Over 200,000 personal possessions salvaged from Grenfell Tower

Credit: PA

Over 200,000 personal belongings have been retrieved from Grenfell Tower as part of a recovery operation.

Some of the survivors who lived in the lower flats were allowed to re-enter their homes for one last time to retrieve any personal items that remained.

Disaster management company, Kenyon International Emergency Services, has been removing property elsewhere in the tower on the behalf of former residents who cannot yet return.

Survivors "cried tears of joy" when they were told they could go back into their homes to salvage what was left of their possessions, said Michael Lockwood, who was drafted in from Harrow Council to head the management of the site.

This image taken shortly after the fire shows the devastation in the tower. Credit: Met Police

Access to the site has been restricted as police carry out a painstaking investigation.

It is expected to be handed back to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the owner, next spring.

Mr Lockwood said: "I've spent a lot of time with survivors.

"One of the things they said to me was, 'We want to go back into the tower.There are some very sentimental and precious items for us, whether it's jewellery or photographs, and we only want to collect those'.

"We had 40 of the survivors, we stood in front of them and said, 'You can go back into the building', and every one of them was in tears of joy.

"And they said to me, 'This is the first time we've ever been listened to'."

More than 50 people - survivors and accompanying friends and relatives - have returned to the tower to recover possessions over the past six weeks.

Mr Lockwood added: "Most came out with big smiles on their faces, with a box of sentimental items they'd managed to get.

Work is underway to cover the tower with white sheets and is expected to take another 15 weeks. Credit: PA

"You can't underestimate that moment for them. Going into your home, seeing it for the last time, having that closure.

"To achieve that, we bent every rule possible. We didn't break any rules, but we did something that was important to them, not what we thought was important. So I think that was a big moment."

So far, around 30,000 personal belongings have been removed, catalogued, cleaned and returned to survivors.

The remainder are being stored in a warehouse near Bracknell until families are able to take them back.

On Thursday police announced that 70 people and a stillborn baby died as a result of the fire that took place on 14 June.

Some survivors who lived on the lower floors have been allowed to reenter their homes to retrieve any remaining belongings. Credit: PA

The Metropolitan Police said they believe all those who died in the west London blaze have been recovered and formally identified and the search operation is now entering its final stage.

Mr Lockwood is hoping to enable some of the residents of the higher floors to return to their former homes once investigators have finished scouring the site.

For six weeks work has been underway to encase the tower in white sheeting, this was was briefly paused when the local community raised some concerns.

Mr Lockwood said there had been differing opinions over whether the tower should remain in view, but that the community had decided "on balance" that workers should continue erecting the sheeting.

Marchers with posters and banners on the monthly slow and silent walk to demand justice for the victims of Grenfell. Credit: PA

He said: "The obvious thing when I came in was 'let's cover the tower'. That's what I heard from the local community, quite understandably. It's stressful, it's upsetting, it's painful and causing panic attacks for many.

"But it wasn't that straightforward. A number of the bereaved and survivors did not want it covered. And they didn't want it covered because they didn't want it to be forgotten."

One idea, he said, was that local artists could project drawings centred around the ideas of hope, family, community and the future on to the blank facade.

With the criminal investigation expected to finish in March, attention is turning towards what will happen to the empty shell.

Tributes to the victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster under the A40 flyover in Kensington. Credit: PA

Former residents are adamant they do not want the site built on, and Mr Lockwood said it was important that the community should take a leading role in deciding its future.

Longer-term ideas so far include a memorial garden or park.

The covering will allow the building to be demolished without the need for the surrounding estate to be evacuated which if the community wants this it could take place at the end of next year.

The building has been stabilised with over 3,500 supports to prop up bowed ceilings and floors in the tower, while scaffolding three times the normal density is reaching through to the building's core.

This has allowed a 150-strong recovery team comprising forensics staff, investigators and contractors to safely enter the blackened building.

A lift has been installed on the building's side to enable the recovery of items on the tower's higher levels, which would be difficult to remove through the narrow central stairway.

With the criminal investigation expected to finish in March, attention is turning towards what will happen to the empty shell.

Mr Lockwood praised the community for its resilience, saying: "What has struck me is their dignity throughout this trauma, despite what they have suffered, which has been really humbling for me."