The Oldham Road Revisited

Posted by editor on July 27, 2009 under Art, sport and leisure, Community

In 1985 photographer Charlie Meecham set out to photograph the seven mile Oldham Road between Manchester city centre and Oldham. Images of disused mills, new housing, concrete underpasses and rubbish-strewn wasteland were subsequently exhibited and published.

Now, nearly 25 years on, Charlie is back with his camera, about to embark on a sequel.

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East: How did the first project develop?

Charlie: Originally it was very much about the road itself, but, after working on it for a short time, it was clear that the changes on either side of the road were more interesting.

Behind the roadside buildings it was like a stage set: new housing estates were springing up and whole areas were being re-landscaped. All this against the backdrop of the cotton mills. That became the focus for the project.

East: How did you go about it?Charlie02

Charlie: I’d do a lot of walking. I’d pick an area and explore it for half a day or more. At first I’d use the camera as a notebook, so nothing gets too precious, too early. Then I’d go back to particular areas and re-photograph them with a large plate camera – you know – the type with a cloth over your head.

Recently I re-discovered a box of work prints from the first project that didn’t make it to the final exhibition. They’re fascinating, like a story book.

East: So, what’s changed in 25 years?

Charlie: What’s been a real shock to me is the housing in Miles Platting, at the Manchester end. There are swathes of houses that are now boarded up which were pretty much new 25 years ago. Whatever they were trying to do then clearly didn’t work.

Some of the tower blocks are still there, and the mills, or bits of mills, of course. But the big companies – Sharp, Pifco, Ferranti – appear to have closed down.Charlie03

After 25 years of change I’m finding it quite hard to find some of the original locations from the first view but when I show local people the photographs, I do get a lot of help and I’m pleased to say there are still plenty of people with sharp memories and tales to tell about how it was and what has happened since.

I would like to build on this experience by working with local community groups and I feel there is more activity on that level than there was in the mid-1980s. It’s these groups I’d like to work with on this new project.

East: That will be a different way of working for you?

Charlie: Yes. Originally I’d work in relative isolation, maybe just chatting to the people I met along the way. This time I want to get much more involved with local community groups and with nearby schools. In this digital age, we are all photographers and I want to give everyone to opportunity to contribute something to this project.

East: So what questions will you be asking residents?

Well, I’d like to know what gives them a ‘sense of place’. What’s important to them locally? Is there a building or a feature – however strange or simple – that gives character to their surroundings?

I’d like to hear as many views as possible which is why I’m spending the next two years on the project. Any ideas or suggestions to help get me started will be gratefully received.

Follow Charlie’s project on his blog here, or email charlie@nanholme.demon.co.uk.

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Lease of Life

Posted by editor on July 16, 2009 under Community

Once a thriving community hub, Grey Mare Lane Market in Beswick has seen better times. But now, with the traders running the place themselves, a reverse of fortunes looks likely. Len Grant continues his series about east Manchester’s markets.

Gray Mare Lane Market: pretty much everything

Grey Mare Lane Market: it's got pretty much everything

“It’s a cat repellent you’re after?” asks Mavis, checking the stock at the back of the stall.

“Yes, to keep them out of the garden. I’ve tried pepper and it doesn’t work.”

“No, it won’t,” agrees Mavis. “We’ve not got any today, but I could get some in for Saturday.”

“Oh, yes please.”

Cat repellent from a pet stall? A strange request maybe but customer service is what markets are all about.

Mavis and her husband set up the stall here on Grey Mare Lane Market in the early 70s and it’s been run by their son, Clint – with help from Mavis – for the past 25 years. Clint is one of five long-serving stallholders who now operate the market as a cooperative.

Clint Hanham: "We'll have new customers and more traders."

Clint Hanham: "We'll have new customers and more traders."

“It’s gone through lots of different phases,” says Clint as he shows me round enthusiastically. “It was a lot bigger in the 70s and 80s, but we lost customers when the Beswick flats came down and people moved away. Now, with all this new regeneration – all being well – we’ll have new customers, and that will bring more traders.”

The market would benefit from a few more traders but there’s still plenty on offer to make it popular. The outside stalls, with their blue metal roofs, have women’s and men’s fashions, second-hand furniture, sweets and chocolates, DVDs, books, matresses, rugs, electrical appliances… pretty much everything. In the permanent stalls along two sides of the market, there are a dozen or more retailers including a butchers, a little café and Norman’s Jewellers.

“You’ve been here as long as me, haven’t you Norman?” Clint says by way of an introduction. Norman’s stall is an Aladdin’s cave: display cases at the front and an assortment of paintings, bric-a-brac, books and soft toys in ‘organised disorder’ at the back.

"I'm a bit old-fashioned. I still believe in good service."

"I'm a bit old-fashioned. I still believe in good service."

As we chat a valued customer comes to collect a chain Norman has repaired for her. Once their transaction is complete, I ask her how long she’s been coming to Norman’s. “Oh, years,” she laughs. “More than I’d care to remember.”

“And what is it about the market that’s appealing?”

“It’s convenient, reasonably-priced and always friendly,” she says as she wanders off to another stall. Norman seems happy with that testimonial. “I’m a bit old-fashioned,” he says. “I still believe in good service, the personal touch. You don’t get that in the bigger stores. Treat people how you’d like to be treated and you won’t go far wrong.”

I realise during my tour that I’ve been confused about Grey Mare Lane Market all these years. There are actually two markets here: Clint and his cooperative run the blue-roofed market on the front but the older market at the back – which looks more like a shanty town – is managed completely separately. The ‘back market’, as it’s called, has row upon row of tightly-packed, crumbling wooden stalls. Plastic sheeting covering the narrow walkways, corrugated iron sheets and barbed wire give it a less than inviting feel.

“That used to be a really busy market and we’d to benefit from it,” says Gilly Brierley, another of the cooperative members, “but now I think they are getting the benefit of our customers.”

Gilly Brierley: the same customers for 15 years

Gilly Brierley: the same customers for 15 years

Gilly has been at Grey Mare Lane for the best part of 25 years. First he and his wife ran a curtains stall but now he sells cleaning products while his wife sells shirts from the next door unit.

“I’ve had the same customers for 10 or 15 years,” he says, “so you can’t be selling any rubbish, or they won’t come back.”

As if to reinforce his point, an elderly man approaches the stall, picks a large pack of toilet rolls and hands over £2.

“Thanks, mate,” says Gilly, and then as the man walks away, “he’s buys the same thing every week. If I’m not on the stall, he just leaves his money here on the top.”

You can’t really see that happening in Asda.

Grey Mare Lane Market, on the corner with Alan Turing way, is open on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Telephone: 0161 223 5742

The Last Spikes

Posted by editor on July 2, 2009 under Art, sport and leisure, Community

The last of the 180 spikes have now been removed from the B of the Bang. The sculpture’s core sits bereft on top of the five slanting legs, the dismantling contractors deciding how best to bring it to ground level. Len Grant was on hand to capture the final moments.

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