'Bring it on!' Greater Manchester swings open its doors

Our guide to the arts and culture venues now welcoming visitors

Dear Millers — welcome to this week’s Mill briefing on a massive day of re-opening across Greater Manchester, as cafes, bars and restaurants allow us indoors and cultural venues come out of a long period of hibernation too.

Our weekend read was a gripping account of the ‘Jigsaw Murders’ by Jeremy Craddock — and a Manchester trial that broke new ground in criminal forensics. In case you missed it, you can read it here.

We have some news of our own… The Mill is getting a little sibling, in Sheffield. Dan Hayes, a great journalist in the steel city and a longtime Mill member, has decided to leave his job at the local newspaper to build a Mill-inspired newsletter there called The Tribune, in partnership with us. “I think it's a really exciting and new way of doing local news and we hope you will too,” he says in his announcement tweet.

It’s really wonderful to see the idea we’ve been working on for almost a year now spreading across the North. We’ve always hoped what we are doing with The Mill could inspire a broader response to the problems in local journalism, with Manchester leading the way. We would be very grateful for your help in getting The Tribune off the ground, so if you know anyone in Sheffield who might like to sign up, please send them the link.

This week’s weather

The big story: Culture is back

Top line: A lot of the media focus is on indoor dining and drinking re-opening from today, but it’s also a huge week for Greater Manchester’s cultural sector, whose venues have been closed down since before Christmas. Wednesday is the day when most galleries and museums are welcoming visitors, including Manchester Museum and Manchester Art Gallery, but some are opening from today.

Behind the scenes, staff have been working hard to ensure that cultural vultures can return safely and enjoy exhibits in the flesh once more. Alistair Hudson, director of the Whitworth and Manchester Art Gallery, says he “can’t wait” to welcome visitors back. “People want to see art,” he told us. “Bring it on!”

  • The Whitworth is following a “phased” reopening, meaning that only one exhibition is open rather than the whole collection. Its big moment will be the Manchester International Festival (MIF) on 2 July.

Another venue reopening on Wednesday is Manchester Art Gallery. Natasha Howes, the senior curator, told The Mill: “We’re all very excited.” They were forced to close last November shortly after installing the Grayson’s Art Club exhibition, which is now sold out for months.

  • Howes says staff have been busy rehanging artworks as well as updating and developing new exhibits, including, ‘The Trading Station’ which includes “fantastically beautiful” design objects that explore the history of tea, coffee, and chocolate through art.

A great way to support cultural venues is to spend money in their cafes and shops as they re-open this week. The cafe at the Portico Library is taking bookings from today, and you can book your healthy lunch there by clicking here.

See our recommended things to do further down this briefing.

Other local news in brief

  • Manchester bombing: "Now, in the week of the fourth anniversary of the atrocity, new evidence directly links the Arena plot to Libyan drug gangs operating in south Manchester," reports David Collins in the Sunday Times, in a fascinating investigation into the bombing. He reveals police suspicions that a drug gang based at Devell House, a block of flats in Rusholme, "was ‘minding’ a car used to store explosive materials for the bomb for more than a month before the attack.”

  • Hotcake homes: "Didsbury has been named the most popular spot in the UK for home buyers — with Greater Manchester suburbs taking up five of the top ten spots," reports the MEN, based on data from Rightmove. "Chorlton, Prestwich, Bramhall and Heaton Moor also make the top ten in the list." The average asking price in Didsbury currently stands at £367,429, more than £130,000 higher than the Greater Manchester average of £237,380.

  • Rochdale invests: "Does a vibrant high street create a vibrant business environment or does a vibrant business environment sustain a vibrant high street? We think it is the latter," says Neil Eccles from the Rochdale Development Agency, speaking to the FT about the town's decision to invest in a new global centre of excellence for machine tool design. "We are going to answer the question, 'can innovation level up a town?'" he says.

  • Peatland restoration work is being carried out at Holcombe Moor, with the aim of slowing floodwater running into nearby areas such as Irwell Vale, Strongstry, Ramsbottom and Radcliffe. The project is part of the £40m Radcliffe and Redvales Flood Risk Management Scheme. Overgrazing and moorland fires have damaged the peat surfaces, meaning they are less absorbent. Read more in the Bury Times.

In case you missed it

In one of our members-only newsletters last week, we looked at a growing problem in the local property market:

We looked at 500 listings for flats in Manchester and Salford city centres within the average first-time buyer budget of £256,000, all posted in March and April on the popular property website Rightmove. And what we found was stark. Three in five online property listings — 59.8% — were effectively unsuitable for first-time buyers because they were advertised as cash buyer or investment only, or lacked the necessary fire safety paperwork for homebuyers to get a mortgage.

Read the piece by clicking here.

Covid-19 update

  • Case rates: Greater Manchester’s case rate (new confirmed cases per 100,000 residents in a 7 day period) is now 59.3, up 42.9% in a week. That’s being driven mostly by Bolton, where there the rate is 270, in stark contrast to the rest of GM, where rates are all under 50. Trafford, Bury, Salford and Oldham all have rates under 30. See our dashboard below.

  • Hospitals: The really big question is whether Bolton’s spike in cases will translate into a similar spike in hospitalisations, or whether — as we expect — the vaccination program has ‘decoupled’ infections from serious disease. A week ago (the most recent figures we have) there were only 18 Covid patients in critical beds across the whole of GM, and only 26 admissions during the week. So far there hasn’t been a meaningful spike in Bolton’s hospital admissions, but we generally have to wait 10 days to see that.

  • Vaccines: An astonishing 89% of over-70s have now had two vaccine shots, and it’s 38% for the 50-69 age group. That falls to just 12% for the 18-49 age group, although these numbers were updated on May 10th so there is a slight lag. In total, 57% of over 16s in GM have had one dose, and 30% have had two.

