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

Have You Seen Openshaw?

Posted by editor on February 12, 2010 under Community, Housing

Len Grant sees a massive change in Higher Openshaw as major development plans finally get underway.

It feels like Openshaw has turned a corner. There’s no doubt this east Manchester neighbourhood is very much in transition and there is still lots to do but, walking the streets recently, there’s now a new momentum.

The new town centre rising behind the purple hoardings

The new town centre rising behind the purple hoardings

The most obvious change is on the high street: demolition contractors and construction contractors are practically falling over each other! No sooner has something been knocked down than there’s a new structure in its place.

The derelict shops on Ashton Old Road have now gone, a swathe of rough ground in their place. Signs above the purple hoardings announce a new town centre is on its way and beyond, the yellow steel framework of Morrisons supermarket has shot from the ground.

The Albion pub and shops on their way down

The Albion pub and shops on their way down

The BarbersFurther down the road and opposite the New Roundhouse and the state-of-the-art health centre more shop fronts are coming down as part of the Toxteth Street development. There’s now more comings and goings around the new houses and apartments than around the boarded-up terraced streets which, I’ve read, have recently provided the backdrop to an East is East sequel.

I first photographed Openshaw’s high street six years ago when most of the shops and restaurants were either struggling to stay afloat or had already gone out of business.

Awaiting development way back in 2004

Awaiting development way back in 2004

There was a hair and beauty shop offering unlimited tanning sessions, ‘Only £10 for 2 weeks’; there were taxi firms asking for owners drivers; and – with their rusting shutters closed for the final time – there was the Tuck In Cafe, A + B Dry Cleaners, a Chinese take-away, the Al-Hambra Restaurant, amongst others.

But it wasn’t always like this. I know from listening to older residents that the high street was the main shopping street for hundreds of local residents and that on Saturdays you’d barely walk between the butcher’s and the greengrocer’s before you met another neighbour and stopped for another chat.

New homes for old in the Toxteth Street area

New homes for old in the Toxteth Street area

Shopping, of course, is different now. You’re more likely to meet your neighbour or old friend in the car park of one of the major supermarkets. And so Openshaw is changing, offering    something new for existing residents and becoming an attractive proposition to newcomers looking to move in. I look forward to photographing its revival in the months ahead.

Salt ‘n’ Vinegar?

Posted by editor on June 30, 2009 under Housing

There was never going to be anything conventional about New Islington. Already the social housing at Islington Square is included on architecture tours. Now they’ll have to add Chips, too, says Len Grant.

The Chips building in New Islington is now complete

The Chips building in New Islington is now complete

It’s been a long time coming. In fact, just over three years since I photographed workers preparing to dig the basement car park. But with water on three sides, it’s been a complex project. One construction manager apparently commented, “Normally you’d build the castle first, and then the moat!” Here the ‘moat’ was ready-made.

‘Three fat chips on a plate’ is how the building was originally described and that’s just what it looks like. There’s nothing ‘blocky’ about this apartment block.

It’s the first residential building in the UK that architect Will Alsop has completed and the first opportunity for city living pioneers to buy into New Islington. Less than half a dozen of the 142 apartments are unsold and already, with still a handful of yellow-vested workers on site, some apartments are occupied.'Three fat chips on a plate'

Fifty apartments have been sold to Manchester Methodist Housing Association, the social landlord for New Islington and one of the partners in this Millennium Community Programme. There are shared equity schemes and ‘try before you buy’ plans, which means you rent for a while before you put your money on the table.

I’ve been around Chips several times whilst it was being built but today my tour guide is Urban Splash’s Chris Stalker. “We always wanted a feature here,” he says, as he leads me into the foyer. “This is what we call the ‘jelly bean wall’.” Dozens of jelly bean-shaped recesses dissolve from one bright colour to another. Subtle, effective and very photogenic.

The 'jelly bean wall'

The 'jelly bean wall'

We take the lift. The views from the top floors are impressive, looking over the new park, (now called Cotton Field), towards the renovated Ancoats mills. I can imagine in 10 years all the cleared land will be occupied with buildings as adventurous as Chips, and you won’t be able to move for architecture tourists!

On the Ashton Canal side we can see the Metrolink engineering work and the site of the new tram stop. “That connectivity is very important,” says Chris. “It will really open up this area.”

Stunning views that will only get better

Stunning views that will only get better

It’s true. You can see all the elements coming together: the tram, the canals, the new park, the health centre, and all against the city centre backdrop. Not that much is coming out of the ground at the moment – not even New Islington is immune from the ‘crunch’ – but when things do start rolling again, Chips will have been just the starter.

Names of local rivers and canals wrap around Chips

Names of local rivers and canals wrap around Chips

Chris leaves me to wander around the outside of the building and I try to take in all the names of canals and rivers that wrap around the cladding, supposedly like newsprint. Cheshire Ring, Bolton and Bury, Bridgewater, Ashton, Mersey, Rochdale. Are these all the waterways you can reach from here? Maybe so.

Soon brightly-painted boats will be mooring alongside the newly-created canal arms, their crew enjoying a pint (and a packet of salt ‘n’ vinegar) at Chips’ restaurant/bar. Not long now.
About buying or renting in Chips:
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Norman’s Big Move

Posted by editor on June 9, 2009 under Housing

After nearly 45 years Norman Gurley has moved from his two-up, two-down terraced house on Toxteth Street, Openshaw.

He is one of the first occupants of 83 new homes built by Lovell in the first phase of the Housing Market Renewal Programme in the Toxteth Street area. Over the next few years, street after street of terraced housing will be demolished and replaced with energy-efficient, secure homes with gardens and car parking.

Norman was first featured in East magazine watching the progress of his new house being built. Take a look at his new place in this short slideshow.

Don’t forget to turn the volume up on your computer.