'Eid is not just about praying in the mosques, but also about going out into the parks'
Plus: Andy Burnham tells us the government might have got its rocks mixed up
Dear Millers — good morning. Yesterday we set foot in Manchester’s eye-wateringly expensive new arts venue Aviva Studios, formerly known as Factory International, or just Factory. It’s a building that’s had as many names as it has budget overspends and it isn’t actually completed yet — that might happen later this year.
For now, the vast warehouse space at Aviva Studios is hosting one of the main exhibits of the 2023 edition of the Manchester International Festival, which officially opens across the city today. That exhibit is Yayoi Kusama's You, Me and the Balloons, and we’ll be interested to hear what you make of it. “Polka dot art opens Manchester's £211m arts venue,” reports the BBC’s Ian Youngs, whose story mentions The Mill and quotes Joshi’s thoughts on how the city is feeling about this vast but extremely-hard-to-define new cultural edifice on the Irwell.
What on earth is Aviva Studios? And do the people behind it — who are also behind Manchester International Festival — have a grand plan that is going to inspire a new golden age of culture in Greater Manchester? That’s the subject of a weekend read that Sophie is toiling over in her dimly lit living room as you read this. Do not miss her piece tomorrow though — it’s a cracker.
Ok, enough promo for what’s coming up. The truth is that we had to change up today’s edition at the last minute, as sometimes happens in this business. We were planning to publish a gripping report about tensions, trolling and lawsuits inside a major property development in Manchester — a tale involving fashion influencers, furious residents and suggestions that a community is being dismantled by a tiny minority — or perhaps they’re not a minority at all?
Anyway, without taking you too far under the bonnet of how things work here, the developer in the story argued yesterday that we hadn’t given them enough time to respond to our 17 questions and we have decided that’s probably a fair point. We gave them the usual 24 hours to get back to us, but with complex stories involving lots of allegations, it’s generally considered reasonable for organisations to ask for a bit more time to look over claims, check facts and put their side of things over. If you want to produce robust and rigorous journalism, you sometimes have to accept that means going back to the office after the pub and producing a whole new edition at the last minute, and that's what’s happened here. We’ll bring you the property story next week and it will be members-only, so do subscribe now if you’re not a member yet to get that.
To fill the gap, we’ve brought forward a lovely commission we were going to run next week. Very early Millers might remember the name Sharmaine Entwistle, who was our first-ever photographer. Right when Joshi started The Mill in 2020, Sharmaine got in touch, offering to join him on a Covid reporting trip around Oldham, where she lives. Well, today she’s back with some stunning photos of Eid al-Adha celebrations, also in Oldham, which you can see below. She and Mollie have collaborated to write a great little piece to accompany the pictures — a story that captures what this major festival means to local Muslims, especially ones who have just arrived in these parts from all around the world. We hope you enjoy it.
Your Mill briefing
Do the government’s HS2 plans have feet of clay? Ok, that joke doesn’t quite work but as we have mentioned several times, Greater Manchester’s leaders have been at loggerheads with Whitehall for a long time about how HS2 should come into Piccadilly. In short, they are desperate to get the more expensive underground station option rather than the government’s cheaper “tracks on stilts” plan. Now there’s a new talking point in this long-running hoo-ha. At a recent committee meeting, an expert witness said the government was taking an approach to sub-surface construction based on their experiences down south, where the ground is softer. This makes tunnelling more expensive because extra work is required to stop the tunnels from caving in. But Manchester sits on harder rock — Sherwood sandstone, for those wondering — which is cheaper and easier to tunnel through because it holds its shape.
Now for a Mill exclusive: we were recently contacted by someone who had overheard a conversation on a train down to London. The source thought the conversation involved government officials or at least people who knew the details of how the government’s cost assessments for the underground Piccadilly option, and they seemed to be confirming what the expert had said. It turns out, Andy Burnham agrees that the costings might be ignoring the type of rock Manchester sits on. Burnham told us: “Technical experts believe an underground station in central Manchester would be feasible and that the hardness of the ground could mean it is more affordable and easier to deliver than is being estimated.” In response, HS2 Ltd, the body responsible for delivering the rail line, told us: “HS2 has never assumed that the ground under Manchester Piccadilly station is made of clay.” If you’re as fascinated as we are by this geological thriller, please tune in for more updates next week. We will cancel our weekend plans and bore a hole through the walls of the Piccadilly tram stop to recover rock samples if we have to.
Over 2,000 workers at Manchester Airport will receive a pay rise of up to 17% over two years, it’s been reported. Staff working in security, operations, firefighting, traffic and car parking at the airport will also receive a lump sum and pension benefits. John O’Neill, regional officer for Unite, said they had been able to "hammer out an excellent pay deal". The airport said the deal is a result of the “levels of trust” built between it and the union over the years.
The re-trial of Benjamin Mendy, the ex-Manchester City footballer accused of the rape and attempted rape of two women, started yesterday. At the start of this year, Mendy was found not guilty of a string of sexual offences but jurors could not reach a verdict on the two charges heard at the ongoing re-trial. The jury heard that Mendy raped a young woman in his Cheshire home, The Spinney, then told her: "it's fine, I've had sex with 10,000 women".
An enormous skyscraper that is going to appear just off Whitworth Street West has taken a step forward after the project appointed a main contractor. “DOMIS Construction has been handed the contract to build the 37-storey Vision scheme, which will see the delivery of 327 one-, two, and three-bedroom apartments, as well as a gym, yoga and spin studio, and cinema,” reports Place North West.
And finally, our latest podcast is out and it’s an emotional one. Our co-host Darryl Morris, who has been a massive supporter of The Mill for a long time, is hanging up his microphone for a while to focus on his Times Radio show. We’re very grateful to Darryl and the whole team at Audio Always in MediaCity for their help — they’re an amazing bunch and they make a big contribution to culture and the emerging audio media landscape in this city. Our show will go on, so please subscribe and tell friends about us if you like it. In this week’s episode, we discuss the brilliant long read we published last weekend about student life int the pandemic and a few other important stories.
Photo essay: Celebrating Eid al-Adha in Manchester and Oldham
By Sharmaine Entwhistle in Oldham and Mollie Simpson in Manchester
Hamid Ali started “Eid in the Park” in Oldham’s Berries Field Park in memory of his mother, who passed away last year. Her last wish was that Oldham’s communities would start to come together, so he set the event up in her honour. The first gathering of its kind organised by the Bangladeshi community in this town, it welcomes everyone — Muslim or not — to celebrate Eid al-Adha, one of the two Eids observed by Muslims (the other being Eid al-Fitr).
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