Today marks the 20th anniversary of the IRA bomb in Manchester. The Editor of Northern Soul, Helen Nugent, was in the city that day.
‘The morning of Saturday June 15, 1996 was bright and sunny. Britain was in the grip of Euro ’96 and football fans were eagerly anticipating the afternoon match between England and Scotland. In Manchester, some 80,000 shoppers and workers thronged the city centre, some enjoying the sunshine, others buying cards and presents for Father’s Day.
Shortly before noon, I was sitting at a bus stop in South Manchester waiting for the Number 43. Next to me was my boyfriend. Like him, I worked as an usher at two of the city’s theatres, the Palace and the Opera House. That day I was due to be taking tickets and selling ice creams at the musical Copacabana. The phone rang.
Mark had one of those new-fangled mobile phones – a black brick that could barely fit in his pocket. “Are you alright?” said a worried voice on the other end of line. “Yes mum, I’m fine. I’m at the bus stop. Why?” A pause. “Because the news is saying that a huge bomb has gone off in Manchester.”
And that was it. That was the moment I learnt that my home had been targeted by the Provisional IRA. They had unleashed the largest bomb ever detonated in peacetime in the UK. A mammoth 3,000 lbs of explosives had been packed into a van parked on Corporation Street, right next to Marks & Spencer and the Arndale shopping centre. It went off at 11.17 am, devastating the city centre and destroying a third of Manchester’s retail space. The shockwave was felt up to ten miles away and the 1,000 ft smoke plume dominated the sky. Miraculously – a testament to the efforts of the police and emergency services – no one was killed, although 212 people were injured, mostly by flying glass and debris.
Two decades on and I remember June 15, 1996 like it was yesterday. The point where the bus dropped me and my boyfriend off, unable to drive all the way into a city centre which, just a few hours before, had been teeming with life. The theatre bosses who insisted we turn up at 6pm or forfeit our ten quid wage for the evening shift. The dodging of the police cordon in order to make it to the steps of the Opera House for a show with no cast and no audience. The silent streets bathed in sunshine and laced with menace. The knee-high debris of shattered shops and offices on Cross Street. The lone red pillar box, impervious to the blast that had demolished all around it. And the bitter joke that the IRA couldn’t get anything right because the bloody Arndale Centre was still standing.’