A Cumbrian teenager who experienced the atrocities of the Manchester Arena bombing has bravely spoken out about the vital need for mental health awareness.

Alongside her mum Josie, Chloe Allison, 15, has been on a long journey of processing the experiences of the night of May 22, 2017, when a suicide bomber killed 23 people and injured more than 100 more following a concert by American popstar Ariana Grande.

For Chloe, who had, like more than 14,000 others gone to watch Ariana Grande that night, her memories of the bombing are a mix of panic, confusion and terror.

She had gone to the concert with her uncle, Isaac Foster. Both were still in the arena when the homemade bomb was detonated.

“Me and my uncle didn’t really know what had actually happened,” Chloe said.

“It shook the whole arena.”

Chloe and her uncle had been seated quite high up in the arena, to the right of the stage.

Panic set in among the crowd still in the arena as soon as the explosion ripped through the foyer.

There was a frantic rush for the exits, with people “climbing over banisters pushing people out the way,” Chloe recalled.

“They stayed to help a lady who had been pushed out of her wheelchair,” Josie added.

“My brother helped carry her out.”

In the chaos of the attack’s aftermath, it was not until the following morning that Chloe and her uncle understood the full extent of what had actually happened.

“It got to us,” Chloe said.

Chloe and her uncle Isaac were thankfully not injured in the attack.

But as Chloe explained, that has not meant that she was unaffected by the bombing.

“It’s still hard to cope with,” she said. “Throughout the year, I think about it sometimes. Especially on the anniversary, it’s even harder.”

Josie said that, especially at first, Chloe became reluctant to go to certain places.

“Her confidence has been knocked quite a lot,” she said. “She wasn’t very confident in going to places.”

The lasting impact of her experience can be seen in small, moving examples.

“In school, sometimes when crisp packets burst that makes me really scared and anxious,” Chloe said. “Or boys in my year, making silly jokes about bombs and stuff like that, they don’t understand.”

As the youngster reflects on the tragedy on its third anniversary today, she has walked a total distance of 99.5 miles - the equivalent of walking from her home in Lazonby, near Penrith, to the Manchester Arena, where the bomb was set off.

Chloe had originally hoped to travel to Manchester to mark the third anniversary, which would have been the first time she had returned to the city.

But with the continuing coronavirus lockdown preventing her from making the journey, Chloe decided to mark the anniversary in her own inspiring way.

In daily instalments, Chloe has been walking the distance in routes around her village and beyond, tracking her progress on her phone in order to reach her total of 99.5 miles - which was achieved on Wednesday.

Chloe’s friend and neighbour Olivia Ullyart, who was also present at the May 22 bombing, has been walking with her on many of the daily journeys.

Mum Josie Foster has also joined Chloe on her walks, and has been helping to spread the news of Chloe’s and Olivia’s progress with daily updates on their online fundraising page.

With time and with help, slowly Chloe’s confidence has begun to return. The 99.5 mile walking challenge has played a part in bringing some of that confidence back in the past two weeks.

Chloe said that conducting the walking challenge has “made me proud of myself.

“It’s turning a negative into a positive,” she said.

But getting to this point has been a long journey, for both Josie and for Chloe.

Chloe and Josie had very different experiences of the 2017 Manchester bombing.

Josie was not at the concert with Chloe, but in a cruel twist of fate was left unable to contact Chloe and her brother Isaac for an agonizing length of time after she had heard the terrifying news that a terror attack had taken place at the Manchester Arena.

“I was on a school trip at the time, I worked in a school,” Josie explained. “I saw it all unfold on the news, but I was in the middle of the Borrowdale valley, so I didn’t have any phone signal.”

With no way of contacting Chloe or Isaac, Josie was stuck in a terrifying state of limbo, not knowing whether her daughter and her brother were alive, dead or injured.

But Josie could not simply drop her responsibilities and leave.

“I worked one to one,” Josie explained. “The little boy I was looking after on the trip - he was actually really poorly through the night.”

“So I kind of went into autopilot. I think that was my coping mechanism.”

For Chloe and her mum Josie, the last three years have at times been difficult.

Both of them have been given a lot of support from a number of organisations and charities dedicated to helping people with their mental health.

One motivation for undertaking this mammoth walking challenge has been to raise money for local mental health charity Carlisle and Eden Mind.

However, for Chloe and for Josie an equally important goal has been to help spread the message that mental health struggles can affect anyone - but there is help out there.

And for those who are facing their own struggles right now, Chloe has another message.

“Whatever you’re struggling with, you’ll get through it,” she said. “It will get better.”

Josie said that for Chloe, the inspiring challenge she has undertaken has helped her through the most difficult month of the year.

“Chloe finds May quite hard, because she knows that date is coming,” she said.

“We try to do things to steer the mind away, if you like.

“What Chloe’s doing now, she’s trying to turn it into a positive.”