Two chief executives sit down to talk about a fragmented area they made whole again.
We buy assets. It’s as simple as that. We are engaged in a process of utter and complete banalisation. This city is not safe or permeable or loved enough. We will make it so. Please let us direct you to our masterplan. Please our comprehensive masterplan. We are well managed, we are so safe and regular. We are completely and utterly banal—for you. We are smooth and modern and masterplanned. The city wanted public space and because we have love for the public we made space for you. We police it for you.
We are massive for Manchester. We are real. Our buildings are speculative and large, so safe and well designed. It is possible we are in fact too giddy. We gamble, we gamble. We are strange and we have stories. Our business is to create our own luck. We implement upwards, we are so flexible. For you. Our buildings are liquid, endlessly populated. Dense occupation saves money, it is sociable. We are absolutely about leading, retention and amenity. We build from the heart, not from the chest; we will have no further bland occupiers. We make tenants fit.
Spinningfields is a Manchester City Centre Regeneration Area. To its northeast is the Retail Core; to the east, the Civic Quarter; southeast, Petersfield; south and southwest, St John’s. Spinningfields is the only Regeneration Area name to have been prized from local parlance—anecdotal histories attribute its origins to the city’s proliferating textile industry of the nineteenth century—a co-optation of the mythology of ‘hard work’.
The site’s curation is masterminded by property developer Allied London, who rode the council-backed devastation-to-investment wave following the IRA bomb that ripped through the city centre in 1996: ‘The bomb provided something of a blank canvas for the city’s planners—and gave town hall’s chiefs the impetus to change the face of Manchester forever’. Allied London boast an inspired simple single vision: to dynamically change the ways in which we work and live in Britain. Allied London is ICONIC - PROGRESSIVE - PIONEERING - EVOLVING - MODERN.
The City Council bought the land and sold it on to Allied London, to knock down the judicial courts in the area, to build them again. They made room for a Pret, a Carluccio’s, a Slug & Lettuce beside Manchester Civil Justice Centre, Manchester Crown Court, Manchester District Probate Registry. Here are HMRC offices, a DWP assessment centre. State bureaucracy flanks the corporate playground. Freemasonry fretted a gap where capital poured in, a university perch illumined privatisation. Beside the John Rylands Library, an Emporio Armani store.
Financial buildings tower, attempting to impress by their largeness, their blankness, the fluidity with which they emerge and dissolve. Reflective surfaces repel meaning; it becomes harder and harder to tell what the buildings are. One especially opaque glass cube blankly proclaims itself FARM. All of its surfaces completely smooth.
The 1839 Rural Constabulary Act instituted police forces in counties across England and Wales in response to a perceived increase in disorder and crime. Private property was to be defended at all costs. These new laws, in combination with the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, caused mass discontent among Manchester’s working classes. The earlier act intended to curb the imagined abuse of poverty relief systems by the pauper classes. The law decreed that help would be provided through the creation of workhouses. To remake living as the condition of working, to deter people from scamming the system. The buyer uppers are coming up. Of living conditions for mill workers, poet Robert Southey wrote, ‘every inch of land is of such value, that room for light and air cannot be afforded them’. In workhouses, the shape required for a body is altered, 6 inches between each bed rather than 12. As the workhouse splits up families into workers, able-bodied or nay, divides them into neat and orderly units of potential, newly minted Bobbies appear on the streets. They call upon the city’s inhabitants to ‘move on’. The public space is no longer. By 1842, a popular broadside laments that Manchester’s an Altered Town’:
With new police and watchmen, to break the peace there’s none dare,
At every step the ladies go, the policemen cry, ‘Move on there’.
We’re safe and so well managed.
We’re very secure—you’re within a setting which is closed, that is absolutely deliberate.
Like we always say, ‘make it safe for a single woman.’
We have 58 CCTV cameras, on the average Friday and Saturday night we have 30 disguised security staff just walking around, it has to be absolutely safe.
Can the world become so safe that it becomes pure space?
