Retired NHS worker returned to help make Grenfell community ‘feel well’
Fatima Elguenuni said she felt compelled to act after her son, pregnant daughter-in-law and three grandchildren escaped the fire.
A retired grandmother who returned to the NHS to help heal the grieving Grenfell community said she hopes a positive legacy can emerge from the blaze for the next generation.
Fatima Elguenuni, who has worked in children’s mental health in north Kensington for years, said she did not want her eight grandchildren to grow up thinking the blaze happened because nobody cared about them.
Her son Bellal, his pregnant wife Rabia and their three children Naila, 12, Aymen, nine, and Ayeesha, four, managed to escape the 18th floor of the tower a year ago on June 14.
Her daughter-in-law was in a coma for weeks, as were two of her grandchildren who collapsed outside the tower.
Ms Elguenuni was at their hospital bedsides when she received a call from her former employer, the Central and North West London NHS trust, asking her to help them reach the traumatised community.
Speaking publicly for the first time, the 57-year-old said: “Early on I felt that we were incredibly lucky as a family, because my grandchildren, although they were very poorly, they did manage to escape, they did manage to survive.
“I felt like I could take a step back and of course deal with my own family’s difficulties and my own, or I could try and use whatever expertise I have to make this community feel well. And I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay at home.”
The mother-of-four decided she could not do nothing while her friends and neighbours grieved, and has been working for the past 10 months bridging the gap between the NHS, the local council and residents as a community consultant.
The Grenfell fire shone a “huge floodlight” on complex, pre-existing issues she said, calling the aftermath an opportunity to “repair some of the damage, to make right some of the wrongs, and to rebuild”.
She went on: “There’s an incredible amount of work to do, and I think the community is still severely traumatised. I think there’s still a lot of anger, however there is still potential and possibilities for really, really good things to come out of this.
“One of the things that drives me and inspires me to get up every morning is that I really do not want my grandchildren, who really did suffer… I do not want them growing up thinking that that tragedy happened because people didn’t care.
There’s an incredible amount of work to do, and I think the community is still severely traumatised Fatima Elguenuni
“I really do want them to have a very-much hopeful legacy of Grenfell, because it’s their future, this is their community, and my biggest passion is that we create a community that they can actually feel (is) a positive one, rather than think ‘Grenfell happened because people didn’t care about us’.”
During the past year, Mrs Elguenuni said she had seen the community move from a position of distrust of the NHS as a statutory organisation to a “very good” partnership where people were more willing to consider taking up treatment.
Accompanied visits back to the tower, she said, were key to establishing strong relationships, as was a meeting she arranged between the Trust and the survivors and bereaved group Grenfell United.
While she did not feel able to return with her son Bellal, she was “full of admiration” for colleagues who accompanied survivors and the bereaved.
She said: “What I was proud of was the fact that my colleagues took on that role and actually went up with survivors and the bereaved… and it built a really strong bond between the therapist that accompanied that particular survivor or that particular bereaved person, and shared a very intimate and difficult situation. And I feel they’ve earned a lot of trust and a lot of respect.”