Will this be Greater Manchester’s first national nature reserve?
Jack returns to willow tit territory in Wigan. Plus: we meet the founder of OT Creative Space
Dear Millers — exactly a year ago, Jack Dulhanty wrote his first story for The Mill while he was still a student at MMU, a lovely piece about the plight of the highly-endangered willow tit and the man who is trying to secure its future. In today’s edition, he returns to Wigan Flashes to catch up with Dr Mark Champion and hears about an exciting plan (not yet confirmed) to create Greater Manchester’s first national nature reserve by linking up a series of post-industrial landscapes.
Also in today’s edition:
We bring you a bit of political intrigue from, of all places, Tameside.
Dani visits a reader’s home in Old Trafford and gets some local recommendations.
Jack looks back at his favourite Mill stories so far.
And we give you a packed To Do list for this weekend, including a great exhibition of photography from the Guardian photojournalist Denis Thorpe.
As always, most of our Thursday edition is members-only, but there’s plenty of great stuff for all Millers at the top.
🎧 Our latest podcast episode is out. Joshi and Darryl talk about a setback to bus reform, another death at The Warehouse Project, and whether Burnham is in the running for Labour leader. Also, Jack joins the podcast to talk about the willow tit — and his first year at the Mill. Listen on Apple Podcasts here, Google Podcasts here, and Spotify below.
Your Mill briefing
Tameside Council doesn’t tend to occupy a lot of column inches on The Mill, but it is currently the site of a bitter political battle. On the face of it, council leader Brenda Warrington (the one who told her colleagues a big housing development would be “rammed down your throat”) is trying to see off a strong leadership challenge from a councillor called Ged Cooney. Warrington has alleged that a leading councillor — Oliver Ryan — was pressured by a senior local MP to support her opponent, “for fear of his future ambition being destroyed if he refused.” Ryan denies this (he told us he took the decision with his residents in mind and “any insinuation otherwise is rubbish”), but we understand the MP involved is deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner, who represents Ashton. Why would she be getting involved? A source points out that Warrington is a close ally of Denton and Reddish MP Andrew Gwynne, an old foe of Rayner. “There is history between Rayner and Gwynne,” says the source. “It got really nasty a few years back when parliamentary boundary changes would've pitted them against each other. The Tameside leadership battle is something of a proxy war following on from that.” Inside track: Tameside-watchers say the outcome is a foregone conclusion, with one predicting: “(Brenda) would be lucky to get ten votes”.
Over in Oldham, Amanda Chadderton, who just became the council’s third leader in as many years after Arooj Shah was dramatically deposed at last week's local elections, has vowed to "regain trust" in the borough. Which, as regular readers know from our reporting up there, is probably the hardest task in Greater Manchester politics. At the election count, Chadderton said Shah’s defeat was "no surprise to anybody” after the issues Oldham has experienced in recent years. “I know you’ve documented it in The Mill and the council leader has been subjected to quite a lot of racism,” she told us. More here.
An 86-year-old Greater Manchester woman spent 60 years not knowing where her stillborn son was buried. Lilian Thorpe, who lives in Stalybridge, thought her baby boy’s body had been “thrown away” after he was born in 1961. The hospital didn't tell Lilian where her child was buried. She was finally able to visit his grave after Mike Gurney, head of bereavement services at Tameside Council, searched grave records. “I never thought this day would come,” she said. Read more.
The talented team at Audio Always (with whom we make our podcast every week) are offering free podcast production and mentoring for arts organisations across GM. To submit a proposal for Manchester Amplified visit this link and complete the short application form, including a written or audio pitch. Applications close on Wednesday 25 May.
And finally, congratulations to Anthony Redmond OBE, professor of international emergency medicine and chair of UK-Med — the Stockport-based charity providing medical aid in Ukraine. Redmond, from Failsworth, founded UK-Med in 1988 and last night won the Pride of Manchester lifetime achievement award. You can listen to our interview with him about UK-Med's work on Spotify below.
