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Growth through adversity

Angelica McMillan

Angelica McMillan

Area Manager, Place2Be

Marjorie Reid

Marjorie Reid

Area Manager, Place2Be

In this blog, Place2Be Counsellors Angelica McMillan and Marjorie Reid reflect on their experiences supporting a school community after the Grenfell Fire. They discuss how even through adversity, we can grow, though we may not realise it at the time.

On 14 June 2017, we awoke to the devastating images of the Grenfell Tower Fire. Directly in front of the tower sat Kensington Aldridge Academy, a Place2Be partner school.

The pupils

Immediately after the tragedy, it was apparent that the school’s focus was the wellbeing of their students, families and school staff. Their ability to respond swiftly to both the practical and emotional needs of the school community was awe-inspiring.

In the days after the tragedy what struck us was the kindness, thoughtfulness and compassion that the students demonstrated towards each other every day. Everyone cared for one another, and these students taught us so much about perseverance.

One day, a Year 7 girl brought a friend she was concerned about to the Place2Be room, “I noticed she doesn’t talk to us anymore”, she explained. Another morning, outside of the Place2Be room, a group of year 9 boys sat together offering words of comfort to a friend, and days later they were there again, laughing as they shared memories with each other.

One Year 10 boy told us “This is not the only thing that has happened to me, but it is the thing that refuses to leave my head, it's like a monster that gets uglier and scarier, I still look out of my window and see what happened that night over and over again”. This same student said that he would do whatever he could to not let his mum down and would become a famous figure one day.

Over time, accessing mental health and wellbeing support became an integral part of the school culture, and students were able to identify their own needs as well as the needs of others around them.

The wider community

What really touched us was the kindness and generosity of the community. There was never a sense of hopelessness, in fact, every time an issue was identified, there would be two or three people or agencies offering the support or resources needed.

The school was committed to the growth of accessible in-school mental health support that could serve the whole community, often going above and beyond to ensure the wellbeing of families. Parents and school staff, many of whom were dealing with their own trauma, worked together to support the students. In many cases, it wasn’t until much later that parents asked for support themselves.

One parent called the parent support line in distress at not knowing how to manage her child’s recent change in behaviour and reluctance in returning to school. The parent and teacher were able to work together to create a plan to support the child back to school, and in accessing counselling support. Our Parent Counsellor was also able to support this parent with strategies to support their child, and they later accessed counselling to work through their own trauma.

How we have grown

This whole experience has taught us so much about our own resilience, and the strength and humanity of others. It also shaped us as therapists, managers and human beings.

I now truly understand how to not assume what others may need but to actually listen, observe and adapt my support in response to the need. I witnessed how collective trauma can strengthen and bring communities together. Growth through adversity will take on different forms and happen at a different pace for individuals, much like the stages of grief are not linear, neither is growth. At times we need to remain still, we may revert or not be ready to move forward, we may need to support others first, we may need more time to work through complex and conflicting feelings, and we need to know that all of these responses are okay. Marjorie
This experience provided me with growth beyond what I could have ever imagined. Having an awareness of my own limitations helped me become resilient in a way that I had never understood before. You see, when one is faced with something larger than your own capability, we discover that in reality, we have everything we need to do whatever it takes to support one another as long as we recognise that we can ask for help and support. I learnt that I wasn’t on my own. This is what the Grenfell community taught me, that together, we can grow by discovering more of who we were created to be. Angelica