Discover more from The Mill
Is Manchester’s hospitality sector in trouble?
Plus: A grade-II listed cottage in Oldham and the latest on the Castlefield Viaduct
Good afternoon Millers, what a beautiful day we’re having, with our weatherman forecasting “Spring-like temperatures” for the rest of the week as well. People are sunning themselves on the benches outside the Mill’s office on St Ann’s Square and the view from our office is blue and sunny.
Welcome to this week’s briefing, which goes out to 31,410 of you. If you have a friend who you have reason to believe might enjoy long reads and other high-quality local journalism, please do us a favour and share this edition with them by forwarding it on or hitting that share button below. They can join our free mailing list right here.
Big thanks to the following Millers who (according to our powerful tech system that we barely understand) have brought in the most signups for us with their shares this year so far:
If you’re following the story of the disappearance of Nicola Bulley, give our most recent podcast a listen, in which Darryl discusses his strange and somewhat alarming encounters with the amateur sleuths who have turned up in Bulley’s village to watch — or even “help” with — the search. We also discuss the fate of Manchester City and whether the council can really persuade people to leave their cars at home.
This weekend’s thoroughly reported deep dive by Mollie about the escalating troubles at the Oldham Coliseum was a cracker. On Twitter, Martin Jameson said it filled in “a few (but not all) of the blanks,” about what’s going on in Oldham (if you can fill in more blanks, please get in touch) and former FT assistant editor Brian Groom called it a “great piece on the crisis at the Oldham Coliseum”.
And we got an even bigger reaction to our members-only piece on Thursday about the plans to build 120 homes on Ryebank Fields, the highly contested green space in Chorlton. “First balanced article I have read about Ryebank Fields,” commented Mill member Tristan, “Rather left me on the side of development.” Tim agreed, writing: “The funniest line is them insisting that actually this should be built on the other side of Manchester; a perfect example of NIMBYism in its original form. Our current planning system privileges those with loud voices and homes already — it does less for those who don't have the time to fill in consultations, or sit in a circle in a field.” Mark, a Chorlton dweller for over 30 years, wrote: “Ryebank Fields was a grubby bit of post-industrial wasteland, it has been neglected for decades. I have never heard anyone recount fond childhood memories of the place, for good reason.”
Countering that view, Arnold wrote: “You’ve just managed to explain exactly why we were fond of it. It was always a favourite place to go in the neighbourhood *because* you can’t play football there.” He also took issue with the way MMU has behaved. “The Polytechnic was given some land by the city to use as playing fields: it wasn’t given some land so that they could eventually change their minds and try to flog it off as housing land, so they could make a few million quid.” Join in the debate now (as always, our comments are for members only).
Coming up this week, we have members-only stories about the challenges of finding love in Manchester, with a particular focus on speed-dating; details of an important stash of baroque music that was brought to Manchester hundreds of years ago; and a piece about the long-awaited re-opening of Manchester Museum, including interviews with the key players. If for some reason you are not yet a Mill member, join up right now to read those before we come to our senses and increase the prices from £7 a month or £70 a year.
This week’s weather
Our forecast is from local weatherman Martin Miles, who says: “Spring-like temperatures this week as winter goes AWOL!” As you can tell, he’s quite excited.
Tuesday ☀️ Pleasant with long spells of winter sunshine. Light winds. Max 14°c.
Wednesday 🌦 Bright and chilly to start. Turning breezy and damp with showery rain during the afternoon. Max 11°c.
Thursday 🌧️ Cloudy and mild, with patchy light rain. Max 11°c.
Friday 🌦 Windy and very mild with showers. Max 14°c.
Weekend ☁️ Turning settled. Remaining mild by day but feeling chilly by night.
You can find the latest forecast at Manchester Weather on Facebook — daily forecasts are published at 6.15am.
Support the victims of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria - and listen to magical music
From today’s sponsor: Classical music lovers in Manchester have a wealth of options to choose from but many Millers might not yet know about Manchester Baroque, a brilliant group who put on regular chamber music concerts, larger orchestral works and oratorios. Founded in 2019, they use period instruments so that their renditions of composers like Bach and Handel sound as authentic as possible, recreating the sounds that Mancunians heard hundreds of years ago. Next Saturday (Feb 25th) they are putting on a special concert at Manchester Cathedral to raise money for those affected by the terrible earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. On top of pieces by Handel and Corelli, they will play Spring from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons — the “Manchester version” no less, based on a manuscript that was brought here from Italy in 1742. Get your tickets, with a special 20% discount only for Millers, by clicking this special link.
