Every day a steady flow of people pass through the doors of the Westway Sports Centre seeking help in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire. Each person has a story to tell. Three local residents share their stories and how the British Red Cross has helped them.
James lives opposite Grenfell Tower. Shortly after the fire broke out, he saw smoke filling the windows of residents’ homes.
“I saw three young children, all aged four to five, screaming for help. It was extremely distressing,” James recalls.
The scenes he witnessed left James in a state of shock for the next two days and he struggled to speak properly.
His friend Lucy* was even more distraught. She suffered a seizure in the early hours of Wednesday morning and was taken to hospital.
After Lucy returned home, the pair decided to visit the Grenfell Community Assistance Centre to get emotional and psychological support.
The centre, located at the Westway Sports Centre, has been providing residents with food, water, clothing and a range of other services.
British Red Cross volunteers and staff have been at the centre since the immediate aftermath of the fire, and will continue to be there for as long as needed.
Trained Red Cross psychosocial support workers provided James and Lucy with emotional support. After speaking with Lucy, they recommended that she return to hospital. The volunteers arranged the necessary transport.
While travelling to hospital, Lucy suffered another seizure. She was given emergency treatment and was kept in overnight.
She went home on Thursday, and the first thing James did was go back to the centre to thank the Red Cross workers for their help.
“The Red Cross at Westway saved my friend’s life,” he says, with a visceral feeling of relief and appreciation.
“We saw it all, we live right next to the tower.”
Nicola Watts has lived in the community around Grenfell Tower all her life. And like many, she is still coming to terms with what happened two weeks ago.
“There’s no normal life,” she says. “We are scared to go to sleep. We’ve got no hot water so we can’t shower or do the washing up. The block is smelling as the rubbish can’t be emptied.
“It’s not normal. We have got police around 24 hours. The community is still in shock.”
Nicola, 31, has been coming to the assistance centre to get help from the British Red Cross and other organisations.
“We came here last week and the Red Cross has been amazing, I didn’t know about the centre until my neighbours told me about it,” says Nicola.
“The Red Cross has given us counselling. It was nice to talk to someone outside of the situation you are in. He was a lovely guy and just had a calming nature.
“My friend from school was in the tower, her and her children. None of them made it. We spoke about that and how we can get through it.”
Nicola says her two-year-old girl has started saying “fire” and “policeman” since the tragedy. She also highlighted how the community has pulled together.
“I’ve lived here all my life and the community spirit is amazing, everyone is going through this together,” she says.
“We were close before, and this has brought us closer.”
Everyone seems to know Byron down at the centre. He visits every day and his distinctive sunglasses and swagger set him apart from the crowd.
“I was born and bred here,” he says, with distinguishable pride.
The 47-year-old has not had an easy time. Prior to the fire, Byron was homeless. He would often sleep rough, or stay at his uncle’s place in the tower. His uncle died in the fire.
In the aftermath of the fire, Byron was preparing to spend a night on the streets when he came across a British Red Cross volunteer at the assistance centre.
“The Red Cross guy said: ‘I’m not having you sleep outside, we are sorting you out,’” recalls Byron.
“He has basically turned around my life. I don’t think he realises how much he has helped me. He was just doing something he does all the time.”
Byron, who is studying a gas engineering course, was able to make use of the services at the centre, getting housing and medical support.
He also spoke with Red Cross psychosocial support worker Debi Haden.
“Debi gave me so much emotional support, she chilled me out,” he says. “She sat down with me and really mothered me, you could say.
“She gave me a warm hug and it was really nice. If there weren’t people like Debi around to understand what I was going through, I would be in a much worse place.
“I really appreciate what you guys are doing for me and the community. Although we’re still angry, what you guys have done is amazing.
“Anyone who’s not sure about coming here, they should definitely come, just trust and come down.”
- The Red Cross helpline is available for anyone who has been affected by the Grenfell Tower fire and is in need of support – 0800 4589472 (free from landlines and mobiles) open 8am to 8pm.
- The Grenfell Assistance Centre has now moved to: The Curve, No 10 Bard Road, Nottingdale, West London, W10 6TP. People can access services and support provided by the response team from 10am to 8pm.
- Read more: What to do if you’ve been affected by Grenfell Tower fire
- Please donate to our London Fire Relief Fund to support people affected by the Grenfell Tower fire
This blog was updated on 21 July 2017