A new report by Muslim Aid has found that the authorities fell short in their response to the Grenfell Tower disaster and the gap had to be filled by voluntary organisations.
The fire last June left 72 dead, many homeless and the wider North Kensington community traumatised. Many of the victims were Muslims.
The report – Mind the Gap: A Review of the Voluntary Sector Response to the Grenfell Tragedy – found that many voluntary organisations, however ill-prepared, stepped up to the challenge of meeting the needs of the affected community where the statutory authorities fell short, especially in the early stages.
“The spirit of humanitarian action displayed mainly by the community itself and supported by an array of local organisations and businesses, as well as individual volunteers and representatives from external organisations filled the void where there was a lack of official direction, coordination and information,” said Muslim Aid’s CEO Jehangir Malik.
“I would have expected this chaos in a developing country, because almost always there is poor infrastructure. I honestly thought we had better disaster preparedness and response systems here in the UK. We are now asking for lessons to be learned and for greater coordination of the voluntary organisations with local authorities, including as part of national emergency response structures.”
Volunteers initially helped with sorting and distributing food and clothing donations, organising meals, finding overnight accommodation, making cash grants and providing empathy and psychological support to the bereaved and distressed.
Faith organisations played key roles, providing many of the physical spaces where people congregated to collect themselves and find spiritual comfort, but also to meet and even protest.
Muslim volunteers too played key roles in support of many of those most directly affected, helping them wrestle with the implications of breaking fast during Ramadan, getting Halal-compliant food to people in hotels, sourcing religious items of clothing like headscarves and coordinating the special burial requirements with Muslim funeral companies.
The report concluded: “With many of the consequences of the fire still unresolved, it is vital that future action is informed by what has been learnt from the response so far. This applies both to working with the people of North Kensington to address their needs, and shaping wider thinking and practice in emergency preparedness, response and resilience, in London and the rest of the UK. The Grenfell Tower disaster must be a wake-up call to those in a position to effect change and find twenty-first century solutions to twenty-first century challenges”.