Big story: Is Manchester’s hospitality sector in trouble?
Top line: The sudden closure of the much-loved Cocktail, Beer, Ramen and Bun (CBRB) on Oldham Street has been met with plenty of support from diners, food journalists and fellow operators. “Great little venue,” wrote one Miller on Twitter this weekend. “Gutted for the staff.”
In a statement, the restaurant’s owners said the business was under “massive financial strain,” and had been trying to avoid closure for months, but it had become “extremely difficult to do what we love, without compromising on quality.”
Tidal wave: Since the start of the year, we’ve seen a string of closures of hospitality businesses across Greater Manchester, including some decades-old institutions. In statements, almost all have referenced rising costs and post-pandemic pressures. Reporting on the CBRB closure, the local website The Manc described it as “adding to a tidal wave of hospitality casualties”.
The question: Hospitality is a naturally volatile sector in which businesses come and go very quickly even during good times, so it can be hard to work out what the pattern is. Do the recent closures signal a downturn in the sector?
Insight: The Mill understands that the number of bars and restaurants is actually increasing in the city centre, not falling. More licences are being given out than are being handed back, we’ve been told, continuing a trend we have reported on since the pandemic: the influx of new residents into the centres of Salford and Manchester allowing hospitality to go from strength to strength despite the difficult economic conditions nationally. CBRB might be closing, but many of the other recent closures have been outside the city centre.
Operators grow: There’s also a trend of successful operators consolidating their hold on the city’s hospitality sector, we’ve been told, with the same owners and investors now running more and more venues. Punters may not know about these “silent chains” because the bars and restaurants are often still run as separate independent companies, but you could easily go on a bar crawl down some streets in the Northern Quarter, for example, and only patronise businesses owned by two or three people.
Musical fortunes: The row over Night & Day Cafe has put a spotlight on the future of gig venues in Manchester recently, but in general, live music venues seem to be performing well at the moment, while nightclubs are struggling badly since the pandemic. Few new clubs are opening and many have either handed back their licence after closure or converted to more profitable uses. What’s driving that? Insiders mention a couple of possible factors:
Young people getting out of the habit of heavy nights out during the pandemic, or perhaps finding sharing packed basements with sweaty strangers less appealing.
Nightlife in the city seemingly becoming a bit less boozy generally, with more of a focus on eating, live music and activities like crazy golf.
Bottom line: Rising costs are making life harder for small independents in hospitality, who need your help more than ever — as CBRB’s statement reads: “Eat out at your favourite family restaurants. Order that takeaway from your local small business. Because we guarantee they’ll need it.” That seems to be especially true in the towns and suburbs, where — anecdotally at least — we are seeing more closures in places like Withington and Chorlton. But the countervailing force in the city centre is Manchester’s growing population and tourist appeal, which continues to drive up demand and means the sector is growing despite the terrible economic conditions.
Home of the week
This Grade II listed cottage in Oldham boasts stunning views and a large rear garden, as well as some lovely exposed wooden beams. It also has two sizeable bedrooms and one bathroom, all for just £190,000.
Your Mill briefing
Three months ago, the Manchester Evening News reported growing "Concern over gambling shops in deprived areas of Manchester as cost of living crisis soars", noting that the council has opened a new Gambling Treatment Clinic in the city centre. A GP quoted in the story warned that gambling addiction causes great suffering to whole families as well as the individuals involved. Then on Friday, a sponsored story on the MEN’s website popped up telling readers about which popular gambling sites accept PayPal. "What do you want to play while gambling? Slots, live dealer games, lotteries, or a mix of everything?” the story asks. After being told the ad was “shameful” and “embarrassing” by readers on Twitter, the MEN deleted the tweet but kept the story live on its website. Will this episode shame the newspaper into changing course? Don’t hold your breath. The MEN is owned by a London-based media conglomerate called Reach Plc. Reach is run by a chief executive who used to lead — checks notes — Ladbrokes.
That’s just Tiraspol-itics: This time last week, we broke the story that Leigh Drennan, the chair of North West Labour, had been kept off the longlist for Bolton North East despite being a frontrunner for the key marginal seat. Reporting by the BBC refers to claims of a “London clique” selecting local candidates who align with the leader’s office and says all members of the local selection committee in the constituency have now resigned as a result of Drennan’s purging, which officially came about because of “due diligence reasons”, not because he was considered a candidate of the left. “Maybe his little recent knees up in Putin-controlled Transnistria region of Moldova may have done it,” one source suggested this weekend, sharing a holiday photo of Drennan drinking brandy with a group of other men. Which seems very unlikely, but we have already dispatched reporters to Tiraspol in the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic to make our own enquiries.
