A former Portadown man, now an associate vicar and Labour councillor in London, has been appointed chairman of a committee tasked with rebuilding the community following the Grenfell tower fire.
Robert Thompson (46) will head the Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee, which will look at major issues including where people will be rehomed, mental health provision and what to do with the tower itself once police have finished their investigation.
The fire, in June, spread rapidly through the public housing block, just yards from St Clement’s Church of England where Mr Thompson has served for two-and-a-half years.
Sixty-eight people have so far been confirmed dead, but it is believed the death toll may be nearer 80, and hundreds of people were left homeless.
Mr Thompson, who left Portadown College in 1990 to study theology at King’s College in Cambridge, has been working closely with people affected by the disaster.
He said, “About 50 per cent of our congregation had to be evacuated but thankfully none of our parishioners lost their lives.
“However, a lot of them knew people who died so there has been a lot of grief and bereavement.
“There are still some members of our congregation living in hotels so we have got the mental health issues, including post traumatic stress, that go along with all of this.
“A lot of people find sleep difficult. A friend of mine was evacuated along with her two children and the children are now having nightmares and bed wetting.”
Mr Thompson preached the sermon at St Clement’s the Sunday after the fire, which was attended by London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
In it, he outlined the tremendous response from people. “This church building has also been one of the locations of the most extraordinary outpouring of human solidarity in the face of human catastrophe: the people that filled this place; the items of food and clothing that they brought; the emotions that found some safe haven here.”
His sermon also addressed the anger felt, at what was seen as a preventable tragedy in what is acknowledged to be the ‘poor’ part of the Kensington and Chelsea borough. He said, “As a Christian priest I say to all those who are very rightly angry, including myself, that we need to ‘remember well’.
“We need to channel our anger into the constructive energy that leads to the lasting change that is sorely needed for our communities. We need to harness our anger to create communities of good communication and connection, to build communities that are based on radical inclusion.”
Mr Thompson, whose family still lives in Portadown, returns home two or three times a year. His next visit is planned for Christmas when he looks forward to attending services in his home parish of Seagoe.