Stylist’s Women of the Year 2017: The woman who gave out roses after a terror attack

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Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
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In the aftermath of the terrorist attack at Borough Market on 3 June, Zakia Bassou, 27, organised for herself and fellow Muslim women to distribute roses carrying messages of peace and love to members of the public on London Bridge, making headlines worldwide.

“I used to work near London Bridge, so when I heard about the attack it felt close to home. It prompted me to think about what I could do. I spoke with a friend, Nadia, who had done a lot of work with community outreach. She gave me the confidence to put my head above the parapet.

I’d seen different community groups had gifted roses to the public before. For me, it was the symbolism of love. At such a dark point in our country’s affairs, it felt like that’s what we needed. We needed to say, ‘This is us, we are a community, and this doesn’t represent any of us – the Muslim or non-Muslim community.’ It was about breaking down barriers.

I was so moved by the response. Our aim was to crowdfund for 1,000 roses, but another friend, Imran, who worked at an office near London Bridge, spread the word. The page went crazy and we tripled our target.”

A woman reacts after being given a rose on London Bridge, a week after the terror attack that killed eight people.

“Along with Sara and Leila, two friends from university, we spent many hours tying messages to the roses. The message read: ‘Today we are gifting over 1,000 roses. Why? Because this is the place, the time, the moment to take the pen and write narratives of love and solidarity, not hate and division. We won’t let London Bridge fall down, nor any other bridge upon which the community of this great city and nation are built.’

Twenty of us handed out 3,000 roses a week after the attack. The response was heartwarming. One lady was so moved that she started crying. Every volunteer had a special experience with the people they spoke to – people who were near the attack, locals that have lived in London all their lives, passing tourists.

We didn’t want the momentum to end, so we are trying to turn A Thousand Roses into a permanent community group. London Bridge was just the start.”

To celebrate the best in people, Stylist photographed and interviewed 10 heroic women – just a few of the many who served to inspire us all in 2017. To see the rest of our Women of the Year 2017, click here.

Photography: Mark Harrison. Additional images: Rex Features.