It’s 15 years ago today that the bomb went off in the centre of Manchester. The place is hardly recognisable today with its giant retail stores, Exchange Square and Urbis replacing what I remember as some pretty ugly concrete bunkers and the intimidating bus station entrance on Canon Street.
When it happened I was on my way into town to help with a free festival at Castlefield which was part of the Euro 96 football celebrations. With no mobile phone and no way of contacting anyone, I headed to the office at Ducie House to see what was what. I got into the City at midday and by 2pm we got word from the police that we wouldn’t be able to go ahead with the festival that day, because it was a free and unticketed event.
We headed to Castlefield anyway and met up with the bands that were due to play. We watched, I think England v Scotland in the White Lion pub. Hundreds of people had gathered down there and I really remember the atmosphere was warm and friendly, and a little dazed and confused.
We got talking to a group of guys, their cars were in the Arndale Car Park and there was no way they were getting them back. In true Mancunian spirit, everyone chipped in for beers, gave them 10p to call worried families at home, and people were offering sofas and spare rooms to complete strangers stranded in the city.
The police closed the pubs in Castlefield after the football games had finished, and then we walked where we could in town. It was very quiet by then and pretty eerie around the edges of the police cordons. All you could see was debris where there should have been lines of cars and party people out for a Saturday night on the town.
It was a day I will never forget. Ultimately the bomb physically changed Manchester for the better, but my overwhelming memory from that day was the camaraderie and kindness people showed each other.
On Monday18 April I started a hashtag on twitter #gettwittertomcr:
“Hey Manchester folks, let’s get @twitter to open its UK office here.#gettwittertoMCR”
This was in response to a tweet from my pal Steve Kuncewicz saying Twitter was opening an office in London and why didn’t they come to Manchester instead.
I posted my tweet on a whim and an hour later my twitter feed was full of RT’s and comments about it.
Later that day the Manchester Evening News contacted me and then published a story, and all of sudden #gettwittertomcr became a campaign.
Sadly I haven’t heard from Twitter (yet) and I also know the office in London is pretty much a done deal (See Jon the Beef’s blog post about it.) But following conversations I’ve had with people in response to my tweet, it’s given us some ideas on how we might build on the obvious enthusiasm from Manchester’s business community to get involved. So watch this space.
There’s a lot of agencies working hard to bring businesses from outside the region and from around the world to Manchester. They do a good job lobbying on our behalf, Manchester’s offer at MIPIM impressed many people (I know, I was there) and with MediaCity and the Sharp Project taking off, things are certainly looking up.
But we’ve got a long way to go, and while the economy is still spluttering to get going again, the more people make a positive noise about Manchester the better I reckon. And who knows, one day we could be welcoming the next Twitter to Manchester or even better the next Twitter could be invented in Manchester.
Last night the mighty Northern Digitals held their first inspiration night at the Deaf Institute. It followed on from the Manchester Design Symposium held that afternoon and about 150 of us, all thirsty but eager, redeemed our beer tokens and watched seven brilliant and inspiring people talk about what inspires them.
Ben Holden from Cahoona talked about his battle with ‘the idea’ and its life cycle. You know how it is, you get the idea, it’s buzzing, then you decide to make it happen, then it starts to get difficult and your enthusiasm dies a little. Ben used graphs to illustrate his points. He got them from Scott Belsky’s Making Ideas Happen Making Ideas Happen . Graphs that actually made sense. That’s an achievement in itself to me.
Adam Todd’s of Magentic North inspiration was people. Six specific people in fact. In addition to his first boss Roy Stringer who founded Amaze, the anti-html Ted Nelson and Brian Eno, he also introduced us all to the utterly joyful three sister combo The Shaggs. As he said, they did what probably all of us in the room have long aspired to do – they made a record.
Growing up in a tight knit Salfordian community was CreativeLynx’s Trevor Johnson’s main inspiration, closely followed by beer – something I think we can all identify with – and his son.
We got to see a new side to Brendan Dawes from Magnetic North too, a self confessed stationery geek, Brendan shared his collection of paper clips, pencils and Field Notes with us. But when you consider he has the same pencil Roald Dahl used to write all his books with – not literally the same pencil but the same make and model – you start to get it.
Next up were NoChintz (I have to fess up here, they are also my clients) a team of interior designers. Natalie Gray and Becci Sharkey asked the whole of the team what inspires them, one statement and three photos per person. There then followed cacophony of influences from all things Dutch, NYC, people and natures versatility to name but a few.
