New: 230,000 more people in Greater Manchester are about to be offered the vaccine

Plus: Why I won't mourn the cat cafe

Dear Millers — this week’s bumper briefing includes our first-ever Mill cartoon by the great Private Eye sketcher Tony Husband; our first-ever opinion piece, which is about the demise of the cat cafe; and some important news about the rollout of the vaccine which we just learned from GM officials this morning.

Amazingly, our email list has just passed the 10,000-mark! That’s far more followers than we expected to have at this stage, so thanks so much for spreading the word and helping us grow. If you think someone you know might find this newsletter useful or will enjoy the cartoon, please forward it on or use the button below.

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The big story: Vaccine extended

3%. That’s the proportion of Greater Manchester residents who have received the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine so far, or 87,697 people. In England as a whole, just under 2 million people have been jabbed, or 3.5%, which means we are slightly lagging behind in GM.

The graphic below shows our progress so far…

Until now, it’s been care home residents, healthcare workers, social workers, and people aged over 80 who have received the vaccine. There are about 320,000 GM residents who fall into those categories in total, so roughly a quarter of them have had their first dose.

The latest: Last night the government announced that over-70s and people who are clinically extremely vulnerable will be invited for their first dose this week in areas that have made strong progress with the initial population groups. So is Greater Manchester one of those areas?

  • One GM official told us this morning that these two groups — over 70s and the clinically extremely vulnerable — will start being offered vaccinations this week. This hasn’t yet been officially announced but expect that soon.

Here’s the list of groups in order of when they will be reached, with the GM population for each one. There are just over 230,000 residents in groups 3 and 4 — the ones who the roll-out has just been extended to.

Progress has been fast in Tameside and Glossop, where more than 16,000 residents have been vaccinated, and whose speedy roll-out was highlighted this weekend on Radio 4.

And last week Oldham became the first local authority in the country to start vaccinating homeless people when around 30 people were jabbed at the Depaul UK shelter.

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The Mill’s first-ever cartoon is by the legendary Tony Husband, whose ‘Yobs’ strip has been running in Private Eye since the 1980s. Tony is a Mill member and has offered to start contributing cartoons for us. If you want to share this one, you can retweet it here, or share it from our Facebook page here.


Five stories worth reading

1. Salford’s ‘sensible socialist’

“Four years after being elected on a manifesto to tackle social injustice and poverty, the Salford city mayor, Paul Dennett, still lives in the same two-bed council flat he moved into long before becoming a politician,” writes Helen Pidd in this Guardian profile. “He describes himself as a “sensible socialist” and “much more of an interventionist” than others in Greater Manchester.”

2. Tributes to the victims of Covid

“Velma, from Chadderton, was one of seven children. She worked in the mills when she left school.” That’s from one of the biographies in the MEN’s lovely interactive tribute to the victims of the pandemic in Greater Manchester, which includes mini-bios sent in by family members.

3. The student housing pushback

“Its [the council’s] plan is to tempt students out of shabby house shares in traditional student suburbs like Fallowfield and into these blocks. In doing so, the theory goes that suburban houses are freed-up for council-tax paying workers – bringing more money into the council’s coffers.” That’s how an interesting piece in Red Pepper describes the changes happening in Hulme, where a local campaign is pushing back against “studentification.”

4. Bombing victim ‘could have survived’

“The youngest victim of the Manchester Arena attack might have survived if she had received better first aid, a report commissioned by her family suggests,” reports the BBC this morning as a new phase of the public inquiry starts to hear evidence about the response of the emergency services. “Several people tried to help Saffie but though she was bleeding heavily from serious leg injuries, nobody used a tourniquet, or splint to apply pressure and reduce the bleeding.”

5. The people who live in the past

“I’d say my style is mid-century American ranch style,” says Emma Preston, 51, clothing brand owner whose Bolton home is a 1950s time capsule. She’s one of a list of people who reject modern styles and have furnished their houses in the style of past decades in this great photo feature. The list also includes Estelle Bilson, a 42-year-old stylist in Manchester who says: “People treat their houses like fast fashion, whereas, 30 or 40 years ago, people had a style and stuck with it for 50 years.”


This week’s weather

The location of this forecast is Manchester and it’s sourced from the Met Office.


Sent in by Mill member Janet Turnbull, who says: “This was taken in Dainewell Woods when the mist descended. These woodlands are on the edge of Carrington Moss.”


The Monday interview

“Cutting out-of-work support when unemployment is about to peak makes absolutely no sense,” says Jonathan Reynolds MP, referring to the government’s plan to end the £20-a-week Universal Credit “uplift” that was brought in to help families struggling during the pandemic last year. “Governments — whether they are Labour or Conservative — don't cut unemployment benefits in a recession,” he tells The Mill.

