GREATER Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham laid a pebble at Holmes Chapel Comprehensive School to officially open a garden in memory of student Nell Jones.

Nell, 14, was a student at the school, and was one of 22 people who were killed in the bomb explosion at the Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena in May 2017.

A Garden of Memories has been created at the school in Nell’s memory, and was opened by Mr Burnham when he placed a pebble in a ‘river’ of decorated pebbles representing students’ memories of Nell.

The pebble placed by Mr Burnham featured the ‘Manchester Bee’ and the initials for the Remembering Nell Foundation, which aims to improve the lives and wellbeing of young people in the north west.

The opening was attended by Nell’s family, civic dignitaries and students, along with organisations and individuals who supported the project to enable it to become a reality.

The opening began with a performance of You Raise Me Up by the school’s senior choir before headteacher Denis Oliver addressed the guests.

This was followed by a tribute to Nell from her brother Sam, who thanked the community for its support over the past year.

Mr Burnham then spoke of the honour he felt at being invited to the opening of the garden before placing a pebble in the ‘river’, which was followed a performance by the choir of Hallelujah.

Mr Oliver said the garden had been inspired by the loving memory of Nell, but was a garden for everyone.

He said: “This garden will not only be for our school community, it will also be accessible by the wider community, and we urge everyone to use the garden and respect it as a place of spiritual reflection.

“The pebbles enabled all of us to contribute in our own personal and unique way, and will last for a very long time.

“Those who have painted pebbles and placed them in the Rill said the process of decorating them was therapeutic and cathartic. Having worked with my grandchildren to decorate pebbles I completely agree.”

He thanked Mr Burnham for taking time to visit the school to officially open the garden.

He said: “I was asked if I thought he was the right person to do so, and having discussed this with Nell’s family we believe he is for so many reasons.

“Ernie and Jayne, Nell’s parents, are very positive about the response of the people of Manchester, and in particular the city council, with Andy as the mayor of the city.”

Mr Oliver also thanked the thousands of people who donated money, their time and labour, resources and contacts in making the vision of the garden a reality.

“The project really took off when Richard Dutton threw his weight behind it, and deployed the remarkable Gino, Baz and Dave,” he said.

“These wonderful individuals made us believe the project was possible, and Gino and Baz have become members of the school family.

“They attended our whole school Easter assembly, where all our students and staff thanked them with a resounding and sustained round of applause.”

The garden features Contemplation, Japanese and Sensory areas, with the latter area being designed to complement the dementia-friendly ambitions of the village.

Mr Burnham said: “It is a great honour for me to be with you all and a real privilege.

“This truly has been a whole community effort by everyone who has played a part in making this incredible place a reality. It is a sign of the way in which this community has rallied around the family.

“I didn’t know Nell, but I have read a lot about what you all said about her – about her being so kind, having such a sense of humour, and how she loved life, music and Ed Sheeran.

“I could not see anybody with anything other than wonderful words to say about her, and what we have now is somewhere we can always remember her and what she stood for – that is something that is truly special.

“We all should cherish this place and ensure that it’s here for many years to come.

“I am here representing the people of Greater Manchester – the police, the NHS, the councils, everybody, who are still in recovery from what happened.

“We were a place that came together and sent a message that in the end nothing will divide us - we will always be there for each other.

“We will always be there for Nell’s family. Nell will always be a part of Manchester, and in placing the bee – Nell’s bee, but with the Manchester colours - that will symbolise that.

“We cannot let these events change us in any way - we have to continue to move forward, celebrate the good things in life, remember somebody who represented the best of people, and that’s why I am so pleased to be here with you as we open a place that will always be there in Nell’s memory.

“The garden is a living sign of the fact that good things can come from terrible events in the way all communities continue to rally together.

“This garden was created by a whole host of people who stepped forward to play their part, and it does do something to restore faith in humanity and what we stand for – it matters - and I know it will be a great comfort to the family.

“I wanted to be here with them today to say that Nell will forever be part of Greater Manchester. We will always do our part to remember her.”

Nell’s brother Sam said: “I am here to thank everybody who has been involved with this garden - to each and every person who has given a penny or a minute of time to creating this wonderful garden.

“When it started I had no vision that it would be as absolutely amazing as it is, and every member of my family is so over the moon with what has been created.

“Nell would be amazed by this. People paying this much attention to Nell would astound her. She would be overjoyed.

“The last 12 months have been incredibly difficult, but being able to come and see this tangible piece of affection has really helped to carry us through.

“That also goes for the entire school community - Mr Oliver, his management team, the kids - have been so fantastic through all this.

“Without them this would all have been so much more difficult - so thank you very much.

“This garden proves that out of great tragedy can come a beautiful creation, and I am sure everybody here will agree that this is a fitting tribute to a beautiful sister and a beautiful person.”