Chris Gaffey gets inspiration from his book shelf and film collection, but his feet are kept firmly on the ground by his no nonsense brick layer brother. Chris, like other presenters, named his children as inspiration. His son’s obelisque and igloo made on their neighbours lawn was a sight to behold indeed.
It was a brilliant night. As a person who can’t even draw a straight line with a ruler, I am hugely proud of and full of admiration for the many talented people living and working in my home city. And do you know what else? Everyone working in the creative community in Manchester are all lovely people too.
Earlier this week, I visited the Sharp Project , Newton Heath, Manchester. My client Mace Group are project managers for the 250,000 sq ft scheme that is seeing the former electronics warehouse transformed into a whole heap of new spaces for creative and digital companies.
My only previous visit to the site was about 15 years ago when I went for an interview with Sharp itself and at the time they were still shirt sponsors of Manchester United.
All that is recognisable from my last visit are the entrance doors into the lobby area. But once you get into the main area of the building, the transformation is amazing. There’s one large area that is filled with former shipping containers made into individual office units, all occupied by organisations doing funky things like CGI-FX, stop motion animation and all sorts other mind blowing clever stuff. There’s a really friendly atmosphere in the place and you wouldn’t really know that there’s a building site working right next to them because the site is so well organised.
We were treated to a tour of the rest of the project, there’s 16,000 sq ft of sound stages, complete with green rooms andoffice space for TV and film making. Building work is now underway on the final phases, which includes the creation of 28 brand new offices built around a massive central space, that I am sure will host exciting parties and events in the future. Although it was still very much a building site, I can see they are not far off finishing it.
I think the Sharp Project is a refreshing and creative use of the former warehouse. The tram stop is built and ready to welcome Metrolink. There’s also fibre broadband connections available at Sharp which I know from working with Corridor Manchester is a major plus point for growing businesses.
I’ve spent most of my working life in site boots, hard hat and lovely luminous vests and I never get tired of wandering around building sites. I love to see how plans and CGIs become realities, and can appreciate the amount of work, skill and effort it takes to do that. I can’t wait to see Sharp when it is all finished later this year.
Images courtesy of www.sharpproject.co.uk Top image of container office units, lower image is a CGI of the final phase of offices around a central courtyard space.
I am optimistic for this year and I am looking forward to seeing where it takes Ashurst Communications. This time last year I had only just decided to go into business for myself, I had registered the company name, was working with Corridor Manchester and thinking, okay, let’s see where this takes me. It’s been brilliant so far, I am working with some terrific people and businesses, I am learning everyday and have been overwhelmed by the support from my family, friends, former colleagues and peers.
I’ll be attending international property exhibition MIPIM being held in Cannes in March. Just about everyone who is anyone in property attends MIPIM and Manchester always has a very strong presence. For me, it is an excellent opportunity to represent my clients and also to meet and catch up with leading business people and lots and lots of journalists.
There is no doubt that 2011 is going to be a tough year, especially for the public sector, but I am hoping that the new Local Economic Partnerships and Regional Growth Fund move quickly to help restart projects that stalled in recent years especially following the election and the end of the Regional Development Agencies.
Despite the hard conditions, 2011 is looking bright for Manchester and Salford. The various moves by BBC and ITV to MediaCity should start, things should progress on the revamp of St Peter’s Square and the Manchester Town Hall extension and hopefully something positive will happen to the London Road Fire Station.
This year sees the return of Manchester International Festival in the summer and I am really looking forward to it. I will be thrilled if they can top the live broadcast of the Elbow gig from the Bridgewater Hall to Castlefield Arena they did in 2009.
I’ll also be making the usual trip to Pilton Farm in June for my 11th Glastonbury Festival. I hope we get the same weather as last year, it was the first year I have been at the festival and had to apply sun cream. My favourite band Radiohead is due to release a new album this year and there are rumours of an appearance at Glastonbury too. I am also going to get to Kendal Calling this year; I haven’t been for a few years I know it has grown a lot.
So 2011 should be a good year all in all. If it works out anywhere near as good as 2010 then I will be very happy indeed. I also intend to do a lot more blog posts in 2011!
At the 2nd birthday party for Creative Industries Networking Group (CING) last night, Drew Hemment, the man behind the outstanding global festival of arts, music and ideas Future Everything told us he has created a new word to describe the Mancunian attitude. His word is Blaggadocio. It comes from Braggadocio, the character in the Faerie Queene famous for his boastfulness and swagger. If you combine it with Blag (another of my favourite words, closely associated with Mancunians) you get Blaggadocio, and to quote Drew, Blaggadocio “is a character on the streets of Manchester who innovates (creates favourable conditions in the world around them) through quick wit, chicanery and play”.
