Londoners find unlikely gathering place to mourn loved ones lost during COVID-19

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It is a short and clear statement: “We Grieve”.

The two words are written in big, bold letters on construction boards in a little park area in the London borough of Hackney.

“What’s powerful about it is the simplicity of it. Especially at a time when we’ve all been sent to our rooms,” said Reverend William Taylor.

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Reverend Taylor is the Vicar of Saint Thomas’ Church and every Thursday for the past five weeks he’s gone over the common space in the middle of the neighbourhood and gathered, adhering to social distancing rules, with people of all faiths.

“We stand together on the common, which is common land, and acknowledge the grief we all feeling not just for those who have died but the changes to life with the pandemic. There is real suffering going on and we acknowledge that together.”

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Some days, names of loved one who have died as a result of COVID-19 are attached to the sheets of plywood and people say a few words.

“I think there is a space, a need for communities to come together and see the grief. Unless you allow grief to be visible, it can turn toxic,” said Reverend Taylor.

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It’s not known exactly how long the gatherings will continue; likely until the end of the month.

The memorial is temporary. In fact, the plywood used to have the words, “Thank you”, written across them in big orange letters.

Names were also posted but they were in recognition of donors who helped build the village hall and community kitchen tucked away behind the boards.

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A major undertaking for the community to get rid of the abandoned old public toilets that hadn’t been used for ages.

“We were working on the opening but then the virus hit,” said Reverend Taylor.

One of the more than 40,000 victims of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom was also a leading force behind the community kitchen project, Rabbi Avrohom Pinter, also known as Abraham Pinter.

As a tribute, the community decided to switch the message to say, “We Grieve”, in big, dark letters.

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When the boards do come down, the hope is that people will keep dropping by, but instead of pasting up a name of a lost loved one, they’ll plant something.

Funding from the City of London has been secured for a garden as a part of the redevelopment of the site.

It’s not known when the hall and kitchen can open as community centres are not yet on the list of sites approved to reopen with the easing of lockdown measures.