Prevent, resolve, respond…make peace

Foundation4PeaceToday I visited the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation For Peace. I was invited because the Foundation is one of the charities supported by my book Virtually Me.

The charity was founded by Tim’s parents and is supported by Johnathan’s parents. Both boys were killed by an IRA bomb. Tim was 12. Johnathan was 3. The perpetrators called The Samaritans to give warning of the bomb but it wasn’t enough. The bomb exploded in Warrington town centre.

I remember the day it happened – 20th March 1993, the day before Mother’s Day. I remember the image of the shattered bin, black shards scattered on the pavement. I remember when Tim Parry’s life support was turned off and the courage, the wordless grief of his parents at the press conference. I saw Colin Parry give speeches on the news about the Northern Irish peace process, meeting Tony Blair, and then later, much later, shaking hands, shaking hands, with IRA chief Martin McGuinness.

I watched all this when it happened, and I watched the charity’s videos on YouTube when I wrote my book and I realised I didn’t know what they were talking about.

My life hasn’t been affected by terrorism, atrocity or war. I have no frame of reference for what these people – these families – have gone through. I haven’t lost a child. I haven’t had to deal with the media at a time of personal crisis. I feel ill-equipped.

I walk into the Peace Centre for my meeting and the place is buzzing. There are lots of young people sitting around reception, all with luggage and backpacks and it’s obvious they’re about to go on a trip. There’s a coach waiting outside and people with clipboards are checking names. Elsewhere, another group of people are discussing the reception area’s planned makeover. And on the walls, the images of Tim and Johnathan – young, perfect, oblivious to what’s to come – smile out at the room joyfully.

I wait for my contact Jonathan Levy to come and meet me and for a moment I think I’m going to cry. This place, this vibrant building is full of hope, of action, of optimism. I’m struck by the thought that the Peace Centre came out of the bomb blast.

Jonathan greets me and he talks me through the Foundation’s history. We speak about many things and I love his passion, how he explains incredibly difficult things with clarity and warmth. He takes me on a tour of the building and I see the games room, the art room, the meeting room, the residential block, the Hope cafe, the sports hall, the offices. I meet everyone. I meet Harriet Vickers who works at the Peace Centre, the youngest survivor of the bombing. Harriet was 13 days old at the time; her mother Bronwen Vickers died a year later. I hear her talk about what happened to her, to her family and I realise I don’t know what she’s talking about.

I grew up with a mother. I don’t know what it’s like to have that loss with you throughout my life. I don’t know what it’s like to carry that kind of scar.

We walk on and I meet Terry O’Hara, Ann Beswick and Donna Craine, the people who (amongst many other things) give support and run courses for survivors of conflict. It strikes me that hearing terrible stories, of witnessing the consequences of conflict must surely take its toll. I asked them how they look after themselves, if they have a support system in place for them, the staff. They tell me more about the work they do and I honestly don’t know what they’re talking about.

I am so lucky. My family is alive. I’m sitting here in my office, not cold, hurt, hungry, or scared. I am privileged by my geography, perhaps by my fate.

Jonathan leads me on to the Mo Mowlam room, a tribute to the indefatigable politician who was instrumental in the Foundation’s early years; the room is a space where courses take place. He shows me the pictures of many politicians who’ve supported the Foundation. And then we’re off down a corridor. A woman is doing some photocopying and Jonathan tells me this is Wendy Parry, Tim’s mum.

I burble. I almost cry (again). I don’t know what to say to this woman, this mother who’s gone through the worst thing a parent can ever go through. It strikes me there’s no word for someone who’s lost a child. We have widows, widowers, orphans but there isn’t a word for people whose child has died. Perhaps it’s too terrible a thing to name. I look at Wendy and I can’t imagine her life. I say something inane that includes the word ‘awesome’ and I feel stupid and my mascara’s smudged and I don’t know how to convey my deep, deep respect for this woman.

As I write this, my children are asleep upstairs. I haven’t the words to express my gratitude for my good fortune. And I realise that because of the work the Foundation does, I hope that no-one ever again really understands what it means to have their lives ravaged by conflict.

I hope we can all live in a world where conflict is prevented, where resolution is found, where the response to conflict is never, ever violent.

I hope I can apply these principles in my own life: prevent, resolve and respond with compassion and empathy. This isn’t easy. But it’s a path that can be chosen. It’s there, truly, it’s there for the taking. I sincerely hope we all, no matter who we are, no matter what our circumstances, always, prevent, resolve and respond with understanding and kindness.

That’s what the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace does every day. And if they can do it after losing mothers, after losing children, then God knows, we all can.

To donate to the Foundation, click here. Please, consider making a donation, no matter how small.

To learn more about Virtually Me, click here.

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