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When will we see the end of Strangeways?
Plus: New exhibitions, a philosophy cafe and the rest of our weekly to-do list
Dear Millers — we hope your weekend was as festive as ours (Dunham Massey Christmas lights trail — lovely). At our HQ on St Ann’s Square we are encircled by Christmas markets and we felt we offered an important public service when Sophie went out to review and rank the mulled wine on offer last week. A very different kind of public service was offered by Mollie’s in-depth reporting on the deep problems at Bacup and Rawtenstall Grammar School this weekend, which shone an unflattering light on a school in crisis.
Today’s newsletter looks at Manchester City Council’s desire to get rid of Strangeways prison (real name: HMP Manchester) and how likely that is to happen. We also report on the chef who “prioritises animal welfare” but allegedly decapitated a live eel in his restaurant, and tip you off to the most quaint period cottage currently on the market in Heaton Mersey.
Exciting news: For the first time, one of our stories has been published in a book! Our copy of the brand new North Country: An anthology of landscape and nature arrived at the office last week and we loved seeing Dani’s lovely weekend read about Borsdane Wood alongside contemporary writers like Lemn Sissay and classic northern writing by the Brontës and Elizabeth Gaskell.
🎄 It gave us an idea… After speaking to the book’s publisher Saraband, we’re going to send a free copy of North Country (worth £14.99) and a personal Christmas card from the team to anyone who either buys an annual gift subscription or buys an annual membership by midday next Thursday (December 15th).
If you’re buying a gift sub, your friend will get a year of high-quality journalism and you will get something too: a copy of this lovely book in time (postal strikes allowing) for Christmas, along with a card from the team. You can schedule your gift sub to be emailed to the recipient on Christmas Day 🎁.
If you’re a new member buying an annual sub, you will get the book and a card welcoming you to our community. Just click here to join now.
Get on board now and give yourself the gift of great northern writing this Christmas. And don’t forget to email us your address for the book and card. This offer ends at midday next Thursday and we’ll email you to ask for your postal address after the purchase.
This week’s weather
Our forecast is from local weatherman Martin Miles, who says: “Winter is here, as we would expect in December! We will actually see plenty of sunshine this week, but the air will be cold and any precipitation will be wintry.”
Tuesday 🌥 Dry with sunny spells on Tuesday. Turning very cold overnight with a hard frost. Max 6°c.
Wednesday ⛅️ Cold and bright Wednesday daytime followed by a frosty night. Max 3°c.
Thursday 🌤 Cold and often sunny with isolated snow showers on Thursday. Max 3°c.
Friday 🌤️ More of the same during Friday with sunny spells and the occasional snow shower. Max 2°c.
Weekend ☁️ Remaining cold into the weekend with a continued risk of wintry weather.
You can find the latest forecast at Manchester Weather on Facebook — daily forecasts are published at 6.15am.
The big story: When will we see the end of Strangeways?
Top line: On Friday we learned that Manchester City Council has approached the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) asking the government to relocate Strangeways (now called HMP Manchester). To be more specific, the council wants to move the prisoners elsewhere and bulldoze the 1868 Victorian prison currently housing them.
Context: The call to close the prison has been long-standing. Even before the 1990 riot, the prison was thought to be past its best. But the latest call is part of a broader plan to redevelop the area surrounding the prison, something the council began mapping out in October.
Council leader Bev Craig says the prison is a “barrier for growth and development which could bring new jobs, much-needed houses and green space.”
When asked what he would do with the Strangeways area last year, outgoing leader Richard Leese deployed less tact: “I’d flatten it.”
As the city centre has grown, Strangeways has felt more and more out of place. In September, a new £93m college campus built on the old Boddington’s Brewery site, just next door to the prison, opened to students. “It’s quite incongruous,” said one source, “to have all those young people come in to be educated right on the doorstep of a Category B prison in a long-term, high security estate.”
On top of that, the prison buildings themselves are dilapidated, with the central tower flaking and posing a safety risk. The Mill is also told that the heating system is unreliable, with some parts of the prison freezing while others are too hot. As one former inmate tells us, “the actual infrastructure can't change because it is what it is: a shithole. Was a shithole, still a shithole.”
Cynical: Many think the council’s push to get rid of the prison is more rooted in commercial thinking than concern for prisoner welfare. One rumour we’ve heard is that the Abu Dhabi United Group — investors whose money is transforming parts of east Manchester — are interested in the Strangeways area.
“I would note that this is quite a cynical financial ploy, isn't it, to utilise the land,” David Scott, a senior lecturer in criminology at the Open University, tells The Mill.
Prisoner welfare in HMP Manchester is a critical issue. In September, we reported that it had significantly more prison deaths than average:
In 2021, the rate of death across the UK prison population was 4.7 per 1000 prisoners; by our estimation, based on the prison’s size, in HMP Manchester it was 11.2 deaths per 1000 prisoners, more than double the national rate.
This isn’t to say a new prison would be any better. The latest report for HMP Berwyn — a new-build “super prison” opened in Wales in 2017 — found levels of violence that were too high and prisoners spending too little time “unlocked”, i.e. out of their cells. “The assumption is that the new-builds are going to be better than the older prisons,” says Scott. “And actually there isn't any kind of evidence to support that.
What now? The MoJ has rejected the council’s request and says it is “working closely with the [prison] governor on plans to modernise and improve the prison," — something the council had tried to anticipate by saying the buildings were not suitable for the “significant remodelling and expansion” that would be required. Nevertheless, that is the plan.
Bottom line: All this comes at a time when the government is preparing for an expansion in the prison population (having previously promised to spend around £4bn creating 20,000 more prison places). Indeed, GMP has today agreed to house prisoners in station cells to help ease prison overcrowding.
