Grenfell and the RNLI

In June 2017, tragedy hit the heart of London when Grenfell Tower caught fire in the middle of the night. The RNLI has been working alongside charity Cornwall Hugs to help survivors, firefighters, and those who’ve lost loved ones create new memories and find some peace by the sea.
DinDin, 4-year-old future crew, smiling in kit

RNLI/Anna Burn

DinDin, 4-year-old future crew

Last October, families staying in Mousehole for a holiday visited Penlee Lifeboat Station  to learn about its lifesaving work and its own story of tragedy  from Coxswain Patch Harvey. As Cornwall Hugs Founder Esmé Page says: ‘There’s an understanding of what it is to have an enormous wound in a community and for everybody to rally round’.

Crew Member and Photographer Chris Yacoubian took a portait of Hanan Wahabi and her daughter Sara. Esmé describes the moment as: ‘A poignant offer, given that they lost all of their family photos in the fire.’ Hanan remarked: ‘I just feel I can breathe here’.

The portrait taken of Sara Chebiouni and Hanan Wahabi by Penlee Crew Member Chris Yacoubian

Photo: Chris Yacoubian

The portrait taken of Sara Chebiouni and Hanan Wahabi by Penlee Crew Member Chris Yacoubian

One little boy who visited Penlee Lifeboat Station, 4-year-old Salahadin (‘DinDin’), was very taken with its ‘big orange boat’ – and its Coxswain, Patch. Playing on the beach later, when the lifeboat left the harbour on a shout, DinDin was heard to exclaim: ‘That’s my boat!’

To support DinDin’s new love of lifeboats, Cornwall Hugs and the RNLI arranged for him and his twin sister Miriam – along with some children displaced from their nearby home for 10 months following the fire – to see one of the lifeboats in their hometown, Tower Lifeboat Station.

Yussra (8) tries out the binoculars

Photo: RNLI/Anna Burn

Yussra (8) tries out the binoculars

After a talk from London Firefighter and volunteer Visits Team Member Jim Allen, Tower Duty Helm Craig Burn showed the children the station’s E class lifeboat – and even let them have a look through the binoculars and night vision equipment!

E class vs Severn class, DinDin tells Craig that Penlee’s lifeboat is bigger!

Photo: RNLI/Anna Burn

E class vs Severn class, DinDin tells Craig that Penlee’s lifeboat is bigger!

DinDin has some work to do on his lifeboat identification – insisting that every ‘big orange boat’ pictured around the station was 'Patch's boat’. And he had Craig and Jim chuckling at his insistence that ‘Patch’s boat is bigger’, to which Craig replied: ‘Yes, but Craig’s boat is faster!’

Yussra, 8-year-old future crew

Photo: RNLI/Anna Burn

Yussra, 8-year-old future crew

Eight-year-old Yussra was also pretty taken with the RNLI. She says: ‘At first I thought: "I don’t want to do it," but when I saw the equipment and saw how safe it was I thought: "I could actually do it".

Alyasar, 10-year-old future crew

Photo: RNLI/Anna Burn

Alyasar, 10-year-old future crew

And 10-year-old Alyasar favoured the E class: ‘It was very cool. I think I do want to be a lifeboat lady, maybe. It’s actually fun saving people’s lives but I would choose the fast boat!’ 

Alyasar (10), Qais (5), Yussra (8) and Joseph (3)

Photo: RNLI/Anna Burn

Alyasar (10), Qais (5), Yussra (8) and Joseph (3)

After seeing the boat, Jim showed the children the crew room and they had the opportunity to try on the kit. 

Joseph, aged 3, in the crew jacket

Photo: RNLI/Anna Burn

Joseph, aged 3, in the crew jacket

Three-year-old Joseph's legs weren't long enough for even our tiniest trousers, so he tried on a coat – which reached the ground. He seemed pretty pleased with his new outfit, though!

Miriam (4) helps her brother into his crew helmet

Photo: RNLI/Anna Burn

Miriam (4) helps her brother into his crew helmet

DinDin’s sister Miriam didn’t fancy trying on the kit, but she was keen to ‘help’ her brother into his helmet with a bop on the head!

And the orange boat certainly seemed to be of interest to Miriam.

DinDin (4), 'calls' to Penlee Coxswain Patch Harvey

Photo: RNLI/Anna Burn

DinDin (4), 'calls' to Penlee Coxswain Patch Harvey

Once into the oversized kit, DinDin enjoyed ‘calling’ to Patch over the headset: ‘I’m coming Patch! I’m on my way, Patch, I'm coming today!’ 

At the end of the visit, he presented Craig with a gift from Penlee: a copy of the station’s new history book  – signed from one crew to another. 

DinDin presents Penlee’s history book to Tower Duty Helm Craig Burn

Photo: RNLI/Anna Burn

DinDin presents Penlee’s history book to Tower Duty Helm Craig Burn

Craig reflects on the visit: It’s just fantastic to see all the young kids come down with their families. They’ve been through a tough time and to put a smile on their faces and tell them about the lifeboats is brilliant. They seemed very interested and, as a father myself, it’s good to see youngsters taking an interest in lifeboats. Hopefully there are some future crew in the group and we’ll see them again onboard in a few years’ time.’

Grenfell survivors and bereaved at Tower Lifeboat Station with Duty Helm Craig Burn and Cornwall Hugs Founder Esmé Page

Photo: RNLI/Anna Burn

Grenfell survivors and bereaved at Tower Lifeboat Station with Duty Helm Craig Burn and Cornwall Hugs Founder Esmé Page

All-in-all, it was a lovely visit and little Joseph (pictured above, front) had this expression on his face for most of the time he was on station. 