This is an erotic fantasy that requires constant plain clothes policing. Alliance of banks, visionary in their transparent asset class. Smooth concrete hitting the moon’s curvature. Thin, non-dom ankles flashing blue upon any pinstriped February morn. No stopping, the signs reiterate at regular intervals. No trouble here. No seams. Security guards move in-out of the restive shadows felled by the sunlight’s muted discretion. No sign of poverty or coercion. We trace out the edges of this regulated zone, for where the private experience of the social world ends. A fresh sense of life’s ugly saturation. The boundary line of Spinningfields can be divined in fag-tips, in broken paving stones, in rubbish bags piled haphazardly upon the street. The Deliveroo drivers sit in idle exile, their empty mint green bags and their horizontal bikes also demarcate the boundary line, disbarred from waiting inside the privatised leisure zone. The zone demands. They are, without exception, male, mostly not white.
In the 1830s, cholera spread rapidly around the globe, moving along trade routes. Frederich Engels described the approach of the acute bacterial infection to Manchester as ‘a universal terror seizing bourgeoisie of the city’. Something was coming.
By June 1832, cholera was with the people of Manchester, but so was the promise of a new kind of democracy. The surgeon Samuel Gaskell, Esq. makes the observation that:
‘On the 9th of August the working classes were allowed a general holiday to celebrate the passing of the Reform Bill; this led to much intoxication and exposure to night air. In a few days after this holiday the number of cases became greatly augmented.’
Gaskell attributes the swift and fatal spread of the illness upon the pauper body to public revelry. Here was evidence of social ineptitude, overexposure, inattention, rather than, as Engels himself argued, the cramped tenement conditions in which the working classes lived and worked, in an increasingly industrial world.
When is public space dangerous? And for whom? What spreads, and what halts the passing of a thing, mouth to mouth, hand to hand, chest to chest?
These questions are not easily answered. Where once stood a workhouse now stands a poorly-lit designer boutique: elongated grey plastic mannequins display urbanely shredded clothes, price available upon request.
We were looking at XYZ and what this building should be. We decided to make it a flatted factory with uber-resilience within the building; very liquid, and we thought people might occupy it more densely than they’d occupied in the past. The British Council for Offices is still suggesting one person per 10 metre squared or even one per 12 metre squared, and we saw people maybe going to one per six to seven so we built XYZ with this flexibility in it and, lo and behold, people are occupying at one person per six at day one.
We are all getting closer.
The XYZ building, dubbed ‘progressive’ by Allied London, is the ‘next generation of property asset class’. Words are no longer expected to hold meaning; in fact it is preferable to empty them out, make them fully portable, wide open. A placeholder for value like the algebraic x, and y, and z. In this way, words become useful, flexible. Use-less through over-use. Deregulated, drained, the density of emptiness exponentially reiterates. They are flatted, uber resilient, very liquid.
Lo and behold.
Repetition is reassuring. The word ‘create’ proliferates in Spinningfields copy, variously signalling innovation, productivity, naturality. Along its southwest edge, another Allied London building site is fenced by boards proclaiming its progenitive potential to CONNECT – COLLABORATE – CREATE. In a verb-only space you cannot but be active.
The Spinningfields website tells us that, Following the demolition of the old Manchester Magistrates’ Court, in 2006, the vacant space became Hardman Square, a new public realm area created in the centre of Spinningfields. The language—became, created—suggests that events simply happened, as if organically. The market makes itself seem inevitable, the passive voice of Spinningfields manifests a new realm within a privatised location, buys up space to loan it out and lets the public in. These attempts to make the city’s biggest financial office development seem like a natural occurrence are echoed in blithe nods to Manchester’s industrial heritage—in the name itself, as well as visual references to cotton onsite. Safely decontextualised, the chemical composition of cotton appears on large taupe slabs outside the 92-metre office tower, No.1, uniformly patterned to form a network. The whole building is clothed in a metal surface beneath the glass, perforated with the chemical diagram, a cotton skin, an armour, visible once you get close enough to see past the building’s reflective outer surface. Banally repetitive, the chemical pattern evokes a specifically corporate network, the kind that places elements together and forces a relationship to arise.
Spin is the language of influence, of propaganda. The chemical composition cleaned, could be anything. A soft interpretation.
It is safe, it is regular. It is synoptically arranged.
We are delighted. We are unveiling.
