Thousands of people gathered in the shadow of Grenfell Tower on Thursday evening for a silent march of remembrance to mark one year since the fire that gutted the building and claimed 72 lives.
People came from across London and further afield for the procession, which was the culmination of a day of remembrance that included church services and a vigil as well as a ceremony at the base of the tower.
Green scarves were handed out by volunteers ahead of the march, which was due to begin at 7pm. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, arrived to take part in the procession wearing a green scarf as a sign of solidarity.
Survivors, the bereaved and others directly affected by the fire were due to lead the march, with six giant papier-mâché hearts emblazoned with the words dignity, grace, justice, strength, truth and unity. People carried placards calling for a full immigration amnesty for survivors, as well as “justice for Grenfell” and “united for Grenfell”.
Ivan Costa, 23, who lived in flat 103, said it was emotionally draining to relive the day of the fire. “It’s hard to remember all the memories that were left there a year ago,” he said.
“But being around the community, that’s helped us over the last year … Thanks to all the community for all the help and the support, every single month we’ve gathered here to do a march. It just kept growing.”
Vincent Archer, 51, a firefighter who worked at the scene two days after the fire, said he had come to pay his respects to the victims and show his support for survivors.
“It was not very nice and I haven’t been back since,” he said. “All the marches that have taken place since, I’ve been working, but also I just didn’t feel up to it. I felt tonight on the year anniversary I would come back and see how I feel.”
Silent marches have taken place on the 14th of every month since the fire, and one of the organisers said they would continue to be held in the future.
“How can we stop something that heals so many people, that offers peace, that offers mourning, that offers a call for justice?” said Zeyad Cred. “It sounds crazy but it gives people a voice, even though we’re silent, it makes people feel counted.”
The silent march took place on a day washed with green: scarves, ribbons, lapel badges, balloons, T-shirts, hats and head wraps, all in the vibrant shade now associated with the fire and the community’s response.
Seventy-two seconds of silence were observed at the foot of the tower and at a commemorative service at St Helen’s church nearby. Elsewhere, the Queen and Duchess of Sussex in Chester, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall on a visit to Ireland, the Palace of Westminster and government buildings, the headquarters of the London fire brigade and the England squad training in Russia all stopped for a moment of reflection and tribute.
At St Helen’s, candles were lit and prayers were said. Graham Tomlin, the bishop of Kensington, told the congregation of several hundred that the anniversary was a day of “painful memories, a day we remember those 72 precious lives lost”.
It was also “a day for justice, as we pledge ourselves again to the slow, patient search for truth and justice for those who lost their lives, and a day for peace,” he said.
Grenfell Tower was “a symbol of pain and loss and a symbol of our failure to care for one another” but it could also become “a symbol of change and renewal”.
After the service, 73 doves – one for each life lost, plus one to represent lingering fears that there may have been other people who died and who have not been identified – were released from seven wicker baskets outside the church. Among those present were the Labour MPs Emma Dent-Coad and David Lammy, and the leader of Kensington and Chelsea council, Elizabeth Campbell.
Shortly before 1am on Thursday – the time the fire service received the first emergency call – the tower and a dozen others in the area, as well as 10 Downing Street, were illuminated in green.
At the nearby St Clement’s church, the Lord’s prayer was said every hour through the night – the only words punctuating a 24-hour silent vigil that ended at 6pm on Thursday with a eucharist. Special prayers of remembrance were due to be said on Thursday evening at al-Manaar mosque.
On the eve of the anniversary, people gathered at the tower for an iftar meal cheered and applauded as a London underground driver stopped his train and unfurled a green banner in tribute to the victims of the fire. Harvey Mitchell sounded the tube’s horn and shouted words of support.
Later, Mitchell said he had lost a friend in the fire. Explaining his gesture of solidarity, he told Sky News: “I say that’s the least I could do for people who lost their lives, let it be.”
On Friday, schoolchildren across the country have been asked to wear “green for Grenfell” to mark the anniversary and to raise funds for local charities. Schools are being asked to share their activities and photos on social media, using the hashtag #GreenForGrenfellDay.