Home of the week

This 19th century 6-bed detached house in Whalley Range is up for sale for £650,000. It’s got lovely stained glass windows and other period features.

Our favourite reads

MEN: The tale of failed bike hire scheme Mobike serves as a cautionary tale as Manchester looks to try the idea again. It was first launched in 2017, and the bikes were said to be “virtually vandal-proof.” But its dockless model, where bikes could be left anywhere in the city, contributed to its downfall.

Observer: “I’m on public transport. I’m having a pint in the pubs outside. I kind of walk about and I make a point of this so people can come and talk to me,” Andy Burnham tells the Observer's political editor Toby Helm in an interesting interview. “So it’s an exhausting job for that reason actually – because it is full on, you are absolutely there and people can come and raise anything.”

Manchester Review: Deryn Rees-Jones writes in this evocative piece about the after-effects of trauma, following the death of her husband. “The fire burns low as we walk in the white-skied town. The lighthouse has a red eye at its tip. There is something mute about it — mute and muted, its cauterized silence.”

New Yorker: As fans staged further protests last week at Old Trafford, this short piece from the New Yorker gives an American perspective on the European Super League — its point: “was clear: to enshrine a permanent, immovable ruling class of soccer clubs based not on performance but on brand recognition.”

Ideas from elsewhere

How do you design a city to suit its climate? And would it be possible for Manchester? This Guardian piece features Rain Gothenburg, a project that’s reimagining the way public spaces can be designed to make rain-positive infrastructure. It rains nearly 40% of the time in the Swedish city of Gothenburg, but they’ve come up with a “bold” plan to be “the best city in the world when it’s raining”. An example: “rain playgrounds” in schools, which include rain shelters, marshland, and dips in the ground where rainwater can collect to make puddles.

Things to do

We’re incredibly excited to share things you will be able to do in person this week. For museums and galleries, we advise booking in advance where possible — please check the ticket details for entry.

Galleries and Museums

  • Manchester Art Gallery: For those wishing to see ‘Grayson’s Art Club’, tickets are sold out and there’s a very long waiting list. But the gallery has other shows to see. We think ‘Constellations: Care & Resistance’ by artist Jade Montserrat looks fascinating.

  • The Lowry: Opening on Saturday is ‘Days Like These’ which “shares the stories of Salford in 2020, using paintings, photographs, films and poetry contributed by some of the 245,000 residents of the city”. The Lowry’s permanent LS Lowry exhibition is also opening this weekend.

  • Gallery Oldham: We’re looking forward to the ‘Art of the Every Day’ exhibition, which is about “noticing the details which we may have taken for granted before.” They’re also running a programme of digital activities, which includes tutorials on creating woodcut prints and also how to use pastels. You can read more about it here.

  • Manchester Museum: You will now be able to see some of the world’s rarest frogs, the Harlequin toad, at Manchester Museum’s vivarium. We wrote a piece in March about the work being doing to preserve these incredible amphibians.

  • Elizabeth Gaskell’s House: Literary lovers will find things aplenty when they visit. They’ll be opening with a new exhibition ‘A Love Affair with Cranford’, exploring one of Gaskell’s most popular novels. Visitors will also be able to see the author’s bedroom for the first time. Details here.

  • Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art: ‘Multiplicities in Flux’ brings together works by Grace Lau and Eelyn Lee in a “dialogue around identity, belonging, nationality and community in Britain”. 

Podcast | ‘Gangster’ tells the story of Paul Massey, who was known as Salford's Mr Big. Presented by Livvy Haydock, this podcast enters the secretive underworld, speaking to “hardened criminals who reveal how Massey climbed his way to the top through violence and extortion". Listen on Apple Podcasts.

Watch | The 2019 film Mrs Lowry & Son, starring Timothy Spall and Vanessa Redgrave, explores the difficult dynamic between artist L.S. Lowry and his “overbearing” mother. Available to watch on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Documentary | BBC Four’s docudrama ‘Delia Derbyshire: The Myths and the Legendary Tapes’ explores the life and creative output of the creator of the iconic Dr Who theme tune — but who remained uncredited in her lifetime. She was born in Coventry and was evacuated to Preston during the Blitz. Watch here.

Book of the week: Muscle and Mouth

This slim, biting story by Louise Finnigan follows Jade, a student who is determined to get into Durham University. We follow her as she preps an A-Level assignment, analysing the conversations of young men she calls her friends, but who others call “unsavoury types”.

It’s published by Manchester-based Fly on the Wall Press, which was shortlisted for Small Press of the Year 2020. The book is part of the Fly on the Wall Shorts Season and is out June 11 and is available to pre-order here.

The lights blink on-off until darkness catches up with what’s happening. What is happening? The heft of metal, against flesh, against tooth, against bone.

Letters to the editor

Thank you for highlighting the plight of the willow tit. When we think of endangered animals, it’s often our minds wander to the more exotic, glamourous species such as the tiger or rhino. The context you gave (“the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch recorded 7.35 million pairs of Robins last February.”) was particularly alarming. Wonderful, insightful piece. Emilie, Trafford

Great article, really fascinating. Some of it recalls what is written in Isabella Tree's book Wilding (about the role of large animals). However, according to Wikipedia the willow tit is widespread across much of the world, and is not unique to Britain. Peter, Stockport

Thanks for digging into the problems for first-time buyers who want to buy flats in the city centre, but are coming up against a wall of ‘cash only’ and ‘investor only’ listings. Your reporting on the story was very interesting, but it was mostly told from the wannabe buyer’s perspective. It’s worth remembering the reason why so many properties are listed as cash only: on the other side of the transaction there are desperate sellers who have been caught up in the cladding crisis and can’t sell their homes to anyone who needs a mortgage. Hannah, Salford