On Tuesday night I sat in my living room watching news footage and talking to friends online while the police helicopter circled overhead. People were rioting on the streets of Manchester and looting from shops around the corner from my home. I was mainly hoping it would rain. I felt safe enough. My flat is is an a little pocket of residential flats but alarmingly near to where twitter told me riot police had moved crowds from a main street, scattering them in alleyways behind. In the early hours of the morning, friends were tweeting a link to the webcam around the corner and declaring it pretty dull viewing. That’s the way I like it. I liked it enough to feel safe enough to sleep.
It was an odd way to experience my own neighbourhood. I stayed in the flat for my own safety, watching video footage from twitter of the streets around, taken by neighbours I will probably never meet. It raises questions for me about where my community is, how I connect with people, where I get information I trust. Largely the online conversation was comforting, making me feel connected.
Today a friend sent me an invitation to a Vigil and Prayer for Peace in Piccadilly Gardens and I thought I’d pop by on my way home from work. I hadn’t read the invite properly and was delighted to find that it was an interfaith vigil organised by the Faith Network 4 Manchester.
Many different faiths were represented and people from different faiths led prayers, songs and chants. I took this picture while some women from the fabulous Buddhist centre were leading the group in a mediative chant. The atmosphere became very peaceful, on the other side of the square some lads were sharing their chips with the pigeons, resulting in a flock of them flying to them, the sunlight catching their wings in an unexpected moment of beauty. Some young women in a lot of make up and tiny shorts came over to look at us and giggle and then seemed oddly quietened by the chanting, stood around smiling shyly at the group.
The photo doesn’t capture the scale or the diversity of the gathering, at one point the group spontaneously decided to form a circle and join hands, the circle spanned one of the green areas on the Gardens. I saw Jews wearing Kippah, Sikhs with their headcoverings, many Christian clergy, I chatted to a scientologist and an interfaith minister. A Muslim man was offering round a box of dates, a gesture which is only properly appreciated when you consider that he has been fasting all day and would not eat till nearly 10 o clock tonight. My thanks was heartfelt.
Some of the very many police officers around got talking to us, we asked how they were, had any of their colleagues been hurt? They said no, no one they knew. They were on duty tonight, we wished them luck and hoped it was boring for them, they agreed. “You know what’s been amazing?” they said, “you don’t get a lot of thanks in this job but for the last two days loads of people have been coming up to us and saying thanks and asking us to pass it on to our colleagues.” they shook their heads in amazement. “I was watching it on the news in London” one said “and saying to my wife, this country is going to the dogs. But seeing the public with us next morning and the clean up volunteers… this country is a fine country.”