Social Justice

Grenfell: ‘We need to be the voices of those whose voices have been taken from us’

That night in June 2017 changed thousands of lives. One was Tayshan Hayden-Smith, who grew up across the road from Grenfell Tower

grenfell tower

Hayden-Smith’s green-fingered response to the Grenfell fire was a way of strengthening community bonds. Photo: Guy Bell/Alamy Live News

Tayshan-Hayden Smith had already overcome challenges in his life to become a promising footballer. But the Grenfell fire turned his focus on how to support and strengthen his community.

He planted a Grenfell Memorial Garden, then founded Grow2Know to connect young people with nature. Now 25, his career continues to blossom – he’s appearing on TV shows like Your Garden Made Perfect and just won a top prize at the Chelsea Flower Show.

This is what Grenfell Tower means to him.

Born and raised in North Kensington, Grenfell Tower was part of my everyday landscape. Whether it was gazing out my bedroom window at bedtime as the tower stood among a star-filled night sky, or reflecting in the garden with my late mother as the building peeked through the trees above. Or what I imagined to be the football stadium of people watching down on what we called ‘green pitch’ at the base of the tower – I would convince myself that there must be an Barcelona scout watching me from one of the windows up there. Or a mischievous teenage night with friends which ended up in an overnight stay or two. Or a reminder that we were close to home as I looked out the window of my mother’s car on the Westway. 

The truth is that, without knowing it, Grenfell Tower was my first insight into the values of the community
I’ve grown to love and was a true symbol of home. It was always about the people. 

Many people around the world will remember Grenfell Tower because of the fire that took 72 people on the night of June 14, 2017. Grenfell Tower meant a lot more than that to me. It was memories, it was neighbours, friends and a part of my everyday life. I still find myself in moments of anger reflecting on the events of that night and, even more so, the five years that have now passed. I have come to the ultimate realisation that the system that we are meant to rely on to help us is the same system that caused this tragedy – and I have no reason to believe that is going to change anytime soon. 

I have grown up in the face of wealth, power and influence. I was ‘privileged’ enough to attend Charterhouse on full bursary, although I quickly observed the disconnected culture embedded at the heart of the £40,000-a-year public school – from both the school to some of my fellow students and even the staff. I remember my first interaction with the headmaster was a warning that my curly hair, which was a distinctive feature that people had come to know me by, must be cut as it was ostentatious. That tells you everything you need to know about my experiences there. Living down the road from David Beckham, Simon Cowell and David Cameron does not necessarily reflect my living circumstances, but has been a constant reminder as to how the other half live. 

I share an overwhelming feeling of frustration and anger. A reported £28 million of taxpayers’ money was allocated to the Queen’s Jubilee amid a cost of living crisis which has impacted many people close to me. The resources are there – the people who care, unfortunately, aren’t. 

When the North Kensington community took to the streets to retain, liberate and reclaim our identity, our spaces and our dignity it filled me with hope, with energy and optimism. It was guerrilla gardening that empowered me in my response to the Grenfell Tower fire. I got a glimpse of what could be. People, plants and places – coexisting and reconnecting. I feel the time is near for an uprising of the
people to put an end to this political circus which has cost lives, torn apart communities and has taken 72 innocent people from mothers, children, friends and neighbours. My heart aches for so many reasons. This can’t be normal. 

As we approach the five-year anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, it is imperative that we make a stand for the future generations. I feel a duty to continue the fight for justice, both for and beyond the victims of Grenfell. We need to be the voices of those whose voices have been taken from us. This is a call to action to unify, uplift and empower to lead by example. It is evident that we cannot wait for any meaningful improvements as the bar is forever being lowered by those in power. 

I urge you to be the change you want to see in your community as we take the time to remember the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire and those who have been most impacted. The seeds of hope have been planted. I welcome you to help us water the roots of change. 

Support our vendors this winter and beyond

If you can't visit your local vendor on a regular basis, then the next best way to support them is with a subscription to the Big Issue. As a social enterprise, we invest every penny we make back into the organisation. That means that with every subscription, we are supporting people in poverty to get back on their own two feet.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Tories have promised free childcare for working families. But there's a major problem
childcare
Childcare

Tories have promised free childcare for working families. But there's a major problem

More than half of people on universal credit going without food because they can't afford it
Trussell Trust food banks
Food banks

More than half of people on universal credit going without food because they can't afford it

DWP benefit dates for March 2024 and other help as cost of living payments end
benefits/ money
Benefits

DWP benefit dates for March 2024 and other help as cost of living payments end

'Dysfunctional' mental health services failing to meet demand, doctors warn: 'It's broken'
Reception area in an NHS hospital
Mental health

'Dysfunctional' mental health services failing to meet demand, doctors warn: 'It's broken'

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Here's when UK households to start receiving last cost of living payments
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Here's when UK households to start receiving last cost of living payments

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know