In July 2021, four of the Grenfell Tower Memorial Commission community representatives, Sandra Ruiz, Hanan Wahabi, Susan Al-Safadi and Andrea Newton, visited Aberfan in south Wales as guests of The Aberfan Memorial Charity.
The Aberfan memorials commemorate the 144 lives lost in October 1966, 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 invitation to visit was made by David Davies, chairman of The Aberfan Memorial Charity, when he was a guest at a Memorial Commission meeting in March 2021.
The Grenfell Tower Memorial Commission has been approaching the custodians of other memorials to learn how they have considered matters such as design, working with the community, educational programmes and issues of long-term ownership and maintenance.
The Memorial Commission community representatives met David and some of the other trustees from The Aberfan Memorial Charity, most of whom still live in the village. The trustees accompanied the Memorial Commission community representatives on visits to both the Aberfan Memorial Garden and the Cemetery Memorial.
The Aberfan Memorial Garden was created on the site of Pantglas School and was opened in 1970. A section of the school playground wall has been retained in the Memorial Garden while the other walls evoke the former layout of the school.
In 2019, the Memorial Garden underwent major renovations, principally replacing all the old walls. The National Botanic Garden of Wales was involved in designing and planting the current bee-friendly garden. It includes commemorative trees presented by the Queen and the Prince of Wales, another planted by local schoolchildren on the 50th anniversary, and a recently added tree dedicated to the teachers and staff at the school.
The Memorial Garden design incorporates reclaimed and recycled materials, such as stone from disused local bridges for the walls, and benches made from recycled plastic bags, which also reduced the level of maintenance required.
At the Aberfan Cemetery Memorial, which was renovated extensively in 2007, most of the victims are buried side by side, with each grave marked with linked archways carved in pearl white granite. The Memorial Commission community representatives laid a wreath of white roses at the cemetery, in memory of those who lost their lives and to honour the community who have ensured that they will never be forgotten.
The names of all 144 victims are inscribed on a large granite cross at the Cemetery Memorial, where there is also a separate enclosed garden for quiet reflection.
“Most impactful for me was seeing so many children buried side by side, and how lovingly and respectfully this had been done”. Sandra Ruiz, Memorial Commission community representative for bereaved families.
The community representatives felt the visit had been extremely valuable and informative, raising many important points to consider, particularly around long-term maintenance and sustainability and in developing an educational dimension to the memorials. The story of what happened at Aberfan is now part of the Welsh national curriculum, so that the victims will always be remembered by future generations.
“It was inspiring and humbling to meet the Trustees from The Aberfan Memorial Charity and learn about everything they are doing to honour the lives that were lost 55 years ago. We will take the lessons that we learned back to the rest of the Memorial Commission and to our communities and will carry them with us on our journey to build our own lasting memorial.”
Grenfell Tower Memorial Commission representatives
To learn more about the visit to Aberfan, read Susan al-Safadi’s blog post.