Durham student speaks at UN about surviving Manchester Arena bombing

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A Durham student has spoken at a global UN summit about her experience surviving the Manchester Arena Bombing. Alicia Taylor, age 19, attended the UN Global Congress of Victims of Terrorism this September, where she called for better immediate aftercare for young victims of terror attacks. 

Alicia was just 13 years-old when a bomb was detonated in the foyer of Manchester Arena at the end of an Ariana Grande concert in 2017, killing twenty-two people and injuring over 200 people.

She has since been campaigning for better support for youth affected by terrorism, and helping conduct research into the experiences of young people in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena attack.

“Immediate action is so important as that’s when you’re in shock,” she told Palatinate as she reflected on events, “and for youth this is so much more important as they’re still in the developmental phase. 13 is a very tender age.”

She shared her experience following the attack and how she struggled with a lack of support from her school. Her mum was “in shock and inarticulate,” and left deaf in one ear from the explosion, which placed a “greater importance from school” who she turned to for support. 

“School didn’t give any counsellors out, there was nothing”

Alicia Taylor

However, Alicia said that “school didn’t give any counsellors out, there was nothing.” She believed her school failed her, offering “no immediate support.” The school only provided a room students could sit in if they needed to escape lessons.

She found support joining a group formed by victims of the attack, which started off as a choir for the survivors who “talked about their experiences in the aftermath.” Bee The Difference, developed into a research project “by and for young Manchester survivors” in conjunction with Lancaster University and National Emergencies Trust, aimed to investigate the different forms of support that are effective and set a plan in place for future events.

Members shared how they found their “physical injuries were tended to” but there was “not as much focus” on psychological injuries.

She explained how ignorance from her school caused a bombing drill to go ahead only 9 months after the arena attack, and set her and some classmates back in their recovery.

“They did an unannounced bomb alarm,” Alicia recalled being in food tech, “in that class alone there were 5 people who were at the attack.”

“All of us were just set back months.” She “thought it was real” and was “transported back,” unrooting feelings from the traumatic event. The “worst thing that you can do to a child after they experienced trauma is to retraumatize them.”

“They should’ve been like, she really need help. That was my call for help but it wasn’t really seen”

Alicia Taylor

She found a way to express herself through art and literature at school, however she thought teachers were either oblivious to this or chose not to reach out. “I felt invalidated by my high school” as they “didn’t recognise what had happened to me. School was supposed to be my safe space but wasn’t. My safe space was like literature and art.”

“My teachers should’ve seen that my work was very desperate, very raw, all the art I was doing was about Manchester, all my writing, they should’ve been like, she really needs help. That was my call for help but it wasn’t really seen.”

She says expressing herself through metaphors was a way of describing what had happened to her: “I explained what happened to me through metaphors. I know another girl, she drew out her experience.” Alicia is now studying English literature at Durham University

Members of Bee The Difference have helped devise a survey to collate research and investigate the support young victims received in the aftermath of the arena attack and find what helped and what didn’t. The questionnaire, created with UK disaster response and Lancaster University was circulated online for victims under 18 at the time of the attack, and recently closed on 17 October 2022.

The UN asked the group for one “representative speaker” to answer questions about their experience. “I was in Durham at the time, in July, I didn’t think much of it.” Alicia received training on how to speak and effectively communicate her message.

“The theme, the panel was talking about the specific needs of children – the difference needs from adults, what’s helpful and not.” She spoke alongside survivors from the 9/11 attack, “incredibly inspirational people,” and felt “in awe of their strength.”

“I wasn’t just speaking for my 13-year-old self, I was talking on behalf of thousands of others who might’ve had the same experience”

Alicia Taylor

The choir also performed at the forum, a song written by one of their members. Alicia attended a 9/11 memorial and survivors’ dinner, and has described it as “one of the most emotionally intense days of my life.” 

Her goal is to help establish a “support system with no disparities. Doesn’t matter if it’s a public or private school, primary or secondary, the support system we’re aiming for is all accommodating with no disparities.”

Results from the questionnaire will be shared with organisations that can help to improve support for young survivors of terror such as the government, healthcare and education providers. “Regarding schools, if something immediate happens it’s for them to be aware and actively be there to support. There needs to be a plan in place for future terror attacks. So that people get the help they need rather than scrambling in the dark for it.”

Reflecting on the UN summit she says she “felt relieved” that she had said everything she wanted to and is grateful for her “chance to speak out” when she’d felt silenced after the attack.

“I wasn’t just speaking for my 13-year-old self, I was talking on behalf of thousands of others who might’ve had the same experience of not being heard or not having the correct help, so knowing I’ve done it for them as well is very heartwarming.”

Image: Alicia Taylor

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