They say you always remember where you were when significant news events happen. I wasn’t alive when JFK was assassinated, or when man first walked on the moon, or when some people were on the pitch and they thought it was all over (it was then!) but I do remember vividly the events of a year ago today.
England were playing Wales in the Euros. I’m a Scot, one who doesn’t hate the English (I live among them, married one, fathered two) so wasn’t too fussed about the result but expected a good game. Soon after kick off I got a text message from my wife to say she’d heard news of a shooting in Birstall, just a few miles from home. This was followed very soon after by another saying she’d heard Jo Cox, the local MP was involved. Now my wife isn’t like me – she doesn’t “do” twitter or social media, she doesn’t get involved with stuff like that – it’s almost always me telling her stuff that has happened. So instantly my gut wrenched. I started trying to follow events as they unfolded and it looked increasingly likely that Jo was involved. The rest of that day is a matter of record, so I won’t go into it.
What has happened since, though, is important. In Batley, we opened up our local church for a vigil. Hundreds of local folk of various faiths and none came through, lit candles, signed a book of condolence for Jo’s family. This was replicated across the area and further afield. The nation’s media descended on this part of West Yorkshire which has such a proud history, trying to understand what had happened. This continued over the coming days. The following day, Batley Community Choir were asked to perform live on The Last Leg, and we sang The Rose.
Somehow, a few weeks later, we’d recorded it, released it as a single in Jo’s memory, made a video.
On the Saturday I met Jo’s sister Kim for the first time, as she had made a speech in Birstall Market Place I to the world’s media. Hundreds of people had gathered as word had got out that Jo’s family wanted local people there, not just cameras. How she did it I still don’t know. We hugged briefly, and I thought “wow…”
The following Wednesday events across the country happened – it would have been Jo’s birthday, and by this time a theme was emerging – word’s from Jo’s maiden speech in parliament – “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than that which divides us”.
And there was a brief period of calm, before a plan emerged to have a nationwide day celebrating the More in Common theme. It was important that Batley and Spen “do something” so we put on a family fun day at a local school (one of the many Jo had formed strong links with). We had grand plans for sporting activities, bouncy castles, all sorts…. and despite what local vicar Martin (one of the organising committee) described as “biblical rain” we had a great day, as did many across the country.
When we (the organisers) got together following the event for a debrief, we felt that we didn’t want to stop. We wanted to keep working together to build a local legacy for Jo. I’ve covered that here and don’t want to go over too much old ground.
This weekend there are a series of events across the country under the banner of “The Great Get Together”. A series of parties, gatherings, centred around food and the More in Common theme. Some people ask why there is such a movement, such a fervent desire among folk to mark the anniversary of Jo’s death in this way – why don’t’ other notable deaths get similar treatment? Well, I can’t speak about other deaths but I know that something about those words feels very “of the now”. In the last year we’ve seen 3 horrific terror attacks on these shores, we’ve seen political unrest and upheaval, we’ve seen the horrific fire in London just this week. But after each of these events we’ve also seen communities come together as one to unite. Unity in defiance of terror and hate, unity in compassion for those who have suffered, unity in spirit to simply “carry on”. These are all elements which have combined to inspire a large number of people to try and achieve just a fraction of what Jo would have in terms of bringing people together.
This weekend in Batley and Spen (and around) there are loads of events, from the Great Gig Together tonight at The Turk in Dewsbury, to buns on the Bus in Batley Market Square on Saturday afternoon, a Great Get Together in Jo’s hometown of Heckmondwike on Saturday afternoon, an open air multi-faith (and no faith!) service at Batley Parish Church on Sunday, a family fun day at Batley Bulldogs on Sunday afternoon and, for me the most important one, the Big Iftar in Batley Market Square on Saturday evening. this last one is a chance to get together with our Muslim friends as they say evening prayers and break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan. It will be a privilege to be a part of, and I feel sure Jo would love the idea.
Anyone who follows me on twitter knows that my biggest weakness (other than Huddersfield Town) is that I can’t leave hatred and bigotry unchallenged. Not always in the right way, either. But this weekend, my plan is to #lovelikeJo and try and enjoy a positive weekend with a wide and varied range of local folk, as well as working with the “Commoners” (our local More in Common group) to support Jo’s family during what will be an emotional weekend.
Finally, I ask a favour or two. Firstly, if you’re at a loose end this weekend find an event near you and get along. Cake is almost guaranteed, as is good company and a good time. Tweet about it, post about it, talk about it. Use the hashtags #greatgettogether and #moreincommon. Spread the word that love and compassion are more powerful than hate.
Also, a final cheeky plug – The Rose is still available to buy, with all profits going to the Jo Cox Fund – you can find out more here.
Thanks for reading.