Linda Scipioni had been at work for three-quarters of an hour
when one of her social work colleagues rang in to say they would be
late because there had been an explosion on the underground.
“Five minutes later I received a call from a social worker at
University College Hospital saying that the accident and emergency
department was requesting support as there had been four bombs,”
Scipioni, a duty and assessment team manager at Camden Council, set
off with a group of children and families’ social workers on the
10-minute walk to the hospital. Roads were closed, police cars and
ambulances were everywhere and the streets thronged with confused
people. Nobody knew what was going on but the speculation was of a
power surge on the Tube.
Scipioni recalls: “We didn’t know what had happened but as we were
walking up we heard about the bus. We didn’t know quite what we
were going to.”
The hospital was not letting anyone in, but Scipioni, who is
responsible for the hospital’s children and families’ social work
team, was recognised and allowed to enter. She made her way to the
control room where emergency procedures were being implemented and
staff were queuing to be deployed.
Scipioni’s team was sent to the area dealing with relatives and
friends and other distressed people set up in the hospital’s
physiotherapy department. There they joined other social workers
from the older people’s and mental health teams.
Scipioni says: “Our role was to find out from people arriving who
they were worried about and to link them with information about
where the injured had been taken and offer support and
Frantic members of the public were just turning up, some at the
wrong hospital to where their loved ones had been taken.
“People were arriving distressed and were coming in quite tearful,”
Scipioni says. “One man had run from hospital to hospital and came
in drenched with sweat. He was worried about his girlfriend.
“A couple of people were worried about people in the cordoned-off
area. As mobile phone networks were not working they didn’t know
whether they had been caught up in the blast or evacuated.”
Scipioni had not been involved in an emergency before but the team
found that their social work training stood them in good stead. “We
didn’t know what to expect but people relied on their core skills.
People got into gear and went into autopilot. You do what you need
to do. Social workers are able to go up to distressed people,
reassure and talk to them, get the information needed and link with
police and hospital staff. People did that very well and were able
to put aside their own fears and needs.”
The hospital, which had more than 50 admissions, remained on
emergency alert until 2pm. The social workers then returned to the
office to sort out the next phase of their response.
One concern was that, because of the blasts, some parents would be
unable to pick up their children from school and so potential
foster carers were identified. A rota was compiled of people who
could work into the evening and overnight, and cover arranged for
the following day to compensate for staff affected by the transport
disruption. Less urgent matters could be postponed, but basic
services, such as meals on wheels, could not.
The input of social workers continued in the days after the bombs
and some have been involved in the discharge of survivors from
“Once the emergency is over, the work doesn’t stop,” says
Outside Lindley Hall in Pimlico, south west London, life continues
as normal: cars and buses trundle over nearby Vauxhall Bridge, a
woman with a baby stops to speak to a friend in the street,
cricketers practise their batting on the nearby green. Only the
police officers stationed outside and the temporary bright yellow
road signs give clues as to what the hall is being used for. Five
days after the four terrorist bombs exploded in London the hall
became home to the family assistance centre set up to help those
affected by the attacks.
Based on a model used in the US after 9/11, it is the first such
family assistance centre to be created in Europe. It aims to
provide a single point of information for people needing advice in
the aftermath of the bombings – particularly relatives and friends
of those who died, and survivors. Inside, representatives from
various agencies including the police, social services and the
voluntary sector are on hand to help with practical and emotional
Security at the centre is tight: in addition to the police officers
outside the entrance there are security guards checking the
identity of people entering the building. Bags are scanned and
people must walk through an X-ray machine.
Inside the hall, there is an air of calm and tranquillity that
belies the trauma of those who visit. Plants and cream sofas are
dotted about, and trellis screens act as partitions. Along the side
and back of the hall are individual rooms that can be used for
private conversations, and a canteen area has been set aside for
the sole use of victims’ families. There is an internet area with a
television providing 24-hour news coverage, and a crche is
available. Much thought has gone into the room’s layout –
remarkably it was transformed overnight, without those setting up
the equipment being told what it was to be used for so as not to
pre-empt a government announcement.
