Robert Simpson

Working Title of PhD: ‘A community united will never be broken’: Spontaneous Memorialisation as an Act of Community Resilience and Social Solidarity


  • Dr Kostas Arvanitis (University of Manchester)
  • Amanda Wallace (Manchester Art Gallery)

Overview of PhD

My research examines notions of social solidarity and community resilience following public atrocities, and how communities tackle grief and trauma through acts of memorialisation. As part of the Manchester Together Archive, I work in close collaboration with Manchester Art Gallery, focusing specifically on the 7500 written messages left at St. Ann’s Square, following the Manchester Arena attack (May, 2017).

By drawing on multiple studies of similar, recent acts of public memorialisation, I question why and how spontaneous memorials occur and what exactly drives participants to physically journey to sites of atrocities in an act of commemoration. I argue that such responses to public trauma signify innate sociocultural behaviours which are used as a means to strengthen and assert bonds, beliefs and ideologies. I interpret the physical act of writing as a cathartic experience that allows participants to share and express; that in itself, the need to share can be linked to our human drive to tell stories and create narratives as a means for transmitting and consolidating belief systems and identities. I argue that storytelling and written expressions in spontaneous memorials are crucial in the early stages of public atrocities as a form of “narrativizing” trauma and can offer insight into how the public process notions of identity and collective memory.


As an undergraduate, I studied English Literature at the University of Sheffield (2004-2007), where I developed an interest in print press and the emergence of a reading public. My academic interests led me to a Masters programme in Eighteenth Century Literature, at the same university (2007-2008), where I was able to expand my interests by exploring the sociocultural impact of song and poetry on Eighteenth-Century print and literary culture. In 2011, I returned to Sheffield to embark on a PGCE in English and Drama. On qualifying, I worked in several secondary schools across Derbyshire before progressing into Further Education.

Since 2013, I have taught English Literature and Creative Writing at a busy, Manchester-based college. In 2017, I worked with many students who had been affected (directly or indirectly) by the Manchester Arena bombing. This led to my involvement with Manchester-based project “Safe Space”, organised and run by the RadEqual Campaign and Loreto College. The aim of this project was to help children and young adults build stronger community resilience and to challenge hate, prejudice and extremism. The project was held as a multimedia art exhibition at Manchester Central Library in the summer of 2017.