By Susan Al-Safadi, one of the Memorial Commission's community representatives for Lancaster West Estate residents.
As part of the Grenfell Tower Memorial Commission’s research process, we’ve been in touch with several memorials across the UK and overseas including Manchester Glade of Light, Aberfan Memorial Charity, 7 July Memorial and 9/11 Memorial & Museum.
Last September, the Memorial Commission community representatives visited the memorial site for the Manchester Arena bombings that took place just three weeks before the Grenfell Tower fire.
The memorial, named the Glade of Light, commemorates the victims of the 22 May 2017 terrorist attack at Manchester Arena. The memorial site is located a few minutes’ walk away from the arena in the city centre. It was approved by survivors, bereaved and the general public, who worked together to agree on having a memorial close enough to the site of the tragedy, but one that would also have areas and seating to accommodate those who may not be comfortable having the arena in the direct sight line of the memorial. The memorial itself consists of a marble halo surrounding a British wildlife garden, which features trees and plants native to the UK.
Manchester’s path to a memorial was fairly different to that of the Grenfell Tower Memorial Commission, with the Manchester Memorials Advisory Group (MMAG) being compromised of civic, academic and business leaders. The MMAG was set up to outline a design brief, and went on to shortlist 6 (of over 30) designs which had been submitted in response to an international design competition. A consultation around these concept designs was then held with bereaved families, survivors, and the local community to develop the concepts into detailed designs. This consultation happened in 2018, and the design selection was made in 2019. Planning applications were approved in January 2021 and the build process spanned from March to December 2022, with the memorial’s opening to the public taking place just after Christmas. It is now part of the fabric of the city, and the local council is committed to ensuring the memorial will be looked after in the same way as any other public area within the city.
The Manchester memorial faced similar challenges to community engagement as we have experienced and outlined in our phase 1 report ‘Remembering Grenfell: our journey so far’. Over 14,000 people were at the arena that evening, of whom 1,000 were injured. Survivors and bereaved families were from many different locations across the UK, and face-to-face meetings were restricted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Some families chose not to engage directly in the process. For others, their level of engagement oscillated across the different stages of the process, and interestingly, the city saw a higher level of engagement towards the end of the construction period. It was important for the MMAG that they engaged a flexible contractor, who arranged for last minute family visits throughout the finishing process. This is something we should consider when developing our design brief, although the Manchester site environment differs from the Grenfell memorial site by nature, and specifically from an accessibility perspective.
After discussion with the bereaved family groups, followed by survivors and finally the wider community, an online questionnaire was developed. This approach was adopted to ensure the process was refined beginning with a framework approved by the bereaved families. It was key to identify overarching themes which would ultimately bring people together, despite having never met. This is something the Grenfell Tower Memorial Commission also focussed on, and which led us to develop our word cloud back in 2020. The Glade of Light also has embedded memory capsules which were provided to the bereaved families to fill, and which were adapted so that each family could contribute to the memorialisation of their loved ones in a way that was personal and meaningful to them.
One of the key issues highlighted by those involved in creating the Glade of Light was the importance of focussing on accessibility very early on in the design process. As a result, a community access group was established to consider a range of accessibility needs and to ensure the final memorial would be accessible to all. This can be seen in the incorporation of braille translations across the information plaques at the memorial.
For Future Generations
Drawing on the lessons learned by those involved in creating the memorial in Manchester will be invaluable to us as we continue our work towards a suitable and sustainable memorial for Grenfell. Whilst the journey and timeline to a memorial in Manchester has been very different to that of ours in the Grenfell community, we were able to recognise several areas of commonality between the two. Ultimately, the primary objective of both memorials is to ensure that the people we lost are remembered, but also to make sure that what happened, and the events that led to those tragedies, is not forgotten. It is important for future generations to know that those events took place, and that those people existed. That they were loved, and lived, in those communities, and that for that reason, there must always be a space for them there.