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  • Writer's pictureMike Nelson

Archive: The Tim Parry And Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation

It’s hard to imagine, sitting on a bench in the middle of the Peace Centre’s garden basking in the warmth of a beautiful Summer’s day, the pain and despair felt by any parent who’s suffered the loss of their child at a young age.

The terrible loss the Parry family experienced was the sudden devastation caused by an act of terrorism.

“Being a victim of terrorism is not any more terrible or worse than being a victim of any other kind of horrific violent crime, a sexual offence, or even a burglary, but people tell me it’s different,” says Terry O’Hara, Survivors Assistance Network Manager here at the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation.

“A significant minority of people affected by terrorism want to go on and do something with what happened to them. Colin and Wendy did this.”

It started, as inevitably these things do, with tragedy.

By the early-90's, Warrington was a town hauling itself out its industrial past with employment on the rise in distribution and technology, and a thriving shopping district visited by people from across the North-East.

On 20th March 1993, the town was subject to a horrendous IRA bomb attack, which killed two young boys, left 54 people injured, and sparked outrage nationwide.

At around 12:25 on a busy high street in Warrington, and after limited information from a caller warning of the threat proved insufficient for police to act, the bombs exploded.

The first bomb went off outside a Boots shop, with the second blast happening moments later around 100 yards down the road - catching those who were fleeing the scene. 

In both cases, the bombs had been planted in cast iron litter bins, which sent shrapnel flying across the street. 

Three-year-old Johnathan Ball, who had been with his babysitter shopping for a Mother’s Day card, died at the scene.

The other victim, 12-year-old Tim Parry, suffered severe head injuries and had his life support machine turned off a few days after when it was discovered there was no longer any significant brain activity.

Tim’s parents, Colin and Wendy Parry, would later be inspired by a number of peace organisations they encountered on a trip to Northern Ireland, which led to the creation of the Foundation which bears the two boy's names.

Initially, the Foundation worked to set up opportunities for young people to take part in exchange programs with others from Dublin, Belfast, and Warrington.

Their work quickly expanded to offering support in post-conflict reconciliation for victims and survivors.

“We did lots of work around the Northern Ireland troubles, because we were born out of the troubles,” says Terry, “and we would work to bring together people who’ve been affected by them. 

“That might be soldiers, other people affected by the troubles, also para-militaries as well. Anyone really, as long as we’re convinced they’re on a peaceful path now.

“We would bring people together, through a process of storytelling and dialogue in a really carefully facilitated and structured way, so they could tell their story.”

“There was a woman who had been horribly bereaved in an attack in a place called Coshquin. The IRA kidnapped, and held at gunpoint, the family of a man called Patrick Gillespie who worked on a British army base, and made him drive this van to the army checkpoint where they blew it up, and he was killed and five soldiers were killed.

“The widow of one of the soldiers wanted to meet someone involved in the struggle to try to understand what would make someone do that. So, we introduced her to a lady we know who’s a former IRA member, an active service member, and they met her in a room here at the centre.

“The widow bought her new husband with her, who was also an ex-soldier who didn’t want anything to do with the IRA, and nothing you could say would make him think otherwise. He came to support his wife, but if he could have sat further away, he would have done.


“He didn’t look at her, he didn’t face her, but over a period of two or three hours we carefully facilitated both women sharing their tales and talking about their experiences and over the course of the meeting the bloke took more attention and engaged more, and when they finally said goodbye, after a moment of awkwardness, the former soldier and the former IRA member embraced and hugged.

“That was possible because he now saw her as a human being who made some choices, and it humanised her.”

As the new century began, attacks such as 9/11 and 7/7 shook the world, and funding for the Foundation’s usual peace and reconciliation work dried up.

This led to a change in focus on the type of support they provide, and their main objective now is to offer practical and emotional support for people affected by terrorism.

They are now the only charity offering this service in the UK which isn’t based on any faith or political stance.

“Professionals, GPs and therapists, might be overwhelmed by what they hear, and they tell us they’ve never heard anything like it, they don’t know what to say.

“We developed a model of care based around case work. We’re not clinical, we don’t do counselling, we don’t do therapy, but we connect people with the services they need.”

Another key change in recent years from the initial objective of the Foundation is the emphasis put on education as a tool to prevent, resolve, and respond to violent extremism.

An online education portal was set up to allow young people, from primary school age all the way up through university, to access some of the Foundation’s crucial learning resources teaching people critical thinking, identity, conflict resolution, and conflict management.

One of the most recent additions to the available resources is the ‘My Former Life’ project, which explores and shares the personal stories of four former extremists and the reasons for which they became involved in violent conflict, as well as the consequences of their decisions, their reasons for leaving and disengaging with their respective groups, and finally showing how their lives have progressed since they moved on from violence. 

Arno Michaelis is one of the participants in the project. During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Arno was a founding member of a group that became the largest white supremacist organisation on Earth. But, after becoming disillusioned with the movement, he realised the importance of educating people about extremism, and advocates for a peaceful way of life. 

"It's very important for everyone to understand that violent extremism isn't exclusive to any religion or demographic. We all share an equal capacity to harm or to heal. 

“The Tim Parry Jonathan Ball Foundation for Peace shares this principal of mine and does a brilliant job educating to that effect."

Statistics on display at the centre show just how vital their work is in today’s hostile climate. Over the last eight years, deaths as a direct result of terrorism more than doubled from 8,450 per year to nearly 18,000, while the cost of violence around the world is estimated to be 13.4% of the world’s GDP.

In the last five years, British nationals have been victims of increased terrorist activity both abroad in places such as Tunisia, and at home in London and Manchester, meaning the small team involved with the survivor's assistance network are stretched, with around 1000 cases referred to them in this time.

Peace, then, may seem as far away now as it did that fateful day over 26 years ago.

Famous human rights activist Martin Luther King once said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

With the passion and dedication that the small team at the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation have for their work, the hope for a better world and for love to conquer hate remains. 

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