Here is Neo, our most evolved collaborative workspace to date, derived from Greek ‘neonate’, meaning a fresh, new, revived form. We are bold. We are social. This £8m revivification will complement Hello Work, our social enterprise brand. We welcome genuine vision—nothing more, nothing less—to create, to develop, your business idea. We welcome Watch This Space, the urban regeneration company, who will launch the UK’s first property co-working space. Their concept, That Space, is flexible, it is sociable. Please, meet your new co-workers. They come with the space. You too are welcome to our boutique non-compete workspace, This Is The Space. Come, enjoy the velour upholstery of mid-century bucket seats propped on pine feet, illumined by post-post-industrial lighting strung angularly from exposed pipework, air vents, painted steel beams. Join us at the Everyman cinema, at ABC, in Enterprise City. We beg you to innovate.
We are absolutely, deliberately, corporate, for you.
The 1832 Reform Act coincided with the introduction of the Anatomy Act. The state’s response to the cholera epidemic seemed to typify the elites’ attitudes to the value of the working classes, upon whom the burden of the infection rested. Middle class cholera victims were treated at home, but working class victims were transported to cholera hospitals by cart, where visitors were banned.
2 September, 1832. A crowd of three thousand protesters gathered in the streets. A four-year-old boy had entered the hospital alive. Later, he was dead, buried. The boy’s grandfather was suspicious. He insisted on inspecting the contents of the coffin. Where the boy’s head should have been there was a brick. The boy, claimed protesters, had been ‘burked’ by surgeons who wanted his body for dissection.
To burke is to murder by smothering, for sale onto a black market that traded in corpses. To extinguish, covertly, without leaving any marks upon the victim’s body.
The crowd surged, carrying the boy’s headless body, through the main streets of Manchester to attack the cholera hospital on Swan Street. Police with cutlasses could not disperse the riots. Protesters smashed through windows and tore down the hospital wall.
Walking through the zone in August 2020, we pass a handful of heavy-set male security guards, the kind that function as the sign of brute strength. This appeases our sense of nostalgia. Ex-soldiers. Ex-cops. Short on temper and big on flesh. Of crotch! The legs akimbo and firmly rooted, so that any other body must feel itself lithe and girlish. We prefer it, with the body, the shoulders, the crotch, the limits that such a topography presumes for me, and for my body. A lady. A relationship. Rather than this relentless nothing. The ecstatic blank buzz, slippery and exhausting. The colourless, odourless, inert XYZ. Here is a building that suggests nothing. Here is a pale, suited man, lip quivering with desire for not one thing. Pure choice is liquid abundance.
The guards wear body cameras to supplement the CCTV footage. The guards enforce the rules, clear away the undesirables. No homeless people, teenagers, loiterers in Spinningfields. All seats are monetised. The security guard’s dual function: the guard supplants each beggar and loiterer moved along, themselves occupying the lowest rung deemed desirable by necessity, paid, not paying. Guards sweep themselves into the positions of the ones they sweep away.
To loiter is to be without purpose (without the appearance of purpose). To idle one’s time away, to dawdle over work, to be dilatory, to spend time idly.
In the early 19th century, new restrictions emerged to inhibit the presence of the working class body in public space. Loitering is a street level gesture. One that engenders bourgeois paranoia. The ladies are nervous. Little bobbies to the rescue: Move on there!
In 1828, The Police Act enabled the prosecution of any person ‘standing, loitering… or in any other Manner obstructing or incommoding, hindering or preventing the free passage of any such footway or causeway, or prejudicing, insulting, jostling, or annoying any person or persons travelling, passing or going thereon.’
Things that cannot happen in public:
Things that can happen in public:
An Instagram post from Spinningfield’s ‘allotment’ confirms the double positioning the private security guard fulfils. ‘The Little Lot’ is a very large planter—a few metres long—bounded by a small white picket fence. It boasts a part-planted border bearing a few bean plants, some dying strawberry plants and some generic shrubs. It is largely uncultivated, its central area of soil untouched. The tall back fence is hung with plastic ivy. Blackboard signs stuck in the untilled, unused soil invite participation: ‘Do you want to become a Little Lot volunteer? Join us Friday!! 11am - 2pm.’ But in this place, free time is anathema. The security guard’s spectacular duality is called upon. The employee performs the volunteer in an addendum to a model which explicitly excluded such activities. ‘Thank you to Nav from @adeptcorporate for helping plant some Lavender in our ever growing boarder [sic]’. The man in the picture digs a hole in dirt, no plants in sight. #securityservices #volunteer #charity.
