Manchester waits to be transformed

Manchester gears up for MIF21, plus the rest of your Monday briefing

Dear Millers — we hope you had a great weekend. In case you missed it, our weekend read by Mollie Simpson took us to meet two young chess prodigies in Timperley. Aged just 9 and 14, Thisumi and Tarini have their sights set on becoming world masters. You can read that piece here.

Javid appointed: Following Matt Hancock’s resignation for breaking his own Covid-19 rules in the course of having an affair, Sajid Javid has been appointed health secretary. Mr Javid was born in Rochdale, one of five sons, and his father was a cotton mill worker for Courtaulds. Before getting into politics he had a successful career in banking, which our editor Joshi wrote about for The Guardian in 2015. This morning’s newspapers report that Javid will push for the ending of Covid-19 restrictions “as soon as possible.”

Mill mention: We got a mention in The Times this morning in a story about the rise of email newsletters. “In Manchester, The Mill sent its first edition to 21 readers just over a year ago. Today it has 13,000, with 900 paying subscribers.”

This week’s weather

The big story: Manchester International Festival returns

Top line: Starting on Thursday and running until July 18th, Manchester International Festival 2021 (MIF21) will be taking over our streets and cultural venues. The biennial festival showcases work — theatre, art, film, photography — from Manchester and beyond. It was first founded in 2007, the creation of Alex Poots (you can read this 1843 Magazine piece ‘Mr Poots Reinvents Manchester’).

This year, the key themes of the festival will focus on togetherness. MIF’s press officer Oscar Lister told us that many of the exhibitions can be “stumbled across walking around the city” and that it marks another step in the reopening of Manchester’s arts scene: “We’re welcoming people back into the city to experience culture again after the year we’ve had.”

Top picks: We asked Oscar which installations and exhibitions would appeal to Millers, and here’s what we’ve chosen. It’s definitely not a comprehensive list, so for the full list of events, head over here.

  • Sea Change: Kicking off the festival on Thursday evening is a 150-strong mass dance (“a human flipbook”) event which will be happening in Deansgate. It’s been designed by French choreographer Boris Charmatz and it sounds like the joyous, uplifting balm we need. The dancers are a mix of professionals and local residents. To get the dancing going, you’ll need to walk or run past the dancers.

  • Big Ben Lying Down: The centrepiece running throughout MIF21 is in Piccadilly Gardens, a 42-metre model of a toppled Big Ben, made from 20,000 political books, some of which have been chosen by local Manchester organisations. It is designed by Marta Minujín, an Argentinian artist, who will be in conversation with The Guardian’s Alex Clark on Thursday evening. It’s online, so you’ll need to book your tickets in advance.

  • Arcadia: We’re really looking forward to visiting this light and sound installation by Deborah Warner. It’s inside the future home of MIF, The Factory, and it’s the first time the festival will be hosting an event inside the space. It features a “soundtrack” of poetry, and is an “explosion of industry and nature” that looks at Manchester’s past as an “industrial place surrounded by the green hills of the Peak District.” Running 10 - 11 July.

Covid-19 update

  • Cases: Greater Manchester’s case rate is 333.2, up 18.9% compared with England’s 136.4, up 44%. Manchester has the highest infection rate, 429.2, up 23%, closely followed by Salford at 400.3, up 19%. Every other GM borough has rates under 364.

  • Hospitals: There were 50 Covid-19 patients in critical care a week ago, up from 40 the week before but still well below the 170 we saw in February. Outside of critical care, there are 167 patients who have tested positive for the virus in our hospitals, which roughly equates to about 23 per acute hospital trust.

  • Vaccines: More than half of adults in GM have now had two doses of a Covid vaccine, and 71% (1,218,775 people) have had at least one dose. Among the over-70s, 95% have had one dose and 91% have had two doses. The equivalent figures for the 50-69 age group are 87% and 81%. The figures were last updated on June 19th.

Other local news in brief

  • A man who was tasered in Stretford last year by GMP is pursuing legal action. Footage of Desmond Ziggy Mombeyarara, which was shared on social media, prompted concern from campaigners. His legal firm says the use of the taser was “a disproportionate use of force." Read more.

  • The University of Manchester’s ‘Library Reshaping Project’ could see job losses in a bid to save £9.9 million over the next five years. Jobs at risk include those at The John Rylands Library. Meeting minutes seen by The Meteor reveal the cuts are designed to transform the library from “a cultural venue geared towards the public into a research institute”. Read more.

  • Manchester Feminist Network will be marching on Saturday 3rd July to protest against male violence. In a statement, the group said that many of the issues facing women and girls — such as rape, prostitution, sexual violence, and domestic abuse — had been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Home of the week

This beautiful 5-bed semi-detached Victorian house in Cheshire was once the home of world-famous cryptographer Alan Turing — you can see the blue heritage plaque on the lefthand side. It has a walled landscaped garden and many original features. It’s on the market for £1.1m.

Grist to The Mill: If you want to tell us about a story or pass us some information, please email or We are always happy to speak to people off the record in the first instance, and we will treat your information with confidence and sensitivity. Get in touch.

Stories from the street

Seven days a week, Alan, 73, wakes up at 4am and heads into Manchester city centre to clean the shop windows along Market Street. He’s been doing the job for more than 50 years and he enjoys what he does. “It’s a good job,” he told us, “but the older you get, the more fed up you get.”

