'I was drawn to help out at Grenfell, and it turned out the skills I'd learned in the classroom were much-needed'

26th June 2017 at 15:21
This teacher felt she had no choice but to help out in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster. And the experience was both uplifting and profoundly depressing

My spa morning was all planned out. But Grenfell changed everything. It was a magnetic pull for me and for so many others.

In fact, most of the people I met when I volunteered to help were not even from North or West London; Norfolk, Loughborough, South London, Birmingham to name but a few.

Once I arrived in North Kensington, once I had got over the shock, I realised that teaching for 20 years had prepared me in ways I did not expect.

All these years of hard slog had paid off in two ways: I have vast experience in helping those in distress, and common sense by the bucket-load. That this combination was useful became apparent to me time and again at the foot of the Grenfell pyre. Be it listening to a twentysomething's tear-filled rendition of who was there on the fateful night and then gently making her eat something for the first time in days; packing food; or helping to persuade community leaders to pull back from reacting violently to the "powers that be", the experience of being a teacher came in useful over and over.

I realised that a combination of having grown up in a ghetto and a working life in the classroom had left me very well-placed to contribute to solutions in a tense and difficult situation.

The beauty of the best of humanity reared itself from the ashes in the most magnificent way. All races and religions and manner of disability were united in bringing love, care and brute strength to the needy.

A community 'on the edge'

But there were less uplifting factors in play that would be familiar to too many who work in education. This was a deprived community living on the edge: paying the price of years of Tory cuts.

Their housing is unfit for purpose and the support they get is minimal – and that was more than clear in the aftermath of that fateful day. Since 2010, more than 10,000 firefighters have been axed, dozens of fire stations have closed, fire engines have been scrapped and levels of emergency rescue equipment have been slashed. Every year response times are increasing and 2015-16 saw a 15 per cent rise in fire deaths compared with the year before.

So what to do? Teachers and the skill sets they possess are just what is needed at Grenfell. So go and join the throng. It is better than any "me time", a play or, indeed, a spa day. Go find Harrow youth club, Latymer church and the other hubs where hope is collecting – see your spectrum of teacher skills showing themselves in the most impacting ways. 

It's my new home from home.

Hannah Sokoya is an education consultant based in London

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