Page last updated at 16:54 GMT, Sunday, 17 August 2008 17:54 UK

7/7 survivor walks and talks for hope

By Caroline McClatchey
BBC News

Gill Hicks, who lost both legs in the 7 July London bombings, walked from Leeds to London as part of her Walktalk project, which was aimed at starting a big conversation between different communities.

This was no ordinary sponsored walk.

Gill Hicks are her husband Joe Kerr in London's Trafalgar Square
Gill Hicks said her husband Joe Kerr came up with the Walktalk idea

The Walktalk team was starting conversations rather than raising money and their entourage was the London Ambulance Service.

One of the main walkers was Gill Hicks. The 37-year-old lost both legs in the 7 July London bombings and she completed the gruelling 30-day hike from Leeds to London on her prosthetic limbs.

As the tired but triumphant team entered Trafalgar Square on the final leg of their 270-mile journey, they were greeted with rapturous applause from supporters and well-wishers.

Mrs Hicks could not stop the tears from flowing, as this had been both a physically and emotionally draining journey for everyone involved.

As they made their way through 22 towns and cities, over hills and down country lanes, the Walktalk team started thousands of conversations.

Their aim was to encourage people from different faiths and community groups to engage with each other.

Some conversations were pre-planned meetings with faith groups, businesses and police chiefs. in community centres, synagogues and community centres, while others were spontaneous.

'Something horrendous'

During the welcome reception in Trafalgar Square, seven speakers, including Deputy Mayor of London Richard Barnes and Chief Superintendent Sue Hill of Westminster Police, took centre stage.

They all used adjectives like "uplifting", "inspirational", "unique" and "empowering" to describe both Mrs Hicks and their own experiences of Walktalk.

Tracy Russell is an emergency medical technician from the London Ambulance Service (LAS). She was one of the first people to treat Mrs Hicks after the Kings Cross bomb three years ago.

Tracy Russell
Tracy Russell accompanied the Walktalk team on part of the journey

The pair have become great friends and share a special bond. The 40-year-old was one of the several LAS workers who gave up their days off to take part in Walktalk.

"We are very good friends," she said. "It is a friendship born out of something horrendous."

Ms Russell said the "amazing journey" had "changed her life for the richer" and contrary to popular opinion, they were welcomed into mosques and community centres.

"It was consistently positive and generous all the way down," she said. "Complete strangers were opening up their houses, providing food. It was an uplifting and emotional experience.

"Gill's strength and tenacity was amazing. There were times she looked absolutely exhausted but she wasn't giving up."

Keep talking

The team's experience in Rotherham seems to have had a particular resonance. Mrs Hicks said they had "left their heart there".

Muhbeen Hussain, 14, from Rotherham, who delivered a speech in a mosque during Walktalk's visit, said all Muslims had been labelled "extremists" after the "cowardly acts" of 7 July.

Muhbeen Hussain
Muhbeen Hussain thanked Gill for her efforts

"Being Muslim, being British - they are one in the same," he said. "At the end of the day, you are just a human being, born into the society which you are brought up in.

"I'm grateful for Gill Hicks. She didn't take revenge, she did something which nobody from the Muslim community has done.

"We shouldn't forget Walktalk. It wasn't just for 2008. It should go on."

Mrs Hicks is hoping their journey was the first step towards thousands more conversations.

Paying an emotional tribute to the LAS, she said she will never stop thanking them because they never stopped trying to save her life,.

She recalled the armband she was given after the bombings, which said "one unknown", and said Walktalk was also a journey into the unknown.

"For me to walk from Leeds to London is probably the single most difficult thing I could ever have imagined," she said.

"I still can't quite believe that I have achieved it but I never gave up because of the people that never gave up on me."

She said they had a few inhospitable moments en route but they were completely overshadowed by people's generosity, joy and laughter.

"All of us stepped into this journey with great faith and great belief that humanity would carry us through from town to town and that's exactly what happened," she added.

Before heading off for a well-deserved gin and tonic, Mrs Hicks released balloons, carrying Walktalk's simple message: "Keep the conversation going".

7/7 survivor begins 200-mile trek
19 Jul 08 |  West Yorkshire
Bomb amputee plans 200-mile walk
21 Apr 08 |  England
Interview: Memories of the bombing
15 Nov 05 |  Programmes

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