7/7 Ten Years On – Lisa French: Why my story can help stop history repeating

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IT is 10 years ago this week since I boarded a red London bus – the number 30 – on a warm day in July. I’d arrived at one of London’s great gateways to Yorkshire and the North, King’s Cross, on my way to a business meeting and only jumped on board because the Tube station was closed.

This chain of events changed my life forever as, on the bus, busy with commuters, amongst us, was suicide bomber Hasib Hussain.

The story of the three young men who travelled down from Leeds to London to murder has been well documented but it is a day we should all remember.

What made these lads from Yorkshire take a path to terror and how we stop others following their journey should be at the front of our minds, particularly after the recent terrible events in Tunisia.

After 7/7 I was helped by, and then became involved with, the Tim Parry Jonathan Ball Foundation For Peace, which was created following the Warrington bombings 20 years ago.

Stopping extremism and radicalisation is a driving force behind Foundation For Peace. The deaths of two innocent young boys – Tim Parry and Jonathan Ball, who were killed by an IRA bomb in Warrington – led directly to the Foundation being founded and, for the last 10 years, it has helped survivors of 7/7 amongst other crucial community work.

As with those who supported me at the Foundation, I am driven in my peace work by the hope that no other family will have to endure what we went through a decade ago this week.

It has been immensely rewarding to go into schools to spend time with children and help them understand ideas and concepts such as prejudice, stereotypes and discrimination, as well as their personal identity, beliefs and values.

My part in this is to tell my story of 10 years ago and to get them to hear first-hand how extremism affects people. Among the schools where the Foundation has worked is South Leeds Academy, which was attended by Hasib Hussain. It is our hope that one day the THINK programme will be a nationwide scheme delivered to thousands.

To some, these concepts might seem “fluffy” or far removed from an act of terror such as blowing up a bus or a Tube train full of innocent commuters, but these are issues which we know can directly influence young people – and which if not addressed, can lead them into making a series of wrong choices.

THINK is a 10-day programme which targets young people aged 14 – 19 and helps them to become positive leaders in their schools and their communities. It is worth noting that the young man who tried to kill me and the other survivors of the Number 30 was only 19 when he detonated his rucksack bomb.

Many of those who have attended a THINK course say that they now have the critical skills and confidence to explore these issues for themselves.

The fact is that if we don’t get our young people addressing how they fit in, and who they are in a positive way, then we create a vacuum for those who peddle hate instead of peace to step in during this essential stage of a young person’s development.

Sadly, we know that these can become the first steps towards radicalisation and extremism.

Young people who may have been excluded from school, or may have a difficult home life; those who feel passionately about a cause and who want to make a change; young people who are unhappy with their situation; those who have been hurt or who feel a sense of injustice due to personal or public grievance.

For some who experienced these situations and feelings, a life of crime could have been the future they were facing.

Today, these young people could 
take that path or be may become vulnerable to the lure of gangs or 
develop a sense of identity with extremist groups revelling in their perceived “glamour”, whether that be far-right groups such as the EDL, or jihadi groups networks operating either here or abroad.

The Foundation works year round to stop this. It is the Foundation’s lifeblood and THINK has become an important part of this mission.

Ten years on from 7/7, it’s also how I continue to deal with what I experienced, as well as being a small part in potentially stopping such acts of terror from ever happening again.

Lisa French is a collaborator with the Tim Parry Jonathan Ball Foundation For Peace’s THINK project - further details can be found at www.think4peace.org.