The red-brick northern giant, the home of Oasis, the set of Shameless and the birthplace of the industrial revolution. The city today is as iconic as it is infamous, as gritty as it is cosmopolitan and as northern as it is global.
Manchester has always been a rule breaker and a thought-pioneer. The city and its inhabitants like to do things on their own terms and in their own way, which has inspired ground-breaking inventions and an outpouring of creative spirit. From the invention of the computer, the discovery of the electron and the creation of graphene, Manchester has never been afraid of using science to create innovative technology.
Manchester’s regeneration after the IRA bomb in the 90s catapulted the dormant city onto the global stage once again. Huge reconstruction and historic investment were pumped into the Northern Powerhouse. The city was rebuilt, re-modelled and transformed until it inadvertently had everything it needed to become the global tech hub it is becoming today: strong economy, cultural heritage, historic innovation, and a surplus of creative people and ideas.
The tech revolution hit the Mancunian streets like a fish to water and took the city on by storm.
Innovative start-ups, digital collectives and tech entrepreneurs filtered into the once empty red brick warehouses and old Victorian buildings. Modern offices, co-working spaces and freelance friendly cafes are now popping up more quickly than quirky restaurants or independent boutiques. And as the city’s architects plan to build up to the sky, similar plans are set in motion for the Manchester digital scene.
Manchester is currently the largest tech cluster outside of London, it has the UK’s second largest GVA growth and has the 4th highest digital turnover at £2.2 billion.
Local and national government are intent on keeping this momentum going to ensure that Manchester realises its global digital potential and has recently granted Manchester £4 million to create a tech hub centre which will nurture start-ups, be a place of digital mentorship and help ingrain digital collaboration across the city.
Away from government investment, the city is receiving masses of ex-Londoners as part of the historic exodus from the capital, and is also importantly retaining northern talent who no longer feel the pull to move down south to be able to realise their professional goals.
Welcoming companies as they decide to relocate, open a branch or be based in the northern city is also becoming a common affair. Companies and organisations such as Google, the BBC and Bohoo.com have all decided that Manchester is the place to be. There is even tongue-in-cheek talk of moving the capital up north.
Whether you believe that Manchester will become a totally transformed global digital mega city, that it will cling to its northern-rooted creative identity from yesterdays, or that it will be a mash up of both identities, one thing is irrefutable: Manchester is going through a phenomenal metamorphosis.
The risk with such a dramatic push towards a ‘better’ Manchester is forgetting the city’s history. We risk, like many cities, favouring gentrification instead of accepting our imperfect but real identity. We risk doggedly pursuing global recognition and lobotomising what made us famous in the first place: being Mancunian.
There is however something that will always save us from ‘growing at all costs’ and that is our thirst for originality and our intransient need to navigating our own way through anything, including becoming a global centre for digital innovation and talent.
Sara is a freelance writer based in Manchester. She owns the commercial and creative content company Fraiche Ink, focusing on think pieces and marketing content.