The first anniversary of the Manchester Arena terror attack was an emotional time for this city – and of course for all those affected across the country.
As we remembered the 22 people whose lives were so senselessly cut short on 22 May 2017, and the many others who sustained life-changing injuries, it was important that this emotion was channelled positively.
The twisted motivation of the suicide bomber – who I won’t name here; unlike those caught up in the attack he does not deserve to be remembered – was to generate fear and spread hatred. In essence, it was attack on community cohesion.
Building and supporting resilient communities is something of which we have always been mindful in Manchester, and nowhere has this applied more than in the aftermath of the attack.
As well as helping to ensure the right support was available to all those directly affected by the incident itself – for example, mental health support through the Manchester Resilience Hub, and financial help through the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund – we sought to help set the right tone; one which emphasised – and amplified – the natural solidarity of this city’s communities.
We were conscious there would be those who would try to exploit the horror of the attack for their own ends, seeking to spread division, and that some of our communities would be feeling especially vulnerable.
As raids took place across the city, Greater Manchester Police’s consequence management structure had an important role to play. So too did the voluntary, community and faith sectors, visibly standing side-by-side.
From a civic leadership perspective, it was important to make the point clearly and consistently that indulging hatred was doing the terrorists’ work for them; that the greatest act of resilience and defiance was to get on with being the diverse, vibrant and proud city we have always been.
This was given strong expression in the vigil which took place in Albert Square, just in front of the town hall, less than 24 hours after the attack. When poet Tony Walsh exhorted the crowds to “Choose Love” at the end of his poem This Is The Place, which council leader Sir Richard Leese had personally requested he recite, it really struck a chord.
When the Great CityGames and mass participation Great Manchester Run took place in the city the weekend after the attack, both of which we had been keen to see go ahead, it was another potent symbol that the city refused to be cowed.
And I’m proud to say that, give or take a handful of isolated incidents, the city really did choose love – a choice exemplified by the sea of floral tributes and supportive messages in St Ann’s Square, fundraising for the emergency fund, and bee tattoos as symbols of solidarity.
In planning for the anniversary commemorations, we were conscious of the need to recognise and reinforce that remarkable spirit of solidarity as well as, first and foremost, remembering those who were killed or hurt.
So in developing the programme, we were keen to ensure stirring communal elements sat alongside a national service of remembrance at Manchester Cathedral and more sombre elements such as bells ringing across the city centre at 10.31pm to mark the exact anniversary.
Nowhere was this given more incredible expression than in the Manchester Together – With One Voice choral event, culminating in a moving mass singalong to Mancunian classics and an Ariana Grande number.
It featured dozens of choirs, thousands of choir members, 15,000 audience participants singing their hearts out – and more than a few tears. The roar when Tony Walsh declared “Love sings louder” was something I will never forget.
Among the acts performing was the Survivors Choir, made up of parents and children who had themselves been at the Arena on the night of the attack and had come together to find healing through music. There can be no stronger example of communal resilience than this. And I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder to be chief executive of Manchester City Council.
Joanne Roney, chief executive, Manchester City Council