Janet Haddington and the work of the 7th July Assistance Centre

The third anniversary of the 7/7 London bombings is likely to have passed this week in a more low-key fashion than the previous two. But although the terrible events of the morning of Thursday 7 July 2005 may have faded in the public consciousness, the need to provide emotional support to the hundreds of survivors of the Tube and bus blasts still remains, says Janet Haddington, psychosocial response manager for the City of Westminster.

In the weeks leading up to the anniversary, Haddington worked to ensure there was enough capacity to deal with the expected rise in calls to the 7th July Assistance Centre, the support service for victims of the tragedy.

Set up six weeks after the bombings, the centre co-ordinates support services for those who were directly affected by 7/7 whether they be the families of the 52 who lost their lives, the 200-plus people who were seriously injured or those who were travelling on the trains and bus that were attacked. Funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, managed by Westminster and run by Brent Bereavement Services, it is the first centre of its kind in Europe and is modelled on a similar service established in New York after 9/11.

Victim support

Haddington says the centre was set up because it was recognised there was a need to provide victim support beyond initial emergency responses. “We knew the need would remain for several years and that we had to plan what to do in the long-term.”

Those who contact the centre are assessed for post-traumatic stress disorder and are offered assistance to deal with it should their risk be high. “We wanted to make sure people understood that it was a normal response to an abnormal event and give them the opportunity to make informed choices,” Haddington says.

The centre also provides a hub for survivors to meet, creating a support network. This is partly achieved through a newsletter and secure website managed by the police which, Haddington says, “is very well used”.

Fear of using public transport was one issue common to many survivors. Through group sessions, the centre helped survivors face these fears and develop coping strategies for dealing with and overcoming this.

Social work skills

The centre has also intervened on behalf of individuals when their employers weren’t sympathetic to the effect the trauma was having on their work. Haddington says: “Some employers were good but others couldn’t appreciate that it would take some time for those affected to get back to ‘normal’. We’ve had a lot of interest from human resources departments on what they could do differently. I’m sure that if it did happen again they would be more prepared to offer a compassionate response to their staff.”

As a qualified social worker and psychotherapist, Haddington has co-ordinated responses to other devastating human tragedies. Over the past 20 years, she has worked with the survivors of the Marchioness sinking in 1989, the Paddington rail crash of 1999 and several IRA bombings.

She believes that social work skills, particularly the ability to listen, are vital. “The capacity to listen and to be able to empathise with the person and whatever difficulties they are in are important. You don’t have to say anything: just to be physically and emotionally there for a person is a privilege for the professional. When you see them several years on you realise how resilient individuals and families can be.”

Haddington also believes that social work training instils a responsibility to be an advocate for the survivors of disastrous events. “It’s sometimes not easy,” she says. “Other professionals feel they should protect people and not keep them informed – if you go back 15 years, families of victims were not allowed access to their loved ones. You must allow families to make that informed choice themselves.”

Whereas in previous years the anniversary was marked by a minute’s silence and the unveiling of memorials, this year the bereaved and survivors wanted a laying of flowers and a silent remembrance, but less public than in previous years.

Haddington says: “We feel the timing is right to give control back to the families of how they remember and celebrate the people that died and reflect on the survivors’ lives.”

 The 7th July Assistance Centre’s website 

More Community Care coverage of its work  

This article appeared in the 10 July issue under the headline “‘Just being there is a privilege'”

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