Manchester had endured the terror of the wartime Blitz and the devastation caused by the IRA bomb in 1996. But the city’s darkest hour came in May 2017 when 22 lives were mercilessly blown away in the foyer of the Manchester Arena.
Just in the first 100 days since the 22 May terror attack on the Ariana Grande concert at the arena, the city showed something no number can measure: solidarity and love on a massive scale.
The Ariana Grande concert was intended to be a celebration of what this city does best – people of all ages coming together to enjoy themselves but was targeted by a terrorist who detonated an explosive which killed 22 and injuring hundreds.
The victims came from all over Greater Manchester, from Leeds and Sheffield, Liverpool, Lancashire, Cheshire and Tyneside. Eilidh MacLeod came all the way from Barra in the Outer Hebrides to lose her life at the Arena, aged 14.
It was a despicable, murderous act targeting, primarily, young girls whose “crime” had been to enjoy themselves at Ariana Grande’s long-awaited and much anticipated concert, which drew an audience from far and wide.
But he couldn’t crush Manchester’s spirit. We still carry on. This Is The Place that fought back with love.
Just as the shockwaves from the suicide bomber’s atrocity reverberated around the world on 22nd May 2017, the impact of the commemoration, dedicated to the victims caught up in the carnage echoed far beyond Manchester.
Difficult days were ahead. Identifying the victims of the attack was a lengthy process and we learnt that many of the victims were children. The youngest, Saffie Roussos, was just 8 years old. Manchester never forgets.
When the civic service was announced, Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester city council, spoke for everyone when he said: “Manchester will never forget the terrible events of 22 May 2017 nor the remarkable display of unity and love which followed.
“Those who were killed and their loved ones, as well as all those left physically or mentally injured, have a place in our hearts not just on the 22 May but every day.”
Even in the immediate aftermath of the attack, members of the Manchester public acted with generosity and courage. Taxi drivers offered free rides to get people safely home whilst bars and hotels opened up their venues as emergency accommodation. Residents took to social media to offer transport and rooms for the night.
And even when the city was still in a situation of high alert, a massive crowd gathered in Albert Square for a vigil the evening after the attack to show solidarity and respect for the people affected.
People from across communities came together to help each other; with a number of stands from the Manchester Sikh community giving out free food and drink. Just days later, a pop-up trauma centre had opened in the Northern Quarter, providing psychological services for those who needed it.
And not only did people reflect and remember. They raised money too. Donations started flooding in, with the We Love Manchester Fund set up to accept donations towards helping the families of those affected by the attack. Within days it had raised over £5.57 million and big names like Eminem came forward to give.
United and City showed that although football may divide them, love for the city and its people unites them. They donated £1 million to the fund. The city was united.
City cinemas united to raise money. Places across the world showed their respect for Manchester’s resolve – with Tweets and messages coming in from across continents. Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate even lit up in a show of solidarity.
The people of Manchester people refused to be silenced and carried on celebrating the city they are proud of.
People packed the streets to take part in the Great Manchester Run, The Moods and Argh Kid amongst others performed at The Manchester Creative Collective and The Courteeners put on a packed-out gig at Old Trafford Cricket Ground. The sound of 50,000 people stood there singing Don’t Look Back In Anger gave you goosebumps.
The memorial service comes just a few days after Lisa Roussos, mother of the attack’s youngest victim, Saffie-Rose, took part in the Great Manchester Run. Mrs Roussos was so badly injured that she was unaware of her eight-year-old daughter’s death until she woke from a coma six weeks after the bombing.
She was joined by 20 friends, family and medical staff who helped her to walk again through the course on Sunday, all to raise money for their charity to support victims of terrorism, 22MCR.
The Arena attack killed not only killed 22 people but also injured more than 800 and prompted at least another 3,000 to seek help and support.
The Great Manchester Run also saw police officer-turned fire fighter Aaron Parmar complete his remarkable challenge of running 22 10k races – each dedicated to raising money in honour of one of the 22 Arena bomb victims.
After every event, Aaron had his finisher’s medal engraved with the name of a victim and gave it to the family as a special keepsake.
The response of people in Manchester and around the world, refusing to Look Back in Anger, saw donations to the We Love MCR Emergency Fund reach a staggering £21.6 million.
When the fund called for an end to donations, Figen Murray from Stockport, whose son Martyn Hett was killed in the bombing, said: “The generosity of the public in Manchester, the UK and around the world is another testimony that terrorism cannot destroy the human spirit.”
Figen recently took her campaign for “Martyn’s Law” – making the use of metal detectors and bag searches at major public venues a legal obligation – on to ITV’s This Morning. Her petition needs 100,000 signatures in order to secure a Parliamentary debate.
The gigs just kept on coming. A massive and emotional One Love Manchester concert marked the return of Ariana Grande to the city – who was made an honorary citizen of Manchester – and raised £2.35 million for The Emergency Fund.
It included so many memorable moments showing the character of the people here – everything from Liam Gallagher in an orange mac, to policemen playing ring o’roses with the children.
People weren’t just wearing their hearts on their sleeves though. In fact, they were showing them right on their skin, with a number of people opting for fundraising tattoos.
We even created our own and I Love MCR merchandise flew off the shelves, with proceeds to the fund.
After the vigils, the tears and the tattoos, comes the reality of trying to move on.
One of the survivors left disabled by the bomb told ITV’s Granada Reports that he feels forgotten as support starts to slip away.
Martin Hibbert, who was at the concert with his daughter, took 22 bolts to his body. He was left paralysed following the attack and has been fighting his way back to fitness ever since.
He says without the We Love MCR charity he’d be struggling.
“I can’t believe 6 months has gone,” he said. “It only feels like last month.
“I was housebound for five weeks. The We Love MCR Fund has given me the money to buy equipment like an electronic wheelchair. Some people think the victims like me have received millions of pounds but that’s not the case.”
Other families are making plans for the future knowing things will never be the same.
Charlotte Campbell, who lost her fifteen-year old daughter Olivia in the attack, is getting married in a few days time. She will be walked down the aisle by Adam Lawler, her daughter’s best friend, to the sound of Olivia singing John Legend’s All Of Me.
In the last few days, posters bearing the words, ‘For our 22 angels. We miss you. We stand together’ were distributed following the Little Mix concerts at the Arena.
The words of Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham following the terror attack, still ring true. “We are grieving but we are strong and united. This is Manchester.”
It’s our responsibility to show both vigilance and resilience. How the city has both respected the victims and also returned to normality. We stand together.
This is a place whose creative spirit will not and does not subside. Manchester artists staged a massive online auction to raise money for the families of victims and a new music compilation Manchester With Love also raised funds.
Local street artist Elton Darlo painted 22 canvasses of St Ann’s Square in a touching tribute to the lives lost.
12 year-old Amelia Thompson, who was at the Arena concert, has gone on to inspire others by being involved in a poignant photoshoot.
And, in a beautiful show of strength, local Beth Clarke set up a plan to gather some knitted hearts and distribute them throughout the city centre. Little did she know that the idea would get international support as well-wishers from all over the world responded to the #AHEART4MCR social media campaign and sent Manchester their love.
The people of Manchester will not forget but they will also get on with their lives. Following a Bank Holiday weekend of numerous festivals, celebrations and the Manchester Pride Parade, the proof is there to see. Just look around you.