There is nothing quite like a street party to tell you something about the strength of the British resolve, even in times of crisis. It seems so fitting, somehow, that 12 months after the brutal death of MP Jo Cox, and as the country comes to terms with the dreadful events of the past few weeks in Manchester and London, that communities all over the UK are spending the hottest weekend of the year outside in streets and parks, sharing food and drink with their neighbours, and letting their children run about freely in the sun.
It is, after all, what we do best on a sunny summer’s day. In good times and bad, we carry on regardless - we string up bunting, lay trestle tables with inordinate amounts of sponge, play music and have a party. Whether it’s to commemorate a jubilee or a Royal birth, or - as is the case this weekend - to remember a very special woman, who continues to touch the lives of the people she served a year after her death.
In the small Yorkshire town of Heckmondwike, at the heart of Jo Cox’s Batley and Spen constituency, that sense of coming together and carrying on in the face of unspeakable tragedy was stronger than ever this weekend. Jo grew up here. She understood the passions and peeves of the people that live here, and they loved her for it.
“People thought so much of her,” said Lisa Thewlis-Hardy, manning the ice cream stall at a party in the park hosted yesterday in Jo’s honour. “She was such a part of the community, and she had such strength and people loved that about her.
“Some people in politics are not as involved in the community as she was. We were her people, and that was what she stood for.”
Among those enjoying the sunshine were Jo’s family, who came to join in the festivities.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Jo’s husband Brendan said he had been “awed” by the turnout in Jo’s home town and across the country. “It's beautiful,” he said looking around him, as little girls and boys raced about getting hot and bothered, chocolate ice cream smothered across their faces and glitter paint covering their hands. “Moments like this are how we recognise the best in our country.
“When we first thought about this we were thinking of just bringing some people together. We didn't think it would have anything like the scale and the traction that it's had. I think we've had well over 100,000 events with millions of people taking part.
“It's about the generosity of people. I feel that especially as my life has been defined in the last year by one act of hatred, but there has been such an outpouring of kindness from people.
“Already today I've had people walking up to me and hugging me, and feeding the kids too many sweets.”
Mr Cox, who attended the event along with Jo’s mum and dad, Jean and Gordon Leadbeater, and her sister Kim, has been the driving force behind this weekend of celebrations, which were designed as much to create an opportunity to bring communities together as to honour Jo’s memory. “Jo was somebody who was unbelievably generous with her time, so much so it used to annoy me because it meant she was always coming home late,” he said.
“But this isn't just about Jo, this this is about what Jo was trying to do. She would have loved to have been involved in something like this.
“I think we get into a place where we remember the people who committed acts of hatred and that's not what our country is about.
“You see in these instances how amazing communities are in the way that they come together.”
And in Heckmondwike, they came together for one simple reason - to continue the work Jo was trying to do here, and to honour the memory of a woman who was one of their own. When she was fatally shot and stabbed last June outside a library in nearby Birstall, it sent shockwaves through this community and it’s clear the people still miss her dearly.
“She was just an amazing lady,” said Zoe Chadwick, who went to the MP for help when she was struggling to get help for her young autistic son Jacob. “She was there for you to go to if you had a problem, she listened and then she did something about it.
“She helped me so much with Jacob. The waiting lists around here were huge and we had been waiting a long time to see someone, as had many others. She went to parliament with the issue and it really did have a massive impact to a lot of us.”
“Events like this keep everything she worked for ticking over,” said family friend Karen Hall. “This is an excuse for people to get together once a year and do this now.”
Jo’s husband said his wife would have loved to see communities coming together like this. “It was absolutely at the heart of who she was,” he said. “She would have been here bouncing on the bouncy castle with the kids.
"And to have moments that enable us to celebrate that and to remember that. For us, as a family, that's the best thing we can have."