This week’s blog can only be about one place – The Foundation For Peace.
This week marks the 20th anniversary of the awful events because of which the Peace Centre was created.
It is a very sad day for many of my friends, especially so for Colin and Wendy Parry who lost their beautiful son Tim in one of the 2 IRA bombs which tore through Warrington town centre on 20th March 1993. Tim was just 12 years old. Johnathan Ball aged only 3 also sadly lost his life that day.
The Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace was founded by Johnathan and Tim’s parents and has become a very special place for me.
The doors of the Peace Centre are very symbolic for me, not least because it was outside those doors I first saw Colin Parry speaking about losing his son Tim and the Foundation he had created, five years ago on the 15th anniversary of the Warrington bombings.
If like me, you find yourself injured as a result of an act of political violence, and you find yourself looking for ‘a charity that works against terrorism’ as I was, Warrington may not be the first place you’d think to look. It is exactly the place you should look.
For three years after I was injured, I had tried to find an ‘anti -terrorism charity’ but had not found the Peace Centre; I had started to think that maybe such a place didn’t exist. Haven given up my search, and feeling the need to ‘do something’ I had started to work and fundraise for the landmine charity MAG, as to me a bomb is a bomb, it doesn’t matter where it is hidden.
Then one morning, exactly five years ago as I drank my morning coffee, I saw Colin on breakfast TV standing outside the Peace Centre, in front of those big doors, taking about his son and the foundation created in his name. Tim, and Johnathan’s legacy is peace. I had finally found what I was looking for. I didn’t know it then, but I had found where I now belong. I had found the place that would help me find understanding of what had happened to me.
The doors of the peace centre are welcome to all. They do not discriminate between the injured, the bereaved, the witnesses, the emergency services who helped, or indeed those who may have taken part in violence in the past. We all work together for Peace. Everyone who walks through those doors works together for Peace.
Many, who like me, have experienced political violence first hand, may walk in through those doors labelled as ‘victims’ by the outside world, but by the time we walk back out through those doors we are survivors, and we have hope for a more peaceful future.
I will never forget the first time I walked through those doors. The experience immediately taught me what a special place I had found. I had been working in Warrington and arrived at about 4pm – just as the Peace Centre was filling with young people from the school next door attending Warrington Youth Club who are also part of the Peace Centre. I was wearing a suit; I stood out from the teenagers who walked along side me. As I crossed past the basketball courts and walked towards the doors, one of the teenage boys, noticing me, broke away from his friends and smiling at me, warmly asked ‘are you visiting the peace Centre? Who are you here to see? I’ll look after you and show you where you need to be’ and with that I was welcomed in to the Peace centre; his peace Centre. I could tell he was very proud of his Peace Centre.
Walking though those doors with the teenagers and receiving such a warm welcome, I started to understand how the work of the peace centre all fitted together.
Colin and Wendy visited Ireland and Northern Ireland in the months after Tim’s death, and were inspired by the youth programmes and young people they met there, and created the Peace Centre not only to help survivors and families affected by terrorism, but to help young people across the world at risk of violence and conflict.
In years to come I would have the opportunity to talk with the young people who cross its doors, to help them understand the personal impact of political violence; and I in turn would learn so much from them, and the questions they have for me. The groups of young people never fail to inspire me with the most interesting – and difficult questions I ever get asked.
The doors of The Peace Centre are welcome all, and walking through those doors changes the lives of the people who chose to cross them.
Walking through those doors I have had the opportunity to meet, and work for Peace with the most inspiring people. I have spoken with young people, former combatants, and other survivors; each one has inspired me and given me hope. From the other survivors I have learnt I am not alone, and from the former combatants I have met, I have learnt that I share more in common with them than most people could imagine. When listening to why they may have chosen violence in the past, I have heard and felt so many of the same emotions as I have felt myself since being injured.I have been able to ask them the questions I will never be able to ask the young man who injured me. I have heard the reasons why eventually, they left violence and are now catalysts for peaceful change. We all share that common ground, we have felt the same things, we have experienced things that luckily, most people won’t; and because of that we can work together for peace in the future.
I’ve also had the opportunity to speak with police officers, politicians and academics, from whom I’ve been able to understand so much more about the causes and solutions to violent conflict, and I’ve had opportunities to contribute to their work in my own small way.
I know my personal journey of recovery and growth since 7/7 would have been very different if the Peace Centre did not exist. But this week, five years since I found the place where I belong, I am overwhelmed with mixed emotions.
The Peace Centre would not exist had my friends Colin and Wendy not lost their son. The reason Colin and Wendy are able to help me, many others like me, and of course the groups of young people who come through their doors, is because they lost their beautiful energetic son Tim. No one should have to pay that price for peace. But that is why the Peace Centre exists, so together we can build a future where no-one else has to lose a loved one or be injured due to conflict.
This week I am overcome with sadness that Tim and Johnathan are not here with us today, as they should be; but I am filled with gratitude to the boy’s parents for creating a legacy of Peace in their name.
Tim and Johnathan, you will never be forgotten. We will remember you this week 20 years on, and continue to remember you and build peace in your names.
I will carry your memory in my heart until I take my last breath.
Please visit the foundations website if you would like to learn more about the Foundations work.