By Sandra Ruiz, Memorial Commission community representative for the bereaved families
On the night of 14 June 2017, I lost my niece; one of the 18 children who sadly lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower fire. In the days that followed, I became a spokesperson for my family.
My family have been part of the North Kensington Community for over 45 years. We were so humbled and comforted by the way the community pulled together to help each other in our time of collective need. It is important for us to give back to the community, and we continue to support the work and the initiatives of the support groups that were established just after the fire. On 4 October, my brother Manny ran the marathon for two local charities and, at the finish line, the community showed its solidarity again. That community spirit remains undiminished and grows stronger. For that and many other reasons, I am extremely proud to be part of this community and to serve them in this important task.
Shortly after the fire, a group of survivors formed Grenfell United and invited the bereaved family members to join. The aim was to improve the circumstances for those who had been displaced and to provide support for the bereaved. We also started talking about the memorialisation for the site at a very early stage, knowing how important a task this would be. We thought about what the principles should be for the process of developing ideas and plans for the memorial. The principles would guide us through a completely transparent process that would be so important to everyone involved.
In July 2019, I was voted in as one of the Memorial Commission’s community representatives. There are five of us representing the bereaved families, three representing the former residents of the Tower and a further two representing residents from the Lancaster West Estate.
I became a community representative because I felt I could contribute to achieving a fitting memorial for those who lost loved ones. For me, personally, the site is sacred and I know this view is held by many. I understand how important the site is for them and try to understand the sensitivities around it for all involved. We can only truly increase our understanding of this by actively listening to everybody’s views and I along with the other representatives want to make ourselves available to you in this listening process.
I can empathise with the grief and loss that so many have felt and continue to feel. I hope to bring strength and a clear voice to the Commission on behalf of the bereaved families. As one of the five bereaved representatives, I am clear that we are not representing our own views in this, but the views of those many families.
The principles on which the Commission’s establishment was based are also very concise and clear about that. They hold us, as a commission, to account. The principles include the community’s role in decision-making about the future memorial, and that, crucially, the voice of the bereaved families will carry the most weight.
The hopes and concerns of the bereaved families are vital to the whole process. We know we won’t please everyone, but everyone will be heard, either now or later when people feel ready. Whenever they choose to contribute, we will make sure that the bereaved are at the centre of the Commission’s thinking and planning.
We met many of you and listened to your views at our community events in February. The discussions we are having now will build on these ideas. Kaizen, a recently-appointed community engagement specialist, is helping to run these discussions for us.
Because of COVID-19, we’ve not done as much recently as we would have liked to, but Kaizen has set out a plan with dedicated time now to reach out to and hear the priority voices of the bereaved families. They are also helping us to support and listen to survivors and the local community. Without Kaizen, we would have fewer resources to do that. Your views are important to us and will form the basis for our work going forward, so we want to hear from as many of you as possible.
Even though we, the Commission, may be less physically visible, we want to connect with and give support to individuals and families. I would be happy to attend conversations between Kaizen and bereaved family members. As an independent person who has personal experience of the events of three years ago, I am here to listen and help make sure people are heard. If this is something that you would like, please contact the Memorial Commission mailbox.
I, alongside the other community representatives, will be receiving regular reports of what people are sharing with Kaizen about their thoughts for the future memorial. We want to make communication between you and us, your representatives, as easy for you as possible. What would be most convenient and comfortable? Would you be interested in coming to an online drop-in event, for example? Or an event in a particular language or aimed at a particular group? Please let us know so we can be there in the ways that’d suit you best. We are here to listen, and we will continue to.
To contact the Commission, including the community representatives, email us at: GTMCSecretariat@communities.gov.uk or call 0303 444 4831. You can also join the mailing list or follow us on Twitter at @GrenfellTowerMC.
Next month’s blog will be by Andrea Newton, one of the Commission’s two community representatives for the Lancaster West Estate.