IT is London’s wealthiest neighbourhood and its most deprived. But for a minute yesterday, silence narrowed the social divide.
The melting pot that is the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, in which the view from the social housing in the sky is over the millionaires’ rows beneath, closed ranks to remember the lives lost at Grenfell Tower a year earlier.
In a ceremony closed to the public, those touched by the tragedy gathered near the foot of the burned-out building to pay their respects. Many arrived dressed in green, the colour that has come to symbolise the day.
The silence was observed across the country, at the Houses of Parliament and by the Queen and the Duchess of Sussex in Chester.
At Grenfell itself, the Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir opened the memorial with a rendition of Lean On Me. A community mosaic was then unveiled, followed by the reading of a passage from the Koran. Abdurahman Sayed, of the Al-Manaar mosque, said: “When residents, neighbours and strangers come from near and far in a spirit of togetherness, beautiful things can happen.”
Finally, the names of all the 72 dead, including a stillborn baby, Logan Gomes, and Maria del Pilar Burton, who died seven months later, were read out by members of the community. After each finished their turn, they said: “Forever in our hearts”, and heard their words echoed back to them by the crowd.
A hush fell over the crowd as midday struck, and only the rustle of leaves in the trees disturbed the peace. A year ago, it had been swelteringly hot; yesterday, there was just a chill wind. The silence was finally broken by the gospel choir performing Bridge Over Troubled Water, the song that had become a charity single.
An hour earlier, there had been standing-room only as a few hundred people squeezed into St Helen’s Church in north Kensington. Ribbons had been tied round the pillars and scarves placed on the seats as bereaved families, survivors and members of the community united in remembrance.
The local MP, Emma Dent Coad, and some of the barristers involved in the public inquiry into the cause of the tragedy, were among those there.
When the minute’s silence was observed, only quiet sobbing could be heard.
The Bishop of Kensington, Dr Graham Tomlin, said there was an atmosphere of “quiet dignity” and a mood that was both sombre and determined.
“Grenfell is a once in a generation opportunity to ask some really deep questions about the way we live together, the way we care for each other in society,” he said.
The hollowed skeleton of Grenfell Tower is now cloaked in white scaffolding and topped with tributes. The wall of handwritten tributes, last year a desperate mesh of missing posters, is now home to carefully organised shrines to the victims, lined by plant beds.