Reynolds is the Labour MP for Stalybridge and Hyde, but he’s also the party’s Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and is leading the fight to extend the uplift in parliament today. Labour is bringing forward an “opposition day motion” to maintain the benefit boost beyond March 31st. The motion (which is non-binding and is mostly about putting pressure on Number 10) is likely to pass after Conservative MPs were told to abstain, “amid fears that some — including those elected in "Blue Wall" seats in northern England last year — may defy the whip and vote against the government,” says the BBC.

“I think us working class members of parliament have more experience of how debt affects people,” says Reynolds, who grew up in Tyne and Wear and settled in Manchester after coming here for university and then staying for law school. He fears that ending the uplift before the economic hardship of the pandemic is over will mean lots of families take on more personal debt to pay for bills like broadband and heating. “People borrow money to live week to week,” he says.

Reynolds says his experience as an MP for an area with a lot of Universal Credit recipients has made him especially sensitive to the impact a cut will have. “People need to feed their families,” he says. “They need to heat their homes — you know how cold it has been in Greater Manchester. If anyone isn't aware of the difference £20 a week can make, it's very substantial.”


Look at these chandeliers at Manchester Airport in the 1960s! It was called the Ringway Airport then. We found the picture in the excellent “We Grew Up in Manchester” Facebook group.


Opinion: I won’t mourn the cat cafe

By Dani Cole

I recall my first and only visit to a cat cafe a number of years ago. I parted with a sizeable chunk of my pocket money — £5 to enter and another £3.50 for an instant coffee. The coffee was slightly hairy. I then spent a leisurely thirty minutes being ignored. Other patrons attempted to gain favour (read as “pester”) with the cats. Sensibly, the felines had the presence of mind to saunter off — good for them.

Cats are by nature solitary creatures. Charities such as Cats Protection and Blue Cross don’t like cat cafes, pointing out that the combination of forced socialisation, confined spaces and a continuous flow of people creates a stressful environment for the creatures. The spread of disease between the animals and the cross-contamination of food are other factors to consider.

Last week, Manchester’s ailurophiles were devastated learn of the closure of Northern Quarter’s Cat Café. “Our lease at 103 High Street is coming to an end and unfortunately we haven’t been able to agree new terms with our landlord,” the cafe posted on Facebook, although they said they hope to find a new premises after the pandemic.

No one should celebrate the demise of a small business, and there’s no doubt that the founders of the cafe have noble intentions and believe in their mission to help people relax and unwind. But the existence of these establishments in cities across the world makes me uncomfortable. Cat cafes are bad for cats, and I think we should think again before reopening one in Manchester.

Disagree? Write us a letter by replying to this newsletter and signing off with your name and where you live.


A chill morning in Rivington Gardens, by Andrew Mad Murdock Coward.


Things to do this week

Podcast | We loved “Luke Unabomber: The Broken Man of Rave” — the first episode in the All The People podcast by Mancunian David Blake.

  • What’s in store in the extended interview? “Barbara Streisand, Jason (not Justin) Timberlake, eating fish with Andrew Weatherall, selling sarnies at school for 50p.” You can listen on Spotify.

Music | If you’ve ever fancied being part of a choir, Band on The Wall are livestreaming group singing sessions every Tuesday at 6pm. Join award-winning folk singer Bella Hardy (pictured below) and guest leaders for a weekly workshop of song learning and harmony. Warm up your vocal chords and tune in here.

Poetry | On Thursday, the Instituto Cervantes Manchester and Leeds will be hosting a virtual book launch for Rubén Darío: Selected Poems translated by Adam Feinstein. Rubén Darío was a Nicaraguan poet who died more than a century ago but his influence on Spanish-language poetry “remains immense.” Book your free tickets here.

Books | If your Goodreads Reading Challenge last year was disappointing, then we have good news: The Book Group at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House will be starting up for 2021 this Thursday.

  • It’s one book each month and they’re kicking off January with Wilkie Collins’ No Name. Take a look at the reading list and book your place here.

Food | Manchester Jewish Museum are calling on all foodies to join them this evening at 6pm – they’ll be talking about all things rice (so be ready to share your favourite rice dish or recipe). They’ll be joined by theatre chef Leo Burtin and producer Laura Seddon.

  • The museum says: "If you enjoy stories as a side order to you dinner, this is the group for you.” To join the free event just email laura@manchesterjewishmuseum.com.


Atlas Bar, Deansgate by the artist Rob Wilson. The painting is on sale via Easel, a new art website created by the founders of the Manchester Art Fair, including one of our members.


Explainer: What is an ALMO?

The news: Northwards Housing will be brought back into Manchester City Council oversight following a consultation with tenants and leaseholders. 93% of respondants welcomed proposals to bring the management of their homes back under council control for the first time since 2005.

