Manchester is a city recognised globally – as a centre for business, football, and culture. And whilst it is, now, easy to be proud of our city and its worldly reputation, Manchester was not always like this. Before 1996, Manchester was not well known internationally, and had failed several bids to host major sporting competitions, such as the Summer Olympics in 1996. So what changed?
An IRA bomb hit Manchester on 15th June 1996 and shook the city and its identity to its very core.
Whilst nobody could claim the bomb was a positive thing, it did stimulate a rapid regeneration of the city centre, resulting in massive investment and major changes to the layout and ‘feel’ of the city centre. Manchester’s public were keen to rebuild their city and show their resilience in the face of destruction.
Since then, Manchester has changed its fabric and its ‘feel’. It has grown – in terms of its culture and its economy, as well as the two intertwined – into the UK’s second metropolitan centre. Manchester has taken its place on a global stage and become a global brand: cool, hip, cutting-edge. The arts have flourished, with the rise of the Manchester International Festival drawing crowds from around the world to sit right on the Town Hall steps. The ‘Manchester Miracle’ continues to evolve, fuelled by Northern grit in all its multicultural manifestations.
Particularly in light of Brexit, which was announced yesterday, as a city we need to consider the next steps in Manchester’s development within the UK, with the Northern Powerhouse agenda, and within the world. We explored the myths of regeneration and celebrated Manchester’s phenomenal redevelopment over the past twenty years by holding an academic symposium and a public engagement launch on 15th June to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the ‘Manchester bomb’.
The daytime symposium event featured two panels. The first was entitled: ‘20 Years of ‘Manchester Miracles? The Bomb and Regeneration’ and addressed the socio-economic and cultural regeneration of Manchester over the past 20 years, looking at how the city can best serve its citizens in the future.
Joanne Massey, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University, introduced the panel by exploring how capitalism and culture all affect our experience of spaces within the city. She quoted David Pinder: “to change everyday life it is also necessary to change space”. This regeneration of the city centre, then, was vital to developing the identity of Manchester and Mancunions in the years to follow the bombing. Similarly, Kevin Ward, Professor of Human Geography at University of Manchester, explained “The bomb invoked a sense of Mancunion pride: this will not beat us”.
Dave Haslam, author and DJ, delved into the cultural regeneration of Manchester, explaining that the “true Manchester Miracle” which stimulated the city’s sense of identity and culture was that it provided a platform for working-class artists, for example Joy Division and Shelagh Delaney. He explained that this is vital to maintaining the city’s reputation as a cultural hub in the future: “We need to ensure young people from Manchester are empowered and valued, and that radical creativity is supported”, even when familiar cultural venues, such as the Hacienda disappear. He concluded that we need to “be radical, be different, be open minded”.
Jonathan Schofield, journalist and author, debunked the myths surrounding Manchester as a ‘working class city’, and instead of glorifying the past, he suggested that we need to consider the city as it is now. Similarly, Michael Taylor, External Engagement Advisor at Manchester Met argued “regeneration is about thinking about what young people want now”.
The second panel featured Dominique Tessier, from Café Historique, Abigail Ward, from Manchester District Music Archive, Katie Milestone, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Manchester Met, Jon Binnie, Reader in Human Geography at Manchester Met and Gary James, Lecturer in Sports History at Manchester Met. It was entitled ‘Regional Identity vs. Global Brand: Who is Greater Manchester?’ and looked at Manchester’s global identities as they relate to music, football and LGBT communities. The panel explored questions such as: To what extent do the Premier League, the Factory legacy and the Gay Village promote and complement the multitude of Manchester’s histories of success? How can we make the most of the manifold futures signposted by the city’s rich history and diverse heritage?
The evening celebration event, which launched the Humanities in Public Festival for 16/17 centred on the theme of Greater Manchester and Northern Identity, began with an exhibition of artwork from A New Manchester Alphabet. A New Manchester Alphabet is a snapshot of Manchester in 2015, it featured illustrations and poetry from students at the Manchester Writing School and Manchester School of Art.
The event began with a performance by Hannah and Sketch, from Factory Youth Zone, who sang a song entitled ‘A Day in Town’, which perfectly captured the danger, fear and misery on the day of the bomb: “on a day in town/a sudden noise/shook the ground”.
Dave Haslam, who was master of ceremonies, introduced Dr Sharon Handley, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, Languages and Social Science, who spoke about the Humanities in Public festival. Followed by Helen Laville, Pro Vice Chancellor for Education and Student Experience, who said “I believe very passionately in the Humanities in Public Festival. The list of events in front of us is so wonderful”. Helen explained how proud she is to tell people “I live in Manchester”.
Jaycy, Fizz and Billy from Factory Youth Zone presented two parts of their documentary Ourmanchester Ourselves, which explores the history leading up to the bombing, what happened on the day, and the aftermath of the bomb. The first part they showed was What Happened on the Day and featured interviewees sharing their experiences of June 15th 1996. One of the interviewees asked: “why our city?”.
The second part of the documentary explored Manchester’s Regeneration, which was made possible by donations, governmental investment, and money from the European Union. Lucy Meacock, British journalist and presenter employed by ITV Granada, explained “Manchester wasn’t the same after the bomb: it was better, it was a better place to live. Despite everything that happened, Manchester thrived”.
Michael Symmons Roberts, Professor of Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University, treated the audience to some poetry reflecting Manchester’s identity and spirit, even in the face of destruction. One poem imagined Salford docks as a mermaid, “the Salford mermaid and her song”. Another entitled World into Fragments features the lines: “Plate windows shiver into diamonds,/smoked office towers fold into tobacco heaps,/screens give way to white noise,/then blow”, “A world more fragile than we thought”.
Professor Berthold Schoene then introduced and launched the D/Evolving Manchester programme, of which Humanities in Public is a part. He explained that the Humanities in Public programme is all about “the work we do and how it relates to what worries you” in everyday life.
The Ordsall Acapella Choir then sung us out in true Manchester style with a beautiful rendition of Elbow’s ‘One Day Like This’.
We now find ourselves on the verge of Brexit and of Greater Manchester Devolution – the next step in the city region’s contemporary evolution. It has become increasingly important for Manchester to consider its regeneration and development for the future, so we can remain a global city with a distinct identity. In the words of Michael Symmons Roberts, we certainly do live in “A world more fragile than we thought”.
To watch the Ourmanchester Ourselves in full, please go to www.ourmanchesterourselves.co.uk
Humanities in Public will return in September 2016 with a full programme of events on the topic of Greater Manchester and Northern Identity. For updates, follow us on Twitter (@mmu_hssr) and check our website for the full schedule this autumn: www.mmu.ac.uk/hip
This was also published on the Manchester Metropolitan University website.