By Susan Al-Safadi, one of the Memorial Commission's community representatives for Lancaster West estate residents.
In July 2021, four of us community representatives on the Grenfell Tower Memorial Commission travelled to Aberfan, south Wales, to visit the memorial site of the Aberfan disaster.
On 21 October 1966, 116 children and 28 adults were killed when a large build-up of mining waste was displaced by heavy rainfall causing a landslide which engulfed Pantglas Junior School and the surrounding houses.
The Aberfan Memorial is split across two sites, one being a cemetery and the other being a memorial garden. The memorial garden was renovated in 2019 and rededicated in time for the 53rd anniversary of the disaster in 2019. As well as visiting both sites, we had the opportunity to meet with members of the Aberfan Memorial Charity.
Speaking to the Aberfan Memorial Charity representatives – a mix of bereaved, survivors and community members – and listening to them was invaluable. It was incredibly helpful to meet a community that is so dedicated to honouring those it lost, and to remembering what happened and why. We gained some more insight into what it takes to maintain a memorial, and what the future care of a memorial site might entail. We learned of some difficulties which the Memorial Charity had experienced and considered some of the same obstacles which we might face on the Grenfell Tower Memorial Commission. Our discussions raised important considerations for the Memorial Commission and encouraged us to reflect on more practical details which will be key to our continued engagement efforts as community representatives.
There were many lessons to be learned from our visit, and even more so from the Aberfan disaster itself. It was clear that there are many parallels to be drawn between what happened at Aberfan and what happened at Grenfell, despite there being more than 50 years between the two tragedies. Issues of public accountability, responsibility, and community development are still very relevant today. We need to ensure that these issues are highlighted in the eventual memorial that the Grenfell community agrees on. Education is a huge part of the Grenfell Tower Memorial’s future purpose, and the memorial’s landscape should incorporate that. It was inspiring to see how the Aberfan community – one that has been described as having lost a generation – has worked to ensure the memory of that generation and its history are still very much a part of the community’s present.
Before we left Aberfan, we laid a wreath in memory of those who passed, and in solidarity with a community that has also experienced immense loss. We’re grateful to have been invited to visit Aberfan, and we expect to continue to seek advice from the Aberfan Memorial Charity as we continue to work towards our own fitting memorial to remember those who lost their lives in the Grenfell tragedy.
Read more about the visit to Aberfan here