Redefining Community in Manchester

The best way to get your head around a place is to experience it – with that in mind, a key part of Greater Manchester Leaders Plus is field trips (we’ve always been fans). We focus on emerging places, innovative ideas and effective cross-sector partnerships, and trips are set up by the team and by candidates.

This year, we’ve seen just how many facets there are to building vibrant communities.

In March, for our Connecting with Place walkabout/workshop, the cohort toured the commercial and government core of Manchester to capture impressions of how residents, workers and visitors used this evolving district as it recovered.

In July, candidate Susie Cuthill and alumna Lisa Harvey-Nebil hosted us at The Proud Place, GM’s warm and welcoming LGBTQ+ community centre. The beautiful and highly sustainable 2022 building includes creative space, a library, courses, venues for hire, recovered furniture and artwork, a roof garden. It’s a space not just of refuge but of belonging, expression and community, that is both inclusive and outward-facing.

That day we also visited Mayfield, home to a new 2.6ha public park and the uncovered Medlock River; thriving food, drink and entertainment venues that made the site a destination as meanwhile uses; and an incoming 1,400 new homes, ~155sqm of offices plus retail and community space. Part of the city’s regeneration focus, it is designed to open to surrounding neighbourhoods and connect with the eventual redesign of Manchester Piccadilly station. The park opened in September to all kinds of fanfare and we will be back in 2023-24 for an update (or at least a pizza)!

In September, candidate Steph Everett of Homes England persuaded Far East Consortium’s Tom Fenton and Hilary Brent to show us the vision for Victoria North (formerly the Northern Gateway) and to walk us around the site.

A stone’s throw from Victoria station and with the potential for a tram stop of its own, this huge 155ha regeneration area will have seven neighbourhoods, hosting up to 40,000 people in 15,000 new homes, with schools, shops, workspace. health facilities and a 46-ha park along the central Irk River. The project is a partnership led by Manchester City Council with affordable homes from L&Q to be delivered early in the programme. It’s astonishing that such a central area has lain dormant for so long, but it’s coming…

Later in September, some of the cohort revisited Stockport for an update on the Mayoral Development Corporation hosted by MDC Chief Executive (and Leaders Plus mentor) Paul Richards. You can see a full post from 2021 here.

The group visited another game-changing regeneration area in October, with Muse Development Director Mike O’Mullane and the cohort braving foul (aka Thursday) weather to see parts of the evolving Salford Central, reviving a neglected area with a mixed-use offer including affordable housing from Notting Hill Genesis.

CGI courtesy Muse Developments

And finally, for a glimpse into the future, Salford University’s Will Swan showed the group around the Energy House Project 2.0, a brilliant and very practical facility for testing sustainable materials and homebuilding techniques, all housed in a giant shed that can throw any weather at the home – while being built and once complete. People will also live there for short periods to test how the building feels, how user-friendly the controls are and to share any punch-list items that can only come from direct 24-hour-a-day experience.

Photo courtesy Beena Puri. Every group needs a hi-vis photo!

It’s worth noting that Homes England is a key investor and facilitator in most of these schemes (as it was in Ancoats which we visited in 2021). All housing delivery is under pressure, with schemes across the country being paused due to costs, policy shifts or other complications. It will take patient capital and partners who can work together long-term to make any sort of dent in the UK’s housing crisis. Building the cross-sector awareness and trust to do that is a cornerstone of Leaders Plus.

For our first year back in person, it’s been a great run of field trips and a great overview of emerging communities. Logistics prevented us from getting further afield – which we will remedy in 2023!

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