As the nation marks one year since the Grenfell Tower fire, some Sikhs who were among the first to respond recall their experiences that day.
While the nation woke up to pictures of the blaze, local Sikh sevadaars were already on the scene. Nearby resident Satnam Othee was woken in the early hours by the noise of the commotion. He tied his dastaar (Sikh turban) and left his house, buying as many bottles of water as he could from nearby supermarkets to distribute to the survivors and firefighters.
A few hours later he was joined by Khalsa Aid founder and CEO Ravi Singh. Numerous other Sikh charities including SWAT, MLSS, and Basics of Sikhi arrived throughout the morning as the scale of the seva requirement became clear. There was coordination not just between Sikh organisations, but between all organisations – people of different faiths and backgrounds – who had come together to do as much as they could.
Reflecting on the day, Ravi Singh told Sikh PA:
‘The tragedy of Grenfell touched us all, it was something beyond imagination. The whole country was in shock. The response from the public was simply amazing. It seems we all became part of Grenfell. Out of such a terrible tragedy came hope & humanity, It made me proud to be a Brit!’
While the Central Gurdwara Khalsa Jatha is mere minutes away from the site, at the time of the fire it was undergoing renovation. However, its sevadaars were on the ground, relaying requests to wider sangat via social media. That day a Facebook page was launched to coordinate between different Sikh organisations.
By the afternoon several donation centres had opened and the Sikh sevadaars present went to each of them to ascertain what was needed.
One of the most pressing needs was for food and water. It is a testament to the fact that langar (the Sikh communal kitchen) can function anywhere, that despite the renovation of the local gurdwara, langar was set up at Grenfell and continued for months afterwards.
Instrumental in this was Bhupinder Singh, who recounted the process to Sikh PA:
‘The first task was to serve volunteers, survivors and family members with food and water. Then we found out lots of donations were arriving. So we helped managed the task, people and arranged for transport and storage.’
The langar, staffed by sevadaars and provided by Sri Guru Singh Sabha (Southall) as well as other organisations, played a greater role than just the food it served: ‘Our langar stall became a night stop for residents that couldn’t sleep.’
By the end of 14th June 2017, Sikhs and their gurdwaras from across the country had pledged manpower, langar and donations. While so much had been achieved by the community in a single day, this was to be just the beginning of the Sikh contribution to the Grenfell response.