Capturing the strength of the Grenfell community

A new online exhibition by a photography student who helped out in the aftermath of Grenfell focuses on the power of those who came together to support one another.

When photography student Parveen Ali realised the tragedy of Grenfell Tower was happening on her doorstep, she instinctively grabbed her camera along with blankets, food and water.

The devastating scene that she had watched unfold on television was just five minutes’ walk from her former home in the Edward Woods Estate. The 36-year-old was determined to play a part in the relief effort, and she felt from the outset that this was a situation she had to document.

Of the images that she captured on that first day and in the days that followed, it is those that show the local community coming together so powerfully that affect her the most.

Now those images are being shown for the first time in a digital exhibition hosted by Hammersmith & Fulham Council, which is supporting Parveen’s bid to find a physical space where the images can be displayed within the community.

Image caption: By Parveen Ali

Recalling the morning immediately after the blaze, Parveen said: “I saw on the news that there was a tower on fire, then I realised that I knew the tower and it was in my neighbourhood. I had a shower, got dressed and got together everything I could carry.

“There was so much going on in such a small area, I almost didn’t know where to look. I wanted to help and I just tried to make myself as useful as I could.”

Parveen asked if she could help a group of fellow Muslim women who were busy distributing the emergency supplies, and amid all the activity she also began to take photographs.

She said: “I had my DSLR camera with me, so I just started capturing images for myself. I thought they might be useful to someone further down the line, maybe as evidence. I’d always ask permission to take photos and when people asked why, I told them I was just documenting what was happening.”

There are three particular images that stand out to Parveen, and which she feels show the strength of the community as it came together in the face of such adversity.

“One of my favourite images is of the man kissing the dog. The dog belonged to a lady who had been evacuated from one of the nearby buildings. She’d had to leave with a blanket wrapped around her and nothing else on, and she was lying on the ground under the blanket with her four dogs.

“The man lived locally and he was talking to the lady and playing with the dogs, and I just thought it was a really powerful image. All this activity was going on behind them, but you can’t tell that from the photo.

“Another image I really like is of St Clement’s Church where you can see all the boxes and all of the volunteers helping. It has a very Christian feeling to it. And there’s the image of Muslim women moving boxes outside the church, which shows how different people and religions can come together no matter what their beliefs.”

Photography has helped Parveen in her own ongoing struggles with depression since she signed up for an adult education course at the Macbeth Centre in Hammersmith two years ago.

Although the terrible scenes that Parveen witnessed at Grenfell will stay with her forever, she also believes the compassion and cooperation that were shown by people in the aftermath of the tragedy will have a lasting impact.

Image caption: By Parveen Ali

She said: “At one point the people giving out food gave me a burger and chips, because they knew it was Ramadan and it was almost time to open my fast - I thought that was such a nice gesture. At Latimer Road there were Muslim and Sikh groups supplying food to everyone until the early hours each day.

“The way people came together was beautiful. It was Britain at its best, and it felt like the Britain I knew when I was growing up.

“I took photography up as a hobby and I find it helps with my depression, but I never thought I’d photograph something like Grenfell in my lifetime. When I look at the images I’ve taken, it gives me hope that it isn’t a bad world, and people do care.”

You can see Parveen's pictures on our Flickr site.

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