David Tighe, Managing Director of Bauer Media Northern Ireland, has opened up for the first time to share his experience volunteering at Grenfell Tower on the day of the tragedy, and told how sometimes the most meaningful thing we can do is simply listen.
David, thank you so much for speaking with me today.
I think we all remember where we were the day of the Grenfell Tower Tragedy, but can you tell me how it all played out for you?
Well, I was part of the Red Cross Fire and Emergency Support Service in London at the time to support with emergency calls that have some level of vulnerability attached.
On the day of the event, I was at work and was called out at about lunch time in a surge group to help manage, as things had become extremely hectic on the scene, as you can imagine.
I hopped on the train to go straight there but had to walk the final mile to get to the scene. As soon as I got off the train and began walking, I was struck by the intense smoke and heat, even over a mile away… It was everywhere. As I was got closer to the area, while walking in my Red Cross uniform, people began approaching me and trying to give me money in donations for the victim’s families. That was something that really struck me, the human spirit from the public was so strong from the get-go.
I saw every human emotion possible that day and I saw how quickly things can turn, but what it brought home for me was that it doesn’t matter who you are or what your background is, dealing with a situation like this, which could happen to anyone… Everyone’s vulnerabilities are the same.
What is important is what you do as a human rather than what you’ve got, and I saw it that day, the human nature, the good side, everyone was trying to help their fellow human beings, my only sadness is we only get like that when there is an adverse situation, but we should be like that every day. It brings home the frailty of life and how quickly things can change.
We should all make the best of each day and enjoy every moment and understand one another and learn from each other.
Can you tell me more about your role with the Red Cross and what you had to do that day?
My primary role was to set up an emergency centre, opposite Grenfell Tower.
The centre looked after all people affected by the tragedy, whether they needed water, food, clothes, toiletries, somewhere to sleep, or feed their children. Because, as you would have seen, the entire tower was engulfed in flames, so many people had nowhere to go. There were so many displaced families… everyone needed compassionate care. So, we needed to set up the emergency centre as quickly as possible so that everyone had a safe place to go.
The centre became a hub for all the people affected by the tragedy in one way or another. We constantly had more people showing up needing help. So, managing all of these vulnerable people, plus the constant new arrivals became extremely chaotic.
Can you tell me about some of those people and families that you met in the centre?
The one that has really stuck with me was when three brothers arrived at the centre who had been desperately searching for news of a loved one who lived inside the tower. They told me they were speaking with the family member on the phone as the events unfolded… They were trying to help them escape, but devastatingly their call was suddenly cut off whilst they watched the tragic event unfold on live television.
These three brothers had not been able to get any help or answers, I felt that they were really distraught and hadn’t been listened to…
As I reflect back on it, I realise that although you can’t solve everyone’s problems and give all the answers, you can always listen without judgement, and for me, these guys hadn’t felt listened to and so I took the opportunity to sit with them.
I spent about half an hour with them, but I knew that they didn’t even want answers from me, they just wanted someone to hear them out and understand that what they were going through was real.
At one stage, as they were speaking about their loved one, they all just got up and threw their arms around me and we had a group hug for a moment. They thanked me for listening, and I felt as though that was what they truly needed at that time.
That just shows how powerful it can be to simply give someone your attention and hear them out. You don’t need to respond, just acknowledge what they are going through... That’s how you become a better listener. That was one of the most resounding things for me that day. Before, I liked to think I was a good listener, but that particular situation truly made me realise the power of listening.
What would you like to say to any of our colleagues who were also affected by this tragedy?
This is the first time I have ever spoken publicly about that day…
In these kinds of tragedies, there’s always going to be a time when you need to grieve and where you want to internalise, but in all voluntary roles in tragedies and emergencies, the advice is always to get it off your chest… Speak… Whilst it won’t change the outcome of what happened, it will help you deal with it better. Sometimes just speaking with someone, anyone who will listen in a non-judgemental way - is all you need.
Acknowledgement is empowering, not only for yourself, but through the impact it has on others. So, please, talk about it, and if you’re still not dealing, please get further help.
Don’t ever be afraid to discuss your vulnerabilities and issues… now, more than ever, it is very accepted. It’s a very positive thing to do, to speak about it.
Is there anything you’d like share with our colleagues?
There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t think about that day and the people that I met.
I often wonder whether they got the justice that they were looking for.
For me, I was grateful I got to go home that day, they didn’t. I started the journey with them, but I will never know how it finished… Whether they ever found their loved ones…
I just hope that they get the answers and justice they need.
I worry for those in similar situations - living in places just like Grenfell… I don’t ever want to see that horrible situation repeated. From a human point of view, I want to make sure lessons are learnt and things are implemented both in Grenfell and more widely, I hope people’s words turn into actions.
Thank you so much for sharing, David.
The Grenfell Tower Enquiry is currently underway, for more information and the latest news, click here.
Anyone who wants to donate to support survivors, bereaved and the wider community affected by the fire, can donate to the Grenfell Foundation.