Breaking the Last Taboo

Posted by editor on September 28, 2010 under Business, training and employment

Len Grant visits a new hair and beauty salon in Ancoats catering for the transgender community.

Co-founder Lisa Breakey, left, at Transfixed with receptionist and administrator, NIcola Breakey.

Ancoats was the epicentre of the city’s innovative industrial past and so it seems fitting that Transfixed, a fledgling company at the forefront of its own business sector has set up shop here. I went along to chat to Lisa Breakey who, with co-founder Zara Prior, set up the business 18 months ago. Both have considerable experience in hair and beauty having worked in salons and the theatre for many years. They weave their new business venture in between teaching jobs at The Manchester College. But how did it all start?

“We went out to Sparkle – the transgender festival in Manchester – with some friends a couple of years back and we were both amazed at how many trans people there were with bad wigs and unflattering make-up! We thought there must be a gap in the market here and that was the beginning of it. We began by doing our research: chatting to lots of people and different organisations who support the trans community… and it went from there.”

So why did you choose to set up in Ancoats, and here at Beehive Mill?

“We wanted to be close to the city centre and also to the gay village and, at the same time, have somewhere private and discreet. People say Beehive Mill is quite a bohemian building – there are lots of musicians and artists here – so it felt right for us and comfortable for our clients. Most people who come to us are quite nervous and shy so this is perfect.”

How much did you know about the transgender community before you started Transfixed?

“Not much at all. We thought there were those people who wanted to dress up and those who wanted to a sex change. But it’s much more complicated than that. Transgender is a umbrella name for transsexuals, transvestites, cross-dressers, everyone. You have to imagine a spectrum and everyone is somewhere on that spectrum, but it’s not helpful to try and categorise people. Some are very secretive and others are very open. We’ve had men coming to the salon with their wives, and even with their children.

Lisa: "We treat people as people."

“We get a lot of satisfaction from treating people as people. Everywhere there are barriers and whispered comments – it’s the last taboo really, isn’t it? – but we try our best to instill our clients with confidence. They feel more accepted here than anywhere else and some have even said, ‘You’ve changed my life’ which is wonderful to hear.”

So there is no ‘typical’ client for you?

“There are many other ‘services’ out there for the community that are no more than a front for  the ‘seedy’ side of the business. Our clients aren’t looking for that. They want somewhere where they can get a wig professionally fitted, or have a beauty treatment, or get some make-up advice… and that’s it. We talk to our clients just like we’d talk to women clients in a conventional salon. That makes us different and unique.”

And what about the future?

“Our older clients tell us that society is a lot more accepting now than say, 15 or 20 years ago. And, as cities go, Manchester is incredibly tolerant and open. Transgender people feel comfortable here. So it can only get easier for our clients which will mean our business should develop and grow.

“Even now we stay open late on Wednesday and Saturday evenings so clients can come here, get their make-up and hair done, use our dressing rooms and set off to the village for a night out. It’s great to offer that service.”

Transfixed website

Progress Report

Posted by editor on September 5, 2010 under Business, training and employment, Education and health, Housing

A few years back it felt like Manchester city centre was changing exponentially, writes Len Grant.  Certainly I’d come across parts of town that had been totally transformed since my last visit. New buildings, and sometimes whole districts, were springing up almost overnight.

Now, it seems, its the turn of east Manchester. There are neighbourhoods I haven’t visited for several weeks that are now almost unrecognisable. New public buildings are preparing to open; construction sites are crawling with yellow-vested works and dumper trucks; there’s a buzz about the place which seems at odds with economic forecasts.

For this ‘back to school’ progress report, I’ve included some highlights from a whistle-stop photographic tour of east Manchester.

This is the East Manchester Academy, whose progress East has been following for the past 18 months. On Monday it opens its doors to 203 Year 7 pupils, the first cohort of a long-awaited secondary school for the area. The Academy’s Principal, Guy Hutchence, calls them the ‘pioneers’, the ones who will set the standard for the years to come. Check out East next week where we will feature the historic first day of the Academy. Beswick Library shares the same building and opens to the public a week later on the 13th.

Over in Miles Platting this is the brand new Park View Community School which moves from its Victorian building on Nelson Street to its new home on Varley Street.

Up Oldham Road the Greater Manchester Police 240,000 sq ft Force Headquarters is nearing completion at Central Park. The steel frame in the background is the £35 million Divisional Headquarters which, when complete in 2011, will house those officers currently stationed in Beswick at Grey Mare Lane.

