BY YANN TEAR
It was the most poignant and moving of anniversaries.
But it was also one where anger and a demand for justice where never too far from the surface.
Survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire joined the friends and family of those who died at various events on Friday to mark the two-year anniversary of the tragedy.
It was a day for quiet contemplation, defiance and solidarity in the face of such a cruel episode in the north Kensington community.
The blaze caused 72 deaths, including those of two people who died later in hospital.
The fire started when a fridge-freezer on the fourth floor malfunctioned on June 14, 2017 before spreading rapidly upwards and burned for 60 hours.
The 24-storey building – now adorned with the symbolic green heart symbol and the words: ‘Grenfell.
Forever in our hearts’ has never really ceased to be a focal point for the community.
But this week it was a particularly evocative monument.
Downing Street and Kensington Palace were illuminated in the green colours that have come to be associated with the fight for truth and the need to honour those who perished.
Mourners, community leaders, well-wishers and a few famous names turned out, wearing scarves in that now-familiar vivid green.
All the names were read out at St Helen’s Church of those who lost their lives on that fateful day, and they prayed for the dead at nearby Al Manaar Mosque.
More candles were lit, teddy bears left in recognition of the young lives lost and ribbons tied to railings near the tower block in Lancaster Road, where a memorial wall full of heartfelt messages stands alongside the word ‘Grenfell’, set in a heart-shaped London Underground-style symbol.
Wreaths were laid in remembrance and thousands took part in a quiet march through the area – proclaiming unity in grief and a quiet determination to seek justice for all affected.
At Avondale Park Primary School, they remembered.
Releasing balloons. Three of the youngsters who attend the school are survivors of the blaze, but the fire claimed the lives of three other pupils, some former pupils and a member of staff.
Headteacher Katie Blacker said: “We are so sad, so sad and it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to cry. But it’s also okay to laugh and to keep hold of those memories.”
Sabah Yousef Abdullah, who lost his wife in the tragedy, said: “I don’t know why I am alive if it is just to suffer for this,” the 72-year old said as he recalled the two years since his wife Khadija Khalloufi died in the fire.
“Once you feel something like this, it is stuck in you and no one can help. They might help you forget for a few hours, but once you are in bed you find you can’t sleep. I lost part of me.”
Dr Graham Tomlin, the Bishop of Kensington, led a service, talking of the “devastation” the fire caused on that dreadful night two summers ago, describing it as “a matter of national shame” that many other tower blocks were still cloaked in the sort of dangerous cladding which played such a big part in the disaster.
Firefighters caught up in the tragedy remembered too, turning out in force to join those coming to pay their respects.
Met Commander Stuart Cundy said: “Two years on from the devastating tragedy, the thoughts of us all in the Met remain with those who died, their loved ones and those who survived the fire that night.
“We can only imagine how difficult this time of year is for those affected and the wider community; they continue to inspire us with their resilience and spirit.
“The police investigation continues with officers and staff working day in, day out, with the bereaved families and survivors remaining at the heart of what we do.”
Dozens of white doves were released and hymns were sung during emotional ceremonies attended by the housing secretary, James Brokenshire, and London Mayor, Sadiq Khan. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also attended the march.
The Archbishop of York sent a message that recognised how the last two years had seen a “flow of pain and grief. So many lives lost, so many agonising memories”.
But amid the sense of loss and rage at what caused it, along with frustration at the slow pace of justice, was a sense of hope – tales of new, unbreakable bonds being forged by neighbours who hardly knew each other before.
It was another day the community will never forget.