Manchester Arena bombing survivors on how singing helps them to cope one year on: 'We're like a family'

Thousands expected to join mass singalong

Jessica Morgan
in Manchester
Tuesday 22 May 2018 10:57 BST
'Trees of Hope' memorial trees line the street to St Ann's Square, Manchester

A choir formed by parents and children who were caught up in the Manchester Arena terror attack will be performing in a huge communal singalong to mark the anniversary of the bombing.

Children as young as eight were among the victims when lone suicide bomber Salman Abedi killed 22 people and injured more than 100 after an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena on 22 May 2017.

A year after the attack, members of the choir will take centre stage at the Manchester Together – With One Voice event held in Albert Square.

The event will bring together local choirs with a total of 3,500 voices and will perform Ariana Grande’s “One Last Time”, “One Day Like This” by Elbow, “Don’t Look Back in Anger” by Oasis and “Never Forget” by Take That.

The Manchester Survivors Choir meet every weekend to sing and support each other

Thousands of people are expected to join the mass singalong, with more than 80 choirs uniting for the event.

The Manchester Survivors Choir, a group made up of people who were at the arena on the night of the attack, mostly parents and children, has grown to more than 40 members.

Chloe Aitken, 21, and her mum Alison, joined after seeing a post shared on social media. They said joining the group has given them ‘the best comfort’ and the families have been supportive.

“Being with a group who understand and have been through the exact thing is comforting. It’s like a family and it feels like a family. We sing then afterwards we have tea and cake. It’s the best feeling,” Chloe told The Independent. “Singing has been so helpful, especially when you’re waiting for counselling. I feel so much better since before I joined.

“I feel more confident and happier and we look forward to seeing each other every weekend.”

Chloe and Allison travelled from Ormskirk, Liverpool, to the Ariana Grande concert together as part of an early birthday present. As Ariana sang the last song, they decided to leave early to beat the crowds but were faced with tragedy.

Chloe Aitken and her mother, Alison, at the Great Manchester Run

“We were walking towards the foyer doors when the bomb went off,” she said. “There was dead silence, then the next minute everyone turned around and looked terrified.

“Everyone just dropped everything. People were on the floor, shoes, bags, everything had been dropped.”

The university student said she had felt terrified, but managed to evacuate the arena and seek refuge in the hotel across the street with her mother.

“I had my mum with me. She went straight into her role as a mother. Even though I am an adult, she protected me. She’s so resilient.

“I thought it was going to be the end of my life. Three months after the attack, I couldn’t bear to be without her. I think I remember the first few weeks being in a complete bubble, in my own little space.”

The two of them joined the choir and have used it as a coping mechanism. “We don’t share our experiences because we all understand what we’ve been through. But when we’re all singing, we all understand the emotion we go through. All the lyrics are emotional and touching. Sometimes it’s harder to speak, so we sing instead.”

The mother and daughter both ran the Manchester 10km on Sunday as part of events leading up to the anniversary.

“It was scary to be in the crowd,” Chloe added. “We had a one-minute silence and it was amazing to see everyone come together like that. It makes you feel so much better knowing you’re not alone. The whole city comes together.”

Cath Hill, a social worker from Lancaster and co-founder of the choir, set up the group following the attack and has been raising money for survivors of terrorist attacks. The group meets up every two weeks to sing and support each other.

The Trees of Hope trail in St Ann’s Square is made up of 28 Japanese maple trees and invites people to share messages and tributes

Ilona Burton, a 32-year-old producer, who lost a friend in the attack last year, said the response from the city has kept everyone going.

She said: “There’s no rulebook for how a person or city should respond to such an atrocity, but I think the way that Manchester – its residents, workers and visitors – have come together in support of all those affected by the attack, has been and still is beyond incredible.

“Manchester mourned together but also stood together in solidarity, love and resilience that I think touched everyone. It’s hard for someone to accept that something so horrible happened to our city, but there’s a gritty determination to get through this that keeps us going, and there’s a special kind of strength in that.”

The Albert Square event will feature choirs formed by Parr’s Wood High School’s Harmony Group and Bee Vocal – the Manchester mental health choir composed of people who have experienced mental health issues and have come together to share the healing power of music.

Tributes have been left in St Ann’s Square to remember those who lost their lives

A City United choir, combining Manchester City FC’s Community Choir and Manchester Foundation Youth Choir, will also attend with a group formed by emergency services staff from the North West Ambulance Service, Greater Manchester Police, Great Manchester Fire and Rescue Service and Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service choirs.

There will also be a performance from Manchester Lesbian and Gay Chorus and AMC gospel choir. While schoolchildren from Hazel Grove High School, Levenshulme High School, Newman College, Ringway Choir, St Catherine’s RC School, The Keys Federation, Trinity C of E High School and Wardle Voices will sing too.

There are several events taking place across Manchester city to mark the first anniversary of the terror attack and song lyrics will be projected on to the pavements and buildings in St Ann’s Square for five nights.

St Ann’s Square became a place for reflection and contemplation as mourners left a sea of flowers, teddies and tributes in memory of those who lost their lives.

Families of the 22 victims, as well as members of the public, have been invited to select lyrics to promote reflection and inspire.

Prince William and the prime minister will attend the special service at Manchester Cathedral where there will be a national minute’s silence at 2.30pm across all government buildings.

Greater Manchester Police are still investigating the tragedy and have been granted a warrant of arrest for the brother of the bomber, Hasem Abedi, who is currently in Libya.

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