It was a surreal moment for me; Lancaster West estate was where I first encountered Dr Gabor Maté’s teachings on trauma, addiction, mind-body health and parenting. Years on, I meet Dr Maté on Lanc West for a mini tour of North Kensington: through the estate, up Blenheim Crescent, across Ladbroke Grove and Portobello and to the Tabernacle, where Gabor was speaking at the day-long We Coproduce event Trauma Matters.
My meeting with this mentor was even more unreal as this was 15th June 2019. The previous night the community had walked in silence, in our thousands, to honour the dead on the second anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire; a dignified, unified response to a horror and injustice which had seen no arrests.
We Coproduce, based in Hammersmith, intended a neighbourly gesture for the Grenfell anniversary and flew-in this remarkable expert to the most traumatised community in Britain. When asked to engage the North Ken community, I asked Jane, CEO of We Coproduce, “What’s the aim?”
“To get individuals to become aware of their trauma”.
Good answer, because North Kensington had been bought off inundated with money and ego. Here was a thoughtful organisation we – myself and the local artist Woïnkpa – could work with.
Trauma from a huge-scale disaster starts to manifest two years after an event; it is what we carry inside ourselves. So many local people had filled the vacuum left by the council and national government; mindful of those who had lost everything, or everyone, the trauma was suppressed but easily triggered.
I met Gabor near the foot of the burned-out Tower, the plan to equip him with some understanding of the neighbourhood before speaking on such an emotive day.
The injustice and the slow, sure return to the business-as-usual imposition of grinding poverty on this outwardly vibrant neighbourhood darted around in my mind as I tried to capture it in words. Gabor cut through; looking up at the Tower, he said, “I bet those responsible don’t live in housing like this”.
Stopping me short as I started to explain local dynamics, Gabor asked me “What was your role after the fire?” This set the tone for the day.
Gabor was entirely present as we walked and talked, curious about me, my travels, my thoughts. He would stop, look me in the eye and tell me about his trip as a medical doctor to Gaza when he had “cried for two weeks straight’,” or about the treatment of the indigenous population of Canada
Gabor’s assured presence on the street flowed seamlessly into the packed event at the Tabernacle; challenging audience members to go deeper, unapologetically interested in the reality and truth.
During breaks, he was surrounded by people seeking one-on-one advice and sat offering the same perfect attention.
For those immersed in the recovery of a community, the Trauma Matters event was a reminder that healing starts with us. Gabor’s unerring eye contact betrays an aching vulnerability and uncanny ability to use words to stir our compassion and wisdom.
We Coproduce had carved out a space for these qualities – vulnerability, compassion, wisdom – to be present in the neighbourhood that needed it most, at the time we needed it most.
This article was first published by We Coproduce CIC
by Tom Charles @tomhcharles