I think Blaggadocio is a most excellent word and I have vowed to be blaggadocio whenever I can.
Also last night, CING in partnership with Future Everything and the University of Salford launched the Open Data, Open Minds, Open Hearts initiative aimed at show casing CING members creative talents via an open data enabled, mobile tourism app for Manchester.
London Road Fire Station, PR dream or nightmare?
Yesterday, Manchester City Council granted planning permission to Britannia Hotels to convert the Grade II-listed former fire station on London Road into a 227 bedroom hotel. You can read the full council report here: http://tinyurl.com/2vehqlv
At first glance the London Road Fire Station is an absolute PR gem. It’s a major part of Manchester’s history, rich in architectural features. It used to be home to a community of fire fighters and their families. It’s a key site for the wider regeneration of the Piccadilly area of the city; it’s stunningly beautiful; it’ll have fans all over the world and it’s going to be brought back to life as a large hotel, which will create lots of new jobs as well as stopping the building from falling down. For me this is a PR dream.
But when you look a bit closer, this dream is fettered by some pretty dark clouds. The building has stood empty since 1985. It has been owned by Britannia Hotels since 1986. It was placed on the English Heritage Buildings at Risk Register in 1999.
Earlier this year, Manchester City Council announced its intention to apply for a compulsory purchase order (CPO) for the site. Britannia has appealed the order, but I understand the council is still keen to take the building on.
This move has led to open animosity between Britannia Hotels and the council. And you can see both sides of the argument. Britannia is a private business and is entitled to do whatever it wants with its property, but the council also has a duty to make sure buildings like this aren’t lost. But, as demonstrated in a very rare interview Britannia boss Alex Langsam did recently with Manchester Confidential, it seems the owner of the building doesn’t acknowledge the building’s beauty, significance or the role it could play by being a shining welcome to city, as it sits on the doorstep of Piccadilly Station. This rings alarm bells in my PR brain.
Then there’s the less than glowing reviews received by other hotels in the Britannia group (just search them on Trip Advisor to see what I mean). My own experience of staying at a Britannia Hotel wasn’t a pleasant one.
I need to believe whole-heartedly in any project I take on. How would I be able to convince journalists of the merits of the development if I am not 100% behind it? Even worse, I wouldn’t do a very good job for the client.
I’ll be keeping a close eye on developments at London Road, as I have a feeling this is only the start of the story. And if I could wave a magic wand and own the building myself, I would be off to see the big W Hotel at Starwood, which was supposed to be opening a bit further down the road at West’s Origin development near Canal Street. I’d pop some affordable commercial space /studio space in there, and have a space for arts based events and exhibitions.
I hope Britannia does deliver on the scheme and that this architectural masterpiece is restored and refined, but I won’t be offering Britannia my help (not that they would want it). What should be a dream PR job for someone like me would be a nightmare. This is a question people in PR should consider in a wider context too, could you work for someone or something you don’t believe in? I know I couldn’t.
This morning I attended an event organised by Manchester Chamber to present the Greater Manchester submission for its Local Economic Partnership (LEP). The submission will be made to the Government on 6 September.
The fact there was over 200 people there indicates the importance both private businesses and the public sector give to this future body. The abolition of the Regional Development Agency and the continuing squeeze on public spending means many of us are keen to get some detail on how our City (and by this I mean Greater Manchester) will maintain and grow on the momentum created over the last ten years that has seen Manchester starting to step up as a globally competitive city.
The LEP takes its priorities from the key findings in the Manchester Independent Economic Review (published in April 09) these include getting people off benefits and helping them get the skills they need to be able to get a job; helping companies connect with the right international markets; growing the city as a tourist destination; working with higher education to form partnerships to get funding particularly in the area of scientific research; becoming a centre of excellence of the Low Carbon Economy and prioritising planning, transport, housing and economic development.
Sir Howard Bernstein, chief executive, Manchester City Council mentioned a number of funding opportunities that the LEP will be lobbying for and is especially keen that the management of funds from the European Regional Development Fund is retained in the regional and not centralised in London.
But it does mean that more will have to be done with less. Is this a big ask? After today’s event I am optimistic. They already plan to have a shadow board for the LEP (and know who will be on it) up and running very soon and they know how much money they need in the short term to set it up (£3m – £5 million). The plans were delivered with typical Mancunian confidence and I having worked and lived in the city all my life, track record wise the job pretty much gets done here (and on budget too).
For more comment on today’s event, visit www.placenorthwest.co.uk