Another blackboard announces the allotment’s support for the St John’s Homelessness Initiative (St John’s: Allied London’s next large project). The Initiative’s website lists nine project partners which include the DWP, a real estate and investment group, a construction firm and what appears to be two homeless charities but is in fact one charity, represented twice by two logos. Such corporate maskirovka demands a performance of community, of mutual collaboration, through stunts like the allotment, which has raised £1,090 towards supporting homeless charities in the city. This figure includes one payment of £1,000 from Big Talk Cold Feet Ltd with the note, ‘RE: Cold Feet Filming at Spinningfields’.
In Spinningfields itself there are at least 450 apartments. Yet by the end of August 2020, the M&S Foodhall—the only supermarket in the area—remained closed due to pandemic lockdown measures. Spinningfields contains no ‘affordable’ homes. Section 106 payments enable developers to skirt such obligations by paying off the council, a legislative mythology so fragmentary the money just dissolves. ‘They are focused on site specific mitigation of the impact of development.’They call S106 agreements ‘developer contributions’. Opaque imagery of pots and chivalry, rainbows and justice.
There are over 15,000 households on the city’s housing waiting list. There are at least 5,564 homeless people in Greater Manchester. In 2018, the City Council provided 28 new homes at social rent.
Developers will only put a spade in the ground if a project is viable. And although we negotiate strictly, if the finance of a development doesn’t stack up, then it doesn’t get built at all.
The Initiative, busily, funnels money elsewhere.
Every day in Spinningfields money moves from screen to screen, from virtual pocket to virtual pocket. Indeed, it never stops cruising. The sign that represents money slips, gently, between federal borders without hassle, over oceans, no, beneath them, in submarine cables. Something about this process makes me think about a baby. Why? How to write about something that is pure abstraction? We don’t understand money anymore. No one does. I’ll keep doing this every day until I get caught, said one faceless non-domiciled business-to-business PLC to his generic neighbour. A common penalty for crimes related to tax offenses is public work; the allotment won’t dig itself verdant.
Within, the individual is inducted. Trickle-down economics embodied: private equity and banking behind top floor tinted windows watch the transience of capital below: split seconds in punters’ Saturday-best pockets, the liquid money whirlpools–spent, and straight back up. Untethered, we slip freely. Cleared of all detritus, Spinningfields gleams distillation: cashless purity, florid with reflection. We will not be snagged on serifs, vagrants, litter. Spinningfields accumulates: airmiles, discounts, desserts, surveillance footage, fines, private regulations.
We hate the police from the bottom of our hearts.
March,1848. In resistance to the New Poor Law, and to reclaim public space in New Cross, the convergence of streets that functioned as a social and political meeting place, a crowd attacked the police. The bloody big head B’s will get it. The ‘Cross was now gradually taken possession of by several thousand people’. More police arrived to disperse the growing crowd. In defence, ‘the mob rallied several times and most persevering resumed the ground they had lost’. A ‘great body of people lined the footpaths on every side’.
Today. New Cross is the site of a residential development of 274 apartments, consisting one, two and three bedroom units. Value: undisclosed. Date: ongoing.
According to Legend Property Group, New Cross is ripe for regeneration, and this ripeness has been noted by both property developers and Manchester City Council.
Manchester is predicted to have the highest spike in house and rental prices of any UK city over the next 5 years. Municipal England is over, baby.
