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Expert opinion from IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society


Manchester: betrayal and belonging in a welcoming city

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 27 May 2017

Kathryn Riley
One of my favourite photographs shows two handsome women, elegantly dressed in black, with mantillas draped over their heads. They’re talking animatedly to a smiling male figure dressed in white. He’s wearing a skull cap. A sense of warmth and ease radiates from the photograph. The three figures are clearly enjoying their conversation.
Visitors are drawn to this picture. ‘It’s the Pope,’ they say, ‘Pope John Paul’. ‘It’s the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Manchester’, I retort. ‘My Aunty Winnie and my Mum, Agnes´. And the Pope, of course. ‘It’s because of them’ I explain, ‘that the Pope came to Manchester in 1982.’ If you look at the picture carefully (yes, Aunty Winnie was the Lord Mayor), you can see that it would have been hard for the Pope to resist the petition of these two outgoing Mancunians – Agnes and Winnie, Winnie and Agnes – Manchester’s formidable delegation to Rome.
Like so many others, my family had left their distant homes and travelled to Manchester to find a new place for themselves. As a child of the Irish and Jewish Diasporas, the stories I grew up on were about journeys, finding a place to be. Manchester has always been a place for the poor, the disposessed, the displaced who stumbled into its damp but welcome blanket, seeking employment in the Manchester cotton mills of yesteryear, or in the surrounding clutter of towns that hedge their way across the Lancashire landscape.
As the horrific events at the Manchester arena unfolded, so many unanswered questions. How could someone born and bred in Manchester – and whose refugee family found a home there – perpetrate such an atrocity? In a city of strong, forthright women, had he deliberately chosen to target an event attended by so many girls and young women?
My work is on place, belonging and identity: how to make schools places where young people can be and become their best selves. I was touched by so many responses to the bomb attack, on television and on the radio, including the simple heart-felt comments of headteachers, as they stepped into the place-making space: one of the most important roles school leaders can take. In this world of ours, schools need to be places of safety, belonging – and possibilities. Eighteen thousand at the concert. So many schools touched. The children and staff who went to the concert. Those who knew someone who had been there. Those who knew someone who never came back.
And amid all of this is the grief and the quiet pride of my city. ‘How are you doing pal?’
Kathryn Riley is Professor of Urban Education. Her books include Leadership of Place: Stories for schools in the US, UK and South Africa and Place, Belonging and Leadership: Researching to make the difference, published by Bloomsbury in June 2017. Kathryn is currently writing Manchester Melodies, which is about her family.

3 Responses to “Manchester: betrayal and belonging in a welcoming city”

  • 1
    Graham Handscomb wrote on 27 May 2017:

    What a wonderful, inspirational blog!

  • 2
    profgusjohn wrote on 28 May 2017:

    Gus John says:
    This blog has triggered many thoughts for me as someone who lived in Manchester off and on for some 40 years, including working there as a community education officer.
    ‘There’s more that holds us together than divides us’ is one of the fundamental messages we the authors sought to convey in the Burnage Report, Murder in the Playground (1989), following the murder of 14 year old Ahmed Iqbal Ullah, a Bangladeshi/British student, by Darren Coulburn, a white British student at Burnage High School in South Manchester in September 1986. The report raised many questions about place, belonging and othering and about what schools must do to ensure that all students, irrespective of ethnic origin, are valued and assisted to value and develop respect for themselves and for others who don’t belong to the same group that they do. Kenneth Baker, the then Secretary of State for Education and architect of the Education Reform Act 1988, refused to consider how the important findings of the Burnage Inquiry might inform those education reforms. He was adamant that a copy of Murder in the Playground should not be placed in the House of Commons Library for members to access. That in itself was a lesson in exclusion and marginalisation at the highest level in schooling and a blatant refusal to place children’s education rights and delivering racial and social justice for all as a key purpose of schooling and education.
    Events in Manchester early last week were truly unspeakable and will leave an awful lot of young people and families scarred and traumatised for life, however much we talk about confounding the terrorists by getting on with business as usual. The motivation for such barbaric acts represents such a denial of what makes us human as to be utterly incomprehensible. What is worse is the knowledge that, security and intelligence services or not, we all remain ever vulnerable to the murderous actions of those so disposed. The problem is that throughout history, a genuine belief in absurdities has led human beings to commit all forms of atrocities; from the belief that Africans were less than ‘homo’ or ‘sapiens’ and of less value than the horses whip-wielding slave masters rode, to the belief that the development and expansion of civilization depended upon the elimination of lesser races than the Aryan race, to the belief that Allah rewards you with eternal bliss and unlimited vestal virgins if you massacre innocent ‘infidels’…, or followers of Allah whose beliefs and practices are different from your own.
    What was especially unnerving for me was the revelation that the suicide bomber lived at the bottom of my street in Chorlton and I regularly saw the very ordinary looking occupants of that address going about their daily business and blending in naturally with the increasingly young, global and multi-ethnic population of Chorlton and South Manchester.
    Salman Abedi shared place and space at Burnage High School with hundreds of young people such as those he so nonchalantly blew up along with himself at the Manchester Arena. And that’s a sobering thought. Kathryn Riley is right. ‘In this world of ours, schools need to be places of safety, belonging – and possibilities’. Far too often, however, they struggle to accommodate students with complex needs who feel neither safe, nor that they belong and for whom schools fail to arrest the destruction of hope and the death of aspiration.

  • 3
    Zazi wrote on 1 June 2017:

    Nothing excuses what happens, but we have to look at why warnings weren’t heeded by our intelligence agencies, why the family was already known to them, the family’s “activism” in Libya (along with the UK’s and US’s) against Gadaffi (with Western nations actively training and arming insurgents to assist the removal of Gadaffi), etc.
    Given the state of the country now (as with Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, etc.) we see hundreds and thousands fleeing, dying, drowning… No refugees whatsoever left Libya’s coastline when Gadaffi was still in power. How many have died trying to leave since his death? How many have been displaced?
    We need to condemn violence on all sides, and stop adding to its causes.