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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Growing Creative Talent

Posted by editor on April 16, 2009 under Business, training and employment

The new BBC drama Casualty 1909 is set in a Victorian East End hospital. But that ‘hospital’ was actually built from scratch in a disused warehouse just off the Oldham Road. Sue Woodward of the Sharp Project explains all.

East: What is the Sharp Project all about?

Sue Woodward: The Sharp Project is Manchester’s answer to the demand from the creative industries sector to create a new home for digital businesses. This warehouse, once home to Sharp Electronics, has 1/4 million square feet of space which we are going to convert into affordable, easy-in, easy-out space for these businesses.

Sue Woodward

Sue Woodward: "In the digital age, this is the next industrial revolution."

East: Why do we need that sort of facility?

SW: Manchester City Council has asked the creative services sector what they need to develop in what is becoming one of the biggest growth areas for the economy. And this is the outcome. We will provide flexibility for new and existing companies to use our facilities and space to suit their needs. In film-making in particular, sometimes you have 20 people working for you but the next week you might only have 250. We will accommodate the requirements of the companies that use us.

East: So, will there be more programmes like Casualty 1909 made here?

SW: Absolutely. We’re going to combine traditional drama with brand new digital skills in a very original, modern way. Not only will there be more programmes like Casualty 1909, where we can offer an unrivaled amount of space to create sets, but we’ll have opportunities for new companies to come to the project. The conversion includes bringing in shipping containers with glazed fronts that will act as ‘pods’ for new start-ups. Studios and high tec facilities for animation and computer-generated imagery will be on hand and all of this will benefit from ultra high speed connectivity to the rest of the world.

Impressive sets built at The Sharp Project for BBC's Casualty 1909

Impressive sets built at the Sharp Project for BBC's Casualty 1909

East: What do you mean by ‘connectivity’?

SW: There are three ‘big pipes’ that connect the UK to North America. These literally run under the Atlantic Ocean and can transmit huge amounts of data quickly and cheaply. Two of them go to London and the South East and, luckily for us, the third is linked to Manchester Science Park. So we are a hop, skip and a jump away from something that can give 100mb/sec  – and eventually unlimited bandwidth – connectivity to global markets. If you think about it, Manchester built its fortunes on the ship canal – it brought the beach to the city – so that we could reach global markets. In the digital age, this is the next industrial revolution.

From start-ups to full-scale TV and film production, the space is available

From start-ups to full-scale TV and film production, there is space available

East: What’s in it for the people of east Manchester?

SW: It’s not just about the building, it’s about how we interact with further education colleges and the academies programme. Close by is One Central Park with Manchester College and the University of Manchester and from next year there will be a brand new academy for east Manchester. We’ll forge close links with schools and colleges and make sure young people take advantage of the opportunities we’ll have here.

East: Isn’t the Sharp Project just going to end up competing with Media City?

SW: There’s an arc of opportunity for Manchester. Media City will be the high end, high profile, centre of excellence. But what it will need is a skilled pool of labour in the locality and that is what the Sharp Project will provide. We are the ‘growbag’ that will supply the digital labour market with talent. We will allow young people to come here, to start up, to fail, to start again, to prosper. Media City is at one end of that arc and the Sharp Project – the ‘growbag’ – is at the other.

The Sharp Project in the old Sharp Electronics warehouse

The Sharp Project in the old Sharp Electronics warehouse

Sue Woodward is regarded as one of the most influential figures in North West media circles. She was managing director of ITV Granada between 2004-08 and wrote the creative bid for Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture. For the Commonwealth Games in 2002 she was creative director, responsible for the opening and closing ceremonies, and in 2003 was awarded the OBE for services to broadcasting and the Commonwealth Games.