University Of Sunderland grants Jonathan Ganesh honorary degree

Docklands Victims Association co-founder and president recognised for his supportive works

Images shows a man, Jonathan Ganesh, flanked by a woman and another man all in academic gowns, smiling at the camera
Jonathan Ganesh, centre, is presented with an honorary fellowship by University Of Sunderland chancellor, Leanne Cahill and vice-chancellor David Bell

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It was Friday, February 9, 1996.

In Germany, a group of physicists had just managed to create a single atom of the superheavy element Copernicum for the very first time.

They’d fired zinc particles at a piece of lead in a particle accelerator to synthesise the substance, which lasted just 0.24 milliseconds before its radioactive decay. 

With an international team, the breakthrough was a triumph of collaboration and cooperation – an expression of the extraordinary things humans can achieve when working together for the good of the species.

Image shows members of the crowd clapping at the university's graduation ceremony
The ceremony took place at Southwark Cathedral

a tragedy in Docklands

But that same day is remembered in east London, throughout the UK and beyond for a very different reason.

At just after 7pm, the IRA detonated a massive bomb on the Isle Of Dogs at South Quay, killing two people, injuring more than 100 and causing £150million of damage.  

For Jonathan Ganesh, a law student and promising boxer, who was working as a security guard in the area at the time, it changed everything.

But despite suffering life-altering injuries and the challenges of recovery, the east London resident has been determined to forge something positive from his horrific experience.

As co-founder and honorary president of the Docklands Victims Association (DVA) he’s been a tireless champion for those affected by that atrocity.

He’s also been heavily involved in offering support to and standing in solidarity with all those affected by acts of terror around the world.

Constantly looking to help those around him, more recently he accepted a Pandemic Response Medal for his work as an NHS responder, delivering food and medication to local residents.

On Wednesday, June 12, the University Of Sunderland In London, which is based at South Quay, awarded Jonathan an honorary fellowship at its graduation ceremony in Southwark Cathedral – recognising his work alongside the achievements of hundreds of students collecting their degrees. 

A University Of Sunderland In London student in a mortar board and gown celebrates receiving her degree
The University Of Sunderland In London also awarded hundreds of students degrees at the event

praise from the University Of Sunderland

Vice chancellor of the University Of Sunderland, Sir David Bell, said: “We are delighted to honour Jonathan in this way and this is truly an inspirational moment for us as an organisation.

“We know, for people who become victims, it’s hard to rebuild their lives.

“But Jonathan is the most wonderful example of someone who has not only done that, but has actually helped to support literally thousands of people to rebuild their lives through the work he has done, not only in this country but around the world.

“I hope our graduates will follow his example and do things that will make the world a better place.” 

South Quay has gone on to great prosperity with office blocks and some of the tallest residential towers in London rising on the strip of land directly opposite Canary Wharf.

Apt then, that one of the organisations now based there is making this award.

University Of Sunderland In London students celebrate by throwing their mortar boards in the air at Southwark Cathedral
Students celebrate receiving their degrees at the event

a fitting tribute

“I’m quite overwhelmed, actually,” said Jonathan after the ceremony.

“This award from the University Of Sunderland In London is a fitting tribute to all of the victims – especially Inam Bashir and John Jeffries, who lost their lives.

“This is recognition for me but also for the DVA and the work we do in Tower Hamlets and globally.

“This has been a day I’ll never forget. I’m happy to receive any awards, but this is something special. 

“We plan to do a lot more work and help as many people as we can here and around the world.

“We successfully managed to secure a pension for the IRA’s victims from the Government as it was unfair to leave these people with no financial support when those from other countries such as America were receiving money.

“It’s very touching for the university to recognise us locally and that what we do has global reach extending out from here.”

Image shows Alan Hardie and Jonathan Ganesh celebrating his honorary fellowship
Jonathan Ganesh with University Of Sunderland In London director Alan Hardie, left

the University Of Sunderland In London’s full citation

Before an assembly of students, their relatives, staff and guests, University Of Sunderland in London director Alan Hardie gave the following address:

Chancellor, vice-chancellor, and distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I am privileged to present Jonathan Ganesh for the conferment of an Honorary Fellowship.

Our honorary guest today was born in Westminster in the late 1960s to an Irish mother, who worked as a chef, and a human rights lawyer father from Sri Lanka.

Jonathan spent his early childhood in County Limerick, leaving him with a deep connection to Ireland.

At the age of seven, he moved back to the UK, settling in the Docklands area.

Following his father’s ethos that “no education is ever wasted”, in the mid-1990s, Jonathan was studying law at college while working as a security guard in South Quay.

On February 9, 1996, though, Jonathan’s life changed forever as a result of the horrific IRA bombing of the South Quay Plaza building – which he described as “like being hit by a meteorite”. 

Despite facing life-altering injuries and a daunting mental and physical recovery, Jonathan was determined “to turn something bad into something very good”. 

Coming together with fellow survivors and their relatives, the need for ongoing support for bombing victims was clear and, in spring 1996, the Docklands Victims Association was formed.

For nearly 30 years, as the association’s honorary president and co-founder, Jonathan has led efforts in supporting and providing resources for victims and those affected by terrorism, in London and worldwide. 

The association has also lobbied government leaders to keep the rights of victims of terrorism on the agenda, as they can too often be forgotten once the media limelight fades. 

As a long-term Docklands resident, Jonathan remembers the South Quay area in the 1990s when it was mainly deserted docks.

Since then, he has witnessed its transformation into a commercial hub.

With the University Of Sunderland In London’s opening, in 2012, being praised by Jonathan for “enhancing the area’s social fabric and helping it thrive further”.

With a strong desire to support his local community during the pandemic, Jonathan became a volunteer NHS responder in 2020, collecting patients from hospital and delivering food and medication to local residents, which included fellow victims of terrorism. 

In recognition of these efforts, Jonathan received a Pandemic Response Medal in September 2023 – to which he can now add an Honorary Fellowship from the University Of Sunderland In London.

Chancellor, vice-chancellor, and distinguished guests, I present Jonathan Ganesh for an Honorary Fellowship.

Find out more about the university here and the Docklands Victims Association here

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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