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How We Can Enable Terrorism Survivors Find a Way to Cope and Recover

06/07/2015 19:24 BST | Updated 06/07/2016 10:59 BST

To mark the 10 year anniversary of the London 7/7 terrorist attacks, HuffPost UK is running Beyond The Bombings, a special series of interviews, blogs, in-depth features and exclusive research reflecting on how Britain has changed since.

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Violent extremism isn't new. The Irish Republican terrorists that, 22 years ago, planted bombs on a busy northern English shopping street and killed two boys and seriously injured 54 people were extremists. Their radicalised views and motivations to kill innocent people were no different than that of contemporary terrorists that commit atrocities to further a cause.

Whatever their motivation, such acts draw a deep abhorrence from the majority of people. In the case of the IRA bombing in Warrington, the act was perhaps a step too far, and even those at the core of an organisation that deployed such tactics and their fervent supporters began to question saying openly 'enough is enough.' The British Prime Minister at the time, Sir John Major, believes that the Warrington bombing was a pivotal moment in the peace process that eventually led to a 'ceasefire.'

What was perhaps also remarkable was the response of the victims and their unstinting declaration that nobody else should go through what they experienced. This acted as a powerful motivation to the Parry family that the murder of their son should not be forgotten, but resulted less in a search for justice and more in a search for peace. Johnathan Ball's parents, both now deceased, supported the Parrys, and at first it was about building a memorial and the creation of an incredible building, the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Centre. A building is just a physical asset and their real contribution was to start to use their own personal trauma to help others who had similar experiences as a result of the 'troubles' in Northern Ireland and to go further and confront those who used violence.

In the early part of this century, conflict changed dramatically as Al Qaeda inspired attacks challenged the whole complexion of terrorism and gave rise to something badged by certain politicians as global terror, a very different proposition to that experienced in Britain and Ireland, but with many of the same outcomes of needless death and injury, and the need to help those traumatised to cope and recover. A realisation also that the techniques used to do this were not conflict specific and in 2001 a new project developed to deal with the legacy of conflict and support survivors and victims of terrorism in Great Britain.

Ten years on, from a moment when four young men attacked the transport system in London, the work that started in Warrington and related to an entirely different conflict is now used to support those impacted by the London bombings.

The Survivors Assistance Network (SAN) is a social, health and welfare self-help membership network for people affected by terrorism. It brings together those who share the same experience and trauma and provides a self-help forum and way to assist each other.

The network offers a series of structured interventions that aims to share information and experience, and encourages self-help and thus reduces the severity of treatment resistant post-traumatic stress and improves recovery time, enabling people to find a way to cope and recover.

The network grew rapidly over the last ten years and may of the bereaved families and services from the London attacks are involved in contributing to the network and in receiving support. In the early days following an incident there is a lot of help and humanitarian assistance, but ultimately as time goes by that disappears. The early months and even years can be punctuated by hugely challenging times from dealing with life changing injuries, bereavement, to the scrutiny of the media to Police investigations to invasive inquests. The trauma of the event alone is compounded time and again and when all of that passes by we leave people to be 'picked up' by the social, welfare and health services.

Terrorism is a low frequency high impact event that affects a relatively small number of people. Survivors and those affected by terrorism, perhaps uniquely amongst victims, have suffered attacks that are intended ultimately to harm society. They largely have the same needs for protection and assistance as victims of any other serious violent criminal acts and, in the early stages after the event, must be supported in similar ways.

However, owing to the nature of the attack, terrorism victims can be under public scrutiny and often have a much greater need for social recognition and respectful treatment. They are often at risk of re-victimisation and develop long-term physical and psychological needs for assistance in their lives.

Of course in the case of London this was very true - this was an attack beyond anything we had dealt with before and the needs of the survivors was acute. So also was the need for the authorities to learn from the event and the survivors have played a significant role in sharing learning to help our nation develop enhanced capabilities to deal with such incidents.

The London survivors now network with those who have suffered at the hands of terrorism from around the world and in many conflicts. That sharing of experience is powerful in many ways and also leads to very strong actions including entering dialogue and meeting face to face with those who have used or promoted violent extremism - former combatants, jihadi recruiters and fighters, white supremacists, republicans and loyalist activists, military and many others. The Foundation is also the UK's leading education provider in the prevention of violent extremism and the London survivors often participate and even undertake exercises to try to encourage young people in the way they think and act.

As as a nation we remember 10 years on, and we will all be aware that the risk of violent extremism is very real. The London community of survivors and bereaved families will be acutely aware of the events in Tunisia at the end of June and the 'journey' that is now being embarked on by hundreds, possibly thousands, who are affected by that. It will be little comfort to those people that SAN exists or that the London 7/7 commemoration is taking place, but over the months and years, those united by such terrible circumstances will start to help and support each other to cope and recover and to form a powerful force for social change. The professionals that mange the network will be in Hyde Park next week, quietly in the background, supporting those we work with and welcoming others who may need our support in future.

Nick Taylor is the chief executive of The Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace

For more information contact SAN@foundation4peace.org

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