The rise of Manchester’s urban gardens
Plus, drama at a Labour Party fundraiser and how to celebrate the end of Dry January
Dear Millers — we come to you in the depths of this endless January and invite you to imagine summer. Where would you like to spend it? Outside, for sure. But on the street? The sun pounding the concrete? The traffic belching by? Or in a little pocket of nature? Green shoots and flowers and fresh air? Today, we’re looking at the rise of the Manchester urban garden, disused bits of land reclaimed to offer sanctuary in the city.
We’ve all got a friend or two who can get a little lairy on the festive fizz, but have you ever known of an entire social housing community brought to its knees by a Christmas bust up? That was the topic of our weekend read, speaking to the residents at Victoria Square in Ancoats, where the council eventually had to intervene after the mother of all feuds, resulting in “two very serious incidents” and a group of residents, all over 60, staging a sit-in protest. They call themselves “the Dwellers”...
The week ahead is, as ever, a feast of variety. We have Sean Fielding, who wrote this hugely popular piece on why local councils are buying shopping centres, looking at council finances as the government comes under pressure to stop more local authorities going bust. The former Independent journalist Rosie Waterhouse is writing about her role in exposing the so-called “Satanic Panic” in the 1980s. And Jack is spending time with the Manchester group committed to “cancelling cancel culture” and who worry that they can’t express their true opinions at work. Want to read all that (and get access to our vast back catalogue of features, profiles, investigations and essays)? Hit the subscribe button below. We’ve already added a whopping 113 members this month — it would be great to hit the (admittedly arbitrary) 130 mark before this Baltic January finally ends.
Coming up on Thursday: ‘a magnetically attractive event’
From today’s sponsor: Manchester is globally renowned for its bands and its football teams, but we also have — in the words of The Times — “one of the world's best orchestras”. The Hallé have been entertaining Mancunian audiences for 165 years and they have a sensational calendar of concerts ready for this year, including a three-day celebration of the music of Steve Reich this week, a living legend from the world of contemporary classical music. Reich himself says the festival “promises to be a magnetically attractive event” and while the Friday and Saturday dates are now sold out, there are still tickets available for the Thursday evening concert. Book your tickets now.
🌦️ This week’s weather
This forecast comes to you from our local weatherman Martin Miles, who says we’ll have “a rather mixed week ahead with temperatures above the seasonal average during the daytime.”
Tuesday 🌤️ Cloudy with sunny spells in the afternoon, but cold and frosty with potential ice overnight. Max 9°C.
Wednesday 🌦️ Cold and bright at first, but turning cloudy and breezy with heavy rain into the evening. Max 10°C.
Thursday 🌥️ Mostly dry with light winds and a few bright spells. Max 9°C.
Friday ☁️ Very mild and breezy with predominantly cloudy skies. Max 15°C.
Weekend 🌧️ Mild, windy and unsettled with rain at times.
You can find the latest forecast at Manchester Weather on Facebook — daily forecasts are published at 6.15am.
The big story: Manchester’s urban gardens set to bloom
Top line: The recent regeneration of the Castlefield Viaduct as an urban garden has prompted a conversation in the city about how disused land can be transformed into gardens to grow food and improve residents’ health. And who wouldn’t want that?
Context: The National Trust’s work on Castlefield Viaduct, the old railway viaduct that was reopened as a “park in the sky” last July, was welcomed by many of our readers, even if some visitors would like to see it extended and turned into more of a varied public space with cafes or other amenities. Now the National Trust has been working with other community groups to help them develop gardens on other disused pockets of land.
Two sites in Cheetham Hill have been supported by the National Trust: The Guidance Hub, an Islamic community centre, and Lok Fu Gardens. In both cases, the idea is taking unmanaged land and creating something that can be used by the community.
Sow the City, a social enterprise focussed on helping communities plan urban gardens and to grow food, is the National Trust’s community partner on these projects. It started in 2009 “with a few packets of seed and compost,” says director Kieron McGlasson.
In those 15 years, they have created or helped create 10 football fields’ worth of urban green space, benefitting some 20,000 people. From Castlefield Viaduct to running gardening clubs in South Manchester primary schools.
They have supported or created 150 urban gardening groups.
This kind of work is becoming more and more popular across the city region. One version of it is neighbours working together to turn ginnels and alleyways into gardens. Very early readers might remember our 2020 story about “the beautiful, ingenious ginnel gardens of Levenshulme.”
Or check out the Ginnel Garden Project in Edgeley, where residents have been posting pictures of their progress transforming their back alley.
The group Groundwork has been encouraging these efforts to create lovely urban gardens and have a special page about how to “green your alleyway”.
At a rather larger scale, see: Northern Roots, a 160-acre urban farm in Oldham, the biggest in the UK. Then there’s Platt Fields, in Fallowfield, which has just been selected as a “nature neighbourhood” along with Newton Heath. That’s part of the national ‘People’s Plan for Nature’ project.
The snag? Well, there isn’t one really. Only that much more of this sort of thing is needed. Manchester might not be a grey city in spirit, but it is a fairly grey city in reality. Just under 75% people across Manchester have “poor or limited access to a personal garden or a communal green space” say Friends of the Earth.
The good news is this sort of work is supported by the GMCA (£2.6 million set aside for its green space fund) and local MPs like Mike Kane, who represents Wythenshawe and has backed campaigns to make it easier for local people to access and develop disused space.
What’s happening in your area? Please tell us about urban gardens blooming in your neighbourhood in the comments or via email so that we can send a reporter along and come back to this story in the Spring.
