2015 marks the tenth anniversary of 7/7, the London bombings. South Leeds Life has spoken to a range of local figures about those events, their aftermath and the decade since.
Everyone was of course massively shaken by 9/11 and the so-called ‘War on Terror’– yet it seemed far away, something on the news as opposed to real life. The events and aftermath of July 2005 completely altered that though – the big global news story arrived on our very doorsteps here in Beeston.
Initially, I think most of us were just in shock, unsure what to say or do. I remember being on a radio phone-in debate at that time, and totally fumbling for words. There was also a sense of powerlessness in the face of international media coverage that felt very warped at times, but which we had little control over. And powerlessness also in the face of rumbling social tensions: there was a big gathering of far-right activists one day, apparently looking to stir up trouble locally (thankfully it came to nothing); and there were major disturbances at the newly-merged South Leeds High School in September.
But we stuck together as a community despite all that. More than anything else, I think it was relationships that did it. I don’t think Beeston was or is a paragon of perfect community relations, but I think there were enough good people with positive relationships that spanned the diverse networks of people here – so we didn’t fall apart at the time, and have been able to build a better community since.
Indeed, after the smoke settled from 7/7, there was a bit of an upsurge locally towards people trying to build a better connected community: inter-faith gatherings, youth programmes, and much more. (I sense that South Leeds Life was in a roundabout fashion a result of that aspiration too.) And I for one became involved during 2008 in the strange but unexpectedly positive WALKTALK project, featuring Gill Hicks – a survivor of the London bombings – walking on her prosthetic legs from Leeds, through Beeston, then all the way to London.
Meanwhile, Beeston and its neighbouring communities continue to face many challenges – those of any low-income, inner-city community. Yet I think there’s an unusually strong local pride here, and lots of good stuff going on. Quite apart from those projects specially generated since 7/7, there are simply loads of enduring local organisations (including schools) and projects that year-round bring people together and create positive opportunities for the community.
And most importantly, it’s relationships that really make the difference. Any community is essentially just a bunch of people in relationship together. So the more inter-connected people are, the stronger they are, and better able to withstand external forces – be it destructive cultural movements (including extremism in any shape or form), an international media invasion, government intervention or lack of it, whatever.
So, what gives me hope is the simple things people find to do together – when different people come together for a common cause. It might be running a shop, growing vegetables, sweeping up leaves, studying, running a local project or event, whatever. This is where relationships often best grow, forming the glue that holds us together. It takes a little bit of intention and courage, and there remains plenty to be done – but it’s something any of us can do, anytime.