Non-League for Grenfell: How football is helping the campaign for change - (2021)
The fire has long since been put out, but the memories remain. The tower, blackened and desolated, stands as a constant reminder. There is still a sense of injustice, a feeling that more could have been done.
It is a sentiment shared by members of Non-League for Grenfell, a movement created in the aftermath of Britain’s worst fire in a century. Their aim is to use football as a driving force for social change.
They began this summer, travelling to several non-league clubs and attempting to spread their message: that a tragedy on this scale should never have happened and must never happen again. The movement’s stated aims are powerful and unflinchingly to the point: the loss of life is labelled a “national disgrace”, the lack of help for victims “unacceptable”.
For Andrew Hughes, the movement’s founder, Grenfell hit close to home. He went to school in Kensington, not far from the tower, and grew up in a 21-storey block. “Fortunately, there was no cladding,” he says.
Hughes had friends in the area and regularly played football nearby. He did not lose anyone in the fire, but still felt compelled to act.
“I saw it as an injustice to people living in social housing up and down the country,” he says. “It showed the effect austerity has: cutting back on public services, companies cutting corners for profit.”
It made sense, for Hughes, that football should be used as a tool to bring about change, to place the spotlight on far more important issues. He had, he says, been horrified by the images of the fire, and he wanted to make a difference.
The movement is still in its nascent stages, but the group have made progress. They first attended a game at Whitehawk, a Brighton-based club playing in the Isthmian League, bringing with them a banner. It simply read: Justice for Grenfell. There were pictures, too, of the 72 victims, displayed after 72 minutes had been played.
“I had the idea to keep it going by taking a banner to different grounds, to keep it on the conscience of football fans,” says Hughes. “It was something we wanted to highlight to show that football fans stand united with them. People wanted to get involved and help, which was amazing.”
They have since attended other non-league matches at Peckham Town, Hendon FC and Hackney Wick. At games they talk to fans and attempt to foster a community spirit. They have seen interest grow; their social media presence is growing, and they have been offered help by club owners, fan groups and vloggers.
It is the beginning, they hope, of something significant. Hughes believes that football – and particularly lower-league football – is the perfect platform from which to encourage further action. “The special thing about being involved in non-league football is the culture surrounding it,” he says. “There’s a lot of communication between fans and owners of all clubs. I feel a vibrancy and a buzz surrounding non-league football. I think the idea of people power, the focus on community, is key to a movement like ours.”
In September, a day out with volunteers from the Justice for Grenfell charity was arranged – it was a thank you, Hughes says, for their selfless work last summer. They headed to Brighton, where they ate fish and chips and attended a match with members of Non-League for Grenfell. Close to £500 was raised to make the day out possible.
“We have more plans for regular stadium visits, and a football tournament is coming up, hopefully before the end of the year, at the Westaway football pitches close to Grenfell,” Hughes explains. “The money raised will go towards helping the families of those who have sadly passed.”
They will continue to spread the word and push for change. And football will always be at the centre of their mission. It’s a part of who they are, and a medium through which their voices can be heard.
“A football club can be the heart and soul of a community or a town or a city,” says Hughes. “And there’s always a massive amount of people who are able to join in and support causes. It can be an outlet for people who find themselves in a bad place. Football is a powerful tool.”
(By Callum Rice-Coates of thesetpieces.com)
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