Cotton Panic!

The old Victorian market space works perfectly as a space for a gig or for an immersive theatre piece. Giant screens either side of the stage project ephemeral images interspersed with close ups of actress and activist Glenda Jackson and other storytellers. On stage is the tiny and feisty Jane Horrocks fizzing with passion and energy. Behind her is a translucent screen projecting more images and seemingly super-imposed behind that is the band Wrangler and their analogue synthesizers.

A mix of folk music and clog dancing blend into Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’ and Grace Jone’s ‘Slave to the Rhythm’, with synth music and story-telling of the poverty and political struggle weaving together to celebrate our working-class heritage in the North West.

Walking through the space feels exciting and quite special. The sense of urgency and energy is intoxicating and moving sporadically from the back of the space I soon find myself at the front of the stage. Watching Horrocks’ character descend into wretched poverty and dependency on the kindness of others is a sharp reminder of the problems inherent in misinformed aid and assistance. How often do we make assumptions about the needs of others? When we buy a homeless stranger a sandwich do we check first if they are vegetarian or gluten-intolerant or do we simply expect their gratitude? If we give money for aid do we want to meet a specific need or one which we feel is appropriate? 

This is the story of the cotton industry in Lancashire from riches to rags in the industrial carnage that arose from the American Civil War (1861-1865). It is a timely reminder of how any growing economy is intensely vulnerable to over dependency on a single commodity. The lack of cotton arriving in the 1870s crippled Lancashire and created mass unemployment and poverty. It would be good to think we have learned valuable lessons from our social and economic history yet sadly we continue to waste valuable resources and make poor electoral decisions like Brexit.

Emerging from this performance into the evening sunshine on Deansgate many of the crowd dispersed to nearby bars and restaurants. A lovely way to end a sociable evening. Perhaps the sobering thought being in a coffee or wine shortage would we be inconvenienced or potentially economically ruined? (AD)

- Amanda Dunlop

Links relevant to this diagnosis:


Lancashire Cotton Failure - W.O. Henderson

Manchester Austerity and Homelessness - Manchester Evening News

Ethics and Aid

Potential impact on Manchester of Brexit - Manchester Evening News


What Is the City but the People?

What is the city but the people? This was the question posed by the opening performance of the 2017 Manchester International Festival. Inspired by an idea from contemporary artist Jeremy Deller, it reflects his desire for artworks that are ephemeral whilst also living on as a kind of “folk memory”. This juxtaposition of the humble and the mythic is at the heart of What is the City but the People?

The show consists of a catwalk of people from the city, a fashion show that is more about the models than their clothes. While the participants strut their stuff, enormous screens tell their life stories through twitter-esque sentences. The result is a deeply moving presentation of the tribe of Manchester; a city that is egalitarian, diverse and defiant. In the words of one participant interviewed on Radio 4’s Front Row, “even though we are different, we are all the same”. In the wake of the attack at the Manchester Arena in May, this attempt to define the city cannot help but feel intentional, or at least, tragically appropriate.

Jeremy Deller says the term “ordinary people” “sticks in his throat” because “everyone is extraordinary and a bit mad”. Participants were chosen for having done “normal but amazing things.” They are “normal” people – bakers, florists, ministers for transport -  but most have overcome amazing circumstances. Participants included those who had been homeless, a Syrian refugee and a grieving mother and daughter. The second participant to appear is also a mother – pregnant in the photos on the tv screens, but entering with the baby in her arms. Then there were lovers - Shakar and Shabnam Hussain, whose romance spans decades. Two brothers, Shaneer and Shaquille, often mistaken for twins, who were the breakdancing Romulus and Remus of the evening.

The show passes no judgment on the participants, but its emphasis on survivors can’t help but cast its characters in a heroic mould. The participants become exemplars or archetypes of human experience. Manchester in turn becomes a city of heroes. Whilst deeply moving, this is not without its problems. The participants who had been homeless, now have rooves over their heads, the criminals are now repentant. They are “reformed” somehow, presented as different from those who are currently homeless, many of whom joined the crowd to watch the show. When we tell the folk-tale of Manchester, which Manchester will we sing about? What happens to sufferers of homelessness and grief when we idolise those who overcome these things? (CG)

- Ciaran Grace

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Jeremy Deller

Jeremy Deller on Front Row

The bee as the symbol of the ideal society - Virgil, Georgics, 4.453-527

Social Facilitation

Cultural Survival


What Is the City but the People? // Reina Yaidoo

A catwalk was set up right in the middle of Piccadilly Gardens and out strut Manchester’s finest. Ranging from a new born baby to a centenarian, taxi drivers, former Lord Mayors, artists and revellers all strode out to a driving beat. If the city aimed to proclaim itself through its people then there we stood. No rain, much applause.

Each dweller was framed with a story, individual to them giving meaning to the person behind the face.

  • ‘Kate chose her own name. She was christened Andrew.’
  • ‘Chris stood on the rooftop of the empty Ducie Bridge Pub. He wanted to say people could live here. Instead he got two months bread and breakfast in Strangeways.’
  • ‘The big tower that howls. Ian designed that and much more of Manchester after the IRA bomb.’

Midway during the event a question is asked - Are the stories of the people of Manchester one of resistance or resilience? It would seem both words reference attitudes at the soul of what it means to be Mancunian but which would the people of Manchester most value: their resistance to the challenges they face or, their resilience, their ability to recover from these same obstacles?

Manchester is a city of two halves. It has nearly half a dozen universities, yet is also ranked the 5th most deprived local authority area in England. Two hundred languages are spoken in Manchester yet statistics from the National Literacy Trust show low levels of reading affecting literacy. Manchester boasts one of the most expansive digital and creative sectors covering computer programming, film and broadcasting yet the population continually shows higher rates of mental ill health than the national average. 

Maybe a more resonant question is how can these two halves work together in a dual display of resistance and resilience?

The parade continues and we see old and new lovers greet each other, the common electrifying day to day harmony of neighbours looking after one another and the ease of everyday stories. It becomes easier and easier to forget this notion of separation and instead consider solutions.

The World Health Organisation and Mental Health Foundation state that communities with high levels of social capital, indicated by norms of trust, reciprocity, and participation are more resilient and better able to resist the effect of material deprivation. Perhaps, then, every year we should leave a space in Manchester’s calendar for a catwalk of the cities’ residents, with background stories set up to remind us to trust in the primacy of goodwill and cooperation, to resist inequality of opportunity and build up some good old fashioned social capital. (RY)

- Reina Yaidoo

Links Relevant to this diagnosis:

Multilingual Manchester - A Fact Sheet

The National Literary Trust Manchester 

Greater Manchester Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy

World Health Organisation - Mental Health, Resilience and Inequalities

Mental Health Foundation - Commentary 

Social capital and the power of relationships - Al Condeluci at TEDxGrandviewAve

Building social capital | Joseph Cabrera | TEDxScranton