A former Rydal Penrhos Governor and Methodist minister has been speaking on opening his church to those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire one year on.
The Reverend Mike Long, who held the role within the school when he was based in Llandudno, now resides at Notting Hill Methodist Church, which was a prominent sanctuary for the victims in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy that claimed the lives of 72 people.
Speaking to the Guardian, Rev’d Long said: “It was like a war zone here. Dust everywhere. It was a surreal world of emergency vehicles and cameras and not having 60 seconds’ space to think. But then you walk home.
“There’s people sitting at pubs having a drink and a meal. Well of course they are. Life goes on, as it should. But it’s the contrast that jars. I thought, maybe this is what soldiers feel when they come off duty and people say: ‘What you been up to then in Afghanistan?’ And you understand why you cannot begin to answer the question. I can’t describe what it was like – and I’m not even from Grenfell Tower.
“I’ve not been affected like thousands of people in the community who’ve lost their homes and loved ones.”
Rev’d Long received a call at 4.30am from a church-goer to say the tower was ablaze, and he immediately came to the aide of those in need despite not having access to the church due to a police cordon around the area.
Once he was given access, people began to stream into the church in numbers to receive refuge, while a large community initiative also saw supplies being donated to help those affected even further.
“It began a whole impromptu community response, mostly led by people I’d never met before, a very significant portion of them Muslim,” said Rev’d Long.
“So when people say, ‘Oh, the church did tons of stuff in the first few days’ – well, the church enabled things to be done. It wasn’t all church members, far from it.”
One year removed from the tragedy, Rev’d Long has been reflecting on how the incident has impacted the area, and remains “indebted” to those that came together to help the community during a significant time of need.
He said: “For the first six months, it was in my thoughts every waking hour. But in terms of processing it, it hasn’t changed my views in one sense, at all, but it has changed me.
“Just being here under this brutally intense spotlight for days and weeks gives you a very intense sense of being bound to your local community. I still feel profoundly indebted to the people who helped out – they were brilliant.
“In terms of community mood, it’s very difficult while the tower is still there, and while lots of people are still in hotels.
“Once people are housed, once the tower is down, then it’ll start to feel like the beginning of a new chapter.
“Obviously the psychological issues and grief will remain, but as a community I think they’ll feel that a corner has been turned.”