“In the end, the reason the MoJ will be refusing the council's request is to do with the national picture of a growing prison population,” says Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League of Penal Reform. “[It’s] those national needs, rather than the needs of Manchester itself.”
Know more about this story? Know anyone in HMP Manchester right now? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Home of the week
A period cottage set in a wooded conservation area of Heaton Mersey is on the market for £350,000. It has two bedrooms, sash windows and gardens at the front and back.
Your Mill briefing
A major new report by Labour promises the "biggest ever transfer of power from Westminster to the British people". Launched by Sir Kier Starmer today and based on work done by Gordon Brown, the report recommends abolishing the House of Lords and moving more powers into local hands. We haven’t read the whole document yet, but on the question of devolution, it looks more like a broad blueprint than a detailed plan, full of phrases like “we recommend that every town and city is given the powers needed to draw together their own economic and social plan and take more control of their economic future,” without offering much detail on which powers those might be. Andy Burnham responded to the report on Twitter saying: "This is radical and right from @Keir_Starmer and @UKLabour." We’ll do some analysis on what it really means soon.
Speaking of Burnham: “A Blairite, a Brownite, a Milibandite and a Corbynite walk into a pub. ‘Hello, Mr Burnham,’ says the barman.” Apparently, that’s the new joke circulating amongst Labour MPs in Westminster, after the mayor gave his support to MPs from the Socialist Campaign Group, the Corbynite wing of the party. Burnham’s flexibility in who he supports has led to the nickname “Bendy Andy”, reports the New Statesman, but the mayor sees it as loyalty to the party above all else.
Figures obtained by the Guardian show striking disparities in the level of disruption experienced by commuters in the North compared to the South. Whereas 20% of services ran by TransPennine Express were cancelled in November, only 4.5% of services were cancelled on the London Overground. The figures include the pre-emptive cancellations that the paper revealed are not included in official figures. Hats off to the newspaper’s North of England editor Helen Pidd — a longtime Miller, of course — for her dogged reporting on this story.
Animal rights activists occupied Manchester's only Michelin-star restaurant on Saturday night. Animal Rebellion protesters sat at tables booked for diners at Mana in protest against a "meat-heavy menu". GMP made 14 arrests for aggravated trespass. The restaurant's founder Simon Martin said he is “confused as to why the protesters chose to target a restaurant that prioritises sustainability and animal welfare." An investigation by The Mill earlier this year included allegations that Martin once decapitated a live eel in front of horrified staff.
Last Thursday marked Bev Craig's first year as Manchester City Council leader. In an interview with Place North West's Subplot newsletter, Craig looked back on her debut 12 months. The interview covers Craig's affordable house building ambitions, and how she has struck the balance between delivering those schemes while making sure "Manchester’s development machine has continued to purr". It's worth a read.
Watch: This video forecasting what Greater Manchester will look like as more planned developments in Piccadilly, Great Jackson Street, Salford Quays and Stockport are delivered in the coming years. It will either excite or terrify you, depending on your appetite for the Manc-hattan future that awaits us.
Our favourite reads
Westminster Beware — The Guardian
“The North is increasingly not just something cultural and geographical, but a political entity,” writes the columnist John Harris, whose video series meeting people in communities across the country has long made for interesting viewing. “It took a new layer of politics above cities, counties and boroughs, but below Westminster, to really kick things off. In both the Conservative and Labour parties, the sense of a new kind of politics often makes traditional politicians antsy and edgy, something evidenced not just in Tory standoffishness, but in the low crackle of hostility towards Burnham from some of his former colleagues in London”.
Afflecks is 40 years old, with 50 independent stores selling everything from cannabis oil and crystals to comic books and fishnet tights. It’s now owned by the Manchester property giant Bruntwood, so can it still claim to be central to Manchester’s counterculture? “Teenagers and twenty-somethings do continue to pour in here. Some 1.5 million people visit every year. A significant proportion of those… will be at the start of a journey to discover themselves. Long may it continue.”
Inside the crisis in child social care — The New Statesman
This investigation into the state of child social care begins in a home in a Manchester suburb, where a family kept 26 dogs and cats, and where a baby and an eight-year-old were found “dirty and distressed, lying among the animals”. The social worker “qualified in 2012, and told me the Manchester case was the worst he could remember. But he told the story not to shock: he wanted to illustrate how a lack of preventative measures had created the circumstances for child neglect.”
“It’s strange to know people who have been diligently writing their book reviews all this while, when I was in a very different netherworld for a long time,” says Gwendoline Riley, the author who made her name with Cold Water, a loosely autobiographical novel set in a Manchester dive bar. She discusses not belonging in the literary world and the “terror” of life without writing.
Our to do list
🎤 Mind over Matter, a spoken word evening at the Hip Hop Chip Shop in Ancoats says it has “helped people with depression, addiction, anxiety, and other mental health conditions by creating a safe space to share”. It’s free to attend.
🎞 At Partisan Collective, there’s a screening of Nae Pasaran, a film about the working class movement’s fight against imperialism. Tickets here.
🎻 Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, often called his last masterpiece, will be performed by BBC Philharmonic in a programme exploring desire, grief and home at the Bridgewater Hall. Tickets start at £12.50.
❓Philosophy Cafes might not sound like a joyful exercise for a Wednesday evening, but we hear that Manchester Art Gallery’s monthly discussion groups are welcoming, thoughtful and fun. Register for free.
🎶 Yin Yin, an electronic band that uses influences from East Asia in the 60s to create colourful disco and psychedelic tracks, is playing in the Pink Room at YES. Tickets are £13.50.
📚 The artist Gee Vaucher, who defined an era of protest art, will be in conversation with Dr Rebecca Binns at the Whitworth. Register for free.
Only members get our glitteringly well-informed weekend to-do list, which we send out every Thursday. Join now to get it.