Matthew Israelsohn: Why I volunteered to help at the Grenfell Tower tragedy

Posted on June 17, 2017

When I heard about the Grenfell Tower tragedy, I was immediately very keen to volunteer my help.

On Thursday morning I went to Latimer Road (nearest tube station to the tower itself) with no idea of where to go once I arrived there.

I was absolutely shocked when I saw the empty completely burnt out 24 storey husk of the building close up, as well as the debris littering the ground around it.  Some cladding was flapping in the wind still semi-attached to the building walls and roof.  Smoke was coming out from many windows on three sides.

A policeman manning the barrier to Westfield Sports Centre told me there were already four sign language interpreters available for Grenfell Tower evacuees and their family/friends, but it had turned out there weren’t any deaf people who needed their interpreting services.

There were also two sign language interpreters near the 20 metre plus long tributes & memorial wall with messages written in many languages on the community church near the Latimer Road flyover.  I didn’t see any other deaf people there myself on Thursday or Friday.

It was pretty chaotic on the ground (see donations in the photo above) with no council people etc visible so the relief effort was being done with very little coordination between groups in the immediate area and an army of volunteers in many locations.

Emotions were running very high by the memorial wall with lots of press and TV interviewing distraught people who were looking for missing members of their family and friends.  More and more MISSING posters were added to the tribute / memorial wall during the day, most were asking for news about entire families.

I just got stuck in with dozens of volunteers sorting out the absolutely huge mountain of donations underneath the Westfield flyover in full view of Grenfell Tower.

This community effort took about seven hours to sort through the entire pile, sort it out and repack it into boxes which were then loaded into several vans by a long chain of volunteers.

One of the problems in a tragedy like this is finding out accurate information on what voluntary help / donations are needed and where.  It is very difficult to find this out without being on the ground in person and there is a lot of conflicting information everywhere including on Twitter and Facebook.

A group of volunteers not affiliated to any organisation and being steered by people on the ground have quickly put up a often-updated website called “Grenfell Fire – How to Help”.

It shares practical information about different ways of volunteering your help, and has sections on breaking news, what’s being requested & where, a list of rest centres etc etc.  It’s a good way of quickly finding out the latest news about helping as a volunteer.

You can see it here:

This disaster reminds me of a considerably smaller fire at Mansell House, the boy’s boarding house at Mary Hare (a deaf boarding school) in the late 1980s – a badly wired TV plug in the living room set the nearby curtains alight & soon the entire living room was completely ablaze.

The alarms weren’t working and one of the night staff woke up all the boys in my dormitory which was directly above the blazing living room.  When we were woken up, our dormitory room was already full of thick black smoke but none of us realised this because we were fast asleep.

If we’d been there for a few more minutes, we would have probably died from carbon monoxide poisoning.  Luckily, everyone was safely evacuated from the building.

Photo: Matthew

Who am I?  I’m just a deaf IT geek & underground party lover who lives in NW London.  I’ve been through some traumatic major events in my life and this is why as soon as I heard about the Grenfell tragedy, I immediately and absolutely knew I wanted to help somehow as a volunteer.

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