The Firefighters 100 Lottery has donated thousands of pounds to charities helping people affected by the Grenfell Tower fire. William Murphy spoke to Zoe LeVack, founder of Kids on the Green
Six months after Grenfell Tower was engulfed in flames, a local community group based in Latimer, the area of North Kensington that is home to the tower, was holding a Christmas party for the dozens of children who had been caught up in the atrocity.
It was, for the most part, a joyous event that succeeded in its mission to give the kids of Grenfell a memorable treat after a rotten year.
The reindeers, Christmas trees and snow inside the hall reminded one parent of Narnia. Even social media sensation Eric, a skateboarding French Bulldog, turned up, kitted out with a Christmas jumper, to show off a few moves.
But the aftermath of the disaster hung heavily in the air. As a group of youngsters made cakes, one child, unprompted, iced out the image of the tower in flames on top of the cake. Even in their happiest moments, when their minds should be a million miles away from thinking about the fire, they are all still haunted.
“A lot of the kids are fixated on the tower,” says Zoe LeVack, the founder of Kids on the Green, who organised the party. “There were so many funerals in the weeks leading up to Christmas. It was a really tough time for everyone.”
The community group hosts art classes for the children of Grenfell, allowing them the opportunity to process their grief through expressive art therapies like creative drawing and painting, and organises fun events and counselling sessions.
Nearly all of the children who attend these classes knew someone who died in the fire. “At this point they are just about processing the magnitude of what happened. They’ll ask questions like ‘why can’t I play with my friends anymore?’ or ‘Do you get ice-cream in heaven?’ They are thinking about it all the time. We have some seriously damaged kids here,” Zoe says.
‘IT WAS A WAR ZONE’
Zoe, a youth worker based in nearby Shepherd’s Bush, could see Grenfell Tower from her flat. She turned up at Edward Woods Community Centre to volunteer on the morning of the fire and was disturbed to see the groups of young people crowded in the surroundings of Grenfell looking agog at the burning tower. “It was a war zone,” she says. “We had to get them out of there.”
Channelling her inner Pied Piper, Zoe rounded up all the young people she could find and brought them to a tranquil green space away from the tower, away from the trauma. That’s how Kids on the Green was born.
Research has shown that art psychotherapy can improve psychological health and reduce rates of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and the social anxiety that can result from exposure to trauma.
“Most children and young people do not have the cognitive maturity to start processing and verbalising loss,” says Eleanor Port-Burke, a member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.
“If a child or young person is not supported to process their loss and grief, there are significant implications and risks for their mental health: anxiety, low mood, depression, post-traumatic stress etc.
“Projects like Kids on the Green provide necessary early intervention and reduce risks by helping children and young people to develop the understanding and skills needed to manage their emotional well-being.”
It is clear that Kids on the Green is making a huge difference to the children of Grenfell. It recently organised a surprise birthday party for a girl who, in the months since the fire, had become depressed, was not eating and would rarely leave her bedroom.
To see the same girl smiling, laughing with friends and resembling her old self was a personal highlight for Zoe.
Kids on the Green is one of a number of groups helping the community to adapt to life after the fire and, just like any art project, or public service for that matter, funding is tight. So a recent £5,000 donation from the Firefighters 100 Lottery was a welcome lifeline.
RUN ON A SHOESTRING
The group is run on a shoestring and most people donate their time. The funding has been useful for things like paying the expenses of people like Jump London, who come to teach the kids Double Dutch skipping.
Then there is Safari Pete, who brought his wildlife roadshow of, among other species, snakes, meerkats and lizards.
Zoe cannot thank enough the firefighters who responded to Grenfell and who have stood by the community ever since.
“The firefighters, FBU and LFB have all been wonderful helping us out. I’m still in awe of what the firefighters did on that night to save lives”, she says.
“During the monthly silent marches through Grenfell it all comes back to me. I can keep it together, more or less, but when I see the firefighters, that’s when I go. That’s when I start tearing up.”
- To date, the Firefighters 100 Lottery has raised more than £170,000 for good causes and paid out more than £100,000 to winners. For your chance to win, and to support projects like Kids on the Green, get tickets at www.firefighters100lottery.co.uk