I came to Manchester in 1979 and after 18 months in the then sterile and unwelcoming Chorlton, found my home in Rusholme, then as now, a vibrant, diverse and ever-changing neighbourhood. For me Rusholme has always been the wider area, from the Universities to Whitworth Park and from the Anson estate to Cambridge Street and beyond, an area with the most amazing assets in its people, cultures, businesses, parks, educational institutions, religious and community buildings and its constant influx of young people. I brought up my family here.
Over forty years I have seen many changes, for good and ill. Recently the developers have discovered the area and over-development and breakdown of the residential community is a major threat. We saw Fallowfield going that way and now other parts of the area are in real danger of following. And of course, poverty and inequality are a growing blight facilitated by government deregulation and disinvestment in the state and communal life.
But above all the wider Rusholme area has major, but unappreciated and disjointed assets.
In 2012 a very wide range of stakeholders came together for two creative appreciative enquiry events – Imagine Rusholme - held in Birch Community Centre where we imagined what Rusholme might be like in the 2030s. A number of working groups emerged, with progress made on cycling, the parks and wildlife, crime, litter and other key issues - albeit that some of these have too often been a case of two steps forward and one step back. But I have been centrally involved in Creative Rusholme. In 2013 a Feasibility Study was carried out and discussed by over seventy creative stakeholders in the area – unanimously supporting the idea of an initiative “to raise the cultural profile of Rusholme, connecting creative industries, businesses and communities”. The principles were clear – it would need to be led from the bottom up but facilitated by the cultural organisations in the area The Whitworth, Manchester Museum, Platt Hall (then the Museum of Costume), the Universities, the Parks.
The timing was poor. Austerity was beginning to bite, The Whitworth closed for several years for its expansion, key staff at Platt Hall moved on and then the moths moved in… But a small group of residents have kept the idea alive:
And proposals were developed:
My hope now is that the opportunity offered by the refurbishment and re-purposing of the Hall and its surroundings as a major Hub for the community can adopt the economic, social, community, environmental and cultural opportunities latent in the area, help us all to co-ordinate and collaborate, not to reinvent the wheel and to keep indigenous businesses, communities, residents and organisations in the lead of an ambitious programme to build the area to the benefit off all of us who live, study or work here or who visit the area and hopefully create jobs as well.
Resident, Artist and Creative Rusholme
I have the dual delight and privilege of living in this amazing neighbourhood of Rusholme, 100 metres from Platt Hall and also working as part of the team at Platt Hall. Having dawdled past it with my children as toddlers and rushed past it with my children on their scooters it has always been there on my routes around the neighbourhood.
Inside the Hall there are many parts that evoke huge physical reactions in me, from the elegant staircases to the large windows overlooking the park, but also the small rooms, the creaky floorboards, and the smell of it. Parts of it smell just like my grandparents' house, and I only have to go into certain rooms at Platt Hall and I feel like I am eight years old again, and memories of summers in Dublin come flooding back!
Even though it has been shut, the outside of it still has huge presence and character. I found myself looking closely at the door handle last week. The Hall draws me to it, makes me ask questions: What has it seen? Whose lives has it impacted and what could it be in the future? Questions we are exploring with people as we work out what it could be.
I cleaned the ground floor windows a couple of weeks ago. It was early in the morning and the park and streets were lockdown-empty. I started thinking about Platt Hall when it was just sat among fields and trees on the very edge of Manchester. I had a physical connection to the fabric of the building as I was cleaning the windows, feeling like I was repeating a chore many had done before me.
During this period of lockdown we are all thinking a lot about our relationships with friends, family and colleagues - the things we are missing - from the hugs to the small nuances of people’s body language. But I think perhaps we are also missing the physicality of spaces other than our homes. Our homes have become everything - workplace, school space, play space, not to mention all the usuals - eating, sleeping, washing. Everything now has a domestic scale to it.
What I realise is that I miss spaces that are different from my home: indoor spaces where my footsteps sound different, where the ceilings are a bit higher, where the views in and out are broader than the views in my home, where there is an opportunity for a conversation with someone outside of my immediate family. We need other physical spaces - spaces for our bodies to be in, to think differently in. I realise how many other spaces there are in my life - my children’s school, the swimming pool, galleries that I work in and those I visit, my parents' house, friends' houses.
Platt Hall could be that other space. It could be a big living room for the residents of Rusholme, Fallowfield, Moss Side. It could be a space to get away from home thoughts, to sit in a bigger space, to smell and feel something different.
Meg Parnell, Platt Hall project team and local resident.