The former site of Chorlton Leisure Centre is set to be used to build 50 sustainable homes for people over 55. Subject to planning permission, the site will be transferred to Mosscare St Vincents, who will build 40 affordable rent homes, seven for shared ownership, and the remaining three to be used by the council’s adult social care team as neighbourhood apartments. Mill members will have read our story last week about the fight to save Ryebank Fields — also in Chorlton — from development. Indeed, one resident has posted the leisure centre plans to the Save Ryebank Fields Facebook group calling it a “much better site than the fields”.
Still up in the air: The plans for a Clean Air Zone in Greater Manchester remain in limbo. Local leaders don’t want to enforce any charges, but the government isn’t convinced a non-charging CAZ would be effective. At a meeting on Friday, Andy Burnham said that the government have requested the charging zone be focussed within the inner relief road, so any charges would be confined to Manchester and Salford. Burnham said it seems “highly unlikely” that there would be charges in any of the remaining eight boroughs of Greater Manchester.
We enjoyed this piece about Invader, an artist whose tilework can be found anywhere from the seabed off Cancun to Back Turner Street in the Northern Quarter — and, as one person pointed out on Twitter, between the Palace Theatre and Bridgewater House on Whitworth Street West. “I was invading public space with a mosaic of a small character whose role is to invade,” Invader told the New York Times. “I had found my thing, like the great artists who found their style.” You can see where else Invader’s art is in Manchester here.
And finally: A bit of news on the Castlefield viaduct, which reopens this Saturday. In Thursday’s newsletter, we said the project would only really succeed if it widened access beyond its ticketed booking system. Well, Mill member Jeremy Shine pointed out that it will. Or, at least from 1pm onwards — morning visits will still require a booked slot.
Our favourite reads
Walking as Resistance — Tribune
Dr. Morag Rose, longtime Miller and founder of the Loiterers Resistance Movement, leads Manchester walking tours with a difference. Describing her walks as “psychogeographical”, Rose aims to do more than just point out street art and historical landmarks: “When I do a tour they are always political, with a small ‘p’”. In this long read, writer and poet Lucy Holt explores alternative walking tours as an unexpected method of resistance to Manchester’s increasingly divided urban landscape.
Why Manchester needs more trickle-down economics — New Statesman
Atom Valley — the 2023 industrial strategy for Greater Manchester — hopes to address socio-economic divisions by creating a hub for innovation, which will in turn create 20,000 jobs in Bury, Rochdale and Oldham. But how effective will this strategy be for Greater Manchester’s economy, and more importantly, for local people? New research suggests the plans are not enough for deprived communities suffering from a prevalence of low-paid, insecure jobs.
Is Manchester on the cusp of an electronic music renaissance? — Northern Soul
Electronic music collectives, new venues and a changing audience demographic: it looks as though Manchester is about to experience an electronic music renaissance. Desmond Bullen speaks to the organisers of Bleep, the open mic electronic night hosted in the basement of The Peer Hat in the Northern Quarter, about their passion for the genre and re-establishing the electronic music scene in Manchester.
Our to do list
🎷 Enjoy jazz singers by candlelight at Matt & Phreds. It’s intimate, romantic, plus they’re offering free pizza when you buy two alcoholic drinks. More here.
❣️ If you’re still stuck for plans, the Edinburgh Castle is offering a Valentine’s tasting menu and they still have some tables free. Their most recent tasting menu for Burns Night got a great review from The Mill’s Jack Dulhanty, so you can book with confidence. More here.
🎬 Bury Art Museum and Sculpture Centre is showing Recipes for Baking Bread, an award-winning collection of five short films with people connected to the histories of Ukraine. It’s free to visit, and as we wrote recently, the museum needs your support. More here.
🎵 If you’re a fan of Afrobeat, don’t miss Kweku of Ghana (K.O.G) as he takes to Ramona Radio — the Northern Quarter pizza joint’s Wednesday night live radio show — to talk about his latest music and play a mix of global sounds. More here.
⛰ Ever wondered what it’s like to trek a pilgrimage route across Europe? Diplomat Matthew Preston offers his personal experiences of the Camino de Santiago, with tips from a seasoned pilgrim on what to expect from the experience. Reserve a spot here.
🎭 Head to HOME to watch A Bouffon Play About Hong Hong, a finalist of The Women’s Prize for Playwriting 2021. Bouffon performances focus on the art of mockery — so you can expect a good laugh. Tickets here.
For our glitteringly well-informed weekend to do list — which we send out every Thursday — hit the button below to join us as a member.