After the Fire: Finding Words for Grenfell by Alan Everett
“After the Fire deserves wide readership”
In June 2017 the Rev’d. Alan Everett was woken in the night as Grenfell tower, in his parish, went up in flames. The book is his account of the life-changing experience of being caught up in the disaster, the practical support of the church and the ongoing effects on the community.
The first chapters describe the practicalities of the first days, as the tower still smouldered. It describes the church opening its doors and offering water and food, the lack of response from the council, the need for temporary homes for survivors, the overwhelming amount of donations (some of which were totally unusable including for instance 5 fridges),
The horror of this unexpected tragedy and its aftermath is well described in a calm and almost matter-of-fact way. We read how the church played a vital and practical role including feeding people, caring for the bereaved, liaising with relief organisations, providing money – and protecting vulnerable people from the press. The work necessarily took a toll on those involved “Staff were forced to shuttle continually between practical problems and the needs of distraught residents, while all the time struggling with their own grief.”
The blackened tower loomed over the community as both a reminder and a magnet for grief tourists who came to take selfies. Everett describes walking home from the church past dozens of photos of the missing taped to railings “It was like walking down a lost street with no future; a forgotten street in hell”.
The book gives a real feeling of the shock of being thrust into an emergency situation -but also of what a vital and central role the local church can play. Everett tells us where lessons need to be learned – communication and availability of money via the banks in particular – and also calls for parishes to be ready to play a central role if the need arises. A church that is at the heart of a community will already have the community’s trust and find it easier to respond. He feels there should be an emphasis throughout the Church of England on service and prophecy. “Through pastoral care and the ministry of presence, parish churches become hard-wired into a wider community”.
The book ends with a long and moving poem.
After the Fire deserves wide readership. None of us know what may happen on our doorstep.
Reviewed by Jenny Monds, Manager, Sarum College Bookshop