I was delighted to be invited to join a crowd of 200 people last week at the official opening of the Grenfell Health and Wellbeing Service located in St Charles Hospital in north-west London. Included were members of the Grenfell Tower community and healthcare professionals from Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust.
Grenfell Tower is in North Kensington, an area adjacent to where the welldoing.org platform was founded and where I live, so the calamitous fire that resulted in the loss of 72 lives, and the trauma of thousands of others, has felt very close to us. Soon after the event we set up a group of therapists who offered to see survivors and others affected, such as neighbours and fire fighters, without charge. But we also believed that a great deal more needed to be done to help the adults and children whose lives had been so horrifically affected.
By contrast, the centre itself is a beauty. On the ground level of a rather decrepit Victorian hospital a mile from Grenfell Tower itself, it contains 15 freshly-painted, beautifully decorated (courtesy of the Nightingale Project) rooms suitable for therapy. There are 50 therapists who work here, covering a wide range of modalities, from trauma-focused CBT to arts therapy, from EMDR to family therapy.
Talking to the therapists, they told me they were seeing a wide range of people. Some very soon after the disaster wanted to talk, but only came for a short period. For others, it is a longer process, first of all for them to decide to come, and then to feel that they are ready to stop.
Adults and children can self-refer to the Grenfell Health and Wellbeing Service, but many come through outreach workers who are working in the area. GPs and social workers are also very involved in encouraging those affected to make use of this well-resourced centre.
One of the users of the service, Hamid, spoke to the crowd: ”Thank you for what you have done for us. Without you we would have been lost.”
Shahin Sadafi, chair of Grenfell United, echoed that gratitude, and praised CNWL NHS Foundation Trust for its flexibility.
"What happened at Grenfell was unprecedented. This had never happened so no one was prepared. No procedure or policy was prepared for what happened.
"I'm so grateful that the NHS had the ability to acknowledge that it was time to scrap all of that procedure and policy and think about how they could engage with the community, go to the source and make sure they could find out how to help individuals to overcome what has happened and to provide them with the services necessary.
"I just want to thank everyone from the NHS and the local community that achieved this by coming together to create partnership and have an amazing place like this where we could feel that you've listened and you've made sure that you put our needs first before anything else."
Robyn Doran, Chief Operating Officer of CNWL said the service would continue to work with the community to meet its needs.
"I want to thank the community, because you've been with us, you've challenged us, you've told us when we've got it wrong, you've tolerated when we've got it wrong, you've listened to us, we've listened to you, we've cried together, we've laughed together, we've walked alongside each other and actually we continue to work together."
"We believe we are one of the largest trauma services in the country and we are aware that both national and international eyes are on us trying to learn from us as we have tried to learn from others in other disasters that have gone before us.”
Out of terrible circumstances something very valuable has arisen, and many of those affected are finding that talking therapy, of various types, can help them on the path to recovery.