When Grenfell Tower caught fire in the early hours of June 14 2017, most of us were sleeping safely in our homes – a simple everyday thing we take for granted. But its hundreds of residents weren’t safe, and 72 of them lost their lives as the blaze engulfed the whole tower block. As news reports became names and names became family stories, the tragedy became more visceral, a knot in our collective stomach. But we are still the lucky ones.
The five people you meet in this article were all personally impacted by the fire. All have endured five years of grief and injustice, but all are forging ahead. What took place that summer night is a huge part of what drives them. They want to honour the people they lost, make them proud and support those who are still here. We all want – need – to find hope in the hardest times, how else can we keep going? These men and women represent that hope.
‘The goal is to be world champion’
Heavyweight boxer David Adeleye used to train at a gym in Grenfell Tower. In 2019, he turned pro and, eight fights in, he remains undefeated.
I started boxing with Dale Youth, in the Grenfell Tower. The first time I walked into the gym, my coach, Gary, told me to come back for adult training: at 14 I was already 6' 1" and I was there with all these little kids. I never missed a session after that. I stayed with Gary through my whole amateur career. He’s the grandmaster – he taught me a lot.
I wasn’t in a rush to turn pro, because I was still young, but I had a couple of meetings with Frank Warren and ended up signing. Frank is known for nurturing his fighters, and he knows the game inside out. He’s stayed relevant from the 1990s until now so he’s doing something right.
I got ‘Wembley’ tattooed on my arm just to say that one day I’d box there, and now I have. I’ve had that experience of being in the changing rooms, the build-up, the press conferences. I didn’t necessarily feel nerves because in the fight game you know you’re going to get punched in the mouth anyway, it’s just a bit more about having fun with it!
As brutal as it sounds, when you knock someone out it uplifts you. It’s funny, I’m a nice guy in training, but when I get in the ring, even with a friend, as soon as the bell goes my aim is to take their head off. I switch. It’s part of the game.
I knew people who lived in Grenfell – we’re all connected. We lost Tony in the fire: he was the father of three boys who trained with us, and a big part of the gym. He used to come on trips with us, make sure all the kids were being looked after.
I was at uni the night it happened. I kept getting phone calls but I wasn’t answering them because it was late. Then my brother called and said: ‘Have you heard about the fire?’ I turned on the news and there it was: Grenfell in flames.
The goal is to be world champion – nothing less. It’s just a matter of timing, of getting the right fights. Put me in the ring with any of these big boys and they’re going to get knocked out. I want to go down in the history books.
The people I used to watch fight are now commentating on me. A lot of people want to be in my position, so I always have to remember to be thankful that I’m here. Sport doesn’t last for ever so you have to be humble and grounded.
‘I helped save our community theatre’
Naomi Israel lost two close friends in Grenfell. She has since helped produce critically acclaimed play ‘The Burning Tower’ and fought to get funding for local theatre charity SPID.
That night, I woke up with a sense of dread. I was about to close my laptop when I smelled burning plastic and from my window I saw clouds of smoke. I looked on Twitter and a friend was live-streaming what was happening. I put my shoes on and just ran. The last thing Khadija wrote was ‘I can’t breathe.’ I knew she hadn’t got out. Then I found out that Yasin had seen what was happening and had run into the tower to save his family. He didn’t even get close.
I helped to produce the play ‘The Burning Tower’, because I wanted it to have an authentic voice. Certain parts of the script were hard. One of the characters says ‘I can’t breathe.’ I couldn’t be in the room to hear that.
The play was painful but cathartic. We put it on a year after the fire, when the inquiry seemed to be suggesting it was a freak accident, but it was a catalogue of errors that had been ignored. [The play] was really well received.
The young people at SPID have just made a film. It’s to do with social housing and the local community. As their youth ambassador, I’m now really focused on the refurb. We came so close to losing our funding, so I’m determined to make sure it goes ahead. It’s more than a theatre space, it’s a lifeline.
‘I’ve found my purpose’
Tarek Gotti was a first responder on the night of the Grenfell fire.
I live two minutes from the tower, which is why I was there so quickly on the night. I have burns to my legs, but I didn’t stop to think about the risk to me, I was only thinking: This could have been me. In November 2009 I was offered a flat on the twenty-first floor, but I’m disabled, so they gave me a different flat.
After the fire, on the fourteenth of each month I’d invite the community and cook. We would talk about the past, the present, we’d listen to music, laugh, cry and talk. When I had enough budget, I put on bigger events. Even if I could only feed 20 people, I’d manage to do something.
