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Over a quarter of Greater Manchester is used for farming. Should we understand it better?
Plus: A contentious event draws protests at the People's History Museum
Dear Millers — welcome to this week’s Monday Briefing, which covers urban farming, the new Ian Curtis mural and catchy slogans like “THE ONLY GOOD FASCIST IS A DEAD FASCIST” chalked on the pavement outside an event in Salford.
Quiz question before you begin: What is the name of the local breed of sheep with distinctive curly horns and a coat adapted to Lancastrian weather? If you know without scrolling down you can become our Countryside Correspondent.
The foot soldiers of the Mill revolution (Mollie and Jack) are both away, so Joshi is back writing a Mill briefing like in the good old days, ably assisted by Daniel’s excellent big story on Greater Manchester’s surprisingly large agricultural industry.
“The saviour of local journalism in the UK might just be a humble newsletter that launched in Manchester only three years ago and is now preparing to expand across the country with backing from investors including former BBC head Mark Thompson.” Or at least that’s what we read in the Observer yesterday — a highly esteemed newspaper that is always right about things like this. It goes on: “The Mill, founded by Joshi Herrmann, covers everything from homelessness to restaurant-industry bullying in gratifying depth for an audience of 36,000 and counting.” Do share our tweet about this to spread the good news.
We’re closing in on 2,500 members — we’re on 2,477 at the time of writing. Our target was to surpass this milestone by the end of September but hell, let’s just get it done by the weekend. If you’re not a member yet, jump on board using that pink button below and then drop us an email to introduce yourself.
As always, there were lots of excellent comments under our weekend read about Andy Spinoza’s book Manchester Unspun, a piece that examined the question: What are the big factors that have driven this city’s rapid growth? If you missed it, read the piece now.
Jack’s detailed report on what’s happening at the “food village” Hatch last week is another great read, asking some searching questions about this model of dining and the power imbalance it creates between operators and independent traders. “Good article, but I disagree with the suggestion that food halls are not sustainable anymore,” writes member Matt Baker in the comments. “Food halls are here to stay. See Eataly in London, Time Out in Lisbon or Foodhallen in Amsterdam to see how amazing a model it can be. However, some operators run them better than others, and, for some, it’s just an exercise in real estate development rather than a passion project.”
An astonishing 37,305 Millers now get our emails in their inboxes and we're greedy for more. If you know someone who might enjoy The Mill, please do forward this edition — your pals can sign up to our list here. Or hit that share button at the end of the edition.
Learn how to green your home
From today’s sponsor: As part of Retrofit Action Week, The Home Upgrade Show (13-14 October) in the beautiful Victoria Baths is an unmissable event for anyone looking to create a greener, healthier and more energy-efficient home. Brought to you by Low Carbon Homes, the show is a unique showcase of over 50 exhibitors and will include “Ask an architect” sessions, a heat pump clinic and advice on how to phase a “deep retrofit”. Go ahead and register for free.
Want to support The Mill’s journalism by sponsoring an edition — and (as a side benefit) get your message out to 37,000 incredibly engaged Millers? Get in touch.
This week’s weather
After some sticky evenings over the weekend, our weatherman Martin Miles is promising (well, predicting, but we do hold him to his forecasts) “cooler nights to come”. He writes: “The heatwave is over and a more typical mixed September week of weather lies ahead.”
Monday: 🌦️ Warm with showers and large amounts of cloud. Heavier rain overnight. Max 21°c.
Tuesday: 🌧️ Cloudy with outbreaks of light to moderate rain. Turning cool later and chilly overnight. Max 18°c.
Wednesday: 🌤️ Dry with patchy cloud and sunny spells. Light winds. Max 20°c.
Thursday: 🌦️ Mostly cloudy, breezy and showery. Feeling humid later. Max 18°c.
Friday: 🌦️ Mostly cloudy with occasional showers and light winds. Max 18°c.
Weekend: 🌦️ Mixed fortunes with sunny spells but also showers at times. Temperatures will be around average in the high teens.
The Big Story: Farming in Greater Manchester is bigger than you think
Top line: Most people think of Greater Manchester as an urban place. But over a quarter of the city region’s land is used for farming, figures show. In 2021, there were more than 20,000 cows, 50,000 sheep, and 400,000 chickens, on local farmers’ books. We were intrigued when we saw the data and thought: given the drive to eat more locally-produced food, shouldn’t we all understand this sector better?
