After tragic attack, it's Manchester united in more ways than football

Messages of support and floral tributes to the victims of the attack outside the Manchester Arena Complex. The city's residents showed resilience and community spirit as they comforted one another.
Messages of support and floral tributes to the victims of the attack outside the Manchester Arena Complex. The city's residents showed resilience and community spirit as they comforted one another.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Manchester - a city that gave the world Oasis, Marks & Spencer and Rolls Royce.

It was where the mother of the Suffragette movement, Emmeline Pankhurst, campaigned for women's right to vote, where the modern computer was invented and where the oldest library in the English-speaking world was born.

After last Monday, Manchester will be remembered for one more thing - how its denizens united in a show of force and stared terror down, celebrating the city they love and the Mancunian spirit they embody.

At St Ann's Square, a woman wearing a vest that says "street pastor" holds a sobbing Muslim woman and comforts her as they stand in front of a sea of flowers that keeps expanding every day.

Several more people sporting similar vests mill around the square, which has become a gathering place for people wishing to mourn or pay tribute to those struck down by the suicide bombing.

Threatening to outnumber them are the hundreds of journalists, cameramen and TV vans with giant satellite dishes parked all around the plaza.

"We're here just to provide a listening ear," said one such volunteer who gave his name only as Michael.

"It's the other person's agenda, not ours. For us personally, it's an extension of the solidarity we're seeing, and that's what we're here for."

Introduced in London in 2003, street pastors draw from local churches volunteers who typically patrol streets late at night to listen to and help people.

Since 22-year-old Salman Abedi blew himself up at the end of a pop concert last Monday night, an outpouring of kindness and compassion from the community and stories about these gestures have brought the city together and galvanised it to do more.

Taxi drivers ferried beleaguered concertgoers for free, local residents offered a bed or sofa to those stranded, while restaurants and bars stayed open and provided food.

Hundreds of people showed up at the blood bank the next day to donate blood that centres had to turn them away.

Meanwhile, Mancunians took to the streets to hand out food and drinks, offering hugs and giving out cards that said "You are loved".

Shops put up signs that read "I Love MCR", using the short form for Manchester.

"Manchester is a giant community that's very welcoming," said Mr Dani Graves, 35, a musician who, with his wife and a few friends, stood outside Didsbury Mosque last week to keep overzealous journalists away from worshippers.

Mr Graves moved to Manchester two years ago from Yorkshire. "The first day, I met people I've never met before but felt like I've known for years," he said.

"It's nice to see, even after this, Manchester is still the same way. (The attack) could've easily separated communities, but we're saying, we're not having it," added Mr Graves.

Tensions were high a day after the attack. Roads were shut and armed police patrolled the streets.

"I was shopping at Arndale Centre when someone shouted, 'There's a bomb!' We all panicked and ran," said Mr John Chan, 68, a retired cook who migrated to Manchester more than a decade ago from Hong Kong. "The atmosphere was tense, but it's become a lot calmer now."

Still, the city refused to shut down. After a day of mourning, Manchester City Council workers moved hundreds of floral tributes that had been left in Albert Square to St Ann's Square, to make way for the Great City Games, an annual elite athletes event.

Organisers say the Great Manchester Run will go ahead today, with more than 30,000 runners expected to take part.

British band Take That postponed three of their shows at the Manchester Arena but decided to combine them into a mega show on June 18 in the city's Etihad Stadium.

Last Wednesday night, Mancunians crammed into every pub and sports bar in town as Manchester United battled with Ajax for the Europa League trophy in Stockholm.

Mancunians were looking to Wayne Rooney and team to win it for the city, to lift its hopes and spirits in the wake of the terror attack.

In the end, they delivered that much-needed boost with a 2-0 win.

"It was such an emotional win, and just what Manchester needed," said Mr Joe Harris, 32, an IT manager.

Tan Dawn Wei

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 28, 2017, with the headline 'After tragic attack, it's Manchester united in more ways than football'. Print Edition | Subscribe