REMEMBERING MANCHESTER: Strength in the power of music

A mother and son who escaped the Manchester bomb physically unscathed but emotionally traumatised will perform in a choir on the anniversary of the attack today.

Tuesday, 22nd May 2018, 8:50 am
Updated Saturday, 26th May 2018, 4:54 pm

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For Cath Hill and her son Jake, singing as part of the Manchester Survivors Choir is about being with other people who understand what they went through.

But it was not only the terror attack in Manchester in May that Cath, 43, from Lancaster, and Jake, 11, lived through last year.

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They were also in Spain in August when terrorists went on a car rampage in the small fishing village of Cambrils following an earlier attack in Barcelona.

The two of them were profoundly emotionally affected by their experiences.

Cath, who set up the Manchester Survivors Choir in January, said: “Naively after the Manchester attack we had said to Jake that it wouldn’t happen to us again, the odds of it happening to us again were so small.

Cath Hill and her son Jake survived the Manchester bomb

“But what happened in Spain was so close to us it was awful, he couldn’t sleep in his bed that night. Cambrils is very small and there were lots of police and media there.”

Cath and Jake had escaped the suicide bomb at the Ariana Grande concert partly because they had left the Arena by a different exit to where the bomb was detonated.

Afterwards both of them were badly shaken but did not access help, feeling that it should be reserved for the people who had been bereaved and injured.

Now returning a year later to sing in a choir to mark the day that changed their lives, Cath feels that the performance is about making a stand in solidarity against the two terror attacks which were designed to break them.

Ariana Grande

She said: “We realise that a lot of people like to sing. It’s for people who were involved in the attack. We’ve been running it since January and we have 40 members. We’re performing at Manchester Voices and performing at the children’s hospital in Manchester.

“There’s something wonderful about being with people who completely get what you’ve been through. It’s about having a positive activity to focus on.

“It’s not going to divide us, we are going to carry on.”

Describing what happened a year ago Cath said: “I went with my 10-year-old son, it was his first concert and we were given tickets from my husband’s company.

“We only decided we were going on the day. Jake had a great time and loved the concert and I remember thinking what an amazing first concert.

“We left via a different exit. As the bomb exploded everyone was running out and screaming, it was chaos in the Arena.

“Unknowingly I walked us back round to where it had happened.

“At first people were shouting that a speaker had exploded and I kept telling my son that was what happened but really I knew that it was something serious. People were shouting that there was a gunman.

“I phoned my husband to say something awful has happened, we are safe, just keep your phone on. Driving home we watched all the sirens go in the other direction. I still to this day don’t know exactly what Jake’s seen. He does struggle to talk about it. I’m really hopeful that he didn’t see anything awful.

“Jake slept in bed with his dad. I didn’t sleep that night. It was awful telling him the next day – telling him that people had died. He didn’t really know about terrorism.”

Cath went to visit her GP two or three days after the attack where her doctor offered her sleeping tablets because she had been unable to sleep.

She and her husband John, 45, also took Jake and their older son Tommy, 13, to Scotland for a break.

“We went to Scotland and looking back now I can see we weren’t alright,” said Cath.

“My feeling was that we weren’t bereaved so we just had to get on with it. And we did get on with it until Spain.”

The Hills had booked a holiday in August 2017 to a little fishing village called Cambrils, about 70 miles south of Barcelona.

Cath said: “Two or three days into our holiday news started to come through that there had been an attack in Barcelona.

“Jake had seen it on the TV screen and was crying. He was scared to go to the beach that night but we talked him through it and he was sort of alright.

“Some of the attackers in Barcelona had managed to get away.

“But it turned out that they escaped to Cambrils. The police found them but as they were trying to get in to where they were staying they escaped and drove a van down the High Street.

“They were shot although one still managed to get away.

“It was in the early hours of the morning at about 1am.

“When we woke up the whole of the hotel was devastated. We had to tell Jake again, it was devastating.”

The pair suffered from “survivor’s grief”. Flashbacks, nightmares and anxiety in crowds became regular occurrences. When the Hills returned to the UK Cath, who felt physically unwell after the second attack, went to the doctor again.

