‘Painful choices’ remain over tribute to Grenfell Tower victims

Bereaved relatives of those killed in the Grenfell Tower fire and the community living in its shadow are struggling to agree on the best way to commemorate the disaster.

Next month marks five years since a fire engulfed the tower block in North Kensington, west London, killing 72 people.

A memorial garden is “by far” the most popular option to commemorate the tragedy, according to a report published on Monday by the Grenfell Tower Memorial Commission.

However, it stresses that there are “very different views” on the best tribute, with the remains of the tower itself proving most controversial.

The block is currently covered in green safety wrapping, with the message “Forever in our hearts”.

What to do with it remains painfully divisive. “Some bereaved families have asked us to stress the deep pain and sorrow that would be felt if the tower was to come down – and the fury that would be unleashed if this happened without them being properly consulted with,” the report said.

It added: “A large number of people – particularly those living and working in the local community – tell us that living with the tower places a huge strain on their mental health.” Parents are particularly concerned about the impact of this on children.

Ideas from bereaved families include a museum to commemorate lost relatives, a sky garden and maintaining the charred remains of the tower as a memorial.

“Even with the best will in the world and all the imagination we can muster, we know that some painful choices lie ahead,” the commission wrote.

The government will decide if the tower comes down, the report said, but if it does, materials from it will be made available for use in the memorial if that is what the community requests.

About 2,000 people were surveyed for the report, including about 100 bereaved family members and survivors. Almost two-thirds said they would like the memorial to include a garden, a third would like it to feature artwork or a monument and one in 10 wanted to incorporate a building such as a museum.

The commission put its work on hold last September after an article in the Sunday Times said ministers were set to announce the demolition of the tower. The commissioners said they were “shocked, dismayed and completely blindsided” by it and did not resume their work until January this year after reassurances from Michael Gove that he would listen to the community.

The commission is co-chaired by solicitor Thelma Stober, who was injured in the 7/7 terrorist attacks, and Michael Lockwood a senior civil servant who ran the response in the aftermath of the fire. He is now director general of the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

In a joint statement, they said: “Our role is to ensure that what happened at Grenfell is never forgotten … Today’s report is a huge step forward. It reflects the incredible amount of work undertaken by all of the community representatives on the Memorial Commission, and of all the bereaved families, survivors and local residents involved over the past two years.”

The commission will make final recommendations next year. A covenant will protect the site from any use which goes against the community’s wishes.

Yvette Williams, one of the organisers of the Justice4Grenfell group, said she was sceptical that the consultation would be listened to by the government. “What evidence do we have to trust the government that they will deliver on what the bereaved families want?” she said.

A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting the Memorial Commission and the community as they develop their vision for a fitting memorial to those who lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower tragedy.”

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