Dr Jennifer Daniel
On Friday 15 September 2023, Manchester was shaken by the knife murder of 14-year-old Nathaniel Shani in Harpurhey, an area of high social deprivation three miles north of the city centre.
By the following Friday the school attended by Nathaniel had launched a lunchtime concert with pupils and ex-pupils performing songs chosen for Nathaniel, facilitated and accompanied by staff from the school.
This swift action and creative response to the grief of students and staff was possible owing to an ongoing programme of individual singing offered to pupils which acts often as a kind of wellness intervention in an area of high immigration, deprivation and experienced trauma.
In June this year, pupils had sung at a school event for Refugee Week with input and attendance by Metro Mayor Andy Burnham. Here a pupil told her story of forced migration and escape from a harrowing situation, and her arrival in Manchester. Two more pupils reflected poignantly on the story in a performance of Sarah Bareilles’s song A Safe Place To Land, bringing community together in a celebration of sanctuary, promoting understanding and the chance to be heard.
In the climate of such interactions and interventions, where individual singing has been built as a tradition for refuge and for expression, pupils and staff were able to mobilise in a time of grief and come together to sing for Nathaniel.
Prior to the tragedy on 15 September, I had begun research plans in partnership with teachers and leaders at the school to investigate the nature of the programme of individual singing in place and its function as social intervention, including migrant youth; for belonging, sharing, expression and release. In response to the grief of a community embodied in creative action, we hope to resume these plans with an ethnographic study of the programme of singing in place at the school, and its social and civic outcomes.