When the pandemic hit, I became an NHS volunteer and I’ve been recognised by the mayor for my work [Tarek won a Mayor’s Award in 2019-20]. I’ve been doing meals on wheels for elderly and vulnerable people. I also help the homeless, and do work with refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and now Ukraine.
I’m also a victim of 9/11. I was in New York going to get groceries that morning, and my uncle Louis jumped from the building. By 10.45am I was distributing food. NYC came together in the streets.
I was born in Sierra Leone, where there was civil war; my mother is from Lebanon, where she became a refugee. When I came to the UK, it opened its hands and doors to me, now I’m giving back.
‘I’ve built a business to feed people’s souls’
Munira Mahmud is the founder of Kina Mama, a female-led catering business.
I lived in the Grenfell Tower for nine years. On the night of the fire, a firefighter came and told us we had two seconds to leave, so we got out. For three weeks I didn’t leave the hotel, then a few survivors tried to commit suicide and I looked at my children and I thought: They need me; my husband needs me; I need myself. I realised cooking was what I missed. By 2020, we had 50 women cooking at the local mosque: Spanish women, Cambodians, Colombians, Algerians, Filipinos, Bangladeshis, Moroccans. We came together to cook, eat, talk and laugh. It healed me.
‘Kina Mama’ means ‘the mother’. When I had my son, I was given fish and chips. Back home I would have had porridge, soup, broth. I thought: I want to cook for new mums. I’m from Uganda, where the role of the mother is very important. We believe that if the mother and her child aren’t looked after well, there will be problems later. Food is love.
During the pandemic, I posted a message on the Nextdoor app, to say that if any nurses or doctors needed a hot meal to let me know. Someone texted to say they were working day and night and would love a meal. It grew from there until I was making 200 meals a day for the local hospital and community.
I’m doing supper clubs, events and bespoke catering. We’ve got a big community event for about 500 people coming up soon. I’m also hoping to bring back my weekly drop-ins for local mums. I’m working to secure a venue so we can give cooking lessons, hold events and be able to employ some of the local mums and offer them training.
Making a difference to people’s lives is my purpose. I grew up very poor, but the little that we had, we shared. I’m just carrying that on. My dad used to say: ‘Don’t feel sorry for yourself, because the minute you do, you’re done, because nobody else can pick you up.’ He’s always the voice in my head, spurring me on with Kina Mama. One day, I want Kina Mama to be all over the world.
‘People see my happiness and know it’s possible’
Edric Kennedy-Macfoy was a London firefighter on duty when the fire broke out. He has since left the fire service, written two books and is a now a holistic fitness coach.
I was in the fire service for 13 years, from the age of 22. In my first few years, every time I jumped in that truck it was a buzz, even if we were going to an old people’s home because they’d burnt the toast. After a while, I was promoted to crew manager, heading the fire rescue unit which deals with major disasters.
When we arrived at Grenfell, looking into the faces of some of my colleagues sent a chill down my spine. I’d been to many fires, but I had never experienced anything like it. I came out a different person. I fell into a depression, having flashbacks, until one day at Borough station I looked at the tracks and I asked myself: How would you feel if you jumped? I thought I’d feel relieved. That was when I knew I had to go and see someone.
Between seeing my counsellor, finding yoga and meditation and writing my life story, I began healing. The book deal for ‘Into the Fire’ came about through chatting to someone from the publishing industry at a barbecue. It lets people know that there’s always hope. I’ve lost more than 20 people in the last 18 years. I went to Grenfell, but there’s always hope. That’s the message.
I’d always been a meat head, then I went on a date with a vegan. I asked her why she didn’t eat meat and she said: ‘I don’t think animals should have to die so we can eat them, when we don’t have to.’ The next morning, my vegan journey started. At the fire station they were all taking the piss out of me at first, but then they started saying my food looked amazing so I’d give them tips.
When I got a second book deal, for ‘Fit Vegan’, I took the plunge and left the fire service. It was the best thing I’ve ever done. When I found yoga and meditation it helped me to completely let go of the past, and just to be fully present. Now I use all of that to help other people.
I’ve launched ‘Holistic Fitness with Ed’, moved to Somerset and I do life transformations for clients, using yoga, breathwork, meditation, physical fitness and nutrition. I’m working with people who haven’t been interested in the gym, but they see what I do and they’re curious. It’s not just mindlessly moving weights – it’s all about being kind to your body. I feel like this is exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I’m doing.
Portraits by Juan Trujillo Andrades.