The Mancunian Way
With Manchester’s extraordinary resurgence, this northern star is emerging as the U.K.’s most exciting city.
Once the cradle of the Industrial Revolution, Manchester has since hung up its mucky boots and made the giant leap to become a sophisticated global city. Indeed, the former grim, gritty landscape of “England’s second city” has been transformed into one of commerce, culture and creativity.
The city’s rich history remains, but this is a place now buzzing with modern energy. Shiny, high-profile regeneration projects and a wave of skyscrapers play home to a booming business scene. Vast low-rise factories and storehouses have been converted into vibrant music venues, art spaces, restaurants and bars, giving the city a new and rather cosmopolitan face. Canals and waterways surround the city, formerly used for transporting coal but today lined with colorful barges hired out for private parties. Football teams Manchester United and Manchester City seal the city’s growing impact on the world stage.
Leading the charge is St. John’s, a proposed £1bn development centered on the former site of the iconic Old Granada Studios. A partnership between Manchester City Council and Allied London, an award-winning property development and investment company, the project will see the building of 320 hotel bedrooms, 560,000 square feet of workspace, 240,000 sq. ft of retail and 13 acres of public space, as well as new residential homes. The initial phase is due for completion at the end of this year. “We want to build a proud new cultural community for Manchester,” says Allied London Chief Executive Michael Ingall. “We want to make a lasting difference, we want to do it in principled ways, we want to involve as many positive voices as we can, and we want to do it well.”
Part of the St. John’s development is Enterprise City, a new business district set to create 10,000 jobs and attract even more young professionals to the city. “Our vision is to put Manchester on the map internationally for enterprise, attracting and retaining the best talent, in a cluster made up of everyone from innovative start-ups to global industry leaders,” adds Ingall. If Allied London’s history elsewhere in the city is anything to go by, then Manchester is in good hands; its development Spinningfields in the city center is one of Europe’s most successful urban-regeneration projects, now home to brands such as Armani as well as U.K. restaurant empires The Ivy and D&D London (who also have venues in Paris, New York and Tokyo).
One of the first companies to move into Enterprise City will be e-commerce giant Booking.com, which will open a new global headquarters for its ground transportation division, Rentalcars.com. The move represents an investment of £100 million over the course of 10 years, with the business becoming the anchor tenant of the campus. The appearance of Booking.com confirms Manchester’s position as a tech hub, which already boasts the largest tech workforce of any U.K. city outside of London. There’s even speculation that Manchester has the potential to become the U.K.’s Silicon Valley, with the number of start-ups and companies relocating to the city from London only continuing to increase.
This is partly thanks to investment platforms Crowdcube and GP Bullhound, which recently opened offices in the city to encourage local funding for area start-ups. One start-up success story is Manchester-based AccessPay, a specialist in cloud-based payments and a cash management automation provider. Ranked in Deloitte’s U.K. Technology Fast 50 and Tech North’s Top 100, the company has won plaudits as one of the fastest-growing FinTech businesses outside London.
“Manchester is leading the way for digital in the U.K., both through its burgeoning start-up community, its investment in the next generation of developers and also the role of the city’s universities,” says AccessPay CEO Anish Kapoor. “We have a vision for building a strong and vibrant tech community in Manchester with a view to double its size, significantly increasing headcount at our central Manchester offices, and recruiting another 50 people this year to support our rapid revenue growth.”
Housing many of these thriving companies is shared community space WeWork. With 80 offices spanning the globe (Barranquilla, Colombia, is next), WeWork opened its first hub in Manchester last year (its first U.K. office outside London). A second hub swiftly followed. A third is in the pipeline with Amazon due to move in — the first step toward the titan creating its second global headquarters here.
“Manchester is a hub of activity, entrepreneurialism and business prowess,” says Mark Goldfinger, WeWork’s director of expansion for Europe, Israel and Australia. “We’ve found an appetite for our spaces in the city, and I think that’s down to the fact that the city’s businesses are seeking community and purpose in their work; being part of something greater than themselves.”
And as Manchester’s business world skyrockets, so, too, does the city’s arts scene. Music has always been a big thing here. Following a major renaissance in the ‘80s, Manchester became the clubbing capital of England, playing a key role in the birth of both the acid house and rave genres of music. Manchester-based bands like Joy Division, the Smiths, the Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and Oasis also rose to the top of the charts throughout the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, cementing the city’s reputation as a musical force to be reckoned with. The underground scene here remains as intoxicating as ever. And no place throngs more than the Northern Quarter, an area infused with creative spirit, eclecticism and fun, often described as a “bohemian enclave.” On a typical evening out, the streets burst with cafes and restaurants that seamlessly transition into mini clubs when night falls, complete with makeshift dance floors.
