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“They are suffering now” - these are the words of one woman describing the staff of a nursery, based on the ground floor of the burnt out high rise that is on everyone’s lips...Grenfell Tower.
Up to 600 people are believed to have been inside the West London tower's 120 flats, including some of Grenfell Nursery’s children, when the blaze swept up the 24-storey building, after a fire broke out on Wednesday 14 June.
Grenfell Nursery's staff feared the worst, in the first few days after the fire, as up to 15 children aged between six months and four-years-old had been living with their families in the tower but no word had been heard about them.
But speaking on Monday 19 June, nursery manager Shirley Sylvester told daynurseries.co.uk: “We just heard last night, the children are all safe. The staff are safe. The parents are safe.”
Grenfell Nursery has been managed by Ms Sylvester since 1994 and had been due to celebrate its 30th anniversary in June before the tragedy at Grenfell Tower unfolded.
“We had a worrying time in the past few days”, says Ms Sylvester. “It’s still very raw for us at the moment.”
The death toll from the blaze is 79 dead or missing presumed dead but police expect this figure will rise. Sniffer dogs, DNA and dental records were used to identify the bodies of people who died in the building. At its height 200 firefighters tackled the fire engulfing the 70 metres high, 230ft tall building.
Ms Sylvester says: “We’ve lost everything. We were to celebrate our 30th anniversary in June.”
Decades helping the poor
Deep contrasts between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ in the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, saw the poor living in social housing flats in the burning tower in the council-run Lancaster West estate. Grenfell tower in its estate sat cheek by jowl with some of the richest people and properties in the UK.
The non-profit nursery has spent decades helping the poorest in the community get by with the help of childcare. It offers full and part time day care, 50 weeks per year. Its services include a day nursery, with a drop-in centre for families and an after school club.
Its full day care is mainly intended for low income families who are working or studying. Its morning service is aimed at non or part time working parents and fees charged include a lower rate for families in receipt of Job Seekers Allowance, income support, disability benefits, etc. The childcare fees of some parents are paid (in full or part) by subsidies from training providers, Access or Hardship Funds from colleges, universities.
The nursery's website describes the nursery as 'a community-based organisation which aims to support all its users irrespective of their circumstances. Staff are encouraged to take an interest in the development of the organisation as a whole and in local childcare and community initiatives.’
Run by Lancaster West Children’s Community Network (LWCCN), the nursery staff and its children returned to new premises at Grenfell Tower on January 2016. The nursery had two large playrooms, office/staff room, a kitchen and laundry room. It also had an outside playground area with play equipment.
As of 19 June, less than a week after the fire, Grenfell Nursery began operating from the Ilys booker centre in Lower Clarendon Walk in the Lancaster West Estate.
Ms Sylvester said: “We are in the process of looking for alternative premises at the moment, so that we can help the community.”
Hopes to rebuild in ’moment of need’
While money has been announced by Government to go directly to the people who lost their homes, the nursery has made an appeal for help on a JustGiving page, so that it could continue to support families with childcare.
Its appeal says: 'We are a non-profit organisation and rely on the help of others to keep our centre alive, and a safe haven for the children of the local community.
'We have worked with children and parents from various ethnic background and with different disabilities get the education and resources they need for their personal development.
'The Government had cut our funding many years back. We are a non-profit organisation and this is our pledge for our work to survive.
'We are hoping to raise money to help replace what was lost in the tragic fires at Grenfell Tower, and use the money to replace equipment, stationary, toiletries, technology and general uses for the children and parents that attend the nursery, from the Grenfell local community.
'We are hoping to help rebuild the community and hope that you spare donations to aid this effort during this horrific and tragic event. “I thank you in advance for your contribution, prayers and overall help in this moment of need.’
Ms Sylvester added: “The community has been brilliant. “They brought toys, paper, etc.”
'They are suffering now'
An Facebook appeal for help for the nursery posted by a staff member’s daughter on 16 June, puts it simply when she says of the nursery workers: 'They are suffering now, it’s time we help them grow so they can continue to help others.
'I have worked alongside my mother and her amazing team for years so this is very close to home for me I would appreciate all awareness made.
'They are the heart of the community and they have enriched the growth of many people we have grown with and loved.'
The Facebook post states the nursery ‘solely survives’ on donations and wants ‘to continue ensuring all parents and children affected by the fire have access to the unconditional support that they need during this difficult time as well as in future.'
Father: 'This is close to me'
A JustGiving fundraising page has also been set up for the nursery. So far, as of 19 June, £2,520 had been raised of £5,000 target. Reuben Incisive Adamah, the father of a girl who attends the nursery posted a plea on Facebook for donations to the nursery's JustGiving page saying.
He says: 'All families who relied on this place for daily childcare have also been affected.
'They have managed to find a new temporary premises but are in need of resources so a just giving page has been setup. This is close to me as I am one of those families and my daughter attended the nursery in the center.
'I know this is NO. WHERE near as bad as the homes and lives people have lost but its still a 'cause.'
Of the 79 lives dead or missing presumed dead to date, the LWCCN Facebook post says: 'Let’s continue supporting our community and raising awareness for those lost, missing but never forgotten.'
Shirley Sylvester knows a nursery building and toys can be replaced, but the many lives destroyed by a flat fire has left deep wounds in her nursery's local community.
But she remains hopeful that her team's efforts to continue giving childcare in the local area, can at least ensure the children will return again to play.
All donations for Grenfell Nursery can be made via its JustGiving page