Joe Carlebach is a councillor in Hammersmith and Fulham.
Having watched the inferno rage and seen the smoke from the disaster drift over my home I decided I would go to the immediate area surrounding Grenfell Tower to see what I could do to help. I cancelled my meetings and walked the short distance up to Ladbroke Grove.
Initially I went to a number of churches that had been set up as collection points for aid, but found them already well staffed with volunteers. However I then came across a huge collection point under the West Way on Bramley Road W10.
There were a small group of young volunteers with mega phones doing their best to organise huge numbers of volunteers to sort and box mountains of food, drink, clothes, toiletries, and toys. What they lacked in management and organisational experience they made up for with dedication, commitment and raw emotion.
I set to work helping form human chains (and being part of the chain myself) for the sorted goods to be moved quickly to the road side waiting for transport for. I met a great variety of people, not just from London but all over the country. They all came with one thing in mind – to do what ever they could to help.
I talked to members of a mosque from North London, a businessman who owned a chauffeur business in Sutton, a prison officer, a Sainsbury’s check out assistant, a taxi driver form Ealing… I could go on, but I think the theme is clear.
There was a significant amount of confusion around where the sorted goods should go to be stored and what transport there was available to help move it. I made several calls to local businesses in an attempt to get trucks and vans to come to site and collect the aid and many, including Olympia Plc, responded quickly and sent several vans (at short notice) to help.
Whilst there was an overwhelming feeling of goodwill for the emergency services, and a wonderful spirit of community pervasive throughout the area where I worked, there was also a growing feeling of anger. At this point it was not directed at the cause of the fire or even at who was responsible, though I dare say that will come in time. It was focused on: where was the help that many had been expecting with the relief effort?
Where were the soldiers to help with the transport of aid? Why were families left on their own to undertake the heartbreaking task of searching the hospitals for missing loved ones? If ever there was a time for a show of force by the authorities, this would be it.
It also has to be said that the visit of many politicians to the site with no tangible results in terms of assistance did not help. It seemed they came to look, not to assist. These are not my words but those of many I spoke to.
I left the area after all the aid on site had been sorted, boxed, and transported to appropriate storage areas. I was physically and emotionally drained, returning to my own young family to explain to them something of what I had experienced on this extraordinary and deeply sad day in West London.
As the full scale of this tragedy becomes clear, and the number of fatalities finally emerges, I suspect anger within this community and the country at large will be significant. We must make sure that this is not another tragedy where lessons are not properly learnt, and ensure that any inquiry is open and has full disclosure.
We must also make sure, as a sense of normality is gradually restored to a community which has been so devastated by this terrible fire, that they believe the authorities are here to help and serve them as much as any one else.
We can not now afford a social schism to fracture our nation, with some feeling they are being treated differently because of who they are or where they live. It is the duty of the state to help everyone in times of great crisis, and to be seen to do so. We must show that the pain of a community in distress is our pain, we must demonstrate we share the sense of loss and devastation.
In short, we must show we really care. All those directly affected by this awful tragedy in their hour of great distress and grief need to feel this too.