How the BBC is exploring our response to trauma

From Grenfell to Manchester Bomb: Our Story, new BBC documentaries are looking at what happens to those affected by national stories of trauma after the spotlight begins to fade.

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There are some scenes in the BBC documentary Grenfell that are enormously difficult to watch. The first third of Ben Anthony’s 90-minute film exploring the events of last year’s tower block fire throws you straight into the middle of the catastrophe. We see mobile phone footage of the blaze, and people trapped inside. We hear survivors explain how their loved ones spent their last minutes. Their pain can feel too much to process.

The documentary focused on the normal people who lived in the tower. Grandmother Lorraine Beadle, one of the first to move into the tower in 1975, instructing producers off-camera, “Do not let me ramble”. Natasha Elcock, who escaped the tower with her six-year-old, and explains “My main concern was keeping my daughter calm”.

56-year-old resident Edward Daffarn, who foresaw the fire, writing a blog addressed to the council in 2016 arguing that “a serious fire” resulting in “serious loss of life” was on the horizon if the tower was not brought up to health and safety standards. Zeyad Cred, a softly-spoken giant of empathy with permanently wet eyes, who dropped everything to help rescue and relief efforts. All are heavily involved with Grenfell United – an organisation for survivors and the local community that sprang up to fill the conspicuous absence of the local council.

It’s another brilliant exploration of the human response to tragic violence from the BBC, which has recently released documentaries about last year's Manchester bombing (Manchester Bomb: Our Story) and the 1993 murder of Stephen Lawrence (Stephen: The Murder that Changed a Nation). All three films ask what happens after the media spotlight on a national outrage begins to fade – and how those most affected struggle to return to normal life.

In the case of Grenfell, the NHS estimates that 11,000 local people have been psychologically affected by the fire. As the film moves away from the night of the fire, and into its aftermath, we see the government’s callous incompetence on full display. And we see how grief, anger and trauma linger in a community let down by the state.

Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.

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