For Paula and the other therapists at the centre, their challenge has been gaining the trust of the patients. Tofiq*, 47, is both a survivor and bereaved. He feels let down and frustrated by the council that is meant to protect him. And he was wary of the services they provided.
“I was very sceptical about trusting them and the treatment at the beginning. I was brought up in an environment of macho men – only weak people talk.”
Born in Morocco but raised in west London, his first hurdle was counselling.
“We grew up, in Latimer Road, in Ladbroke Grove – we were tough boys on the street; we didn’t show weakness. We could have had heavy problems on our shoulders but the mentality was to just deal with it rather than talk about it. I only started counselling after a year because I didn’t trust it. It took me a long time to open up and actually speak.”
Since that fateful night, Tofiq says he has suffered from crippling sleep paralysis and teeth grinding.
“After the horror of what happened, I have the same nightmares every night. With sleep paralysis my body locks up – my eyes are open but I can’t move. My whole body tenses, which means I wake up with a lot of agony in my joints and muscles. I was in too much pain to deal with day in and day out.”
His teeth are so jagged and sharp from the incessant grinding that he likens it to having shards of glass in his mouth.
“I ended up going to the clinic because I was desperate. My mental state wasn’t good; I wasn’t talking to people; I was scared of lifts, scared of fire,” he says.
Thankfully, he was introduced to Dina. “She was like a drug to me. She understood exactly what I was going through. It finally gave me respite and allowed my body to rest and have a chance.”
Although Tofiq* was given the maximum amount of twelve sessions, he says it was like a taster and wants more treatments for continued results.
“I wasn't allowed more which was quite upsetting. If I had continued with more sessions for a lot longer, it would have been a good formula. I don't have high enough praise for Dina and her particular therapy,” he says.
Therapies labelled as ‘new age’
The collective Western rhetoric surrounding alternative therapies often labels the practices as nothing more than new-age, “woo-woo” psychobabble. Acupuncture and meditation are not medically discussed with the same vigour as antibiotics or anti-depressants and yet, people are citing the treatments as the thing that has helped them the most.
Our attitudes to healthcare are changing and while there might not be any cold, scientific evidence proving that all alternative therapies work, the Grenfell survivors, like so many others, praise it for helping them feel better and allowing them to have some semblance of a normal life.
The unfathomable tragedy of the ravaging fire four years ago will never be forgotten. As Maryam says, “this will be in our hearts and minds forever”, but the trauma now permanently etched into their core is being eased by Paula and her team.
The fact that news of the fire went viral has undoubtedly amplified the physical and emotional trauma. Those affected couldn’t grieve, heal and process in private. Their identities, whether public or not, were intrinsically tied to Grenfell as they were branded survivors and victims. Their collective pain was thrust into the limelight and a saga, which still continues to this day.
Paula and her roster of holistic therapists have offered healing and hope to those who truly need it the most.
“Acupuncture was medicine for me,” Maryam says. “We just need help to get back to our normal life. That’s all we’re asking for.”