Museums are cropping up thick and fast, a mixture of headline-grabbing arts developments alongside several small, artist-run galleries and studio-event spaces. This includes The Whitworth, which recently enjoyed a £15-million redevelopment. The gallery houses some of the U.K.’s finest pieces of art, including a rare collection of wallpapers. Alistair Hudson, director of the Whitworth, says: “Manchester’s art scene is clearly thriving now, but it has an ‘edge’ that distinguishes it from other U.K. cities, rooted in its past as the first truly modern, industrial city, and nurtured through a heady mix of popular music culture, urban design and football intellectuals.”
“It is now distinctly the ‘capital of the North,’ building on its past,” he adds. “It’s seen some hard times and serious decline, but now there is enormous growth and prosperity, with a cultural scene to match. I always think of it like a mini New York, modern, brash, showy, great fun, but not taking itself too seriously.”
One of the leading artistic lights in the city is Dave Moutrey, director and chief executive of HOME, a new £25 million contemporary arts center. “We want HOME to be relevant to the lives of the people of Manchester — a people’s place, not a cultural palace,” says Moutrey. This means to be prepared for some compelling emerging Mancunian names, from young poets working as part of the Young Identity collective, to Sir Mark Elder (who transformed the Halle Orchestra into a world-class outfit), to filmmaker Daniel Kokotajlo, whose brilliant and powerful film Apostasy was recently released to rave reviews. Recently appointed as Manchester’s director of culture, Moutrey says thrilling times await the city over the next three years, including refurbishing the old Contact Theatre and expanding the Manchester Jewish Museum. The Factory, Manchester’s new flagship £112-million arts center, is due for completion in 2020.
And yet among these new builds, the grand, old civic buildings still stand strong. This includes The Principal Manchester, a great red-brick and terracotta Victorian building built by Alfred Waterhouse (who was also behind London’s Natural History Museum). Recently revamped, the hotel has become an overnight sensation, embraced by locals as an all-day hangout. Other favorites include the newly-opened Cow Hollow Hotel, a chic conversion of a textile warehouse, and the award-winning, art deco–themed Hotel Gotham. The hotel’s sister property in the city, Townhouse Hotel — a former cotton warehouse with a history dating back to the Industrial Revolution — has recently been snapped up by the Singapore-based Fragrance Group. “We are excited to be investing in Manchester at a time when it is rapidly establishing itself as one of the foremost destinations in Europe, both commercially and in the eyes of tourists,” says Fragrance Group CEO James Koh.
Foreign investment has also played a key part in Manchester’s football scene. Earlier this year, Premier League leader Manchester City — which is financed by the Abu Dhabi United Group — was reported as having the most expensive squad in history, valued at $1.08 billion. The city’s other football team Manchester United is a strong competitor on the world stage, too, having won more trophies than any other club in English football (including the UEFA Europa League last year).
The food-and-drink scene has also prospered in recent years like never before. The race to bag the city’s first Michelin star is now in full flow — an example of the kind of establishment validation Manchester once scorned. One man in the running is Paco Perez, chef patron of Miramar in Girona, Spain, and Enoteca at the Arts Hotel in Barcelona, both of which hold two Michelin stars. Perez launched Tast in June 2018 with “the idea to bring to Manchester a piece of our culture.” Then there’s The French, headed up by Great British Menu–winning chef Adam Reid with modern innovative small-plate cuisine, and The Rabbit in the Moon, offering a modern 17-course tasting menu influenced by East Asian cuisine — the legendary Wagyu truffle nigari among it.
The city’s railway arches house an extraordinary concentration of innovative breweries, including Cloudwater Brew Co. Despite only trading for four years, the company has just been voted second-best brewery in the world by America’s most influential craft beer site, RateBeer. Cloudwater has big plans for the future, opening up its first taproom in London later this year and planning its first beer festival for 2019.
Ian Brown, lead singer of the Stone Roses, perhaps summed up the Mancunian spirit best with these words: “Manchester’s got everything except a beach.” That said, the sand is almost certainly already on order.