Mill media picks
🎧 Listen: In 2016, Michael Hoolickin was murdered by a man he had never met. His killer, Tim Deakin, had 55 previous offences and had been freed from prison early. Michael died after being stabbed in Middleton. The reason? He had told Deakin that he shouldn’t have hit a woman. This BBC Radio 4 programme follows Michael’s parents as they try to understand why their son died. Listen here.
📖 Read: “Over time the Arndale Market evolved into its own hectic, brilliant self. The butchers, fishmongers and fruit and veg stalls remained but street food venues came more to the fore, with bright, Instagram-friendly branding,” writes Lucy Tomlinson in Manchester Confidential. Read here.
👓 Watch: HOME is showing the Irish film An Cailín Ciúin (The Wild Girl). Set in rural Ireland in 1981, 9-year-old Cáit has been sent to live with her mother’s relatives, away from her dysfunctional family. Her new home is meant to have no secrets — but she finds one. In both English and Gaelic, it’s a “complex and delicate coming-of-age drama that explores questions of family, neglect and loss.” Book here.
Jack’s top stories
Sent our way by his tutor at MMU, who is a longtime Miller, Jack Dulhanty wrote his first Mill story exactly a year ago. He started working for us on shifts in September and then joined on staff in January, when we had enough members to afford his salary and exorbitant expense account. To celebrate a year of his involvement, we’ve asked him to pick out five of his favourite Mill stories so far.
A piece that took me about six months to report and write, and at various points along the way I was certain it wouldn’t be published at all. It was immensely rewarding to see something that had taken so many hours, and the help of so many people, be read and shared so widely — and picked up by the national press.
Another one that took a little while to bring to fruition, mostly because of Georgia’s initial reluctance to talk, which made sense. She turned out to be the most patient interviewee I’ve ever met, always happy to explain the many things I didn’t understand about the world of virtual reality, and someone I was proud to be able to write about and present in a way she felt was accurate.
This one was, obviously, a joy to report. Taking long lunches in some of the Northern Quarter’s oldest pubs, sidling up to patrons for a chat, and having my wallet checked to make sure I wasn’t police. We did a great episode about this one on our podcast, with a few audio clips from inside the boozers, which you can listen to here.
We told the story of the reopening of clubs after lockdown from the perspectives of door staff. It was a big moment for the city, and I remember being beside them just before they opened the doors. “We ready to go?” the general manager asked them all. The story also allowed us to look at the ways in which the security industry is changing.
It was a privilege to spend time with the Tyshkul family at what was a defining time of their lives as they settled in Manchester after fleeing Ukraine. "When we first heard bombing, we were at home, it was about 4 or 5am,” Darina told me. “We didn't believe it, even though I packed my things before because I knew something may happen.”
Greater Manchester’s first national nature reserve?
By Jack Dulhanty
Dr Mark Champion’s got a limp. Habitat conservation is a career dogged by injury: wet scrubland is slippy, and knees twist and shoulders dislocate. Even 30-plus years of experience in the sector won’t spare you from that.
So, I ask — as he lopes beside me, faintly gangster-like, toward Wigan Flashes Nature Reserve — what was it? Was he putting up some fencing and slipped? Maybe he was retrieving doomed fledglings from some unforgiving landscape spangled with hazards? Chasing a chinless, fork-tongued housing developer bent on trashing quaint woodland?
“It was ballroom and jive.”
Covid and lockdowns had left him out of practice on the dance floor. Late last year, he rushed into it and heard the rupture of his Achilles’ tendon, not so much a snap as an explosion. Thankfully things are on the mend now.
Rain is falling on the reserve in sheets so thin they’re invisible against the pale green leaves of spring. I walk down the Leeds-Liverpool canal and beside one of the flashes — large bodies of water formed by flooding old, disused mining works — watching swallows skim the water’s steel grey surface. A group of six goslings file away from me and under their mother’s wing.