Things to do

Linocut printing | This evening you can try your hand at linocut printing at Stretford Hall. Linocut is a type of relief print in which the design is carved out, and it’s incredibly satisfying to see the final result. All equipment will be provided as well as tea and coffee. More information and tickets here.

Exhibition | On Thursday, AIR Gallery in Altrincham is launching ‘Off Trail,’ an exhibition by seven artists which explores our relationship with wild space. The show will be transformed into a “hiking trail” throughout the gallery — expect intricate miniature landscapes. You’ll be able to venture off the beaten path to look at works in more detail. Book here.

Life drawing | On Wednesday, Bee Creative Studio is running a life drawing session at Theatre Impossible Bar in Manchester City Centre. All abilities are welcome, and feedback on your artwork is available. Information and booking here.

Dine out | District, a Thai Restaurant on Oldham Street was reviewed by The Sunday Times’ Maria O’Loughlin over the weekend. By all accounts, it sounds like the place you should book next — O’Loughlin says she came away “fully enthralled, taste buds feeling as though they’d been spark-plugged into line.” Book here.

Coming up this week: Our critic goes to Manchester Art Gallery to write about the proliferation of plaques, blackboards and labels that attempt to put the collection in context. She writes: “There’s a strain of anti-intellectualism in Mancunian cultural life that I find at best, vaguely boring, and at worst, condescending.” Members will get that piece in their inbox this week — if you haven’t joined up yet, you can do so now.

Book of the week: These Silent Mansions

Jean Sprackland’s creative non-fiction book These Silent Mansions has been shortlisted for the PEN Ackerley Prize 2021. Sprackland is a Professor of Creative Writing at MMU. The subject matter might seem morbid, but the book conjures a mood “more wistful than woeful.” Graveyards are “sanctuaries”, where “stories are kept.”

Its air of timelessness is not entirely illusory; change has been slower and gentler there. Death and life, past and present are woven together. It works on a different clock.

You can buy These Silent Mansions here.

Our favourite reads

The Observer: 25-year-old Ryan Zaman has cerebral palsy and is taking the fashion world by storm. He grew up in Stockport, and after his parent's marriage broke down, he became his mother’s primary carer when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. This piece takes a look at tokenism and disability rights within the fashion world. “Zaman wryly notes that there are more clothing ranges for dogs than for disabled people.”

The Spectator: Douglas Murray examines the flaw in the “see something, say something” approach, in light of the recent inquiry report into the Manchester Arena attack. “As Jonathan Hall QC, the government’s Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, said this week: ‘The Manchester Arena attack wasn’t about a failure to combine information. It was a failure to see what was actually there.’”

Tablet Magazine: “Hardbat? The antiquated three or five ply wooden paddle covered with rubber pimples. Elegant and audible. Kerplock-plock.” Author Howard Jacobson spent many years “standing at the table” at youth clubs and basements in his native Manchester, which later became material for this 1999 novel The Mighty Waltzer. We thoroughly enjoyed this piece about US ping-pong champion Marty Reisman, who Jacobson once met in Manchester.

Narratively: This is the story of how a father and son duo from Bolton, Shaun and George Greenhalgh Sr, conned the museums, galleries and auction houses around the world with 120 fake artworks and artefacts, to the tune of nearly $15m (£10m). “Despite a credible tipoff, detectives still wondered if they’d made an embarrassing mistake. It was hard to imagine Number 17 housing a ring of sophisticated art forgers.”

The Guardian: Britain’s last hangman Harry Allen was also the landlord of the Woodman Inn in Manchester. In 2014, fifty years after the last hanging in the UK, Robert Douglas recounts Allen’s penultimate execution in this Guardian piece. “The hangmen return to the officers’ mess. The cigarette in the ashtray still burns. Allen picks it up, takes an appreciative draw. ‘Any tea on the go?’ he asks, rubbing his hands.”

Letters to the editor

Brilliant you are exposing the publishers’ “northwashing!” (‘Big publishers said they were coming to the North. Have they?’). As with levelling up, everyone seems to want to look as if they care about the North, without a great deal of substance behind it. I completely agree that new authors need support — agents and publishers should indeed nurture potential, even if only with encouragement, rather than waiting passively for a finished product to drop onto their laps. Maybe the answer is more northern-based publishers, rather than being anybody’s district office? Lucy, Cambridge

A wonderfully reported account of two young prodigies (‘The Queen's Gambit: Two Manchester chess prodigies take on the world’). The story is in many ways similar to that of the Polgar sisters, who went on to become chess grandmasters. The Polgars are studied and discussed in the nature/nurture debate without resolving the question. What seems true is the benefit of early exposure to the game and encouragement from parents as demands on the efforts required to develop talent increase. By the way, among other great chess players, the region can claim one junior prodigy, Nigel Short, who reached the highest level in the game, competing for the ultimate prize of world champion. Tudor, Stockport

Wow! What a story, and what quality journalism. The young ladies and their mum come across as completely lovely people, unspoilt, patently clever and modest when they could quite possibly be full of braggadocio. This has really brightened my morning. Best of luck to the two young ladies with their chess! Caroline, Ancoats

I'm sure there are many such houses, (‘Another great house on Death Row') usually on the fringes of urban areas, that are also crumbling or are even in the last stages of their existence. The groups usually on Facebook do an amazing job but will it come good for Winstanley Hall? Thanks for bringing it to our attention. Anne, West Midlands