As if to signal the discreteness of its function from the glass and steel high-rise buildings that encircle Hardman Square, the Ivy Manchester bears a timber finish. This bespoke restaurant’s facade heaves with well-tended trellis boxes: troughs are softened with perennials interplanted with evergreen which give privacy throughout the year. The interior’s decor is maximalist. Aesthetic extravagance is the sign of surfeit. In the restaurant’s themed areas, Ivy Asia and The Geisha Room, one can experience tail-to-tail opulence. Onyx encrusted mirrors, your body padded into obscurity beneath ceilings of gold leaf. If oriental decor is the sign of global capital in the 21st century, the restaurant’s spirit is still indubitably English; which is to say, fond of farce and of rewriting its violence as eccentric benevolence. Wet grin TM. The Lawn Club, directly in front of The Ivy is ‘a quintessentially British themed venue’ that cites Colonial India. The perfect lawn is spotted with glass greenhouses for guests to book – both private and visible. The lawn requires upkeep, money, surveillance, to look exactly as it ever was. It requires the ongoing destruction of weeds. A lawn reminds us of the enclosure of the commons, that green space is only allowed to be the sign of underdeveloped capital, as in, you should be so lucky to have lungs in your body at all.
In 2011, the police shot and killed Mark Duggan in Tottenham, London. The police claimed the shooting was a lawful anticipation of his retaliatory violence, an act of defence, an aversion of statistical risk, never mind that he was unarmed at the time. His family and local residents marched towards Tottenham police station, chanting, ‘We want answers’. The protest spread outwards, from borough to borough, and then from city to city. Something was coming. The police knew it. On Tuesday 9th August, on Day 4 of the riots, anti-police violence and riots erupted throughout Greater Manchester, including Deansgate. The police were overwhelmed.
581 disorder-related crimes were recorded by Greater Manchester Police. Acquisitive crimes were more common than criminal damage offences. These included diversion tactics and targeting of high-value property. 28% of these were juveniles. 77 percent of arrestees in the Greater Manchester Police force area described their ethnicity as white. 89% of persons arrested were male. 200 people were prosecuted.
We will keep doing this everyday until we get caught. The non-domiciled entities rub their knees and quiver. Why are you going to miss the opportunity to get free stuff that’s worth loads of money.
We have changed you, for better. Our insertions, improvements. We bring billionaires to Manchester—you need them. Please, our ambition. Please, our billionaires. How lucky for you that we’re here.
We love our lozenge shaped buildings, from which the prisoner loading bay for the Crown Court can be seen, just behind the glass wall. Not a lot of people know that. From our great height and vantage we dream of safety. Of business, and single women.
We will rebirth our city as an iconic new space for living.
Some people say, oh, we are not cool. We do not need to be. We do not want to be! We are banal, and useful and disciplined. We are up to our eyeballs in banks.
We’re whatever you want us to be. So classless, so ageless. We are simply a place. We could be your regular haunt.
Look at us. We are brave.
Complicity spawns enjoyment in Spinningfields. Spiritually brazen capitalist investment bolsters ignorant collusion where exclusion’s felt as benefit moved slickly through. Civic sequins twinkle. Fluently oblivious, spend luxuriously the safe, soft money.
Construction workers are visible in the distance, in every direction. Yellow vests flashing like buoys in the grey glass expanse.
The featureless hello. / I could burke your family no problemo.
The lawn will be riven by unleashed forces
Surely not the lawn
 L.D Bradshaw. Visitors to Manchester. A Selection of British and Foreign Visitors’ Descriptions of Manchester from c. 1538-1865. Neil Richardson Publications, 1987, p.24.
 William E. A. Axon. Lancashire gleanings. Tubbs, Brook, & Chrystal, 1883, p.147.
 Frederich Engels. The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844 - The Original Classic Edition. Emereo Pty Ltd, 2012, p.27.
 Samuel Gaskell. “Remarks on the Malignant Cholera as It Appeared in Manchester.” Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal. 40:116. 52–65 (52).
 These are all real business names.
 Alan J Kidd, & Terry Wyke. The challenge of cholera : proceedings of the Manchester Special Board of Health 1831-1833 . Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, 2010.
 Katrina Navickas. ‘Embodied spaces and violent protest.’ In, Protest and the politics of space and place, 1789–1848. Manchester University Press, 2016, p.145.
 Manchester Times, 11 March, 1848.
No Matter are Jazmine Linklater, Nell Osborne and Hilary White. They are researchers, writers and poets living in Manchester. Together, they co-run No Matter New Matter, an ongoing reading and commission series, dedicated to poetic and performative experiment.
TENANCY is a MAP project in twelve parts, presenting new work considering what it means to occupy somewhere–or something–temporarily. The project is curated by Helen Charman, MAP Commissioning Editor.