The sheep capital: Rochdale has the largest amount of land given over to farming with a quarter of GM’s farmland. It’s also the sheep capital, with 16,674 of them — the local landscape of hilly grassland is ideally suited to the animal. These include a local rare breed, the “Lonk”, with distinctive curly horns, and a coat adapted to Lancastrian weather. Here’s the farming land in GM:
Bolton comes out top for cows, with 4,500 heads of cattle, while in Bury there are almost as many chickens (150,000) as people (190,000).
The specialisms look quite different on the south side of the city region. Stockport is home to two-fifths of GM’s pigs (1,500 of them). The sunnier southern side of the city region is better suited to fruit and vegetables — Trafford has the most land for this. And in the west, Wigan grows over half of all of Manchester’s cereal crops. Here’s a map of our farming specialisms.
But farming in Greater Manchester is at risk. Recently released data shows that the number of all farmers in the city region has dropped by almost a fifth (18.8%) since 2007, with 400 fewer workers in 2021 than fourteen years earlier. A big part of that is the older population in farming — over half the workforce in the UK is 55 or over.
Headwinds: The sector has been hit by other challenges, including:
Adjusting to new terms of trade post-Brexit, including a deal with Australia that most farmers believe has sold them out.
Uncertainty about the future regulatory regime, which is supposed to replace EU subsidies with payments based on “Environmental Land Management”.
Changing weather patterns, with more unpredictability in amounts of rain and sunshine due to climate change.
Analysis: For some farmers, the financial challenges and growing stress of the job have been enough to prompt them to leave altogether. That’s a problem when we are simultaneously realising how important it is to generate food locally. While farming can cause environmental problems, it also has to be part of the environmental solution.
Bottom line: Farming plays almost no part in our city region’s public discussion, but is a big part of how land is used. As the workforce rapidly shrinks, we need to pay urgent attention to its future.
Want to tell us more about GM farming? Get in touch.
Home of the week
Fancy living extremely close to The Mill’s office, so that you can wander in and bend our ears to your every concern? This (rather over-priced?) first-floor flat is in a very historic building right in the heart of town — it’s on sale for £450,000.
Your Mill briefing
The financial meltdown in Birmingham — where the council has had to declare the local government version of bankruptcy — is causing jitters here too. Local authorities are in very poor financial shape across the country as a result of brutal cuts in the grants councils get from central government (down by 40% in real terms between 2009/10 and 2019/20, from £46.5bn to £28.0bn). The Mill understands that the top brains at Manchester City Council are reviewing the city’s finances carefully — with a particular eye on IT software projects, given the issues with the Oracle IT system in Brum. Which councils might be vulnerable to financial collapse in this neck of the woods? “Trafford and Bury,” says one well-connected source, “because when they were run by the Tories they used to use it to try and stop council tax going up.” Another possible one is Bolton, which is said to have borrowed heavily against expected dividends from its stake in Manchester Airport, which dried up during the pandemic. Do you know more? Drop us a line.
A contentious meeting took place at the People’s History Museum this weekend when the advocacy group Sex Matters held a public event that has attracted controversy ever since it was announced. Maya Forstater, the researcher who last year won a discrimination claim against a think tank that sacked her after she tweeted that transgender women cannot change their biological sex, spoke at the event wearing a t-shirt with a definition of “Woman” as “adult human female”. She later said: “If Emmeline Pankhurst were alive today she would have been wearing this t-shirt.” The event attracted protesters, who say that Sex Matters is a transphobic organisation. This morning, Forstater posted photos on her Twitter of what she said were threats that had been chalked onto the pavement outside the event, including the words “ADULT HUMAN FEMALE NOUN: FASCIST SCUM” and “THE ONLY GOOD FASCIST IS A DEAD FASCIST”.
The Great Northern Conference has kicked off over in Broadford today with a debate between Andy Burnham, and the metro mayors of South Yorkshire (Oliver Coppard) and West Yorkshire (Tracey Brabin). Debate is perhaps the wrong term, given these mayors likely agree on all the main points. As Tom Forth, local data expert attending the conference, pointed out: “The standout thing from this #OneNorth Great Northern Conference is that only Labour have turned up. Their Metro Mayors turned up. Their shadow cabinet turned up. Their MPs turned up. And the Tories, just as many will have been invited, any could have come, haven't turned up.”
