14 June 2017 will be etched in the memory of many people. It was the day that a devastating fire started in the 24-storey Grenfell tower block in North Kensington killing an estimated 80 people and injuring 70. This is the story of Notting Hill store team who, along with countless others in the community, did their bit to help. Store manager Victoria Cebotar, Customer team member Mark Pedro, and Team leader Falguni Mahendralal tell us how they came together as a team on that difficult day.
“Our Notting Hill store is about seven minutes walk from Grenfell tower. I’d only been working at the Co-op for six months and I’d just taken over the store. I used to work in Costa Coffee so I was also new to being a store manager. But I knew from day one that I 100% shared the Co-op values. I got a phone call at about 4am in the morning to say that this disaster had happened. I said to my team leader who was working that day – ‘we have to open early’. I wasn’t scheduled to be in but knew I needed to get in quickly.
We knew we had to open up 24 hours a day. We had to keep ordering nappies, baby food, bread and water so we could keep giving these supplies out to everyone who needed them. Every two days our shelves would be empty. It was about helping to keep our community safe and looked after.
We’re so grateful for the support we got from the Logistics team and our area manager – it was such a team effort. This disaster really brought the team together. It will take a long time for our community to recover from this but it taught us a lesson about how people coming together can give strength and support to others. The community I belong to is where I work – I spend 70% of my time here so I’ve adopted this place. I’m proud that our Co-op is different – now people here know what we’re really about in the community.”
“The image that sticks in my mind is early that morning there was just this ominous, black ash cloud billowing. I can’t find the words to describe it. It was just so shocking.
The first thing I felt was panic. The second emotion that came to me was concern because some of my colleagues were working in store. I got there as quickly as possible to see if they were OK.
I tried to help as many people as I could. The hard thing was that we knew people who were affected – they were regular customers. People were coming in and wanted to talk to us about their experiences.
One guy saw his best friend die and couldn’t save him. He was an emotional wreck so I tried to calm him down, give him some water and biscuits, just be there for him. I think us being there on that day meant everything to those people. A lot of them lost everything – their loved ones, homes, possessions.The store became a focal point for the community. We really all came together as a team, as a Co-op.”
“I normally work for a different store but I was helping out at Notting Hill when Grenfell happened. On the bus on my way into work I could actually see the tower on fire.
When I got there I saw so many people on the streets not knowing what to do. From that moment on it was crazy.
The store became a community hub, a place where people came to find out information or just talk. I just wanted to help everyone that came in – the injured, people looking for loved ones. We gave them advice and whatever supplies we could.
We then went out on the streets handing out water and food to families, the emergency services and anyone who needed our help. Everyone stepped up in the team to do their bit. Even though they weren’t my usual team I still felt what we’d achieved together was special.”