Our government owes nothing to Notre Dame and everything to the people of Grenfell

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An image of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris alongside a photo of the fire-destroyed Grenfell Tower in London
Where were the bell tolls for Grenfell? (Picture: REX/Shutterstock)

The fire at Notre Dame Cathedral this week has been devastating to watch.

Thankfully there was no loss of life, the 18th century organ ‘survived’, and at least one of the famous rose windows remains intact. Deputy Interior Minister Laurent Nunez said ‘the structure was in good condition overall’ and it is predicted that the building will be restored in five years.

Yet donations totalling over 1billion have poured in.

I know I’m not the first to say this but I have to look back to 14 June 2017 and the fire at Grenfell Tower. The burnt husk which still stands on the London skyline as a reflection to society of the ultimate price we pay when we value lives cheaply.

Seventy-two beautiful people lost their lives and hundreds were left homeless.

The ‘structure’ is not in good condition, there were no famous windows and most families were unable to retrieve any of their valuables or memoirs.

For Notre Dame, Prime Minister Theresa May has made a statement saying the UK will help with the rebuild ‘however we can’ and organised for the bells at Westminster Abbey to ring in solidarity.

In contrast, on her first visit to Grenfell she didn’t even speak to the community who had to organise their own disaster response.

Where were the bell tolls for Grenfell?

A handful of wealthy individuals gave money but nowhere near the sum raised for Notre Dame. And even then, a vast amount of donations came from the hard-working British public, who have been pummelled by austerity.

Money was a central issue in what happened at Grenfell. Cost-cutting and cheap, unsafe materials for refurbishments while the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea sat on millions in its reserves are testament to this.

To me, it reads that the former residents of the tower were viewed as undeserving of a safe and decent home.

And nothing seems to have changed. This week we have seen that a family who survived Grenfell and were living in temporary accommodation were facing removal from their flat – something the council has said will not happen now.

The council has said that the survivors are their primary focus, but when will they learn that housing is a right, and not a privilege?

I do not begrudge people showing empathy for the devastation of Notre Dame – billionaires can spend their money on whatever they like.

Yet, when our government shows more value and respect for a historic building in France than to its own citizens and bereaved families, something is seriously wrong.

If this situation is to change, justice must be delivered in each and every instance.

A church is not a building, it is an assembly of people. God’s church is greater than bricks and mortar.

Money cannot buy justice and you cannot put a price on the value of lives.

What you can do is change your attitude and decide what is important to you. For me, human life will always have a greater value than a building.

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