Category Archives: Manchester

Street picnic

On my way to the shop today I stopped to say hello to Heike, our fabulous building manager, she was lounging about on a deck chair in the street. I asked her why she was doing so. She was hanging out with Friends of the Earth who were taking part in no parking day. “How much nicer would it be if cities were designed for people and not cars?” they said. How much nicer it would be if people gave out cupcakes and coffee in the street, I say20110916-194009.jpg


Peace vigil in Piccadilly Gardens after the riots

On Tuesday night I sat in my living room watching news footage and talking to friends online while the police helicopter circled overhead. People were rioting on the streets of Manchester and looting from shops around the corner from my home. I was mainly hoping it would rain. I felt safe enough. My flat is is an a little pocket of residential flats but alarmingly near to where twitter told me riot police had moved crowds from a main street, scattering them in alleyways behind. In the early hours of the morning, friends were tweeting a link to the webcam around the corner and declaring it pretty dull viewing. That’s the way I like it. I liked it enough to feel safe enough to sleep.

It was an odd way to experience my own neighbourhood. I stayed in the flat for my own safety, watching video footage from twitter of the streets around, taken by neighbours I will probably never meet. It raises questions for me about where my community is, how I connect with people, where I get information I trust. Largely the online conversation was comforting, making me feel connected.

Today a friend sent me an invitation to a Vigil and Prayer for Peace in Piccadilly Gardens and I thought I’d pop by on my way home from work. I hadn’t read the invite properly and was delighted to find that it was an interfaith vigil organised by the Faith Network 4 Manchester.

Many different faiths were represented and people from different faiths led prayers, songs and chants. I took this picture while some women from the fabulous Buddhist centre were leading the group in a mediative  chant. The atmosphere became very peaceful, on the other side of the square some lads were sharing their chips with the pigeons, resulting in a flock of them flying to them, the sunlight catching their wings in an unexpected moment of beauty. Some young women in a lot of make up and tiny shorts came over to look at us and giggle and then seemed oddly quietened by the chanting, stood around smiling shyly at the group.

Interfaith vigil after Manchester riots

The photo doesn’t capture the scale or the diversity of the gathering, at one point the group spontaneously decided to form a circle and join hands, the circle spanned one of the green areas on the Gardens. I saw Jews wearing Kippah, Sikhs with their headcoverings, many Christian clergy, I chatted to a scientologist and an interfaith minister. A Muslim man was offering round a box of dates, a gesture which is only properly appreciated when you consider that he has been fasting all day and would not eat till nearly 10 o clock tonight. My thanks was heartfelt.

Some of the very many police officers around got talking to us, we asked how they were, had any of their colleagues been hurt? They said no, no one they knew. They were on duty tonight, we wished them luck and hoped it was boring for them, they agreed. “You know what’s been amazing?” they said, “you don’t get a lot of thanks in this job but for the last two days loads of people have been coming up to us and saying thanks and asking us to pass it on to our colleagues.” they shook their heads in amazement. “I was watching it on the news in London” one said “and saying to my wife, this country is going to the dogs. But seeing the public with us next morning and the clean up volunteers… this country is a fine country.”

Quiz time.


What is on the top of this moo-van?
I think it is a sock stretcher for giant socks but I’m open to other ideas

My Great Neighbourhood

Last week I had popped out for some groceries, at the bottom of my street I overheard a young dad softy saying to the baby in his arms, “This is the Northern Quarter, son, and you can come here if you are young and trendy”. The baby was certainly young, and he had cool sticky up hair. If he had been a nerdy baby it would have been a cruel thing to say but it seemed that baby was happy enough being young and cool enough for the Quarter.

Today, the lovely Morag at the LRM told me the Northern Quarter had won an award for being a great neighbourhood. Tom checked it on his magic phone, The Great Neighbourhood Award was given by ‘The Academy of Urbanism

Read about it on the BBC

I don’t know how they decided it is a great neighbourhood. They didn’t ask me. They probably didn’t ask the homeless guy who slept on my doorstep last summer either.

But I do like living here. I like that there are little independent shops, places to buy crafts, comfy little cafes to meet my friends, my work, art galleries, gigs, places to buy that perfect little gift – all within a mile of my flat. I grew up in a village in the North East which had none of those things. Yes it had a strong sense of community, a sense of shared history, and churches and schools and whatnot. Stuff that Dave Haslam, DJ and author, thinks makes a neighbourhood:

“The fact is you never see children in the Northern Quarter – or old people. I imagine a perfect neighbourhood to have a school or a nursery, a park, somewhere for old people to sit and watch the world go by, and so on. In the Northern Quarter, there’s no mix of generations and not much ethnic mix either. There’s no friendly corner shop, no youth club, no church, no mosque, no synagogue. The Northern Quarter ain’t a ‘neighbourhood’. “

I don’t know where Dave Haslam goes – maybe to the bar I was in yesterday where I counted nine people working away on their MacBooks – but it raises interesting questions about what makes a neighbourhood.

Old and young: There are old people among my neighbours, and every time I go for coffee in Cup there is a cute baby in there. He is right, no children but how many neighbourhoods is that true of?

Shops: I’m sure the guy in my local shop where I buy milk would be shocked to learn there was no friendly corner shop. He calls me ‘gorgeous’, sometimes he forgets and I pull a face till he remembers and we laugh.

Religion: I’d like an ordinary parish church that wasn’t a cathedral but the Methodists on Oldham street certainly exist, and I like their community arts café. There is the Muslim Youth Foundation too, where regular prayer times are observed. And the absolutely gorgeous Buddhist centre. And I love being able to go to a theological bookstore in my slippers, but maybe that is just me. They make you coffee in there while you browse.

Ethnicity: There isn’t the ethnic mix I became used to in Birmingham but far more than I was used to back home. In one day in the Northern Quarter I probably see more people whose ethnicity is different from mine than I met before I was 16.

Can I add community organizations? Age Concern, a migrant workers employment advice service, Citizens Advice, an adult education centre, youth counseling, the Manchester Carers Forum and the volunteering charity where I work are all in one building. Refugee Action and Church Action on Poverty are a short walk from my front door.

Last month, I taught an Austrian man to embroider in Madlab, he and his wife had moved here from Vienna. He said he liked the city, because it’s creative, not conservative. He is right. I like the city because its creativity makes encounters like that possible. I love my neighbourhood. Not because it is like every other neighbourhood, but because it isn’t. What makes your neighbourhood great?