The story continues

The story with Grenfell families and Cornwall Hugs doesn’t end here. So far, 34 of Cornwall Hugs Grenfell’s survivor and firefighter guests have visited Penlee, in addition to the nine who visited Tower.

This year, 17 survivors from the fire visited Cornwall and cast floral tributes into the sea in memory of loved ones lost in the tragedy. Esmé says: ‘Some of our young survivor guests named five family members as they threw their white roses into the water – it’s still hard to grasp what that would mean to a 9-year-old. Their courage and dignity is truly inspiring.’ 

The survivors included Marcio Gomes and his wife Andreia Perestrelo, who lost their son Logan – he was stillborn after the fire – in the tragedy. Marcio was one of the first survivors to speak at the inquiry. As is the case for so many families from the Grenfell community, Marcio and Andreia have been through a lot, and Marcio says that the trip with their two daughters has helped them to ‘make new memories’. 

Penlee Coxswain Patch Harvey says: 'Our work with Grenfell survivors, bereaved families and firefighters has been something I've enjoyed very much. To see the happiness on their faces was very special – it was like all the grief and heartbreak was forgotten for a short time. Esmé has created something special that has helped them and the local support has been fantastic. 

'We have formed a special relationship with the families and firefighters, and we very much look forward to seeing them again soon.'

The Truro Cathedral Choristers singing Grenfell From Today

Photo: Claire Wilson

The Truro Cathedral Choristers singing Grenfell From Today

A song to remember

Footage from the visit was used in a video directed by Paul Caddis for the Choristers of Truro Cathedral Choir, directed by Christopher Gray, singing Grenfell From Today. The song was composed by Philip Stopford with lyrics by Andrew Longfield. The song is backed by Grenfell United and reached number two in the iTunes Classical chart, with all proceeds shared equally between the charities Cornwall Hugs and the Grenfell Foundation. 

Bereaved survivor Hanan Wahabi reflects: ‘We really have seen strangers become friends and it captures so much of our experience this year. I’m very moved by it.’ And Mouna El-Ogbani, survivor and secretary of Grenfell United, says: ‘It touches all the people we have lost. It encourages us to look forward and rebuild our lives but never to forget Grenfell at the same time. It’s very moving.’

Composer Philip Stopford has made the sheet music available for free, and so far it has been sung by hundreds of choirs and congregations, from Auckland to Brecon, Buenos Aires to Moscow. 

Grenfell From Today lyrics

There are sights we should never behold
There are souls that cannot be consoled
Beautiful memories lost to the flames
The loved and the lonely were more than just names
And the young that will never get old

As the world wonders how this could be
Such a tower of humanity
Such a beacon of dread to the living and dead
With unanswered questions and things left unsaid
Such a sight that cannot be unseen

(Chorus)
A new day, a new way
To create a world we’re worthy of
A new day, a new way
We must listen and learn to love
From today

There’s a child with no words she can find
To describe all the thoughts in her mind
There’s a motherless son with a heart to be won
And a hero unsung who is coming undone
There’s a mountain of grief to be mined.

And we give all the love in our hearts
To the lives that are coming apart
To heal body and soul, take the terrible toll
We give what we can to keep families whole
We are neighbours and all play our part

(Chorus)
A new day, a new way
To create a world we’re worthy of
A new day, a new way
We must listen and learn to love
From today

There’s a vow from the heart of this land
There’s a promise we all understand
From north to south, from east to west
A time to grieve a chance to rest
To our neighbours we offer our hand

Though your hearts they will never quite mend
Fall in love with your futures again
Let the joy of new memories shed light on the old
Let hope be the pathway for journeys untold
Let a stranger turn into a friend

(Chorus) 
A new day, a new way
To create a world we’re worthy of
A new day, a new way
We must listen and learn to love
From today.

Cornwall Hugs pays tribute to the crew

Esmé Page, Founder of Cornwall Hugs, says: ‘Cornwall Hugs's connection with the RNLI began with a simple visit in 2017 but it has become a very significant and beautiful partnership. 

‘For the kids, the visits make great, colourful new memories that can help build resilience as they try to rebuild their lives, and the crews always go out of their way to make it fun and educational. 

‘Beyond that, many of the adults, survivors and firefighters have spoken of how moving they find the crews’ welcome. Often you’ll see quiet chats going on and it’s clear there’s a special connection happening. I think there’s a natural empathy and respect between those who serve in life-and-death situations on a daily basis and those who have experienced such trauma. It’s a very beautiful thing to see.'

Coxswain Patch Harvey has welcomed 34 Grenfell visitors so far

Photo: Cornwall Hugs

Coxswain Patch Harvey has welcomed 34 Grenfell visitors so far

Esmé continues: 'In particular I’d like to pay tribute to Penlee Coxswain Patch Harvey and Press Officer Elaine Trethowen for the memorial ceremony they arranged in May. One of the tower survivors, Ed Daffarn – survivor from the 16th floor and the person who predicted the fire in his blog in 2016 – sent a thank you card to Penlee and wrote: “We acknowledge how two separate tragedies link our two communities, and we understand well the feeling of absolute trauma and loss that we both share.” My sense was that it was, in a small way, reassuring to see how the Mousehole community had rebuilt and – as far as is ever possible – had found some healing, but that those who gave their lives in 1981 were still very much remembered and honoured.

‘We feel very blessed to be supported in our work by Penlee and Tower stations and look forward to many more visits.’

If you'd like to request a visit to your nearest lifeboat station, get in touch directly through the station web page, which can be found using our ‘find your nearest’ search function. And you can stay up-to-date with Cornwall Hugs by following them on Twitter.

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