I moved back to North Kensington in May.
This is the area in west London where I grew up: where I first played football (in St Marks Park); where I learned to ride a bike (in Kensington Gardens) was taught how to swim (in the arctic Kensington New Pools); and where I went to school, first at Fox Primary and then at Holland Park Secondary; and where being called Crispin was no big deal.
Walking around the area brings up many memories. The Corner Shop in Cornwall Crescent, where we lived, is now closed. But I remember running there with the odd two pence piece to buy penny chews. I remember a neighbour buying me my first ‘Milky Way’ there too. The launderette is still there, and it was surrounded by the big washing machines that I had my first packet of ‘Quavers’. The library in Ladbroke Grove which, thankfully, is still open owing to the work of campaigners, was where I remember reading a very useful book about how to stop hiccups and where my mum used to take out French novels.
Aside from these trivial reflections, my abiding memory of childhood is of a community where diversity was championed and people from all over the borough mostly got along well. Some pupils in my class came from the big houses at the top of the hill by Ladbroke Grove; others came from tower blocks. Both my schools had more nationalities than any others in the country. I can say this with confidence because, not only did they contain a great mix of nationalities living in the borough, but also children of ambassadors in the dozens of embassies around Kensington.
Grenfell Tower fire
I was shaken out of this state of recollection of times past by the Grenfell Tower fire on 14 June.
I heard helicopters circling above for most of that night but I assumed this was a police pursuit and drifted in and out of sleep. But then to wake up and see horrific pictures of the fire brought an immediate urge to help. My partner and I went to buy clothing and food from the supermarket but it was hard to find where to take it as, before long, each emergency centre was reporting it had no more room.
About mid-morning, we arrived at the Tabernacle Christian Centre to find dozens of people helping the relief effort, sifting through bin liners full of clothes and sorting these out into different piles. Every half minute another person would arrive with bags full of stuff. The spirit of community that I witnessed that morning and for the next few weeks reminded me of what makes humanity great – and it reminded me of the spirit of the area in the 1970s when people from all backgrounds would rally to support local causes.
Within a week of the fire, I realised that it would have a massive psychological effect on those who witnessed it. Having experienced the bus bomb in 2005, I was familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder. I contacted the man who ran the 7 July Assistance Centre to ask if he could help. He came along to a small meeting in the Dalgarno Centre and said there would be no immediate call for a trauma centre as the feelings would take a while to process after the fire. He passed on information about best practice and how to run a trauma centre. It’s good to know that there is now a centre up and running that can offer survivors the psychological support they need.
One of the most moving experiences of my life came from attending the first Silent March for Grenfell. Hundreds of people, some angry and some sad, all remaining silent as they walked in rememberance of those who died. At one moment, a woman lost her child. This was the only time the silence was disrupted as people called out to find the girl. Eventually, mother and daughter were reunited and it was incredibly heartwarming.
Fundraiser on 14 December
In September, I was elected as a joint fundraising officer for Kensington Labour Party. I also put my name forward as a possible candidate for the council elections next May. It will be amazing if Labour could win against the asset-stripping Tories in Kensington & Chelsea. So I have been looking at ways to raise funds for the campaign. I tried to book the Tabernacle for a fundraiser in November but the local party felt that the hire fee was too expensive. Next I tried the WestBank gallery under the Westway. They could only offer me the 14th of December as a date.
I booked a great line up including ‘Grumpy Old Man’ Arthur Smith, comedian and commentator Ava Vidal and Punk Poet Attila the Stockbroker for the gig. However, I then realised that 14th December was the same night as the six-month anniversary of the fire. So I decided that the most appropriate thing to do was to change the evening to a fundraiser for ‘Christmas for Grenfell’, a local initiative which raises money for children traumatised by the fire. I asked the comedians not to perform stand-up but to tell stories or recite poetry instead which they all agreed to do.
The fundraiser has a powerful line up of speakers. Jon Snow from Channel 4 News, Moyra Samuels from Justice 4 Grenfell, Matt Wrack from the Fire Brigades Union, Piers Thompson from Save our Silchester, Abdurahman Sayed from Al Manaar Muslim
Cultural Centre, Reverend Steve Divall from St Helen’s Church and Michael Defoe Director of Harrow Club.
The event will start after people have returned from the Silent March and I have invited speakers from the community to say a few words about their experience, the strength they saw around them, the hope and the fight for justice. There will also be a screening of acclaimed short film that deals with the tragedy, BLINDSPOT.
Tickets for Fundraiser for Grenfell can be bought here.
The day after the fundraiser, I will be attending a Councillor selection meeting for the Labour Party and my hope is that I will be able to stand in Norland, the ward that I was raised in and that my Dad represented as a Councillor when I was an infant. If I do not get selected for that ward, I will try for Campden, where I went to school.
Either way, I will do my best to win the council back for Labour and for the area that means so much to me.