There was a moment, sitting up restless at half past midnight watching the Manchester Evening News live feed in despaired silence, when the reality of this week’s tragedy really hit me. The reporter turned around to show the area surrounding the police cordon, and though I’d never been to the Manchester Arena myself, as the camera pivoted I realised that I recognised those buildings, those road names. I thought, “I’ve walked down that street”, or “I’ve driven past there”.
You never think this kind of thing will happen to the place that you live, and up until that point I’d been receiving the news with a sense of gormless disbelief. Seeing those places, though, it finally hit me: the awful, crushing realisation that this was happening to my city, my hometown.
When I think about how this atrocity is going to affect Mancunians, I think about the fact that Manchester, more than any other city in the UK I think, feels uniquely local. For a city as big as Manchester, for a city with such a long, storied history and such cultural significance, you might expect it to feel aloof, impersonal, elite – but it’s not.
In contrast to the gloomy northern weather, Mancunians are sunny, smiley, inviting people, and they take care of each other. From the sense of local history that you get passing by the medieval Shambles pubs, to the vibrancy and colour of the Gay Village, people here care about community, and about looking after the city they love. It’s a remarkably positive, forward-thinking attitude that you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Mancunians aren’t complaining about the weather, they’re writing poetry about it instead.
And we wear our Mancunian identity on our sleeves. We shout it from the rooftops, get tattoos of the symbolic worker bee, sing the praises of Mancunian music, Mancunian food, Mancunian clubs, Mancunian everything. Our artists have been paying tribute to the city for decades, from Victorians like Elizabeth Gaskell, who set a number of her novels in Manchester, all the way to the present-day with musicians like Bugzy Malone, who playfully chants “Manny on the map” and “0161”, Manchester’s telephone area code, in his raps. Whether we choose to leave or to stay, Mancunians never forget where we came from; we always remember the city that made us who we are.
So when I think about the atrocity that happened earlier this week, my heart aches for the pall that has been cast over that joyous, life-loving spirit that makes my hometown special. My heart aches for the families of the victims, who won’t even be able to get a train at Victoria station without thinking of what happened so close by. My heart aches for the fact that a community that sticks together like glue has been targeted by a man who wants to tear it apart.
And my heart aches for Manchester’s Muslim community, who have already begun to suffer misguided ‘revenge’ attacks from a far-right fringe looking for an excuse to enact their bigoted violence. The reality that these Islamophobes would love to ignore is that Muslims helped build this city. From the Pakistani and Bangladeshi restaurants along the Curry Mile, to the thousands of pounds Muslims have already raised to help the victims of the bombing, Muslims are a huge part of the cultural life of Manchester and the city wouldn’t be the same without them.
Life inevitably gets harder after events like this. Right now, Mancunians are feeling mournful, embittered, afraid. Grief has reverberated throughout the city, and it’s hard to believe things will ever be quite the same. And when I go back to the city at the end of Easter Term, it’s going to be strange walking down those same streets, knowing what happened there, knowing how things have changed.
But what’s been so encouraging to me over the last few days is seeing actions like those of Manchester’s Muslim community, who not only helped raise funds but also helped provide free taxi rides to those fleeing the concert. Seeing Tony Walsh deliver a bracing, powerful tribute to a city that will continue to stay strong in spite of difficulty. Seeing Mancunians come out in their thousands to pay their respects the victims, to give blood, to simply be kinder to one another in a time of unspeakable cruelty.
£2.3 million has already been raised for the families of the victims, and that number continues to grow. That’s what I’ve learned about Manchester this week. Dozens of people took to social media to offer up their homes to complete strangers because they wanted them to be safe. That’s what I’ve learned about Manchester this week. Life gets harder after events like this, but Mancunians stick together through hard times, like we always have, and always will.