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In the News

Place Representation: It's Grim Up North?

Tony Hardman

29th November 2022

English National Opera (ENO) has been told that it could have its Art Council England funding cut if it doesn't leave London, but will receive a three year grant of £17 million if it relocates; with Manchester touted as an option. Protesters have described this suggestion as 'cultural vandalism'. In response, Greater Manchester's Mayor, Andy Burnham, has said if the ENO don't want to relocate there then they are not welcome anyway. Here are guest blogger (and Mancunian) Tony Hardman's thoughts...

The Lowry Gallery, Manchester

I often joke with my students that whenever I meet people from the South on holiday and they comment that the North must be a grim, deindustrialised wasteland I nod and agree without revealing the truth for fear that they will come up here and spoil things. I then go onto mention that I have seen that documentary about life in London where the majority of people work on the market, no one has a washing machine and the rallying cry is “get out of my pub” (EastEnders, just in case that wasn't clear).

That's England's North/South divide for you - media place knowledge encapsulated creating a misguided perception of place.

Andy Burnham was quoted as saying of the ENO... 'If they think we are all heathens here, that nobody would go, I’m afraid it doesn’t understand us and therefore it doesn’t deserve to come here. If they want to come, come willingly. If you can’t come willingly, don’t come at all', and you know what, he is spot on!

Manchester and the North still seems to be seen by many as the cobbles and ginnels of Coronation Street, the smog of L.S. Lowry paintings, Fred Dibnah toppling mill chimneys, and clogs, shawls and cotton mills. However, the international guidebook Lonely Planet has chosen Manchester as one of its must-visit destinations for 2023, and it’s the only British city to make their annual ‘Best in Travel’ list.

It’s a far cry from the Manchester I knew as a kid. There are people who quip that the best thing that happened to Manchester was the IRA bomb in 1996. It sounds like a shocking thing to say, however the fact is, it was one of the catalysts that has given us the city we have today.

As the mural in the Deansgate branch of Waterstones states 'This is Manchester. We do things differently here'. For the tourist there is a wide range of museums and art galleries, theatres (like the Lowry pictured below), concert venues, bars, restaurants and shopping experiences. For the geographer and tourist alike there is the Northern Quarter - an amazing example of ‘organic’ gentrification which has transformed the area into Manchester’s Bohemian centre, with spectacular street art to boot (see the bottom of the page); New Islington - the former Cardroom estate and a byword for deprivation but which is now an urban marina just a stones throw from the city centre; and Castlefield - Manchester’s flagship Urban Development Corporation redevelopment.

On a recent Sixth Form fieldtrip to Manchester it was noted by my (physical geography) colleague that seemingly every single piece of vacant land is being developed…and it all works. It fits. The ultra modern sitting seamlessly amongst the Victorian splendour in wonderful displays of sympathetic redevelopment.

It certainly is time for people to ditch the outdated media representation of Manchester and challenge their perceptions. As former council leader Richard Leese said when asked the question of what is Britain’s second city... 'I’m happy for London and Birmingham to fight it out'.

This blog and the news story that inspired it is a useful starting point for a discussion with A-Level students about levelling up, the north-south divide and perceptions of place.

Read full articles here:

We’re not all heathens in Manchester, Andy Burnham tells ENO

Lonely Planet selects Manchester as top travel destination for 2023

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Tony Hardman

Tony Hardman is an experienced teacher and examiner of 20 years. He is Manchester (well Oldham) born and bred and is passionate about urban geography!

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