“They said if we can get someone to speak to Jake it might help me,” said Cath, who felt that talking to Jake herself was a catch-22 situation.

She said: “I would get upset when he spoke to me about it so he didn’t want to upset his mum.”

However she did manage to get Jake help eventually and one of the organisations which were able to be there for her son was Lancashire Nest, a scheme set up to support young people aged between 10 and 18 who have been affected by crime or subjected to bullying, threats or harassment.

The youngster was told his reaction to being in a crowd - numb legs and heart-pounding - was a natural response.

Since then Jake has made considerable progress and this, in turn, has helped his mum.

Cath said: “Indirectly, the help for Jake helped me. Through knowing he had someone professional and trained to hear these types of things, made me feel better.”

Diana Fawcett, Chief Officer at independent charity Victim Support said: “Following the Manchester Arena attack we had contact with over 700 people seeking information and support and we are still receiving requests today.

“For many people the impact was life changing and the support needed is long-term. One year on, we’re still supporting around 100 survivors and will continue to do so for as long as needed.

“The majority of requests for help from survivors of the Manchester attack were for psychological support and common issues include struggling to cope, difficulty sleeping, flashbacks and a fear of being alone. We know that occasions such as anniversaries can be difficult for survivors and want to highlight that support is still available. We provide specialist practical help and emotional support to victims of all crime, including terrorism, no matter where or when the incident took place. Anyone seeking help can call our free 24/7 Supportline number on 0808 16 89 111 or get in touch via the website –”

• In the aftermath of the bomb attacks, Nest has offered a package of practical and emotional help to anyone caught up in the terror, including those who were badly injured or who lost relatives in the attack. To get help from Nest call 0300 111 0323.

Choirs join together in shared solidarity

The choir’s performance is part of a day-long schedule of events in Manchester today to remember the victims of the attack.

The Albert Square event, part of a programme marking one year since the Manchester Arena terror attack, will see an array of choirs come together in song to share the spirit of solidarity and remember all those affected by the Manchester Arena attack.

It will culminate in a huge communal singalong. The combined choirs will feature around 3,500 voices.

A singalong finale will be made up of 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.

Manchester Together – With One Voice will take place in Albert Square today and starts at 7pm with video messages and a short civic introduction. The choral performance gets underway at 7.30pm, with the mass singalong finale between 8.30pm and 9.30pm. The singalong will be broadcast live on BBC Radio Manchester and Key 103. It will also be shown live on the big screen in the Piazza at MediaCityUK and played over the PA systems at Manchester Airport as Greater Manchester comes together.

Ariana: ‘I wish there was more that I could fix’

Ariana Grande says she still thinks of the Manchester Arena bombing every day. In a candid interview with Time magazine, the American singer said she wishes there was more she could ‘fix’ and admitted thoughts of the atrocity still lie ‘heavy on her heart’.

Grande, 24, spoke about her response to the attack one year on and its impact on her music.

“The last thing I would ever want is for my fans to see something like that happen and think it won,” she said.

“Music is supposed to be the safest thing in the world. I think that’s why it’s still so heavy on my heart every single day. I wish there was more that I could fix. You think with time it’ll become easier to talk about. Or you’ll make peace with it. But every day I wait for that peace to come and it’s still very painful.”

Grande - whose first new music following the attack, No Tears Left To Cry, alluded to the atrocity - described the bomb as the ‘absolute worst of humanity’.

Bishops unite

To mark the first anniversary of the bombing, the Bishops of the Diocese of Blackburn have issued a joint statement.

Rt Rev Julian Henderson, the Bishop of Blackburn and Rt Rev Philip North, the Bishop of Burnley, say the bereaved families with be in their prayers and in the prayers of churches across Lancashire.

They said: “Anniversaries can be incredibly difficult times for bereaved families and doubtless there will be many at this time who will be playing through in their minds the horrific events of May 22 last year in the Manchester Arena.

“So many wonderful lives were taken away from us by the wicked actions of one man. However, the incredible dignity and enduring love of the bereaved families over the past 12 months has been vital in showing us that compassion and hope will always triumph over hatred and anger. They will be in our prayers and in the prayers of the churches of Lancashire as we keep this anniversary.”