'An echo chamber of negativity' - or a vibrant community? Welcome to Crusader Mill
Tim Heatley, Manchester's most famous developer, blames the war of words at his flagship building on a noisy minority
Can you build a “real community” from scratch in the city centre of Manchester? When the young property developer Tim Heatley and his highly regarded “social impact” developer company Capital & Centric decided to turn Crusader Mill, near Piccadilly Station, into 126 flats, he promised to do just that.
All of the flats would be sold to owner-occupiers rather than absentee landlords, and some of them were even reserved for local people. Heatley became one of the country’s best-known developers when he allowed a camera crew from the BBC documentary Manctopia: Billion Pound Property Boom, which aired in 2020, to follow his progress as Capital & Centric renovated the building. He was applauded for his candour and for the project’s unusual ambition.
"It’s not just about creating a great space,” said the marketing materials of Crusader Mill, which masterfully pitched the development to upwardly mobile young professionals, “It’s about cultivating a healthy lifestyle, culture and community within it.” Elsewhere Capital & Centric promised that residents would get their own “piece of paradise” in the city centre. “Crusader will still tell its story,” said the brochure. “Its residents will write the next chapter."
But the next chapter at Crusader Mill is proving to be rather more dramatic than the company might have hoped. Yes, it’s being written by the residents, but instead of an idealised story about an idyllic urban community, the plot line in one of Manchester’s most high-profile developments has become messy and acrimonious.
“I think it is quite toxic and an echo chamber of negativity,” one resident told us. “Those who try to bring positivity tend to be drowned out.” They’re talking about how relations have broken down between a group of the residents and Capital & Centric — seemingly the result of disputes over maintenance issues morphing into a larger critique that the company is trying to dismiss legitimate criticism and stifle dissent.
That’s nonsense, says the company’s co-founder Adam Higgins, who told us that “a genuine, positive community of nearly 300 residents has formed at Crusader that love where they live.” Capital & Centric say the sources we’ve spoken to are not typical and even set up calls for us with flat buyers who better represent the feelings of most residents — the silent, law-abiding majority, you might say. The people who, as Higgins puts it, “want to get on and enjoy their homes rather than engage in the persistent negativity of a small handful.”
There’s a lot going on with this story, including toxic group chats, unhappy whispers about a fashion model moving in to create her studio in Crusader Mill and a resident allegedly being threatened with a defamation lawsuit by Capital & Centric. To navigate it all, we asked the journalist Luke Hewitt — who rents a flat in the building — to find out what’s going on. And to ask what the broader lessons might be.
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The Wai Yin Society, a charity that runs three community centres in Manchester, is being accused of having close ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) by a consortium of Hong Konger support groups. It comes after the government announced £3m worth of grants to a range of organisations supporting east and south-east Asian communities. Amongst them was the Wai Yin Society, which received £39,990. An open letter from the Hong Konger consortium accused members of Wai Yin’s leadership team of having an “unusually close relationship” with the CCP, pointing in particular to the chair and vice chair of the society. The former was visited by Xi Jinping when they were chair of the University of Manchester’s Confucius Institute, and the latter attended a virtual celebration hosted by the Chinese consulate to celebrate 100 years of the CCP.
At Wimbledon yesterday, Stockport’s Liam Broady pulled off the shock of the tournament by knocking out fourth seed Casper Ruud in five sets. The 29-year-old is well known to members of The Northern tennis club in Didsbury and he grew up in Heaton Chapel. You might have heard of his sister Naomi, also a tennis player, whose sanction by the authorities for “unprofessional” posts on social media set off a scarcely-believable feud between the Broady family and the Lawn Tennis Association, which you can read about here. Broady will play the Canadian Denis Shapovalov at 3pm this afternoon in his third round match.
And a quick request: We’re calling around all the primary school teachers we know for a story — if that’s you and you’re free for a quick call before lunchtime today, please make yourself known to email@example.com ASAP. It’s just for some background context — you won’t be named in the article.
What’s really going on inside Crusader Mill?
By Luke Hewitt
Crusader Mill is a city centre property with a difference. Its developer Capital & Centric promised the 200-year-old mill would have a strong emphasis on community and would be reserved for owner-occupiers. Promotional materials published a few years ago, when many of the flats were being sold, seemed to speak directly to the gripes many people have with urban living: “No Airbnbs, no absentee landlords, no party flats and no new next-door neighbours every month.”
I’m typing up this article from my Crusader Mill flat, where I have lived for over a year while studying at the University of Manchester. You might think that means I’m writing from the perspective of an insider. But I’m not a proper insider here because I rent my flat — something of a taboo in a building whose stated aim was avoiding landlordism.
I’ve always been a bit nervous telling people that I rent because everyone at Crusader Mill knows about the ethos this place is meant to have. People who live here wanted to live in a historic Manchester building, and they bought into the idea that having people who are here for the long term would create a community of residents who have a genuine stake in their surroundings. And really, this story isn’t about a small smattering of renters — most people here own their own places, and there was never anything stopping the original owners from renting out their flats if their circumstances changed.
But the initial focus on community makes what is playing out at Crusader Mill all the more fascinating, and I’ve seen it first-hand. On the one hand, you have a group of residents who have developed a deeply antagonistic relationship with Capital & Centric and feel there is a gap between the developer’s idealistic marketing and the actual experience of living here. On the other hand, you have many people who say they adore their flats and feel genuinely connected to the people around them. Both groups, however, recognise that a distinctively negative vibe has spread through the building — one that manifests in meetings and in resident group chats.
Here’s how one person I spoke to — someone who was actually introduced to me by Capital & Centric in an effort to give this story more balance and enjoys living here — described things. “Well, there's one [group chat] in particular, ‘the grand chat', which used to be really good and then it just got so unpleasant. I just didn't want to read it, you know, the kind of thing that you were seeing. It was kind of ruining my day every time I read the messages.”
You might be wondering, what on earth is going at Crusader Mill? Let’s start at the beginning.
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