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Paul Vallely: No bomb can destroy this city’s spirit

23 May 2018

Solidarity has prevailed over hatred in Manchester, says Paul Vallely

PA

Members of the public read messages on a ‘Tree of Hope’ in St Ann’s Square, Manchester, before the service of remembrance held in Manchester Cathedral on Tuesday in memory of the 22 victims who lost their lives

Members of the public read messages on a ‘Tree of Hope’ in St Ann’s Square, Manchester, before the service of remembrance held in Manchester Cathedral...

THE news spotlight moves on. But the 800 people who bear the physical and psychological scars of the Manchester Arena bombing — and, even more so, the relatives of the 22 people who were killed by the suicide bomber — are just one year into the process of having to live with the consequences for the rest of their lives (News, 26 May 2017). So the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, reminded the nation on Radio 4’s Thought for the Day on the anniversary of the incident this week.

Unlike Dr Walker, who was at school in the city to which he has returned as a Bishop of whom Mancunians of all stripes are intensely proud, I am a relative newcomer to Manchester, having been brought up in the north-east and then lived for 30 years in London.

But I have been here nearly two decades now, and can testify that the “spirit of Manchester” — about which we have heard so much since the bombing which shook the city — is not some invention of civic leaders or headline-hungry journalists. It is something very real.

The place is not perfect. Before the anniversary, about 300 unsavoury characters, under the rather misleading banner of the Football Lads Alliance, gathered with the intention of marching to the city centre to stir up Islamophobia. Their march was not allowed to go ahead.

In any case, such a response to the bombing is extraordinarily exceptional here. To mark the anniversary, people have been hanging messages of support and solidarity on trees in the city centre, and, when the occasional anti-Muslim note appeared, it was swiftly removed by local people.

Some new facts have emerged about the bombing in recent days. Had the American teen idol Ariana Grande not chosen to do an encore, some 2000 more people would have left the Arena and walked right into the blast. Concerns have been raised about whether the emergency services held back too long for fear of further explosions. Questions have been asked about what the police knew about the bomber in advance.

But all that has taken a back seat to something organic that has welled up within the citizens of Manchester. It was there, just after the bombing, when a Muslim blindfolded himself in a city square with a notice declaring that he trusted his fellow Mancunians and asked them to come up and give him a hug. It is there, a year on, in the admirable Manchester Survivors Choir, whose members were bomb victims, who sang to mark the anniversary. Asked how a spirit of community could be maintained, the Bishop replied that that spirit had been here for more than 200 years.

A decade ago, one Good Friday, the city staged the Manchester Passion, in which the music of the city’s celebrated bands was used to tell the story leading up to the crucifixion. The programme ended when the events of Good Friday ended. Or so we thought. Suddenly, after the closing announcements, a spotlight illuminated the top of the town-hall tower. Christ, clad in a white boiler suit, burst forth in a song from the Mancunian band the Stone Roses: “I Am the Resurrection”.

It takes more than a bomb to finish off this city.

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