One year on, a monument to haunt Britain

Green for Grenfell: Schoolchildren around the country wore green to mark a year since the fire.

What should happen to Grenfell Tower? Yesterday marked the anniversary of the inferno that killed 72 people. The blackened building still looms over London. Should it be knocked down?

At about 12:50 am on the morning of June 14, 2017, one year ago yesterday, a fridge-freezer caught fire in a fourth-floor flat in Grenfell Tower, a 1967 block of flats in West London.

Firefighters put out the blaze within minutes. On leaving the flat, however, they spotted flames rising up the exterior of the building “at a terrifying rate”. Twenty minutes later, the whole building was engulfed in a towering inferno.

The fire, which burned for 60 hours, killed 72 people. All that remained was the charred ruin of the tower.

For months the building remained in its untouched, ruined state, shockingly visible from the main westward route into London. In recent months it has been entirely covered with white sheets. But on the anniversary, it was lit up in green, the colour adopted by the survivors and relatives of those who died.

Ever since the fire, a debate has raged over what should be done with the building.

One school of thought is that it should remain untouched, as a memorial to prevent anything like this happening again. Writing in The Mail on Sunday shortly after the fire, Peter Hitchens suggested it could be “a lasting monument to the needlessly dead and as a warning to our complacent, self-satisfied society.”

This is what happened to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. The retreating Germans destroyed much of it, but visitors today can still see the remains of the gas chambers and crematoria.

But of course many in the community would disagree with this. Do they need such a present and visible reminder of their injury?

The future of the site will be decided by the local community. It is likely to be turned into “a fitting memorial to remember those who lost their lives”. The local Tube station, Latimer Road, is likely to be renamed “Grenfell”.

And there are others who feel that building genuinely affordable, safe housing would be the best choice. The fire shone a light on Britain’s — and especially London’s — housing crisis.

What should happen to Grenfell Tower?

Remembering the 72

Building new housing is the best idea, say some. Homes should be given to the displaced residents for free and should be held up as an example of how city living should be. This would ensure that the community isn’t broken apart by the fire and that residents could remain in familiar surroundings. That would be the most practical and appropriate solution.

Wrong, reply others. Yet another expensive block of London flats would be an insufficient reminder of the iniquities that the fire revealed. There needs to be a striking memorial to stand as a warning that something like this should never happen again. And what would be more striking than leaving the tower as it is?

You Decide

  1. How should the Grenfell Tower fire be remembered?
  2. Does it always take great tragedy to bring about great change?

Activities

  1. List as many words as you can that come into your head when thinking about the Grenfell Tower fire. What do they say about the state of Britain?
  2. Think of one historical tragedy. Write 500 words on how it is commemorated, and suggest another way it might be remembered.

Some People Say...

“Memory is the diary that we all carry about with us.”

Oscar Wilde

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The Grenfell Tower fire happened one year ago yesterday in West London and claimed the lives of 72 people. The official inquiry into the disaster started three weeks ago and will attempt to find out what mistakes were made in the run-up to that fateful night, and how to prevent something similar happening again. The fire came to symbolise many of the ills of modern Britain, especially inequality.
What do we not know?
Exactly what form a memorial would take. It is quite likely that it would incorporate the wall that many residents wrote messages of love and condolence on just next to the tower. Many former residents of Grenfell Tower are still yet to be rehoused. We do not know how long this will take.

Word Watch

1967 block of flats
Grenfell Tower was built in the brutalist style, which was popular in the 1960s and 1970s. Descendant from the modernist movement, hallmarks of brutalism are the use of concrete, and strong horizontal and vertical lines. The style is generally unpopular now, and many brutalist buildings have been knocked down in recent years.
West London
The tower is located in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, one of the richest areas in England but where large wealth gaps still exist.
Killed 72 people
Counted among the 72 is Logan Gomes, who was stillborn on the morning of the fire after his family just managed to survive the blaze. This is why the figure of 71 is often quoted as well.
Green
The Green Heart for Grenfell badge was created as a way to remember those affected by the tragedy. It is meant to be a symbol of “hope, unity and love — and to remember those that were lost”.
Auschwitz-Birkenau
The most deadly of all the German camps during the Second World War. It is estimated that 1.1 million people died there.