Fortunately, most of us will never have to deal with the unimaginable trauma of bringing together a community in the aftermath of a terrorist attack. This was exactly the challenge that faced Chris Upton, Head Teacher of Tarleton Community Primary School.
In the wake of the awful events that took place at the Manchester Arena on 22 May 2017. Chris, a member of St George’s Lodge of Chorley No 7161 and the rest of the teachers, students and parents were devastated to learn that one of their pupils, Saffie Rose Roussos, had tragically lost her life as a result of the attack.
As the news broke, the world’s media descended on the school. Chris didn’t want to speak with the press initially as he had not spoken to the family and firmly believed that this needed to occur first. However, due to the pressure on the school and the children as they were leaving the school grounds from the intrusive members of the press, Chris was left with no choice.
As the days progressed, this weighed heavily on his mind and it was at this point, having only been a Freemason for two years, that he found the value of brotherly love. Whilst at home, the telephone rang. A cheerful stranger’s voice introduced himself on the other end. A fellow Freemason and friend of the Roussos family. He was able to put Chris’ mind at rest and this supported him tremendously in the early days of dealing with such a difficult situation.
The first anniversary was a difficult time for the school and took much planning. Children were openly distraught and worried about it. In addition, it was the first time that Saffie’s family had returned to the school, firstly to attend a ‘Celebration of Life’ where they unveiled an English Heritage styled Blue Plaque in her honour and then on the day itself where they visited the school on Harley Davidsons, riding from Preston to Manchester with various stop offs en route including the school.
This had been planned at the 11th hour and initially there was a concern that there wouldn’t be many riders joining the family. This troubled Chris so he reached out to a fellow lodge member and member of the Widows Sons, the Masonic Bikers Association, who sent out an SOS calling for support. Members rose to the occasion joining the ride and supporting the family – this meant a lot to Chris and of course the family.
As time moved on, Chris increasingly felt that he wanted to do more, as a lasting tribute to Saffie, to ensure that her memory was not forgotten and to hopefully give anyone who has suffered a tragic loss, something they could refer to and gain comfort and support from. This was the idea behind the recently published book ‘Searching for the Sparkle’.
Searching for the Sparkle was written as a legacy to Saffie and to support others if faced with such a devastating situation. Chris believed that the support the school received for only the initial 2 days was wholly inadequate, but recognised it was an unprecedented situation for everyone concerned.
Chris reflected: “In circumstances such as this, a more holistic approach is needed with a team around a school to fully support the community. The book highlights the needs as part of the story of recovery.” In producing the book, Chris has had to learn all about publishing a book but has been supported in this process by his brother-in-law Adam Beswick, also a member of St George’s Lodge of Chorley and a self-published author.
Help was also given from brethren further afield. During lockdown, Chris regularly joined brethren for their weekly Zoom meeting on his native island of Jersey. Through his connections, he reached out to David Rosser, Past Provincial Grand Master of Jersey (1999-2009). David became one of Chris’ beta readers and supported him in initial editing and advice. Chris is grateful to both for their support.
The school were gifted £16,000 from the public and other organisations and over the years of recovery, Chris used this in a variety of ways to support his community, especially those closest to Saffie. Relief is important to Chris, especially as he is the charity steward of his lodge. He does not want to profit from the sale of the book so all profits will go to a new charity set up by Chris called The Sparkle Bean Trust.
He and his team of trustees, which includes Keiran Taylor-Bradshaw of Carnarvon Lodge No 2376, are determined that no other primary school should go through what Tarleton Community have. He aims to provide grants and advice to schools following the sudden death of a pupil. The Sparkle Bean Trust is also looking for donations to help get the charity on its feet and Chris is happy to visit any lodge or chapter to give a talk on the book and the charity. He would welcome any approaches in support of this endeavour. To view the website,
The book also reflects the hard work of Chris and his team in ensuring schools are better supported in the aftermath of a terror attack. A letter Chris wrote on the six month anniversary to the then Prime Minister, Theresa May, led to a visit from the Department for Education and the Home Office. This led to further work with educational institutions and resources, including a checklist for schools to use in the initial aftermath of an attack, being put in place for schools; something Chris is proud to have been a part of.
Further strategies have developed from Chris’ letter from both government departments around supporting the victims of terror – something that is incredibly important. The Masonic value of truth has certainly supported Chris in his drive to work with colleagues to make changes in this area.
In recent weeks, the book was officially launched at an event at the Craft and Crust in Penwortham and is now on sale on Amazon. Chris’ efforts are already gaining much attention in the media as well as from well-known celebrities. An extensive article was in a recent edition of the Lancashire Evening Post and comedian and children’s author David Walliams has tweeted his support of Chris’ efforts.
You can support both the Sparkle Bean Trust and the West Lancashire Freemasons Charity by and choosing WLFC as your chosen charity before purchasing the book. Chris is more than happy to give talks to lodges, community groups and schools to raise awareness of both the Sparkle Bean Trust and to give his very personal insight into the journey he has taken. Chris can be contacted at email@example.com