Faith groups should practise their responses to disasters like London's Grenfell Tower fire, according to a new report released this week.

The report, written by Amy Plender of UK-based thinktank Theos, looked at what role faith communities played in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire in London last June. At least 70 people were killed in the fire which broke out on 14th June last year in a 24 storey residential tower in North Kensington.

Grenfell report cover


Cover of the report.

Based on interviews with more than 30 people including those from faith groups, statutory groups and emergency services, it showed how faith groups - which included representatives of the Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Pentecostal, charismatic, and Free Churches as well as of Muslim, Jewish, and Sikh groups, and local and national faith-based charities - played a key role in the response including opening up facilities to those in need of accommodation, supporting emergency services, providing counselling and meals as well as providing spaces for prayer and reflection and hosting interfaith services of memorial and lament.

The report found faith communities were only able to play this role because they were trusted by the communities in which they were embedded, had a long-standing history within those communities and were "committed" to both their faith and the community.

"This resulted in a valuable combination: of having invested sufficiently in their localities to the effect that they owned and ran buildings and facilities and also of preaching and practicing an ethos of openness and hospitality to those in need, which meant they could open those buildings and use those facilities for those who needed them," Elizabeth Oldfield, the director of Theos, wrote in the report's foreword.

"As a result, they were able to respond to the needs of the moment: not perfectly perhaps – as noted, there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ response to such an event – but rapidly, compassionately and holistically."

Ms Plender wrote in the report that while disasters such as Grenfell "would always be traumatic and stressful, and impossible ever to prepare for fully", interviewees had emphasised the "importance of community cohesion as enabling the best possible response".

"To this end, we heard of the necessity of faith groups practising their responses, being prepared to use their available networks of staff, volunteers, and neighbours to the best of their ability, as well as developing new friendships with other local faith and voluntary groups," she wrote.

Some interviewees also thought it was "vital" that faith groups be included in local authority contingency planning and that having uniforms or identity markers for members of faith groups was important "both to make oneself available to help, and as a sign of solidarity with the community in crisis".

Those interviewed also emphasised that faith groups needed to be flexible including being prepared to accept offers of help, and to be able to offer "person-centred and religiously sensitive pastoral care, especially to people outside their usual faith group".

"We also heard how financial donations, rather than physical, can be most helpful in funding the long-term response, and in ensuring there is no ‘full-stop’ to the support a faith group can offer its community."

Ms Plender said that while there were no "glib 'silver linings'" to a situation like Grenfell, there were some "small but significant signs of hope" including that Grenfell "could start a wider conversation about the role of faith communities in Britain today, what they can bring to society, and who should take the lead in responding to a crisis".