Why Don’t We Just…
start listening to young survivors
of the Manchester Arena Attack?

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How are you doing? It’s a question we ask – and get asked – countless times a day, even more so since the start of the pandemic when the answer became much harder to predict. It’s a small question that can make a huge difference to the person you’re directing it to. It shows you care if they’re OK and, importantly, it gives you a chance to do something about it if they’re not.

So – and I’ll admit I have a very personal interest here – what I want to know is why we haven’t asked this question to the thousands of children and young people affected by the Manchester Arena terror attack in 2017?

Children like my then ten-year-old son who I took to the Arena that night so excited to see his idol – and who, like me, returned home with a very different outlook on his life. Or the many more children and young people affected indirectly. Those who lost members of their family, classmates or best friends on that fateful May evening. Those whose loved ones were seriously injured, and whose lives were changed forever.

It is shocking that in the more than five years since the unthinkable happened, nobody has asked the children and young people affected about the support they have received since, and how helpful (or unhelpful) this has been. Nobody asks how they are doing today.

As a social worker, a “Manchester survivor” and founder of the Manchester Survivors Choir, I’ve become acutely aware of the varying support that children and young people have received since the attack. I’ve heard brilliant stories of young people finding survivor soulmates through conversations on social media platforms. Stories of supportive schools who brought in specialist trauma support for children affected. Parents in a privileged position to pay for excellent mental health care.

But I’ve also heard far too many stories of those who got no support at all. Because “survivor guilt” prevented them from asking for it. Because they wanted to talk but didn’t know where to start. Or because their requests for help were simply dismissed by professionals.

Then there are the stories that make me sick to my stomach. Teachers tapping up affected pupils for their “gossip” the day after the attack.  Children left alone with their confusion and difficult thoughts in separate classrooms. Counsellors who couldn’t take the time to remember young people’s names – or stories – forcing them to recount and relive their trauma time and again. These are just some stories of many – and the sad truth is that if nobody is listening to them, then nobody is learning their lessons or creating change.

But I hope that the launch of #BeeTheDifference this week will change this. It’s an online survey designed by and for young Manchester survivors that asks young people all about the support they have received, and how they have found this. It’s open to anyone who was affected by the attack and under 18 at the time, whether they were at the Arena itself or affected indirectly through a family member or friend. It’s easy to complete, completely anonymous and is open until mid-October.

I’m proud to be working on #BeeTheDifference with the National Emergencies Trust – a UK disaster response charity – and Lancaster University. With their support, learnings from the survey can be shared with organisations that will make a difference to young survivors of terror in the future – in government, schools, health and social care, and other charities and bodies.

The more young people we can encourage to take part, the better our learnings will be, so as a mum, survivor and the volunteer lead researcher on the study I want to put out a personal plea for people to take part or spread the word. You can find the survey and more information at nationalemergenciestrust.org.uk/beethedifference.

As Alicia, one of the young people involved in the project so eloquently puts it: “No one should have to go through a traumatic event and suffer in silence.”

Cath Hill is a lecturer at Lancaster University, a volunteer member of the National Emergencies Trust’s survivors advisory forum and founder of the Manchester Survivors Choir. The Bee the Difference survey is open until 17 October. Visit nationalemergenciestrust.org.uk to take part or find out more.

Photo: The memorial for the Manchester Arena attack in 2017 (Chine Nouvelle/Shutterstock)

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