‘My heart races every time I hear a siren’: Grenfell survivors speak out five years on from the tragedy

Unable to work due to disability. Lived on the ninth floor

I moved into Grenfell in 2013. My neighbours were very good to me. They would always help me carry my shopping into the kitchen. They became my family, because they knew that I lived alone and was disabled. They’d give me their phone numbers and tell me to call them if I needed any help. A lot of the people who helped me have now passed away. I get emotional thinking about it.

In 2016, my family moved from Syria to join me. There were five of us living in a one-bedroom flat. The council wouldn’t move us anywhere bigger. It was hard. We could never have people visit us, because we had beds in the living room.

The night of the fire, I told my wife to take the kids downstairs. She didn’t want to go without me, but I made her. I started making my way down the stairs. Neighbours were running past me from the upper flats. I was scared the building was going to collapse. I tried my best to go faster, and fell twice on the stairs, hurting my back. I could smell burning plastic. There was a Turkish family outside, crying. They said their dad had passed away.

I had no money, nothing. Just keys and my mobile. One of my friends sent me some money. After a week, the council came to our hotel and gave me £500.

Now, I live in a two-bedroom flat in Chelsea with my wife and youngest daughter. I don’t feel safe here. I see people smoking cigarettes on the balconies, which are wooden. I complain to the council, but they say they can’t do anything.

I’m a different person now. I was brave before. Now I’m scared of everything. If I hear a fire alarm in a restaurant or coffee shop I have to leave straight away. I don’t trust firefighters any more. I think they should have asked the 72 people to leave their flats. Why did they tell people to stay in? Nobody came to help me get down. If I had waited for help I would have been number 73.

I think about the people who died, always. Khadija Saye used to go to appointments with my wife to translate for her. Rania Ibrahim helped my wife a lot. I watch the inquiry on YouTube. I talk about Grenfell every day. I often visit the tower. They’ve covered it now, but when I look at it, I feel like everybody is still inside the block, including me and my family. We’re all still living there.

Unable to work due to disability. Lived on the 20th floor

I moved into Grenfell in 2012. It was the view I loved. I remember watching the Olympics firework display from my window.

My partner and I kept ourselves to ourselves. We were content, other than the occasional issue we had with a noisy neighbour in the flat below. We complained about him, but then I felt guilty because I found out during the phase one inquiry that he had dementia, and didn’t know what he was doing.

The night of the fire we evacuated quickly. I didn’t realise how serious it was. In the CCTV photos of me in the lift, I have a smile on my face. It was only when I saw the fire that I went into shock.

I spent 18 months living in hotels, before being rehoused in a flat in Olympia. I live near three fire stations and the sirens set me off all the time. My heart races every time I hear them.

I think the government has forgotten about us. They know they screwed up but they don’t do anything. I don’t have any issues with the inquiry team, but I don’t understand what good they’re going to achieve, given that the government hasn’t implemented most of the phase one report. They ignored Lakanal House [a south London tower block where six people died in a 2009 fire that was subsequently deemed to have been largely preventable], and they don’t care about any of us.

On the night of the anniversary, I’ll be asking myself: why did I survive? I feel that I should have done more. I should have knocked on doors. The survivor’s guilt is difficult to live with.

Student. Lived on the 13th floor

The best thing about Grenfell was that it was a close-knit community. Because the lifts were always breaking down you’d have conversations with your neighbours. The worst thing about Grenfell was that I didn’t spend much time studying, because all my friends lived nearby. It was distracting!

There’s this misconception that the tower was a dirty place. There were lots of things wrong with the tower in terms of repairs not being done by the landlord, but it wasn’t dirty.

The night of the fire, I went out for dinner with my parents, sister and some family from South Africa. My sister and I came home early. When my parents got back they smelled the smoke in the lobby. My dad ran up the stairs to get us. I always remember my sister grabbing her chemistry revision notes before she left the flat.

From outside, we watched the fire climb the building through the cladding, and become a towering inferno. I couldn’t fathom how this could happen in the 21st century, in a developed nation.

To this day, I struggle with survivor’s guilt. To process that, I try to think about how I can make those who are no longer with us proud.

There will never be complete justice. We will never get back the 72 we lost. To this day the government hasn’t implemented the recommendations of the phase one inquiry. Until we get criminal justice, a lot of people won’t be able to move on. And I’m not optimistic we’ll get that any time soon, if ever. Look at Hillsborough. Stephen Lawrence.

I have moved on with my life, but there will always be something that takes me back to being a scared 20-year-old, watching people in the tower, terrified for their lives, at the windows. It’s not just the images I saw that I can’t forget. It’s the screams. I can transport myself back to that place and continuously hear the screams. I’m a lot better than I was. But there’s no such thing as curing trauma. It will be with you for the rest of your life.

I like to go and sit by the memorial wall and contemplate. When I got accepted to do my PhD I sat there and thought about how all those no longer with us. I hope they are proud of what I’ve managed to achieve. I hope I can continue to honour their memory.

A spokesperson for Kensington and Chelsea council acknowledged that “there were significant failings in how the aftermath of the fire was handled and [the council] has detailed these in its responses to the public inquiry. We apologise for the impact we know this had on the bereaved and survivors.”

The council stated that it was “committed to helping everyone find a home that feels like a home for life” and said that residents who were unable to settle in their new homes would receive additional support.

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