Photo credit: Matt Carter / British Red Cross

Tanya Hedges sorting through donations at the Westway Centre. Photo credit: Matt Carter / British Red Cross

In the shadow of the Grenfell Tower is Westway Sports Centre, where people affected by the fire have been receiving support.

Two weeks after the fire, families are still coming to the centre to get the emotional and practical help they need.

Standing side-by-side with them are community volunteers like Abraham Chowdhury, who have helped collect donations and distribute to help the victims and their families.

Abraham has been volunteering to help those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire

Abraham Chowdhury. Photo credit: Matt Carter / British Red Cross

“What really touches me the most is when I arrived at seven o’clock in the morning [on the day of the fire], the amount of people from the community who literally just came out with a suitcase with whatever they had,” Abraham said.

“I met some families where people don’t even work, they don’t have much money. But they were going out and spending their last fiver just to buy something to be able to donate.”

Donations came flooding in to the centre and local volunteers got to work sorting them.

“There were hundreds of local volunteers and we worked for eight hours or so doing what we needed to do,” said Abraham.

That meant sorting, shifting and distributing bags and boxes of donated goods. And as they kept on coming, they kept on working.

Tanya Hedges

Tanya Hedges. Photo credit: Matt Carter / British Red Cross

“We were sorting inside the centre, but we just got overwhelmed with stuff,” said Tanya Hedges, who has also been volunteering since the night of the fire.

“So we came out here to what we kind of named ‘the cage.’”

‘The cage’ is actually a large netball court at the centre. British Red Cross volunteer Julie Doyle has also been helping and is one of six Red Cross volunteers who travelled from Swansea to help.

“The gifts that have been given to them – the food and the clothes, all from different shops – it’s amazing. If you didn’t see it yourself you wouldn’t believe it,” she said.

Red Cross volunteer Julie Doyle has been working alongside local volunteers to sort donations. Photo credit: Matt Carter / British Red Cross

Red Cross volunteer Julie Doyle. Photo credit: Matt Carter / British Red Cross

Yet even with the extra space of the netball court, the council is now turning away donations.

“You don’t want to offend anybody but people turn up and you’re like ‘I’m really, really sorry but I can’t take it off of you,’” Tanya explained.

There are now more than enough donations for the people affected by the Grenfell Tower fire.

“Some of that stuff will be held for people in storage,” Tanya said.

“They are in hotels, you know. They can’t take new duvets, new pillows and all that.

“It’s being held so the people will have the opportunity to get to that stuff when they get into their homes. There’s a holding centre for that stuff.”

Now the Red Cross is also helping to turn some of the excess goods donated into cash by selling them in its high-street shops.

Coined ‘Shop for Grenfell’, every penny raised from the sale of these items will go directly to help those affected by the fire through our London Fire Relief Fund.

A team effort

Red Cross volunteers have been on the ground providing practical and emotional support since the fire broke out.

They also helped to coordinate the running of the centre at Westway since it transformed into the Grenfell Community Assistance Centre.

“The Red Cross has been involved with us volunteers the whole time,” said Tanya.

“They do spend an awful lot of time sitting with the victims. If they’ve seen somebody from the beginning, signposting him to get the right help, they’ve absolutely been doing that.

“I’ve gone around all those tables and it’s the Red Cross that I’ve gone to and gone ‘do you have any spare volunteers?’

“They have been helping us do a number of different jobs because you know it takes a lot of manpower.”

Making sure everyone affected gets the support they need is a team effort. Local volunteers like Abraham and Tanya have been a tremendous help throughout the response to this tragedy.

“At the end of the day we all have to work together,” said Abraham.

“No one is taking the credit away from anyone. It’s just we as individuals we cannot do much. We have to work together with other charities to help the people.”

Local volunteer Abraham Chowdhury meeting His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales.

Abraham Chowdhury meeting His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. Photo credit: PA

As well as sorting through the wealth of donations, local volunteers have been instrumental in bridging the gap between those trying to help with those who need it.

“We’re the ones holding their hands and bringing them over to the centre so they can get what help they can,” said Abraham.

“And that’s the main thing we’re focusing on – building that trust with the community, and letting them know they can get that help when they come to the Westway and meet the Red Cross and all the other charities.

“We’re not a big charity and we don’t have a name – but we’ve all got skills to bring to the table.”

This blog was updated on 11 August 2017