On May 22, an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England ended in chaos as a suicide bomber took the lives of 22 people and injured scores more. The bombing was just the latest in a string of terrorist attacks that have become almost commonplace despite the horror involved in each one. There was an added brutality with this attack — it was aimed at Grande’s fans, the bulk of whom are children.
Yet, out of that darkness came light. The resolve of the people of Manchester became immediately apparent as thousands of individuals immediately sprung to action to see what they could do to pitch in. Sam Barber, a tattooist specializing in black and grey realism, came up with a brilliant idea to use her art to help those in need after the tragedy — give away tattoos featuring a prominent symbol of Manchester with all the proceeds going to help the victims of the bombing.
From that point on shops all over the country, and some on the other side of the world in Australia, did what they could and the Manchester Tattoo Appeal was born. On May 29th and 30th tattooers across the world pitched in and gave worker bee tattoos to thousands of eager people. But, why the bee?
“The Worker Bee is a symbol of Manchester’s hard-working history during the Industrial Revolution, and is part of its Coat of Arms,” Jo from Devil in the Detail Tattoo Studio explains. “In the 1800s, Manchester was full of textile mills and were often called ‘hives of activity’ as the workers inside were compared to bees, with the term ‘busy bee’ being associated with hard working people.”
Another piece of added powerful symbolism the bee provides, especially in this context, is the idea of the swarm. Bees work in huge numbers to create their perfect community, and one can argue that the people of Manchester are the same way, now more than ever. “In 10 years time whilst you're on holiday, in the supermarket, on a bus, you'll see this bee on someone that will match yours and you'll band together in support and remember that you donated, and you both made a difference that no one else did,” Jayke Cox of Diamond Dozen Tattoo says. “It's a bond for a lifetime.”
So far the Manchester Tattoo Appeal has raised an astounding £194,865 (that’s over $250,000 for us stateside) on their JustGiving page, which is still accepting donations. But that is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the good that has been done. Every tattoo shop was filled with heartwarming stories as people streamed in and got their first (or fiftieth) tattoo for the cause. People from all walks of life showed up to get the bee tattoo, including many who had been personally touched by the tragedy. Some were nurses who had been working for 30 straight hours responding to the attack, some had been at the concert and were unscathed, and some had relatives who perished.
“The saddest story that we heard made us take a break just to reflect,” Cox explains. “One of our customer’s aunties unfortunately died in the attack. She had taken her children to the concert and it was hard to hear her nephew tell us about it. It pulled all our heart strings and brought many to tears.”
“We had a lovely lady also walk in, called Jess,” Jo told us. “She was really nervous, and also had never really wanted a tattoo. But she was there at the concert the night it happened. She was telling us how she and and her sister were there, and her sister had been complaining that she was too hot and didn’t feel well, and they decided to leave. They had just go to the other side of the road opposite the arena when the bomb went off.”
“She said they could feel the ground shake underneath their feet,” Jo continues. “Then people started screaming and running. Jess grabbed her sister, and they just ran in the opposite direction. I gave her a gentle squeeze as she was about to have her tattoo, and a lolly. Lollys are always kept in our studio, they work wonders when people are having a tattoo. She did brilliantly. The relief on her face once it was done was lovely.”
At the end of the day those that participated in the Manchester Tattoo Appeal were able to make loud statement to the world — not only were the standing up in the face of terror, but also affirming their integral part in the community. “We had such a good time and laugh bringing all different types of people together for the same reason,” Jo says. “To be able to show solidarity. There are now thousands and thousands of people with the symbol of Manchester on their body forever.”
“The end of the day we left the floor of the shop just broken, emotionally and physically,” Cox says. “It feels great to change the minds of many people, and show that the tattoo community is a sharing and giving one. We created something that words will never describe, we created a bond.”
If you want to show that you stand with the people of Manchester, we highly recommend you check to see if any shops in your area are still doing the tattoos. Or, for those of us on the other side of the pond, ask your artist for one of the bee tattoos and donate directly to the JustGiving fund. We applaud Sam Barber for creating an amazing idea that motivated hundreds of artists, as well as every single artist that participated, and every person proudly wearing a new tattoo of the Manchester bee.