Trigger Warning: This article contains details of a traumatic event.
Five years ago, on May 22, 2017, Islamist terrorist Salman Abedi detonated a homemade backpack bomb filled with shrapnel at the end of an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena. “Suddenly everyone started running,” said Jessica Monk, 25, from Manchester, who was 20 at the time of the attack. “We were guided behind the stage for an emergency exit, people were scared, terrified.” A bomb had exploded at the entrance to the arena at 10:31 p.m. near Manchester Victoria station, killing 23 people, hurting thousands, and permanently altering lives in ways unimaginable. Dan Hett, 31, is one such person. His brother, Martyn, died in the attack. “I felt a combination of shock, grief, confusion and a lot of other things,” he told Bustle. “It was overwhelming.”
Hett was not alone. In the years following the attack, Monk suffered from panic attacks. “It was very hard,” she says. “I struggled a lot during my last year of college and felt pretty bad. A loud bang would scare me. When I walked past the arena, I felt physically ill. I tried to get rid of it, but working in a kitchen meant I was constantly surrounded by loud noises and had frequent panic attacks.
For Hett, part of dealing with his loss was trying to remember everything he could. “At the time, I was afraid of forgetting anything, so I always wrote everything down,” he says. “The experience was so big and so dense. It wasn’t one big experiment, it was millions and millions of little experiments. I’ve always kept journals, and I’ve written stuff and I have a journal, that’s just what I’ve always done.
Hett says you never really outgrow these kinds of tragedies, you just learn to adapt, a sentiment surely shared not only by the families of the victims, but by all survivors, emergency responders, Ariana Grande herself and the people of Manchester. . The city had not experienced a terrorist attack since the 1996 IRA bombing, but the city did not waver. Support initiatives for those affected were put in place immediately, as soon as the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund to Manchester businesses donate hundreds of thousands of pounds to the families of the victims.
Vigils swept the country while the monuments of the world lit up in the colors of the Union Jack. The famous Manchester worker bee symbol has become synonymous with tragedy, a reminder not just of what the city has lost, but of the solidarity of its people. The symbol was plastered all over the city, on protest banners, in the windows of all the shops, scrawled on the sidewalks by graffiti artists and, more particularly, on the bodies of those who wanted to support the victims of the attack. through Manchester’s tattoo appeal.
In a time that could very well have been tainted with hate and anger, Manchester stood together with compassion and resilience; a legacy that still endures.
“The immediacy of the outpouring of support from the people of Manchester was incredible,” Hett said. Being half Turkish, he says he has always felt proud to be part of such a diverse, multicultural and creative city. “Manchester has always been a pretty tight-knit city,” he adds. “But I think it really made sense afterwards. I think what struck me the most was that people were very united in their support. I was getting stopped by people from all walks of life offering support…and that’s still true now.
The One Love Manchester concert, which raised money for the emergency fund, took place on June 4, 2017, two weeks after the attack. The event was unforgettable and a much needed stand against the fear that might have been instilled in the city. “I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life,” says Aimee Prescott, 20, from St Helens, who bought tickets after hearing donations were being made for those affected. “There was so much love and respect,” she continues. “You would expect some sort of intense feeling after the attack, fear if you will, but there wasn’t a shred of it. Not only because of the way the performers made the crowd feel, but also because of the way the crowd interacted with each other and how they all came together like we were one big family. For Prescott, One Love Manchester was about more than just going to a concert, it was about showing that “love will always conquer hate”.
This philosophy was reflected in a number of initiatives designed to help those affected by the attack. Namely, there was Manchester Attack Support Group Scheme (MASGP). Designed by a team of disaster and trauma management specialists, and led by two collective trauma survivors, MASGP was a facilitated peer support group program set up to bring people together. “I was advising the local authorities in Manchester after the attack,” says Dr Anne Eyre, who co-leads the program. “One of the things I was advising them on was the value of bringing people who had been affected by the incident together so they could provide peer support.”
Based on “mutual understanding, mutual support and a desire to help each other”, the group was a “community within a community” that gave those directly affected by the attack a place to belong. “That community aspect is so important because what people want, and I can speak to this personally, is that they want to feel normal,” says Dr. Eyre. “They want to know that being involved in a traumatic experience and how it affects them doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not normal. And you often achieve this by making sense of the experience by connecting and talking with others who have been through similar things.
I had wonderful employers, colleagues, family and friends who were there for me when I needed them. And, five years later, I know they will continue to be.
This year, to mark the fifth anniversary of the tragedy, a permanent memorial has been erected in Manchester city centre, opened by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. The Glade of Light was designed to be a living memorial, a quiet garden space for remembrance and reflection where people can go to commemorate the victims. At nearby Manchester Cathedral, prayers will include acts of commemoration during which the names of the 23 people killed will be read aloud, and a minute’s silence will be observed at midday and at the time of the attack.
Five years later, Hett and Monk are still processing the events of that night, but they’ve learned a lot. For Hett, part of coming to terms with what had happened was giving purpose and meaning to his work. As a digital designer, he has worked on a number of projects related to his own experiences after the attack, as well as broader societal issues around radicalization. “Everything I do with my life has been affected by what I’ve been through,” he says. “Not only did I become stronger, having never experienced loss or grief before what happened, but I found a lot of meaning and direction through my work.”
Monk sought refuge in the comfort of his friends and family. “I had wonderful employers, colleagues, family and friends who were there for me when I needed them. And, five years later, I know they will continue to be.
Victim Support provides practical help and emotional support to victims and witnesses of crime and major incidents, no matter where and when the incident took place. Anyone seeking help can contact the association’s free 24/7 helpline on 0808 16 89 111 or via www.victimsupport.org.uk