Discover more from The Mill
'What is associated with Deansgate Square is, well, pretty people'
Who are the luxury apartments for?
By Jack Dulhanty
When I ask Peter Duku how he came to be Deansgate Square’s latest garbage man, some of the words must have got lost in the breeze, because he tells me he took the bus. Catching the 06:05 from Irlam and changing at Eccles. He starts work at 08:00, but on the day we met he arrived at 07:02 and took the time to relax and read the papers before heading down to the sub-level garbage depots that sit below each of Deansgate Square’s four towers.
There were 85 bins to take out that morning and Duku, as he is everyday, was left to get those out and ready by himself. “It’s crazy,” he laughs. He tells me it is too much for one man, and that residents in the north tower are the best at disposing of their waste (others, he says, just throw down a disorganised assortment of garbage). I ask what has been the weirdest thing he seen so far, and after a lot of dancing around the topic and euphemistic description we agree he is talking about a dildo.
He is a week into the job and already has had to fill over 100 dumpsters with garbage in one day, dragging them between the towers. He is paid £10.50 an hour by an agency. “I’ll get by,” he says. “I’m sure I’ll get by here, but it isn’t easy when you come somewhere starting afresh.”
Duku is 47 and came to the UK from Nigeria last month with his wife, Precious, and their three children. Precious applied to train to be a private healthcare assistant in the UK after being paid too little in Nigeria despite her degree (women in urban areas of the country get paid 40% less than men). Back home, Duku is a contractor with his own procurement company (one that obtains goods and services for companies, building materials, for example) called Duku Peter Enterprises. He continues to operate the company through a friend while working at Deansgate Square.
He says his colleagues are nice people and he feels welcomed. The residents, also, are kind and they thank him when they see him unloading their garbage and passing them by. “It’s a nice place,” he says, looking upwards at the glass towers reflecting the last few hours of daylight. “I would say many personalities live here.”
As we talk on a cold, bright Thursday afternoon, those personalities pass us by, fobbing out of the main foyer and stepping out onto the square. It’s a pretty stereotypical scene. People in athleisure walk Dachshunds, Pomeranians and Bichon Frises. A man with a wide jaw steps out of the local florist with some roses. A few steps from there, tables are being reset in the Indian street food place. And outside residents make faces and use funny voices at the on-site dog park.
Deansgate Square is a cluster of residential skyscrapers on the bank of the River Medlock. Even before they were open to residents, the skyscrapers were icons of a new kind of Manchester. Whether you were driving into town and watching them peek over the horizon or stood waiting for a tram out of St Peter’s Square and seeing them shimmer at the end of the tracks.
Yes, they’re the symbol of a new Manchester. They’re also a symbol of a new Mancunian. Namely, one that probably isn’t from here or the surrounding areas in the first place and in some instances is only here because of Deansgate Square’s magnetic pull, somewhere they can live in the high-rise luxury associated with London but with a price tag that’s easier to stomach.
On Thursday evening, having left Duku to catch his first bus home, I went to a lecture given by Ian Simpson and Rachel Haugh, the architects who designed Deansgate Square as well as many other high-end developments in the city centre. Simpson spoke about how, during Manchester’s industrial heyday, there was a failure to build housing for workers, hence why they lived in the kinds of slums and hovels documented in Engels’ The Condition of the Working Class in England.
After the talk, one audience member asked whether Simpson felt developments like Deansgate Square were within the reach of working people in Manchester today. Simpson said yes, that many of the people living in Deansgate Square (where a 1-bed apartment can go for around £1,600 a month) are working people. “You see them in the reception, on their laptops doing whatever it is young people do,” he said. To further illustrate his point, he said that one of the staff in Atomeca, a cafe bar on the ground floor of North Tower, told him she lives in the development. Sceptical looks darted between those seated.
“There is definitely a mix of people there,” one Deansgate Square resident told me earlier this year. “It’s a mix of all sorts, from working professionals to families to footballers and influencers.”
But they also describe a lack of community, and something of a divide between the working professionals and the influencers and footballers, who work to different schedules. “You’ll have noise complaints more or less everyday,” the resident said. Another described influencers renting Deansgate Square apartments to film an entire years’ worth of social media content. “At one point they were, like, putting a Christmas tree up in September.”
The clientele the buildings have attracted also created a kind of expectation of what a Deansgate Square resident ought to look like, one resident tells me. “What is associated with Deansgate Square is, well, pretty people.” There may be a little bit of anxiety at play here, as this resident claims they’re more likely to have their fobs checked by security than someone with a more expensive outfit or more symmetrical face. But it nevertheless speaks to the image that has developed in association about the development.
The people who live in Deansgate Square are likely transient. Simpson, at the talk, mentioned the exciting design opportunities that come with a population of younger people less likely to commit to buying, partly due to the market, partly because of changing aspirations. One resident I met lived in London during the week and rented the Deansgate Square flat so they had a base from which to see family on the weekends.
Recently, Duku and I were finishing our coffee at Atomeca, and Deliveroo riders gathered outside the foyer bouncing their feet on their pedals, waiting for customers riding elevators down hundreds of feet of steel and glass — the Deliveroo equivalent to the impatient tap of fingers on a desk.
Nigeria was a more fun place to live, Duku said. He had called a friend there recently and talked about pepper soup and how much he missed it. Like many of the people living in Deansgate Square, Duku doesn’t plan on working there, or even staying in the UK, any longer than he needs to.
Precious is starting a job in Liverpool soon, so the family will be moving there and he will have to take a night job so they can properly share childcare — their children are eight, six and three. “But once they grow up, I already tell them: I’ll be back in Nigeria,” Duku says, he wants to return to the business he built there as soon as he can. “I have a lot of things to do.”