Great Manchester Run: mum who survived Manchester Arena bombing taking on 10k on five-year anniversary

It will be an emotional day for Julie Edwards as she joins thousands of runners on the streets of Manchester five years on from that dreadful night in which 22 people were killed.

The Great Manchester Run 2022 takes place on the fifth anniversary of the shocking terror attack at the Manchester Arena in which 22 people were killed when an Ariana Grande concert was bombed.

It promises to be an emotional and poignant weekend and that will especially be the case for Julie Edwards.

Julie and her daughter Lily were at the pop concert in 2017 and survived the chaotic aftermath of the terrorist attack after being close to the deadly explosion.

Five years on Julie is running the 10k to raise money for bereavement charity Once Upon A Smile while her young son Jack will be taking part in the junior event the day before.

Great Manchester Run 10K 2021

What happened to Julie and Lily on the night of the attack?

Julie took Lily, who was nine at the time, to her first big concert to see the US pop megastar five years ago and described how a brilliant night of music took a shocking and lethal turn at the end of the show.

Julie, 49, said: “We parked at the arena and arrived early, taking our seats five or six steps down from the concourse in the arena. Lily was absolutely loving it - singing and dancing to every song.

“When Ariana finished I took Lily’s hand and we started making our way out of the arena, I looked down at her and asked if she had a good night and as she replied there was this huge explosion. The noise was like nothing I’d ever heard before, and we felt the power of it.

Julie’s photo of the Ariana Grande concert

“It was like everything froze and time stopped. Then suddenly I heard a man’s voice shout ‘run’ and everyone turned around and started to run.

“It was chaos, I just gripped Lily tight and ran as fast as we could. We came out of the steps near the taxi rank at Victoria train station, and people were tripping everywhere. No one knew what to do.

“I’d parked my car inside the Arena, but I looked down at Lily and just decided we had to keep running. At one point she looked at me and said ‘I don’t want to die, mummy.’ We were both so scared.

“Part of me wondered if I was being overcautious, and should return for my car, but I had an awful feeling inside me that something wasn’t right. So, we kept running until we got to Deansgate and I flagged down a taxi, I still had no information about what had happened.”

What happened after the concert and attack?

Julie and Lily made their way home to Marple in Stockport, finally reaching their house at 1am. During the journey details of what had happened at the arena began to emerge.

She said: “I was in so much shock, I didn’t know what to do other than keep watching the news. When they announced it was a suspected terrorist attack I felt so angry, it all felt so raw.”

The 2017 Great Manchester Run was scheduled to take place just six days after the attack, and in the end it became a symbol of the city’s resilience and defiance as the streets filled with runners.

Julie was down to take part in that event, but Lily did not want her to go, while Julie admits she herself was stunned by the horrific events at the arena.

Julie said: “She was so scared, and to be honest I don’t think I was ready to go back into Manchester.

“I didn’t get changed until bedtime the next night as I was just walking around in a daze. My main concern as a mum was Lily.”

In the weeks following the bombing it became clear that Lily was showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Fortunately, Julie was able to immediately get help from her doctors and the Manchester Hub.

Lily and Jack laying flowers in Manchester after the Arena attack

Julie says the impact of that night has stayed with them both, but they have also been able to channel their ordeal in more positive ways.

She said: “It was heartbreaking seeing how much it had affected Lily. I am always so grateful that physically neither of us were harmed and we got out alive, but there are emotional wounds that were caused that night.

“The Manchester Hub were amazing and Lily had counselling. After around a year we could see that she was improving, as a mother I’d been focusing on her and so when she was better I really started to feel the impact of the attack which I had private counselling for.

“Since that night Lily and I are always vigilant when we go to public places, but we’ve worked hard together to get out there and show each other that we don’t have to be scared, this is our city and everyone deserves to feel safe in their own city.

“I can see how much this has impacted us, but in many ways, it’s made us both so much stronger. Lily has gone from strength to strength and she uses her experience to help other people at school who may be struggling with their mental health.”

Julie also decided to leave her corporate career and retrain as a support worker and also as a Samaritan, helping people in distress.

Why is Julie running at the Great Manchester Run?

Julie is taking part in the Great Manchester Run 10k on Sunday (22 May), the day after her eight-year-old son Jack finishes the Junior Great Manchester Run.

Her partner Jamin and Lily, who is now 14, will both be there cheering her on.

Julie Edwards with her daughter Lily, her son Jack and her partner Jamin

The family chose the Once Upon A Smile charity as it is a local cause that helps bereaved families of children and which offered support to the family of Saffie-Rose Roussos, who was just eight years old when she died and the youngest of the 22 victims of the bombing.

Julie said: “I feel so sad for everyone who has lost their lives in the attack, but the death of Saffie-Rose really shook me because Lily was a similar age as her.

“As a mum, I just had so much sympathy for Saffie-Rose’s mother and family, the injustice of all of the deaths really impacted me. That’s why we’ve chosen to run for the charity so that other bereaved families can get the help that they need.

“I’m not a runner, in fact, I hate running! But I know that this is the final piece of the puzzle for me, we’re running on 22 of May for the 22 victims on the fifth anniversary.

“It’s going to be an emotional day but we’re ready for it.”