This week marked the fourth anniversary of the Manchester arena bomb. For many those four years will have gone quickly. For others the passage of time will have been arduously slow. The collective trauma of that week is something all Greater Mancunians, have to process, and anniversaries, whilst undoubtedly painful, are a helpful part of that journey.
What happened to our city that night, and impacted on the towns and villages that make up its wider community, was shocking, tragic, and senseless. I’m acutely conscious that for some families in my constituency, injury, trauma or loss meant their lives changed forever that day. They are at the forefront of my thoughts as the anniversary comes round.
Yet Greater Manchester’s response, coming together in defiance, pride and unity, showed us at our best. Whether you were, as Tony Walsh’s wonderful poem put it, born here or drawn here (I myself came to Manchester for university having grown up in Sunderland, and am happy to still be here twenty years later), Greater Mancunians are hardy, warm, resilient, doers. We will not give into fear. We help one another. We always find the hope.
One of those lovely demonstrations of defiance and unity was the Manchester worker bee tattoo campaign, started by Stalybridge resident Sam Barber. Despite never having had a tattoo before (or since!) it was an honour to be among the first to receive the design in exchange for a donation to the victims’ fund – thank you to the teams of tattoo artists who administered bees until they dropped, for no personal gain. It was quite an experience to get my first ink done on my forearm surrounded by TV crews, but to this day absolutely love it.
My wife Claire had one too, and occasionally our youngest child Seth asks us to draw a temporary bee tattoo on his arm to be part of it! It is a wonderful thing that so many people across Greater Manchester now share, old and young, suited or jeaned, Tameside or Trafford. I love spotting others in the queue at the Post Office or at the bar and sharing that moment of recognition. Whether you literally had the ink done or not, it feels like we all now share in a metaphorical worker bee imprint, brought close together in our identity as a city region.
I know in recent months the Inquiry has brought fresh and sometimes very painful information to light. I know all of Tameside will want to join me in sending best wishes to all who are personally impacted by its daily twists and turns. I’m not going to give a running commentary; it’s important we let it run its course and allow its conclusions to be drawn. Whatever the ultimate findings, there will be lessons which simply must be learnt to ensure the public are safe as possible going about their business going forward. With all my heart I hope it also brings anguished families a little closure. I made this video to share my thoughts as the difficult date came around.