Communities across the North West who have lost loved ones to covid will come together for the first time in Manchester on Friday (11 March) for a poignant candlelit vigil.
The vigil is being organised by Greater Manchester Hazards and trade union UNISON North West to give families an opportunity to commemorate relatives, friends and work colleagues who have died of the virus.
Friday is the anniversary of when the World Health Organisation declared covid a pandemic and many thousands of health and other public sector workers -including many who were members of UNISON - have died since then.
The North West has had the most Covid deaths in the country - more than Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales combined. It is hoped the vigil might provide a springboard for establishing a permanent North West COVID memorial.
Many thousands of those who died were exposed to the virus while doing their jobs. Many who didn’t die are now living with the debilitating effects of Long COVID.
People who attend on Friday will be invited to light candles, hold up pictures and say a few words about loved ones and work colleagues they want to remember.
They will also be given yellow hearts – made by UNISON supporters of all ages across the region – to hang from railings around the waterside of Manchester’s People’s History Museum where the vigil will take place from 6pm.
UNISON has also sent yellow hearts to all North West Labour MPs to wear on the day.
Greater Manchester Hazards spokeswoman Janet Newsham said: “We want to remind our politicians and authorities that no workers should have died, no worker should have been exposed to infection risks and workers are still facing these risks in the workplace every day.”
UNISON Regional Secretary Kevan Nelson is spearheading an on-going campaign to bring trade unions together to do more to support families bereaved by covid and people living with Long COVID.
He has organised a roundtable meeting of North West trade unions next month (April) to discuss ways to share information and compile practical advice for families, including a workplace charter on Long COVID.
He hopes bringing trade unions together will provide a useful forum to share information that could be useful to a public inquiry on COVID.
Kevan said: “Our aim is to build on what we have learned from assisting the next of kin of our members to produce a leaflet to advise families what to expect and to set up a joint support network for victims’ families.
“COVID hasn’t gone away and many workers and their families are still in desperate need of support.”
The idea to make yellow hearts for the vigil came from the next of kin of a UNISON member who died after contracting covid at work. She told UNISON’s North West Women’s Committee about the yellow hearts movement started by a family during lockdown so people could share a symbol of remembrance.
UNISON North West Women’s Committee Chair Sharon Allen said: “We have received hundreds of hearts that have been knitted, crocheted or made from cardboard with yellow wool wrapped round. The response has been amazing.”
The vigil takes place on Friday 11th March at 6.00pm at the water side of the People’s History Museum., Left Bank, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3ER.
People who can’t attend are invited to light a candle on their doorstep on the day.