What the council says: “Moving the service back to the Council could save around £77m over the course of the 30 year business plan — money that can be reinvested to improve services for Northwards tenants.”

We asked John Boughton, author of Municipal Dreams: The Rise and Fall of Council Housing, to explain what it all means:

Technically, Northwards is an ALMO (an arm's-length management organisation). There is by now a fairly common trend for ALMOs to be brought back in-house. They were initially established in the aftermath of Labour's 2000 Decent Homes Standard which required councils either to fund renovations themselves (impossible), transfer their stock to an Housing Association, or establish an ALMO — the latter two were able to access finance. ALMOs, under which local authorities retained ownership of housing stock, were generally set up with a ten-year life-span. Since then, some have been renewed, some have been hived off to the third sector and quite a few brought back in-house.

Got something you want us to ask an expert about in our next explainer, or seen a claim on social media you want us to fact check? Just hit reply to this newsletter.


Letters to the Editor

Re: your great story about the Roaring Twenties in Manchester, I would add that globally at least, the so-called 'Spanish' flu had at least as great an impact as World War 1 on popular culture and the arts in the 1920s. In her brilliant historical account 'Pale Rider', Laura Spinney argues that 'There was a rupture as violent as the parting of the Red Sea.' Pessimism, a preoccupation with disease, anxiety and depression (what we might now recognise as post-viral symptoms) all infused the fiction and drama of the inter-war years, alongside the more hedonistic culture of the 'Roaring Twenties'. Caroline Glendinning, Burnage.

This is an excellent report (“A desperate call from high up on Bleaklow Moor”) — I could almost feel the Icy grip of the wind and snow up on those moors. I don't know why some people can't just predict some of these consequences. Everyone needs to do their own risk assessment when striking out in unfamiliar territory. The people who rescue these hapless souls are truly heroic. Ann Forster, West Midlands.


Book of the week: Coffeeland

Coffeeland, by Augustine Sedgewick, documents the life of James Hill, born in Ancoats in 1871. It comes recommended by Miller and journalist Jack Dulhanty, who says: “He disembarked in El Salvador in 1889 and built one of the biggest coffee plantation networks in the world. The book touches on the faintly-cloaked indentured servitude suffered by his workers and the political context in El Salvador at the time.”

The Guardian’s review goes on:

At the heart of his book lies the story of James Hill, a textile salesman from the Manchester backstreets who shipped out to central America in 1889 and ended up as the undisputed “coffee king” of El Salvador. By the time of his death in 1951, Hill ruled an archipelago of 18 plantations, comprising 2,500 acres and employing up to 5,000 people. His annual profit ran into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Behind James Hill’s great success was a simple thought experiment. What if he could export the ruthless culture of “Cottonopolis”, the nickname given to industrialising Manchester in the 1850s, to the lackadaisical rural landscape he had found in El Salvador? His attention was particularly fixed on the extravagantly fertile soil around the Santa Ana volcano, where coffee was grown by the local Indians on communally held land before being traded in dribs and drabs.


Obituary: Grace Robertson

Grace Robertson OBE was a pioneering photojournalist who captured the everyday lives of women in post-war Britain. She was born in Manchester but described herself as Scottish in interviews, on account of her Glaswegian mother and Edinburgh-born father. Much of Robertson’s work was thought to be revolutionary in the 1950s, including a series which captured a woman giving birth. She went on to lecture on the role of women in photography later in life and was awarded an OBE for her services to photography in 1999.

The Guardian’s obituary explains more:

After she expressed an interest in photography, her father, in 1949, bought her a camera, enthusiastically encouraging her to try her hand at what was then a combative, male-dominated, medium. She initially sent her photos to Picture Post under a male pseudonym – Dick Muir – not wanting to draw attention to the fact that she was Fyfe Robertson’s daughter. On an early rejection slip, a picture editor wrote “persevere, young man”.

In 1951, she had her first series, A Schoolgirl Does Her Homework, published. It featured her younger sister, Elizabeth. Other photo essays by her were published in the years that followed, including Sheep Shearing in Wales (1951), Tate Gallery (1952), and Mother’s Day Off (1954). The latter series, which became her most celebrated, was a record of a day-trip to Margate by a group of middle-aged and older working-class women she had encountered in a pub in Bermondsey, London, and befriended.

Grace Robertson OBE, born July 13 1930, died 11 January 2021.

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Coming up for Mill members this week:

  • A piece on why GM leaders and activists are on the brink of finally reversing Margaret Thatcher’s deregulation of the bus network, including an interview with Sir Richard Leese about the issue.

  • A fascinating feature about about the Oldham suffragette Annie Kenney, and how her experiences working in the mills informed her politics.

  • And: How a trademark lawsuit ruined a family and became one man’s personal obsession.

Join now to get those stories in your inbox….