Reggie Yates on why ‘the Grenfell fire was about people not politics’

Broadcaster and filmmaker Reggie Yates on the lessons we all learned from the Grenfell fire

Hours after the Grenfell fire broke out, I was in the gym when the burning tower appeared out of nowhere on the TV news. There was one other guy in the gym at the time and we both just stood there, sweating, side by side in shocked silence. This was happening right now in London.

I grew up in a similar estate in north London where, like at Grenfell, there was a working-class community right bang in the middle of an affluent area. When you have that, you have disparity. In my experience, being part of a community living in poverty, you are bound together, and you support each other in good and bad times. I spent time at Grenfell while making a documentary about the victims and what struck me above all was everyone knew each other here, people cared for each other, and a lot of people who lost their lives did so when they were running back in to save their neighbours.

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People talked about the political element of the tragic Grenfell fire, but to focus on this is to neglect the community that has been affected. More than anything, this is a story about the characters who come up again and again when I speak to people at Grenfell. A young man called Yasin who made it out but then went back in to try to save his family. He couldn’t and died too. Another young guy, Paul, who woke up in the middle of the Grenfell fire and spent five to ten minutes trying to wake up the people on his floor who had been knocked out by the fumes. He was trying to break down doors when a fireman shouted at him to leave. Reis, who told me about two friends of his who couldn’t move their parents because the lift was out of action. In the end, they stayed with them – and paid with their lives.

I think the world has seen a version of London that many people were not aware of before. When people think of that corner of west London, they don’t think of places like Grenfell; but the tragedy opened the country’s eyes to what London life is like for many people. It has allowed outsiders to see what it means to be a part of a community and to feel neglected by the system. Grenfell was an international place and, regardless of the origins of the people who lived there, regardless of religion, taste or race, there was a community that not only looked out for each other in day-to-day life, but also in tragedy.

The documentary Reggie Yates: Searching For Grenfell’s Hidden Victims will be on BBC Two in early 2018

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