When was the Manchester Arena attack?

On 22 May 2017 a homemade bomb was detonated as people were leaving the Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena. Twenty-two people were killed and hundreds were injured.

What were the spontaneous memorials?

Within hours of the attack the people of Manchester began to show their respects for the dead and injured by leaving flowers, personal mementos, candles, balloons and written tributes in various locations around the city.

These spontaneous memorials grew quickly, with the focus being at St Ann’s Square. Hundreds of people from Manchester, the UK and beyond came every day for nearly four weeks to reflect, mourn and leave their personal tributes.

“Last year’s attack on Manchester Arena saw the city’s worst of times. But in St Ann’s Square, we saw the public stand shoulder to shoulder with those who had been affected; an act of impressive solidarity that signified our refusal to give in to hatred.”

– Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council

What happened to the objects left around Manchester?

On 9 June 2017 different organisations in the city came together to remove the spontaneous memorial objects from locations around Manchester. Flowers were composted and some of this compost was used to plant the “trees of hope” during the first year anniversary in May 2018; plants were replanted around the city; soft toys were washed and donated to charities to be passed on to children in the UK and abroad; and candles were melted to create 22 new candles which were given to the families of the 22 people who were killed at the attack.

More than 10,000 objects (such as notes, letters, cards, drawings, sculptures, toys, t-shirts) have been kept at the Manchester Art Gallery to form a collection of the public response to the 2017 Manchester attack.

Why is the Manchester Together archive in Manchester Art Gallery?

After the 2017 Manchester attack, Manchester Art Gallery, as the city’s gallery, led on the collection and documentation of the tributes (notes, soft toys, drawings, photographs and other objects) left in St Ann’s Square and other places around Manchester. Subsequently, the Gallery prepared a storage space in its premises for these objects and has brought together key partners, such as Archives+ and the University of Manchester, to document and digitise the Manchester Together Archive. The Manchester Together Archive is distinct from the Gallery’s art collection.

The heritage project

The heritage that this project focuses on is the items left at the spontaneous memorials in Manchester. It also includes oral histories and testimonies from volunteers (such as those of the Women’s Institute volunteers who washed ca2,000 soft toys removed from the memorials in the summer of 2017) and social media content. In June 2018, more than 30,000 notes that people left on the Trees of Hope trail, which was arranged to mark the first year anniversary of the attack, were added to the Archive.

Collectively, this body of material, stories, experiences and actions makes up the heritage and history of the personal and collective responses to the Manchester Arena bombing. As such, the heritage will form one of the main sources and references of the event and people’s response to it and it will, inevitably, shape the process and content of personal and collective memory construction.

“I am glad that those expressions of solidarity will be preserved and kept – they are now part of Manchester’s rich history and we should remember and reflect upon them.”

-Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council

Who runs this project?

This project is led by the Manchester Art Gallery, in collaboration with Archives+ and the University of Manchester.

“Over the last year, students and staff of the University of Manchester have been privileged to work with the Manchester Art Gallery, Archives+ and other city and cultural organisations, local communities and businesses to preserve, document and store items that people left in St Ann’s Square and other spontaneous memorials around the city.

Through the digitisation of the archive and a collaborative research programme with cultural partners in Manchester and other cities in the UK and abroad that have suffered terrorist attacks, we aim to understand the impact that archives of spontaneous memorials have on shaping personal and collective memories of the events and on challenging existing museological and archiving practices.”

– Dr Kostas Arvanitis, University of Manchester

How is the Manchester Together Archive being supported?

The Manchester Together Archive project has received grants from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and The National Archives to document, digitise and make available online the objects collected from the spontaneous memorials in Manchester after the Arena bombing.

“From scribbled notes on scraps of paper to beautiful paintings and poems – everything that was left in St Ann’s Square is an important part in the story of what happened here. I am honoured that Manchester Art Gallery will be the permanent home of the archive and am pleased we can use technology to give the public access to these items.”

– Amanda Wallace, Senior Operational Lead, Manchester Art Gallery

The grants have funded two members of staff to catalogue the collection. They have also enabled the recruitment of volunteers to help with the documentation of the collection.

The archive’s digitisation will offer people opportunities to engage with, and add meaning to the items that have been collected.

The research programme of the project has received funding from the University of Manchester and the British Academy.

How can I get involved?

The Manchester Art Gallery is currently cataloguing the Manchester Together Archive. Through the resulting digital collection, members of the public will be able to access the digitised spontaneous memorial objects. More information about this will be released in due course.

A small number of volunteers were recruited in 2019 and then again in 2023 to help with the digitisation of the collection. At this stage we do not have the capacity to take on more volunteers on this project.

Is a permanent memorial to the Manchester Arena attack planned?

The Glade of Light is a memorial commemorating the victims of the 22 May 2017 terrorist attack at Manchester Arena. It honours the 22 people whose lives were taken, as well as remembering everyone who was left injured or affected. Find out More

I have been affected by the 2017  Manchester attack. Where can I get support?

If you have been affected by the 2017 Manchester attack, you’ll be able to find help and support available to you here.