Across east Manchester the most visible construction activity is the laying of the Metrolink tracks that will take trams from the city centre to Droylsden. This Phase 3 extension work sees trams running along the main roads, as well as through new tunnels and across new bridges, taking in New Islington, Holt Town and Sportcity.

Here’s the beginnings of the £24 million BMX Centre, part of the National Cycling Centre. Built right alongside the Manchester Velodrome, it will eventually seat 2000 spectators and become the home of the British Cycling Federation.

Some of the biggest changes in east Manchester are currently happening in Openshaw. Morrisons will be the cornerstone in a £40 million retail development including other stores, offices, a car park for nearly 700 cars and a new piece of public art. This week hundreds of local people are being interviewed for positions at the store.

Further down Ashton Old Road, yet another housing development is progressing to fulfill the ambition of more new homes in east Manchester. This is The Key, a development of houses and apartments for sale or shared ownership. Visit

Agents of Change

Posted by editor on May 17, 2010 under Art, sport and leisure, Business, training and employment

Len Grant re-visits The Sharp Project to record the finishing touches to a stunning artwork by an internationally-renowned group of ‘graffiti-artists’.

In a previous life this aircraft hanger of a building stored microwaves, TVs, copies and printers for Sharp, the multi-national electronics corporation and one-time sponsor of Newton Heath’s most famous sons, Manchester United. Now it’s The Sharp Project, where shipping containers provide accommodation for fledging media companies and cavernous spaces lots of scope for TV drama sets.

Last week The Sharp Project on Thorp Road was ‘invaded’ by a graffiti-art group who, for three days, painted and spayed an immense mural across a warehouse wall that may once have been stacked high with video cassette recorders.

Agents of Change, a collective of artists who, like a disparate rock band, come together to produce spectacular artworks before dispersing across the world to do their own projects. One member of the group, Remi, has sandwiched Newton Heath into a travel itinerary that includes San Francisco, New York and Madrid.

Their last project together, ‘The Ghostvillage Project’ involved changing an abandoned concrete village, built for but never lived in by oil workers and their families in Scotland, into an innovative art gallery.

This current project was part of last week’s FutureEverything Festival.

See the Agents of Change website.
See the Sharp Project website.

On Track

Posted by editor on April 23, 2010 under Business, training and employment

After the Commonwealth Games of 2002 it will arguably be the single most important factor in east Manchester’s economic revival. But, for the time being, it’s all roadworks and dumper trucks. Len Grant sets off to take a look at the progress of Metrolink.

Clutching their red hard hats, two young men are waiting on Ashton New Road, as their bus negotiates the temporary traffic lights.
“Will you be using the Metrolink when it’s finished?” I ask.
“Does it go near college?” asks one, the distinctive hard hats being tell-tale signs that these lads are on a construction course at The Manchester College.
“Not this line, no.”
“Then I won’t,” he says.
“I’m from Newton Heath,” says his mate, “so they’ll be no good for me.” I put his right about the Oldham line and his local stop at Central Park. He’s almost impressed.

Today I am on a journey of discovery. Lately I’ve been diverted and (very briefly) delayed driving around east Manchester as work on the new Metrolink track continues. So this afternoon I’ve parked my car near Clayton Hall and, with camera and tape recorder in hand, decide to follow the track into the city centre.

I’m near Gate 69 as an old black and white photograph comes to mind. It’s a picture I’ve seen of this part of Clayton taken maybe a century ago with trams making their way to and from Ashton. History now repeats itself although, for the time being, this line will only reach Droylsden.

Alongside the fencing I attempt to engage a construction manager in conversation. “It’s more complicated that I’d imagined,” I say after I’ve told him I’m taking images on behalf of the local regeneration company. “You’ve got all the drainage and other utilities to think about,” he says. “It’s not just a case of laying the track.” I’m very unfair to this man, putting him on the spot for an impromptu interview. “I’ve got to get on,” he says, taking the card I offer him. “I’ll get our PR people to call you.”

The line sweeps behind the Little Gem Hand Car Wash and appears to hit a brick wall, literally. Maybe this is one of the sites yet to be compulsory purchased. Staff from the nearby MOT garage have already relocated to Clayton Bridge, says a sign.

Now at Gate 61 (how did I miss 68-62?) I can see there is much activity around the Ashton Canal. A new bridge is being built to take the trams over the canal before they cross the main road. There’ll be a stop between here and Asda called Sportcity: Velodrome. Outside the superstore I stop Mark and Joanne who are happy to talk into my tape recorder. Read more of this article »