were ambitious plans in terms of rebuilding and refurbishing accommodation, but our sum would not do much more than touch the surface of those plans. There were also Rotarians who wanted the money given to charities which were finding it difficult to spend what the public had donated.

Behind the fence is the Garden of Hope where there are shrines to the two pupils who were lost in the fire.”

The trustees held firm. They were determined that Rotary should leave an identifiable, positive token on the community and not be absorbed into another organisation’s efforts without leaving a trace.

After several false starts, a friend of Rotary suggested the trustees set up a visit to the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Primary School.

The school had been deeply affected by the disaster. Located just 120 metres from the Grenfell Tower, two current pupils had been lost in the fire, past pupils had died, and the relatives of pupils had also been lost.

About the Grenfell Tower Fire

  • The fire which destroyed Grenfell Tower in June 2017 was one of the UK’s worst modern disasters.
  • Just before 1am on June 14th, fire broke out in the kitchen of a fourth floor flat at the North Kensington tower block. Within minutes, the fire had raced up the exterior of the building and then spread to all four sides. By 3am, most of the upper floors were well alight. Seventy-two people died in the fire.
  • One of the youngest victims was six-month-old baby, Leena Belkadi, who died in her mother’s arms as she tried to escape. The oldest victim is believed to be 84-year-old Sheila Smith from the 16th floor, who had lived in Grenfell Tower for 34 years.

One of the school’s buildings had also been damaged by burning debris falling on its roof. Around 70% of the school’s pupils had seen the flames.

Furthermore, the school lost 50% of its staff who were finding the whole experience too stressful.

Rotary was able to negotiate with the school’s management that they would take on some of the expenditure associated with the school’s plans.

The total plans were well beyond Rotary’s reach, requiring approximately £10 million, but the trustees successfully negotiated purchasing IT equipment which the school wanted to replace.

The cheque for £10,900 for the IT equipment was presented to the school in January 2019 at a special presentation to the pupils in the school playground.  The only word the pupils could utter on seeing the cheque was ‘wow’.

The equipment will all be badged having been provided by Rotarians across Great Britain and Ireland.

grenfell tower rotary project

The Garden of Hope gives children a quite space to reflect and remember.

Rotarians will also give service by refurbishing and restoring some of the playground equipment, as well as developing a vegetable and herb growing area as a teaching aid for the inner-city children.

One of the projects is to develop this playground fence. Behind the fence is the Garden of Hope where there are shrines to the two pupils who were lost in the fire.

Pupils can come into the garden at any time for a moment of quiet reflection.

The school is hoping that Rotary can improve the fence so that footballs and tennis balls no longer come into the Garden of Hope from the playground.

The school also developed a ‘Classroom of the Future’ back in 2003 – the idea was to have a futuristic space based on state-of-the-art building techniques that would inspire the pupils.  It is a space with full and bright daylight for most of the day and has been used for counselling pupils suffering from stress.

During the Grenfell Tower fire, debris fell through the polythene covering requiring eight strips to be added to the roof.  Sadly, the classroom has been overtaken by the future now, and there are plans for demolition and replacement.

grenfell tower rotary

A newly refurbished vegetable and herb garden will create an enjoyable playground for the school pupils.

Once the warmer weather arrives, there will be plenty of opportunities for local Rotarians to provide service over the weekend whilst the pupils are away from school.

The pupils benefitting from the IT equipment will likely be joining the job market in about 2030 – a year of great interest to Rotary.

Rotarians can rest assured that their donations will be helping inner-city youngsters prepare for the world of the future.

The projects concentrate on Rotary serving humanity, they demonstrate Rotary making a difference, the refurbished playground equipment as well as the vegetable and herb gardens will be the inspiration many city children require, and with improved IT equipment provided by Rotary, the children will see that Rotary connects the world.

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