Manchester tragedy got me thinking of home in Leighton Buzzard

Crowds gather at Manchester's Albert Square
Crowds gather at Manchester's Albert Square

I remember when I googled Manchester, having decided to go there for university.

I discovered the obvious – famous for its cotton industry, Oasis and its backdrop of brilliant red bricks.

Former Vandyke pupil Alice Andrews is studying at Manchester University

Former Vandyke pupil Alice Andrews is studying at Manchester University

It had what Leighton Buzzard lacked; bright lights, city life, and freedom from my parents. But I’ve also discovered that Manchester and Leighton Buzzard share more than I expected.

On Monday, May 22, an horrific tragedy shook our nation, with its epicentre in Manchester; precisely 3.9 miles away from where I was sleeping. The bomb killed 22 people, and left 59 critically injured. I was awoken by a phone call from my mum, ensuring my safety like any panicked parent would.

I was lucky enough to confirm, in a sleepy state, that I was safe. But in the 24 hours of mourning that followed, I came to realise it was not only the physical wounds that had to be tended.

This is where Leighton Buzzard and Manchester became more integral to my response to this tragedy than I would have considered likely. I grew up on Plantation Road; I went to Vandyke Upper School; I did a paper round for Mrs Shah; and I worked for Jo Alexandra Beauty. Just how all of these things made me part of a community, shared drinks down the local, and shared help when we needed it, Manchester did the same.

At 5.30pm that Tuesday afternoon, in the unlikely bright sunshine, thousands of Mancunians gathered in Albert’s Square to pay our respects and show solidarity in the face of such fear and barbarism unprecedented in Manchester’s recent history. In both the silence and the music, I was transported home to all of the years clustered together on Remembrance Sunday, outside of All Saints church, or the Christmas carols sung every Christmas Eve on the high street.

This warmth that I’d felt so many times, surrounded by neighbours and friends, made so proud to call myself an honorary Mancunian.

You rarely consider the implications of such events on the ordinary individuals of the world. However, the devastation caused that Monday evening took me, a small town girl, right back home.

Going to university changes people in so many ways; and I have never felt more inspired and content to be able to call two places my home. As a geography student we learn about how place is etched into your identity, and I can honestly say that in the past week, I have never been more aware of how my identity has been shaped by the place I come from, as well as the place I find myself in now.

Manchester will not bow to the hateful act of one person, but instead it will stand proud, just like its red-brick buildings.