During the recent school half-term, the community of Cornwall welcomed the arrival of forty-five guests who had been severely affected by the Grenfell Tower Fire.

The voluntary organisation Cornwall Hugs Grenfell arranged the week long free holiday in Porthtowan, which consisted of twenty-nine children attending Oxford Gardens Primary School and Avondale Park Primary (schools situated particularly close to the tower) and their parents. The break was designed to give time for the children, who were aged between eight months and thirteen years, to process the trauma of the fire and grieve the many school friends they lost in the tragedy. Towan Valley Resort hosted the holiday and transport for the trip was provided all week by Megabus UK.

Whole families were lost to what is described as Britain’s worst post-war fire, with funerals still taking place in the run up to the October half-term. The trip incorporated four key elements: family time in proper houses where families could enjoy home-cooked food together, educationally rich activities, fun physical activities and lightly therapeutic sessions.

Children spoke of fond memories and fun times with the friends they lost to the fire, while parents related the challenges of comforting them. Qais Al Sadi, celebrated his fifth birthday on the trip. The day before his birthday he asked his mother if he could invite his little friend Zainab to the party. Zainab died in the fire along with her family, including her mother Nadia Choucair, a nursery officer at St Anne’s Nursery. Fatima Al Sadi, Qais Al Sadi’s mother, stated how she tries to explain to her son that his friend is dead, whilst reassuring him that she is in a nicer place.

She added: “He starts crying and asks, did she forget me? I told him, no she will never forget you. She will see you from the sky every day. Sometimes when we put him to bed he looks out of the window and says, Zainab, did you see me? I miss you.”

Al Sadi family trying paddle-boarding: Ahmad, Qais (5), Yussra (7), Alysasar (9)

Members of the group included those from nearby evacuated blocks and survivors from the tower, with most of the guests having witnessed the fire for themselves when they were evacuated from their homes on the night. The head teachers of both schools immediately supported the holiday opportunity for their pupils, most of whom are still living in hotel bedrooms, often finding themselves sharing beds.

Sarah Cooper, Head Teacher of Oxford Gardens Primary School stated that: “The families have come back relaxed and are in a much better space. The children are excited, full of smiles and have an increased confidence and self-esteem.”

“It means the world to us to see our children smiling and laughing from their hearts again”, says Fatima Al Hajar, mother of four, who continues, “I lost a close friend and my son’s best friend in the fire. We have had emotional support from different professionals, but coming to Cornwall was indescribable therapy, just by talking to the kind and welcoming people and being in the fresh air.”

Meriem Ouladzahra with Lina (8), sculpting with WildArt Cornwall

Cornwall Hugs Grenfell was founded by Esmé Page following a Facebook post on June 20th 2017. Since then the project has gathered over 250 pledges of accommodation and has been supported by over 140 local businesses with vouchers for attractions, services and meals.

Esmé Page, told Truthfal: “I think the natural beauty we have here is a real sensory antidote to those who have been traumatised. These people breathed in the smoke, tasted it right to the back of their throats, they physically struggled to get out and saw the most appalling sights, whether they were tower residents or neighbours. Here they can run along the sand, feel the grains between their toes, bathe in fresh clear waters, see beauty all around and look up to a physical horizon. That in its own way gives hope.

“This whole project has been a lesson for me in trust and provision. I’m normally a great planner – maybe even to the point of control. But here, this was a simple idea that I felt called to act on and the timescale has meant I needed to step out in faith. It’s a lesson I have to keep learning but it’s an exciting journey to be on together with over 1000 people who have contributed in some way across Cornwall and beyond, so far. So when the vision is clear to do another group holiday and I get a call out of the blue offering group accommodation, it’s another confirmation that we are on the right track!”

Although the organisation has already provided 175 Grenfell guests and London firefighters with a break to Cornwall for peace, respite and hope, there are still over 400 guests waiting to come to Cornwall.

In order fund transport for a much needed administrator Cornwall Hugs Grenfell is now bidding for £25,000 of Aviva Community Funding. Readers can support this bid by placing their votes here.

Aside from voting for Aviva funding, personal monetary donations are also encouraged via: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/cornwallhugsgrenfellphase2 and those with holiday let accommodation, or vouchers to attractions to offer can pledge on the project’s website: https://www.cornwallhugsgrenfell.org/.

“We’re planning and scoping out the year ahead but as we’ve seen, CHG has a habit of going beyond our dreams. I’m really curious to see what 2018 will bring and importantly who and what is ‘provided’ to deliver that”.