As balloons drifted off with the breeze, into the blue skies Andrew Roussos pulled his wife Lisa in for an embrace.
The couple were opening a memorial garden for their daughter Saffie-Rose at her old school, Tarleton Community Primary.
Saffie, who at eight was the youngest of those whose lives were taken in the Manchester terror attack, would have turned 11-years-old today.
Lisa cut the pink ribbon to a round of applause and the small, close-knit crowd sang Happy Birthday to Saffie. In a poignant moment her young friends, each holding teddy bears, released 11 heart-shaped-balloons into the air.
Speaking after the occasion Lisa said: “It’s strange because I do find it hard difficult coming back to the school and seeing her friends growing up knowing that she should be there with them.
“As difficult as it is to come back to the school and she’s not here, the other side of that is being here where she was the happiest. She loved school, loved everybody and everybody loved her. That’s comforting. It was nice to come back and get a hug from her friends. I miss them too.
“The children here shouldn’t have had to go through what they went through. For me it’s still difficult to understand what happened because of the way in which it happened.
“Saffie will always be with them but I think it’s important for them to move forward. They will leave the school and head off to high school hopefully with a new fresh approach.”
Lisa, who had been at the Ariana Grande concert with Saffie, spent six weeks in a coma following the attack and had to regain the use of her legs, completed the 10km Simplyhealth Great Manchester Run earlier this year.
Asked how she was coping both physically and mentally she said: “I did the walk and afterwards I drove the car for the first time up to Nottingham. It just gave me that sense of you can do it, of course you can - that confidence that I had lost through my injuries.
“I can’t make sense of it and I won’t let my thoughts go there.
“It’s hard to explain. People think you’re brave. It’s like you’re acting - you sort of disconnect yourself from reality because it’s too shocking, too real.”
The memorial garden, in a central compound in the school, was created out of the goodwill of friends and neighbours of the Roussos family in Leyland.
In the centre of the wooden decking six roses were in full bloom. Towards the back sits a bench with a canopy and a plaque in Saffie’s name. Her school friends had painted stones with rainbows and bright colours - things that they felt best represented her.
At the ceremony, addressing Saffie’s close friends, all of whom will be moving on to secondary school in the next academic year, Andrew said: “We as a family find it difficult to come back to the school for obvious reasons. But there is no better place for us to be.
“When we meet people they always ask us what Saffie’s character was like but coming here and being with you, we don’t have to explain it.
“What’s happened is very difficult to deal with, particularly at your age. It’s very tough.
“It was so important to get this garden done. You are moving on to high school. This garden will always be here. Saffie will always be here.
“It’s a special place for all of us.”
Over tea and nibbles three of Saffie’s best friends stood behind a birthday cake, a victoria sponge, emblazoned with her name, Saffie-Rose, and decorated with roses. Everyone sang Happy Birthday and gave three cheers. Tears came in the silence that followed and Andrew gave the youngsters a hug.
Speaking of the lasting trauma the school children had endured since the attack headteacher of Tartleton Community Primary Chris Upton said: “With us as a school it’s been a two year recovery that we have been through and we are still on that journey.
“That rawness is still within in the school.
“We are dealing with it in waves. It’s still a big issue with our children two years on and it’s not going away.
“We have done additional work with the high school, Tarleton Academy.
“We are having a leaving assembly for the year sixes soon and that is going to be hard.
“We’ve done work around the Islamic faith. We are taking them to visit a mosque. The children need to understand that it is a religion of love and tolerance.
“As a school we have had to find our own way. We have had children diagnosed with PTSD as a consequence of that night.
“We have worked with the Department of Education and the Home Office to provide information and make recommendations of how schools can be best supported in the wake of a terror attack.
”The garden is important in that it’s at the centre of the school, the heart of our school as Saffie is.
“It’s about life and about remembering Saffie.”
Andrew had approached his friend Martin Carlin, of the Leyland Town Team, to create the memorial garden in honour of Saffie.
Martin said: “I talked to the school and went to merchants and friends in Leyland to ask them to muck in and made it happen.
“I cut a heart out of the decking and we have planted six roses for Saffie.
“I rallied round in Leyland and Vicky Brown from Victoria Cakes donated a birthday cake, Bewitched Parties donated 11 balloons, my neighbour Jon-Lee Herbert helped me build the decking and benches, landscape gardeners Go2Mow tidied the area up and planted the roses and CW Berry supplied the decking material. So Leyland people have been very much a part of this.
“It was a case of there’s the space and trying to use that space. Bringing benches into it means that pupils can sit there. They can have moments where they can reflect on Saffie.
“She won’t be forgotten, she’ll never be forgotten, but it’s so that every time they go into the courtyard Saffie is there.”
Well-wishers who helped create the memorial garden were able to visit for it’s launch. Peter Gardner of CW Berry said: “For us it was the fact that we are a long established Leyland business and the majority of our staff have children so it resonates with us.”
Vicky, of Victoria Cakes, added: “Two years ago we did a cake for Saffie’s ninth birthday. I’m honoured to be asked to make one again. I was a bit teary making it.”
Ashley Caytan owner of Go2Mow said: “It’s all for Saffie.”