Lights, Camera, Action
We were recently part of a video that celebrated the Northern Quarter for all of its creative flair and independent spirit. The video, to us, is a testament to what this area is about – working together to make a place the best it can be and to support each other to kick down the status quo. To do things our own way, because it’s the only way we know how to be. And most importantly, the friendly and happy vibe that seeps through our graffitied red bricks.
What we love about working in the Northern Quarter is the obvious freedom that mills about the area. People are just being themselves and are encouraged to make that into art or business – and what could be greater than that?
My achy breaky heart
We’ve written quite a few blogs about the Northern Quarter, it’s the sort of place that just needs to be written about. Anyone who’s walked along its streets, socialised in its bars and cafes or worked from its converted warehouses, understands what we mean.
For us, the Northern Quarter is the emblem of a city that was born to break rules. If Oxford Road is the brain then the Northern Quarter is the beating heart of an already iconic city. The lifeblood that pumps creative spirit across the streets and keeps pushing us all to proactively disrupt the norm.
And why wouldn’t it? When you have a surplus of talented people in a teeny tiny area who like nothing more than to do things their own way, you get a cultural hotspot that ticks to its own rhythm.
Define me at your peril
The Northern Quarter is a hard one to define because it has so many different identities and reasons for existing. I also feel like it doesn’t like to be labelled, so every time you try, it shirks it off and shows you another side to its personality.
The area is made up of about 20 streets and is packed to the brim with freelancers, tech entrepreneurs, food innovators, baristas, mixologists and quirky shop owners. A stone’s throw away from Piccadilly Gardens but still manages to feel like a tucked away urban village and part of a global movement. The area is also one of the most popular nights out but still somehow clings to its underground, creative soul.
And let’s not forget the striking graffiti murals splashed across our beloved red bricks. For me, the colourful walls are a physical reflection of what is going on inside our buildings. People living and working together so that we create something that is unique and that can be shared. And so our street art has inadvertently made the Northern Quarter an external art gallery with forever changing exhibitions for anyone who lives there or visits.
The Northern Quarter also loves hurtling itself into innovative ways to create and do business while at the same time cherishing the pubs, restaurants and shops of old. You don’t truly understand the Northern Quarter or the Mancunian mentality until you understand it’s love and respect for the old Manchester scene. That’s because people remember what the old city did for the metamorphosised, global city it now is. The old Manchester’s rich, unique identity acted like the backbone or the strong foundations to help the changing city to flourish and beat its colourful wings.
The streets of old
If you don’t know what I mean by the ‘old city’ or the ‘old Northern Quarter’. In the last 20 years, Manchester has gone through a phenomenal change, thanks to investment and retaining fantastic talent and innovative business, especially so in the tech world.
The Northern Quarter started off as an area mainly used for wholesalers, factories, live music, pubs and adult entertainment – much like Pigalle in Paris, minus the British pubs. The area then slowly turned most of its depots and wholesalers into colourful independent little worlds.
The thing is, even when it was a bit neglected and mainly used to keep stock, it was still very edgy. It is a colossal mistake to assume the Northern Quarter ‘got cool’ circa 2005. That creative rule-breaking heart was always there, it was just bubbling beneath the surface and hanging out in backstreet pubs and underground haunts. Any of the old and still veteran pubs in the area, such as the Castle and Gulliver’s, are a testament to its rich and deep-rooted, alternative spirit.
It’s also where, in my opinion, the village feel comes from and our famous friendly natures. Part of the Mancunian DNA is to help each other out where we can and to talk to each other as neighbours. It’s not uncommon for someone to strike up a conversation with you at a bar, sat next to you in a café or even at a tram stop. And crucially they don’t have an agenda, they just want to have a chat and connect with another person.
And because the architecture of the Northern Quarter is more compact, this friendly nature comes out even more and is allowed to skip and hop across each little business pocket. The will to help others and connect without agenda has naturally infused itself into how we do business and is why creative, independent thinking and business gel so naturally in the Northern Quarter.
I recently read a great article about Bishopthorpe Road in York, where an architect explained that the streets where people feel like hanging around are often the best streets to be on. They stick around because there are activities to enjoy and places to collaborate as a community. And inadvertently, by sticking around they help make the street and even better place for even more people to hang around, both economically and creatively.
The power of human connection works when people create an area together and fashion it to be both purposeful and fun. And when a place hits that magic formula the galleons start to flood into that area. Subsequently, independent business owners who were trying to keep afloat while sticking to their creative guns, have more wiggle room to do exactly what they want and in turn, attract the people that want to see them strut their creative stuff.
The same can be said for the Northern Quarter I think. The more people came to wander around the eclectic streets and invest in our independent businesses, the more creativity rose to the surface and became a viable business option. A lovely social circle, where we all work together to make something really quite special.