We Are Nowhere, And It’s Now: Ancoats.

I don’t quite get Ancoats. On the outskirts of the city centre, separated from the hipsters of the Northern Quarter by the moat that is Great Ancoats Street, lies an area full of old mills, tall, modern apartment buildings and… wastelands. The things that I consider characteristic for Ancoats are building sites, unused properties, grass, gravel, soil. After the ‘Gelato in July’ festival which celebrated Ancoat’s Italian heritage (oh what a disappointing event. The queue in front of the only decent looking stall, Ginger’s Comfort Emporium, seemed neverending and the only other ice cream stalls were selling 99ers… there wasn’t a single ‘real Italian ice cream’ stall… I mean… what kind of Italian ice cream festival is that? I was part shocked, part reaffirmed that people here have no idea of Italian food, and part longing for the ice cream parlours and pizza restaurants of my hometown, where family-run Italian business have been priding themselves on having the best home-made gelato in town for generations. I should add ‘sounding like a food snob’ to my list of skills.)… now, where was I? The ice cream festival, right. We made an attempt to explore Ancoats along the canal, which was yet another disappointment, as the footpath along the canal is currently under construction. Following the signs to the canal, we passed said old converted mills, car parks, wastelands, a row of terraced houses that looked like gingerbread houses (Urban Splash? Was that you again? Of course it was!), finally arriving on Old Mill Street.

To me, Old Mill Street has always been one of the weirdest places in Manchester, showing all signs of an ambitious regeneration project gone terribly wrong. The street is lined with rusty street lamps, benches, completely out of place looking bus stop shelters covered in bright black and pink/green flowers – it all seems to be waiting to be turned into a shop-lined boulevard, the centre of a new community where residents go for a little stroll sunny Sunday afternoon. But there is one thing missing: people. In the many times I drove down Old Mill Street, literally since the very first time I visited Manchester (which is exactly 4 years ago on the 31st August, hip hip!), and even on this exceptionally friendly Saturday afternoon, the only sign of life was the odd car on the road.

Developers Urban Splash have a vision in mind of turning Ancoats into ‘New Islington’ (which is the name of a very small street in the area and, according to unknown sources, used to be the name for Ancoats in the olden days), a crazy, colourful community of crazy, colourful buildings, with crazy, colourful and, most importantly, exceptionally rich residents who can afford to buy flats in those crazy, colourful buildings. Only recently, Urban Splash attracted some criticism that went beyond the actual occasion when the company  announced they were going to demolish the old hospital building on Old Mill Street, with comments such as “Urban Trash. Some buildings are beautiful, yours are not.” and “It is money-men greed. They have no care or concern for our community.”

I have some ideas on how these urban regeneration experiments with fancy new ultra-futuristic buildings can end, the ‘Plattenbauten’ in East Germany (this is a lovely picture of Grünau, a residential area in my old dwelling place Leipzig) or, more locally, Hulme Crescent being some good examples. I wouldn’t be very surprised to see Ancoats, or New Islington, turn from wastelands into what is considered modern housing in this decade, followed by a decline into yet another slummy problem area, and, 30 years from now, people shaking their heads in disbelief: “Why the hell would anyone even consider putting human beings in anything like that?”

Giant bird hotel on Old Mill Street.

Not quite Ancoats, but Castlefield-feel on Ducie Street. Didn’t know that was there!

Linda’s Pantry. I call it Linda’s panty and think it’s funny.