“Ring-a-ding-ding regime change
A long way overdue
But the dogs are gone and it’s pale and strange
With a whole new kind of you”
— John Cooper Clarke
My mate Ste and I stood with our backs to the wall in the innards of Mayfield Depot, waiting for the bard of Salford to take the stage after an emotional set by Mike Garry (apologies to Toria Garbutt who’s stint we missed).
The industrial venue was the perfect setting for a gritty poetry recital (Clarke joked of releasing a live recording of the gig called ‘Don’t look back in hanger‘), as plaster from the walls settled on our shoulders, and a protruding nail dug into my back.
Half an hour earlier we were accosted by a man in the Old Monkey. He slumped down next to us, first inquisitive then quickly aggressive. He didn’t take kindly to our look and tone and tried it on. We left in a ‘what the fuck is your problem’ manner.
Towards the back end of the set, a middle aged couple made their way out early, before the man stopped in his tracks, blocking the view of the gent stood next to us. The gent tapped the older bloke on the shoulder and politely asked him to move, saying he was being quite rude. The older bloke snapped, “who the fuck are you calling rude? You’re being rude, you fucking prick!”. The woman eye-rolled and frogmarched him out. We all looked at each other in a ‘what the fuck was his problem’ manner.
I glanced across the seated audience – a sea of MIF’ers, GRUB’ers. A clear demographic formed, a demographic which I am largely a part of. And yet, something still left me with a bitter taste in my mouth, and made me think about the city’s accessibility to its cultural offering. It made me think about the evident chip which Manchester has on its shoulder, about its loud and proud gravitas and leading attitude towards diversity, and how we can’t comment on a worsening social scene (oh how it is worsening) without being told to leave if we don’t like it.
Wilson’s words about Manchester’s adorn our timelines and grace our cafes, bars and lounges: “This is Manchester. We do things differently here”. Is it really still apt? To marketeers and the tourism board, absolutely. But a destitute? Perhaps not so much.
The response the city had in the wake of the Manchester Arena attack has been nothing short of remarkable and gained global recognition. There was a lift in the city, much like that of the entire country after London 2012 – a new wave of national pride swept over us. After the zenith, however, cometh the nadir, and over the last few months I have seen the worst of Manchester. The post-Brexit vote and terrorist incident has left a swathe of sardonicism across social forums, and has provided countless occurrences of racism and hate crime. At last year’s tourism conference, there was not one mention of homelessness, the massive elephant in the room if ever I saw one. Nonetheless, there was a whole presentation segment dedicated to the approved 110m arts centre, The Factory. I can’t think of a bigger ‘fuck you’ to the poor and needy than this, and yet we criticise the homeless for their indignity and lack of respect for the local environment.
The city centre is for the young professional, the entrepreneur and the digital advocate. Residential properties, leisure spaces, food and drink all pander to this growing demand. The rest battle it out, and you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone.
My quaint little Green Quarter community is rife with callous criminals. Weekly car break ins, muggings on mopeds. Our local was broken into this week. Anti-social behaviour has simply become a byproduct of austerity to contend with, or an inevitable staple of ‘any big city’. The police do what they can, but being underfunded and under-resourced leaves them helpless.
The same could be said for New York City (are we not so bold to compare?) before the ‘broken windows theory’ was put into practise.
Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.
Or consider a pavement. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of refuse from take-out restaurants there or even break into cars.
Stamp out misdemeanours and reduce larger crime, not to mention create a more welcoming environment for locals and tourists alike.
Meanwhile, the cost of living in this part of town rises incrementally. There is land to be built on here, and a link-up with the new and trendy Ancoats to be had. MIPIM described Manchester as a poster boy for urban redevelopment, praising its civic leadership – but what about it’s civic duty and virtue? They were lost long ago.
The Bard ploughs on with ‘Beasley Boulevard’, a swipe at urban regeneration, more specifically Urban Splash. Everyone laughed at the contrast of a forgotten time. I laughed at the irony of a room full of middle class folk jesting about gentrification. Clarke recites “there’s a pub but the regulars are barred”, and I think back to the Old Monkey.
Johnny Marr and Maxine Peake: ‘You can’t avoid homelessness in Manchester. It touched us both’: http://bit.ly/2AasJsF
Attention to detail – how Manchester is failing tourism: http://bit.ly/2nRI7IP
Greater Manchester is one of the key economic centres in the North of England and yet levels of poverty remain a primary challenge.