Saturday, 31 March 2012

Manchester: In Residents ... #10: Eden

"It would be refreshing to separate from former glories to give some new artistic heritage room to grow..."

What’s your name?


What do you do?

I’m a publishing product manager for Prospects, which involves creating new publications and managing existing ones to promote the UK and its cities to both UK and international graduates. In my free time I write about authors and artists for a few arts publications.

Where do you live?

I live at the old Manchester Courthouse, a historic building that still wows me after seven years of living there. It’s in an area that borders two divergent cities – Manchester and Salford – and you get a sense of two places in flux as you walk past the Irwell and underneath the sign that reads: ‘You are now leaving Manchester’. I always seem to take note of that little sign on my cycle home or when I go running. I guess I find the interpretation of space interesting: the invisible line you cross when you leave one area and enter another, and how that line can be in a different place for everyone.

Salford feels different; the skeletons of the buildings on Chapel Street echo a grand, industrious past and some of my favourite hangouts are in this area. I’ve come to love their rough and ready exteriors. The area around Chapel Street doesn’t reveal its gems easily; it really makes you work for them.

Tell us the story of how you ended up in Manchester.

I’m from Ireland and until I moved to Manchester in 2003 I’d never been to the UK. It seemed like I’d travelled almost everywhere else, but the UK just seemed too close to home. One of my oldest friends had moved here the previous year and the plan was to live with him for the summer before starting a fine art degree in Dublin in the autumn.

My first home, in a quiet pocket of Rusholme, couldn’t have been more different to where I grew up in the West of Ireland. The smells, the architecture and the outdoor spaces were sort of familiar but then weirdly other in lots of ways. At 19 I thought I was pretty cosmopolitan but Manchester initially seemed so urbanised that I quickly realised how rural my sentimentalities were.

I’ve always loved running so I spent that summer exploring the city on foot. I think you connect with a place differently when you’re running; it can sometimes be boring and solitary so I immersed myself in my surroundings to make the journey more interesting. I took particular note of the architecture: the Georgian grandeur of the Gallery of Costume in Platt Fields Park; the unusual abandoned red brick factory in Castlefield that’s only really visible from the belly of the Rochdale Canal; the bees that punctuate the inner-city neighbourhood lights and walkways; the King Street alleyway lined with sculptural metal umbrellas; the way the Whitworth Gallery lights illuminate Whitworth Park in a warm, pink glow in the evening.

Manchester was supposed to be a summer fling but it developed into a slow-burning relationship that has lasted almost a decade. I went to university here and I have grown up here. Even though Manchester has its flaws, it’s been good to me, and I feel I owe it a lot. Word to the wise, Chloe Sevigny, you’ve got to put something in to get a little back – you feel me, girlfriend?

What’s great about this city?

In my mind, Manchester stands shoulder to shoulder with places like Berlin, Chicago and Portland by demonstrating that a city doesn’t have to possess the classical beauty of Paris or cosmopolitan veneer of New York to be a centre of craft, talent and originality. People are proud to live in Manchester, and rightly so. Despite being small, and sometimes scrappy, it’s a cool place to live. The grit, the rain, the people and the diversity make life here real and interesting.

The city’s size can offer small pleasures in a way that larger spaces like London can’t. Manchester is about communities and reciprocal relationships. Once you figure out what you have to offer to the city, you soon realise how much Manchester has to offer you. The city can really effect ownership if you work hard at making it your home.

What’s not so great?

Manchester attracts scores of talented grafters thanks to its cultural and musical past, but it often struggles to retain them. It would be refreshing to separate from former glories to give some new artistic heritage room to grow. This might encourage more of the city’s media to promote events outside the social Bermuda triangle of Coronation Street-Hacienda-Manchester United.

The lack of green spaces in the city centre and the missed opportunities – Salford Quays and Chapel Street – and the ‘What were you thinking!?’ urban planning mishap that is Piccadilly Gardens. Plus, for every art deco-inspired Salford Cinema or deconstructivist-influenced Imperial War Museum there are tens of piss-ugly 1960s prefab eyesores.

Do you have a favourite Manchester building?

It can’t compete with John Rylands’ Gothic exterior, or the refined elegance of the Portico, but my favourite building is St Phillip’s Church (…it’s in Greater Manchester, so it counts…). I used to think there was something lonely about it - the last relic on a forgotten street of former bastions of the industrial revolution. In fact, that’s probably what’s so nice about it. St. Phillips Church isn’t as polished as some of its city centre counterparts; it’s just been left to be what it is.

It’s a natural beauty.

The building sums up Manchester for me: not showy or pretentious, just quietly confident in the knowledge that it’s brilliant. It wasn’t until I knew I would be moving out of the area that I appreciated it fully. The church is used as a space for live events and I've seen many excellent artists perform there, but mostly I like it because each time I cycle down Chapel Street and turn the corner onto the cobbled street that’s flooded with light in the evenings, I see the top of the bell tower and I know that I’m home.

Do you have a favourite Mancunian?

My friends are inspirational Manchester residents making their stamp on the city in various ways, through the arts, charity, education, music or fashion. They’re not just some of the best people I know in Manchester, but in life. In particular, the author Patricia Duncker floors me with her literary knowledge and her passion for the city.

What’s your favourite pub/bar/club/restaurant/park/venue?

Kings Arms for quiet beers and late-night drunken Hammond organ playing.
Islington Mill for consistently brilliant events.
The Deaf Institute for drinks after work.
North Tea Power for catching up with friends.
The Palace Hotel Bar for when you should have gone home already.
Chorlton Water Park for weekend walks.
Sam’s Chop House for the best corned beef hash in town.
The Cornerhouse to cherish those lavish window views of busy street scenes, before it moves on.

What do you think is missing from Manchester?

Proper cycling routes. More independent visual arts spaces.

If I was Mayor for a day I would …

Offer all the abandoned, empty spaces in the Northern Quarter and beyond to artists, designers, photographers and anyone with a little love and creative vision to help the area realise its full potential as a thriving creative hub.

Who else would you like to nominate to answer this questionnaire?

Design queen and all round good time gal, Emma Jay.

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