Your Mill briefing
🇵🇸 “It was an unforgettable evening in more ways than one”. That’s how Stockport Labour leader David Meller described what was meant to be a fairly unremarkable party fundraiser, that was targeted by protesters apparently from GM Friends of Palestine. A video shows protestors confronting and filming Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner, the event's keynote speaker. A Palestinian man showed a photo of his mother, saying “I lost my family in Gaza.” He was asking why Rayner had not called for a ceasefire, and was removed by police. Another protester shouted “15,000 women and children dead Angela Rayner, and you tout yourself as a modern-day feminist? I don't think so.” After they had been removed the evening continued, but protesters remained outside, banging on windows and crowding the police car that Rayner and Reynolds left in. “It was quite an intimidating atmosphere,” Meller told The Mill.
🌹 Paul Waugh, The i’s political commentator, has written about his failed attempt to stand as an MP in Rochdale last week. Speaking to insiders, we heard Waugh was favoured by the party because he was born in Rochdale but not involved in the area’s tense politics. Instead members went for Azhar Ali, Labour’s leader in Lancashire. Ali is described as “more on the ground, out pushing leaflets” as opposed to Waugh who, while said to be Sir Keir Starmer’s clear choice, looked a little bit parachuted in. Waugh has written an interesting piece about his campaign, in which he admits: “Whereas I’ve built up 26 years of friendships and contacts in Westminster, unsurprisingly, none of that matters to people who have never met you before.”
🎵 Today is the last hearing in the lengthy courtroom drama over Night and Day Cafe. You probably remember the venue was served a noise abatement notice by Manchester City Council after the resident of a neighbouring flat complained. Its owners say the notice, which restricts when it can have live music, will cripple the business. As of this morning, the court heard that Night & Day and the council remain undecided on what would be an acceptable level of noise for the venue to make. Lots of progress there, then.
🏙️ This map of the Lancashire Hundreds will put joy in the hearts of all our Mill-reading Salfordians. It shows how a sizeable chunk of Greater Manchester was just part of Salford. It’s got people talking about their Lancastrian identity, and the “quirk of history” that led to Salford, the bigger city, becoming second fiddle to Manchester. It reminded us of a piece we published last summer, about the campaign to make Bolton (once part of the Salford Hundred of Lancashire) part of Lancashire again: 'I'm from Lancashire, not Greater Manchester': An old question of identity rears its head again
Home of the week
In Shaw, this three-bedroom period home has plenty of original features like a fireplace and a Victorian doorbell, and more quirky modern ones, like a treehouse-style bedroom and a jazzy stair runner. It’s on the market for £275,000.
Our favourite reads
Manchester’s Town Hall, “a building that evoked the splendour of the mediaeval Flemish cities that held sway in a former golden age of cloth”, was what inspired the legendary architect Norman Foster to start designing buildings. Now, with the government relaxing the rules on local councils selling off their assets, these beautiful buildings, our “once grand symbols of civic identity”, are being abandoned. The FT’s chief architecture critic Edwin Heathcote argues that “the legacy of these sell-offs is a diminished public sphere that fails to show care for its citizens or its cityscapes.” Given its very expensive renovation, hopefully the Town Hall is safe for now…
Jake Humphrey: “I would not have succeeded in TV without failure” — The New Statesman
MMU professor Damian Hughes and former sports presenter Jake Humphrey get the New Statesman treatment in this very funny feature about the High Performance Podcast, a self-help podcast “whereby enormously successful people talk about their weaknesses”. The podcast is said to attract four million listeners, including some very “intense teenagers” and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, but it is relentlessly mocked online for the hosts’ “slightly Partridge” turns of phrase. The hosts haven’t always taken the criticism in good graces, either. Hughes was once “so wounded by trolls that he tracked a few down and wrote to their personal email addresses to confront them, as one might do in 2010; one turned out to be a teacher.”
Welcome to the Club — The Life and Lessons of a Black Woman DJ — Resident Advisor
DJ Paulette, the much-loved Mancunian DJ, reflects on discrimination in the music industry in this powerful extract from her self-titled memoir, which looks back to the start of her career in the Hacienda and her ongoing battle to get recognition for her talent. “This summer I was approached by a woman whose boyfriend (the promoter) had booked me for their party in Manchester. She was shocked and intrigued to hear me play because in the years of their running that party they had never booked a female DJ.”
Our to do list
✏️ Tucked away above a punk music venue, Studio Bee is a hidden gem in the Northern Quarter: a laidback artist’s studio that puts on life drawing sessions every week. Tickets include a glass of wine and tapas.
🍕 The weekly jam night at Band on the Wall is a chance for amateur musicians to practise performing. This week, you can expect to hear soul, jazz, motown and R&B. Plus, there’s free pizza when you buy a pint. Find out more here.
📚 In Freya North’s new novel, The Unfinished Business of Eadie Browne, the titular character is a fish out of water, an odd child who grew up next to a cemetery and decamps to Manchester to throw herself into rave culture. One Love by Matt Cain follows a similar theme: a teenager named Danny arrives at Manchester University determined not to hide his sexuality anymore, and inevitably finds himself dancing on Canal Street. Both authors will be discussing the novels at Waterstones on Deansgate from 6.30pm, get tickets here.
😆 Urooj Ashfaq won the Best Newcomer award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year for her brazen performance where she read from her pre-teen diary, talked about constantly crying and her addiction to therapy. She’s performing at the Frog and Bucket from 8pm, tickets here.
🍺 If there’s one thing that will evaporate your guilt for failing Dry January, it’s getting sloshed for a good cause. That’s where the Bent and Bongs Beer Bash steps in, an annual beer festival over in Atherton that donates 100% of its proceeds to local charities. More here.
🎧 We usually wouldn’t advocate for a night out in a sweaty Northern Quarter record shop on a weekday, but Eastern Bloc is one of the best nights we’ve had in a while, so why not. House/electro DJ Dig This will be playing until late, get tickets here.