Former mental health worker currently at rest. He lived on the fourth floor
I moved to Grenfell when I was four. The best thing about living there was the community. We had people of different ages, backgrounds, castes, and religions. I remember the smell of landing, all the food cooked from the flat. I try to guess who was cooking what, and where it was coming from.
We complained a lot about the reconstruction of the tower, however. Noise, dust, and how builders will capture elevators. Later, it looked good from the outside, but there were still problems. The exterior was like a Prada, and the interior was a primer. The elevators are broken and you have to wait weeks for repairs.
I got PTSD when I saw the tower burn. I remember seeing people flashing lights on their windows to try to get people’s attention upstairs. A group of us outside shouted at them to get out. I don’t know if they did.
We ended up at Rugby Portobello, a local youth charity. We were abandoned. We have not received any information from the authorities. People who lost relatives were forced to search for them. Grenfell United was born there because we felt we needed to be together. We found pieces of paper and pasted them on the walls, so that people could mark themselves safe.
The council placed me, my sister and my mother in a two-bed hotel on the eighth floor. Most of the night I slept in the lobby because I could not get up so high in case of fire. We repeatedly asked to be moved to a lower floor with three beds. I had to lose my temper before they could handle it.
The month following the fire was a bit bleak. I was constantly on the move. My aunt was telling me to sit down and take a bath. It was a fight or flight response. I could not sleep. I was a zombie for a very long time. I started doing therapy, which I found useful, and I realized I was trying too hard to get older; I’m a former person. But that person was gone. I had to rebuild myself from scratch.
I think it’s almost as if the Grenfell community has moved on. But when so little has changed, how can we? The recommendations of the first phase investigation report have not been implemented. I look at the people in power very differently now. They don’t seem to care. Eric Pickles [the former secretary of state for communities and local government] Confused about how many people died. It’s incredible.
This week, I will remember the 72 beautiful people we lost. For them, we are fighting for truth, justice and change. We are not going anywhere.
Omar Alhaj Ali30
Works in business development. He lived on the 14th floor
My brother Mohammed was my best friend. We fled the Syrian civil war and came to the UK in 2014. He was a leader. I would call someone in the family when I had a problem. He will do anything to help. We looked so similar that people would reconcile us.
The night of the fire, it was Ramadan. We ate iftar at a friend’s house and returned home. When we heard the siren, we jumped out of bed and saw the fire. Mohammed told me to keep calm. He told me to go out. We opened the front door but there was so much smoke, we couldn’t breathe.
About an hour later, two firefighters knocked on the door. They told us to stay and they would return. Half an hour later they returned with Dennis [Murphy]. He was breathing heavily and was in a very bad mood. Firefighters moved us to another flat with more neighbors. Everyone was scared. All the children were crying. Mohammed and I read the Koran to calm ourselves down. A neighbor tried to get out of the window using the sheets he had tied, but it was too dangerous, so Mohammed and I dragged him inside.
Until now, the fire was meters from the windows. Then the door opened and a firefighter grabbed me. I was smoking. I tried to look back but it was all dark. Firefighters pushed me down the stairs.
When I got out, I looked behind me and realized that Mohammed was not there. I tried to run up the stairs but they wouldn’t let me. I called her and she told me she was still in the flat. I told him to leave and he opened the door but he said he couldn’t see anything. I begged the firefighters several times to save him. They don’t even talk to him on the phone.
I lost my mind. I don’t remember what happened after that. An ambulance took me to the hospital. They informed me there. [Around 5am, after realising that no one was coming to rescue him, Mohammad jumped from a window.] Later, my family called the council and asked if they could provide us with a place to pick him up, but they said they could not help us.
I can’t believe my brother was in that flat until 5 in the morning and no one could save him. In Syria, we were going to get him out. I get very angry. I want people to know what happened. They may think that the survivors are demanding too much or complaining too much. But that is not the case. I want to bring those responsible for this to justice.
I live in the shadow of Grenfell. I’m not inside the tower, but I’m there. Wherever I go, I see my brother. As I walk through Holland Park, I remember sleeping with him in the sun. As I walk past Westfield Center, I remember him working in a store. He will never be forgotten.
He works at the Vaccination Center and lives on the 10th floor
I lived in Grenfell for 27 years. I thought it would be home for the rest of my life. The view was beautiful. When I first moved, it was managed by the council. But when the hiring management took over, they were very patronizing. It was all about spending cuts and spending as little as possible.
On the night of the fire, my son Christopher called me. He told me to get out of the building. He was scared and crying, told me he was sorry for the mistakes he had made in the past, and he loved me. He sent me a photo of the tower burning. I thought, I’m in big trouble.
999 told me to stay, and someone was coming to pick me up. I waited four hours. I opened the windows and put a towel under the door to keep the smoke out. I was determined. I kept saying to myself: This is not the day I die. I’ll get out of here.
At that time I was the manager of a hotel in Kensington. We did fire training every six months. I knew senior firefighters were wearing white helmets. I called Christopher and told him to run to the police station and find a firefighter wearing a white helmet and put me on the phone.
Although police tried to stop him, he was taken into custody. I talked to a firefighter and he tried to get out twice and told me I needed help. He told me to get ready. I said, “I’m ready! I’ve been ready for four hours.”
A few minutes later, two firefighters knocked on my door. They helped me down the stairs. On the way, I came upon a dead body. Later I met them and thanked them. It was emotional. After the fire, we were stranded by the local administration and the government. It was only the volunteers who united and took matters into their own hands.
Grenfell is present in my life every day. I follow inquiries and share news with other survivors and bereaved families in WhatsApp groups. I was in a hotel or temporary accommodation for 18 months, but now I’m in a beautiful Kensington flat. I have trees and peace and quiet. I will not exchange it anywhere else. I like here I know how lucky I am. My heart is always with people who have lost loved ones.
A spokesman for Kensington and Chelsea’s Royal Borough acknowledged that “there were significant failures in how the fire was handled and elaborated in response to public inquiries. We apologize for the inconvenience this has caused to the bereaved and survivors.” The council said it was “committed to helping everyone find a home that feels like a home for life” and that residents who are unable to move into their new home will receive additional assistance.
In a statement, the former Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organization (KCTMO) said: “The investigation is ongoing and the inquiries into these issues have not yet reached any conclusion. The Grenfell Tower fire was a terrible human tragedy, and all those associated with KCTMO continue to offer deep sympathy and condolences to the bereaved, survivors and their families. “