The fire has long since been put out, but it is not so easy to erase the memories. The tower, blackened and desolated, stands as a constant reminder, and all those who were caught up in the tragedy will never forget that horrific night. The sense of injustice lingers in the air; it is impossible to escape the thought that more could have – more should have – been done to prevent this happening.
That is certainly the view held by all members of Non-League for Grenfell, a movement which was set up in the months that followed the worst fire seen in Britain for a century. Through football, they intend to bring about social change.
Their mission started last summer, when the group made several trips to non-league sides to get their message across. What they had to say was simple but powerful nonetheless: a tragedy of this sort should never have happened and the country as a whole must make sure it never happens again. The movement’s aims are unflinchingly to the point: the loss of life is termed a “national disgrace”, while they call the minimal help for victims “unacceptable”.
Non-League for Grenfell are certainly not the only ones who hold that view, but the strength of feeling can in part be explained by the fact that Andrew Hughes, the movement’s founder, grew up in a 21-storey block not far from the tower. Relatively speaking, Hughes was fortunate: there was no cladding on his place of residence.
A member of the local community, Hughes had friends nearby and regularly played football in the area. He may not have lost anyone he knew personally, but he still felt like he had to act after seeing such a tragedy unfold on his doorstep.
“I saw it as an injustice to people living in social housing up and down the country,” he explains. “It showed the effect austerity has: cutting back on public services, companies cutting corners for profit.”
Football, of course, is unimportant in comparison to matters of life and death, but that does not mean it cannot help to bring people together and effect positive change. They have made progress already, even though the group are not yet a year old. The first game they attended was at Whitehawk, a non-league outfit from Brighton who play their football in the Isthmian League. They unveiled a banner featuring the words ‘Justice for Grenfell’ during the match, while photographs of the 72 victims were held up in the 72nd minute.
“I had the idea to keep it going by taking a banner to different grounds, to keep it on the conscience of football fans,” says Hughes. “It was something we wanted to highlight to show that football fans stand united with them. People wanted to get involved and help, which was amazing.”
Non-League for Grenfell have continued to travel around the south of England, attending games at Peckham Town, Hendon FC and Hackney Wick. They interact with fans and, in turn, have seen interest in their cause increase; their social media presence has grown in recent months, with some club owners even offering a helping hand.
Not that the group are content with what they have achieved so far. This, they hope, is just the beginning of a significant movement. Hughes believes that non-league football is the perfect platform from which to encourage further action, both specific to Grenfell and related to other social interests.
“The special thing about being involved in non-league football is the culture surrounding it,” he says. “There’s a lot of communication between fans and owners of all clubs. I feel a vibrancy and a buzz surrounding non-league football. I think the idea of people power, the focus on community, is key to a movement like ours.”
Hughes organised a day out with volunteers from Justice for Grenfell last September as a means of saying thank you for their selfless work. Brighton was again the destination, where those involved with the charity ate fish and chips and attended a game with members of Non-League for Grenfell. In total, almost £500 was raised to ensure none of the attendees were out of pocket.
“We have more plans for regular stadium visits, and a football tournament is coming up, hopefully before the end of the year, at the Westaway football pitches close to Grenfell,” Hughes says. “The money raised will go towards helping the families of those who have sadly passed.”
They will continue to spread the word and push for change – and football will always be at the centre of their mission. After all, it is a part of who they are, and a medium through which their voices can be heard.
“A football club can be the heart and soul of a community or a town or a city,” says Hughes. “And there’s always a massive amount of people who are able to join in and support causes. It can be an outlet for people who find themselves in a bad place. Football is a powerful tool.”