I have been thinking a great deal recently about the importance of commemoration.
Manchester is a city which has played a pivotal role in the history of the UK, taking centre stage in events which have had resonance well beyond our boundaries and helped shape the history of this nation.
This year sees a number of significant anniversaries. Some are proud, for example marking the centenary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act which saw some women secure the right to vote and was made possible through the campaigning efforts of the women’s suffrage campaign – with the Manchester-based Pankhursts as leading lights.
And 30 years ago in February 1988 Albert Square in front of Manchester Town Hall was the venue for a rally, attended by an estimated 20,000 people, protesting en masse against the homophobic Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 in what is seen as a key moment in the struggle. I am proud to say that Manchester City Council’s leadership played a brave and active role in standing up to this regressive legislation.
While inspiring social progress has been made over the years, there are still lingering pockets of prejudice and hatred which we must continue to confront
Other anniversaries mark more heart-breaking events.
On 21 March this year it will be the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Manchester Hill, a World War One action which saw the Manchester Regiment suffer heavy casualties in their attempted defence of the hill which now bears the city’s name. It proved to be the forerunner to the last 100 days of the conflict.
And we will mark the first anniversary of the Manchester Arena terror attack which claimed 22 lives, including those of children, and is still incredibly raw for so many people.
None of these events should ever be forgotten, and nor will they be.
But the act of commemoration is about so much more than simply pausing to remember momentous events. It must, crucially, also be about genuine reflection. Considering the courage and resolve needed to overcome adversity – whether social injustices or horrendous loss of life – should challenge us to hold to the high standards demonstrated by our predecessors.
It should remind us that while inspiring social progress has been made over the years, there are still lingering pockets of prejudice and hatred which we must continue to confront. Whether it is ensuring we remain committed to equal opportunities or standing up to extremists who would seek to divide our communities and spread fear and mistrust, we need to remember that the events we are marking aren’t part of some distant history but significant markers on an ongoing journey.
The greatest tribute we can pay to those who have gone before us is not just to praise their memories but to live up to their legacies.
As a council we are determined to play our part in ensuring that these and all such anniversaries are marked appropriately. In the case of 22 May, which will be one year since the Manchester Arena atrocity, we are in the early stages of developing plans which will of course be shaped in careful consultation and liaison with the bereaved families and those most closely affected. We will need to ensure that ideas channel the remarkable spirit of solidarity and compassion shown across the city and beyond in the aftermath of the attack.
There will be a number of events to mark the anniversary of Manchester Hill including a wreath-laying at the city’s cenotaph, a cathedral service and an exhibition at our Central Library to help share the story.
Manchester City Council continues to play a committed role in promoting LGBT rights and, while no specific event took place to mark the anniversary of the Section 28 protest, the thriving Pride celebration is a potent symbol of equality and a key date in the city’s events calendar.
Manchester’s Pankhurst Centre and other organisations will be marking the 100th anniversary of the suffragettes’ success and as the female chief executive of a progressive council it gives me great pleasure that there will be a reminder very close to our civic headquarters – with a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst, only the second statue of a woman in Manchester city centre, due to be unveiled in St Peter’s Square later in the year. Here again though, the most powerful commemoration will be continuing to do all we can to inspire and empower women.
Joanne Roney, chief executive, Manchester City Council