The centre is open between 8am and 10pm – with a phone line taking
calls outside these hours – but while I am there, there are no
users and some staff read as they wait for people to arrive.
Janet Haddington, a social work manager from Westminster Council’s
children and community services department, is helping to
co-ordinate social services’ involvement. Social workers from
across London are involved but Westminster Council is taking the
The social workers manning the section have been taking referrals
from the police family liaison officers who have been assigned to
the families affected.
Haddington says: “They may be working with somebody and feel they
have a particular issue that makes a social services presence more
“It could be that the major breadwinner has gone missing and that
people need practical advice on how to go on.”
Similarly, social work help may be needed to support distressed
relatives who have come to London and are alone in an unfamiliar
Haddington says: “We are trying to ensure that people get the
information that they’re seeking and are offered some semblance of
containment when everything around them is chaotic. Our role is to
problem-solve and signpost them and not leave them to make it on
Social workers have also been at the temporary mortuary, to help
those needing support after seeing their relative’s body.
So far, more than 200 people have used the centre, but it is
expected that many more, particularly survivors, will do so in the
weeks to come.
Haddington says: “Survivors probably feel that it is inappropriate
to make use of the facility partly because of a sense of feeling
that they have survived or because they feel they should be able to
cope because they have survived.”
Over time, some people may find dealing with their experiences more
traumatic than they expected. “It wouldn’t surprise me if some
people feel they are going mad because they are still getting
images of the event or being forgetful,” Haddington says. “But
that’s a normal response to an abnormal event and that needs to be
To convey the feelings of the relatives of victims, Pamela Dix has
offered clear insight to the management group behind the centre.
Her brother was killed on Pan Am flight 103, destroyed by a bomb
over Lockerbie in 1988, and she is now vice-chair of Disaster
Action, which comprises survivors and bereaved people from previous
disasters. She says that, immediately after a tragedy, relatives
may have tunnel vision: “Everyone will be thinking about their
relatives. This whole thing about going back to normality and
London must carry on – we know how hurtful that message is for the
people who are suffering. Their normality is going to be different.
After Lockerbie I remember wandering around London and finding it
bizarre that the world was still turning.”
People have different needs, she says. In her case it took nearly
two weeks for her brother to be identified, and she and her family
found that they wanted facts. “We were absolutely fixated on
getting information – where was he, who was with him, what exactly
happened to him. We wanted sensitivity, honesty and choices, and a
lot of detail, although not everybody does.”
Her personal experience has brought an added dimension to the
setting up of the family assistance centre as she can appreciate
how the services available may be received. She says: “People who
need help are not going to wonder which organisation a person is
from – they just want to know what they can do to help.”
The centre is expected to stay open for as long as it is needed.
With 56 people confirmed dead in the attacks, more than 700 injured
and many others near or on board the bombed bus and trains, its
services may be in demand for some time. Life outside Lindley Hall
may go on as normal, but one can only imagine how it has changed
for those inside.
Room to talk
Since the initial aftermath of the bomb attacks, the
Lindley Hall family assistance centre has seen a shift in those it
Whereas in the early days there were many relatives, there are now
more people attending who were near the bombs when they exploded.
Some who have been blocking out the experience now realise they
need to talk things through.
Lyn Mastroddi is responsible for the Red Cross volunteers who
listen to people and offer therapeutic care, such as hand and
She says: “I have not seen so many people in an outwardly emotional
state. People are coming for practical help or because they realise
they are not sleeping. They want to know what is normal and when
they should see their GP. Some people have financial difficulties
and need help to understand the system.”
All the volunteers have listening skills – some are used to helping
people who are victims of fires while others help people discharged
from hospital. Although professional counselling is available from
other agencies in the centre, such as Cruse, which specialises in
bereavement, some people have preferred to engage with the
Mastroddi says: “People are in a difficult and emotional state.
Many want someone to listen, but some people who have been coming
into the centre are not prepared for Cruse because they are still
hoping that they are going to find the person who is missing.”
- The Red Cross is also running a hotline: 0845 054 7444