A mum and her eight-year-old son from Manchester are taking on the Great Manchester Run this Sunday to raise funds for Once Upon A Smile.
It’s a charity close to the family’s heart after surviving the Manchester Arena Attack.
Coinciding with the fifth year anniversary of the Manchester Arena Attack, Jack Edwards will be taking part in the Junior Mini Great Manchester Run with his mum, 49-year-old Julie Edwards tackling the Great Manchester Run the following day.
“Lily was so excited, she was only nine at the time and it was her first big concert,” says Julie, who was at the Ariana Grande concert with her now 14-year-old daughter.
“We parked at the arena and arrived early, taking our seats five or six steps down from the Concourse in the arena. Lily was absolutely loving it – singing and dancing to every song.
“When Ariana finished I took Lily’s hand and we started making our way out of the arena, I looked down at her and asked if she had a good night and as she replied there was this huge explosion. The noise was like nothing I’d ever heard before, and we felt the power of it.
“It was like everything froze and time stopped. Then suddenly I heard a man’s voice shout ‘run’ and everyone turned around and started to run.
“It was chaos, I just gripped Lily tight and ran as fast as we could. We came out of the steps near the taxi rank at Victoria train station, and people were tripping everywhere. No one knew what to do.
“I’d parked my car inside the Arena, but I looked down at Lily and just decided we had to keep running. At one point she looked at me and said ‘I don’t want to die mummy.’ We were both so scared.
“Part of me wondered if I was being overcautious, and should return for my car, but I had an awful feeling inside me that something wasn’t right. So, we kept running until we got to Deansgate and I flagged down a taxi, I still had no information about what had happened.”
Julie and Lily made their way home to Marple, Stockport. I was during this journey that more information started to be released from the night. The pair arrived home at one o’clock in the morning and Julie put Lily to bed.
“I was in so much shock, I didn’t know what to do other than keep watching the news,” she says.
“When they announced it was a suspected terrorist attack I felt so angry, it all felt so raw.”
Julie was meant to be running the Manchester Great Run the weekend following the attack, but Lily didn’t want her to go.
“She was so scared, and to be honest I don’t think I was ready to go back into Manchester,” she says.
“I didn’t get changed until bedtime the next night as I was just walking around in a daze. My main concern as a mum was Lily.”
Unfortunately in the weeks following the attack, Lily started to show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Julie immediately got her help from the doctors and the Manchester Hub.
“It was heartbreaking seeing how much it had affected Lily,” she says.
“I am always so grateful that physically neither of us were harmed and we got out alive, but there are emotional wounds that were caused that night.
“The Manchester Hub were amazing and Lily had counselling. After around a year we could see that she was improving, as a mother I’d been focusing on her and so when she was better I really started to feel the impact of the attack which I had private counselling for.
“Since that night Lily and I are always vigilant when we go to public places, but we’ve worked hard together to get out there and show each other that we don’t have to be scared, this is our city and everyone deserves to feel safe in their own city.
“I can see how much this has impacted us, but in many ways, it’s made us both so much stronger.
“Lily has gone from strength to strength and she uses her experience to help other people at school who may be struggling with their mental health.”
Julie even decided to leave her corporate career and retrain as a support worker and also as a Samaritan, helping people in distress.
The family chose the Once Upon A Smile charity as it’s a local charity that helps bereaved families of children, which offered support to the family of Saffie Rose, who was just eight years old when died as one of the 22 arena victims.
“I feel so sad for everyone who has lost their lives in the attack, but the death of Saffie Rose really shook me because Lily was a similar age as her,” says Julie.
“As a mum, I just had so much sympathy for Saffie Rose’s mother and family, the injustice of all of the deaths really impacted me.
“That’s why we’ve chosen to run for the charity so that other bereaved families can get the help that they need.”
Julie will take part in the Great Manchester Run 10k the day after her son Jack finishes the Junior Great Manchester Run.
Her partner Jamin and daughter Lily will be there to cheer them on.
“I’m not a runner, in fact, I hate running!” says Julie. “But I know that this is the final piece of the puzzle for me.
“We’re running on the 22nd of May for the 22 victims on the fifth anniversary.
“It’s going to be an emotional day but we’re ready for it.”