And finally, Manchester’s favourite urban photographer Nathan Whittaker has posted an image of the new Ian Curtis mural on the side of the Star and Garter behind Piccadilly Station. It’s identical to the one that was painted over in the Northern Quater, but now it will be visible to millions of rail passengers every year. The BBC has the backstory on why the original mural was painted over and how it’s come back.
The Mill is growing… Find out more about our recent round of funding and the jobs we are hiring for this month. The role we’re not getting lots of applications for yet is the Head of Commercial job, so we need your help. This role is probably best for someone who has done at least a few years in consulting or a corporate setting and who fancies the challenge of coming into a small, fast-growing media startup and building up our business operations and sales.
Our top reads
Inside the Glazer family’s faltering fight to sell Man Utd - Sunday Times
What on earth is going on in the boardroom at Old Trafford? The club suggested it was for sale — or at least wanted a big outside investment — last year but still the saga rumbles on. This piece suggests the American investment bankers in charge of the process aren’t doing their jobs very well. “Raine are just incompetent,” a source says. “They have a very difficult client, because it’s difficult to understand what the Glazers’ real objectives are. But nothing’s really progressed. We are where we were four months ago … There’s no momentum in the conversations — and unless you have momentum, deals die.”
Stockport: The Buzz in the Boroughs - Manchester Confidential
The Sunday Times produced one of its “best places to live” lists yesterday and Stockport made the list (alongside Prestwich). There wasn’t much revelatory information in the piece, so if you want something more substantial, this piece delves a bit deeper. David Adamson writes: “While the suburbs of Marple, Bramhall, Cheadle Hulme and the Heatons have always enjoyed a level of middle class amenity, the town centre seemed slightly hollowed out and underserved. Until now.”
What happened to South Yorkshire's Angel of the North? - The Tribune
Ok, this isn’t about Manchester but it’s very funny. Published by our sister newsletter in Sheffield, the piece investigates a massive public art project — creating a giant “Steel Man” as the area’s answer to the Angel of the North. The story is full of twists and turns and hilarious obfuscations. “Later on in the day, as I continue to struggle to interview someone who has ever had any involvement with the Steel Man, my phone rings,” writes Victoria Munro. “It’s someone from the project, calling me for an off-the-record chat. It’s come to their attention that my efforts to work on this story have not stopped, apparently someone from the British Heart Foundation has dobbed me in.”
Our To Do list
🎭 Starting in earnest this Thursday (the performances tonight and tomorrow are listed as ‘previews’), Pooja Ghai directs Tanika Gupta’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations at the Royal Exchange. There are lots of tickets available - get yours.
🗣️ The Manchester Language Exchange is meeting this Thursday at Lock 91, just off Deansgate. For the princely sum of £1, you can practise new languages and share your native tongues with others. It looks fun.
🐸 Did you know Manchester Museum does daily family-friendly tours? They happen every day at 11.15am from Tuesday to Sunday and take just 25 minutes, so you can get to know some (probably not all) of the museum’s 4.5m objects in super quick time. Find out more.
🎤 After three years in the West End, the critically acclaimed musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (about a teenager on an estate in Sheffield) returns to The Lowry this week. Books your tickets for evening and afternoon shows this week.
👷♀️ Manchester’s colossal town hall has been under wraps for years now, but you can get an insight into the restoration this Thursday evening, with a talk at Central Library focusing on stained-glass windows.
What are we missing? Drop us a line to get something included in our To Do list. And don’t forget, paying members get our amazing weekend To Do list later in the week.
Coming up on The Mill this week, we have a fantastic in-depth data explainer on the arrival of Andy Burnham’s new bus network. “What EXACTLY is the bee network?” someone asked on the Manchester Reddit forum today. Well, no Mill members will be asking silly questions like that after this week. Our data and policy reporter Daniel Timms will explain what you can expect to change when the network launches in a couple of weeks’ time — and what kind of financial gamble Burnham is taking here. If you’re not a member, join now to read that.