"What it was like to volunteer during the Grenfell Tower fire”

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Sarah Biddlecombe
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Six months ago, an unprecedented fire spread through the Grenfell Tower in West London. Here’s Digital Features Editor, Sarah Biddlecombe, talks to a British Red Cross volunteer who was on site during the tragedy.

The Grenfell Tower blaze tragically claimed 71 lives, including 53 adults and 18 children, while countless families lost their homes and all of their possessions.

Charities swung into action to provide relief for those affected, with the British Red Cross deploying volunteers to numerous rest centres that were set up in the area. The charity worked with the local council to provide both practical and emotional support to the victims and their families and friends.

Here, talks to Vicky Day, a 21-year-old Red Cross volunteer who was on site at a rest centre during the tragedy, to hear about the massive relief effort that was undertaken in London.

[Note: this interview originally took place the day after the fire, on 15 June]

“It’s hard to describe the atmosphere here. There’s a lot of worry and concern, especially as there are so many people still missing. It’s the not knowing that’s getting to a lot of people I think, and that’s the worse thing about it at the moment. They just don’t know.

We heard about the fire in the early hours of yesterday morning, so our London team got here about 3am, and then the rest of us were asked if we could come up and cover rotas. I live in Kent so I arrived about midday yesterday and I’ve been here ever since.

It is so, so busy here. We’ve got multiple rest centres set up around London and we’re providing practical and emotional support – well, mainly emotional support.

We need to check people in and out and assist them generally, as well as liaise with the council and police to make sure we’re logging people’s details. We’ve got doctors and nurses here and other authorities, and the ambulance service was here yesterday, but it’s mainly the council and the police on site.

There are people everywhere - we’ve got victims who were in the tower as well as the people who live in the surrounding areas. Then there are those who have come to us because they can’t find their loved ones.

For us, it’s a matter of approaching everyone and making sure everyone’s OK. There’s not much we can say to people. We’re just taking as much detail as we can and making sure they’re doing everything they can to help find that person, by ringing the 0800 casualty bureau number. We’re making sure they’re phoning that and registering the person as a missing person, so that they’re aware. That’s our advice.”

“At the moment there’s not really much the public can do to help. We’ve had so many donations that there’s nowhere to put everything – we’ve filled a whole tennis court with donations, as well as local church halls. We’ve had tons of food sent in and we’ve got companies bringing in hot food all the time, plus we’ve had so many people who have come in and offered their time as volunteers, so I think everything is covered at the moment.

In the next coming weeks things might be needed but at the moment we’ve got a massive influx of things that have been donated and we don’t have the capacity for it. We’re turning people away with donations.

It’s hard to say how many people I’ve spoken to in the last two days – it must be hundreds, if not more.”

You can still help support victims of the Grenfell Tower fire by donating here

Images: Rex Features / Courtesy of British Red Cross