Category Archives: News & Updates

Urban health and the challenges it faces

By Adam Reekie, Research Assistant, Manchester Urban Collaboration on Health (MUCH)

Centre for Epidemiology, Institute of Population Health, University of Manchester

In 2010 there was a demographical shift whereby, for the first time in history the percentage of people living in an urban environment was greater than the percentage of people living in a rural one. The health of these people is one of great importance as the health inequalities for urban residents are much more extreme than those living in the country. This is due to wider socioeconomic determinants affecting the education and income opportunities of urban communities which lead to the urban poor typically living in polluted and isolated areas.

Within cities, influences and decisions on people’s health does not just lie with the health sector but with local authority, education, urban planners, engineers and those who determine physical infrastructure and access to social and health services.

This coupled with an increased prevalence of infectious diseases (such as HIV/AIDS, TB and pneumonia), non communicable diseases (such as asthma, heart disease, cancer and diabetes) and, violence and injury (including road traffic accidents) make it very difficult for the urban poor to stay healthy.

The severity and magnitude of these issues cannot be easily addressed, which is why international collaboration and knowledge exchange is fundamental to public health enhancements.

The International Conference on Urban Health (ICUH) offers the perfect forum for such interaction. The 11th International Conference on Urban Health will take place between the 4th and 7th March 2014 in Manchester, United Kingdom.

For more information on ICUH 2014 visit or

You can also follow ICUH and find out more about urban health problems on twitter at  

Migrants and the Importance of Local Policy

By Gwyneth Lonergan, Sociology/Research Institute for Cosmopolitan Cultures, University of Manchester

Recent weeks have seen multiple stories in the media about government attempts to restrict the rights and freedoms of migrants, whether the Immigration Bill currently under debate with its intention to limit migrants’ access to the NHS, or the furore around the Home Office’s infamous ‘Go Home’ campaign.   As immigration and citizenship is regulated by the national government, the national scale may seem like the obvious field for migrants and their supporters to resist xenophobia and marginalisation.  However, the local scale can be of great significance for migrants struggling against exclusion.   After all, most immigrants settle in cities, and use the resources they find in these cities in their struggles against exclusion.  Local governments may not be able to overturn national government restrictions against migrants, but they can contribute to the creation of cities that are supportive of migrants and provide significant resources, both material and cultural.

Local governments can seek to include migrants in city life, even where this subverts or contradicts national government policy.  Thus, for example, while the national government has a monopoly on determining who has the right to vote, a city can use other mechanisms to include non-citizen residents in decision-making processes, e.g. community forums and consultations.  Similarly, a local government can allocate grants (however few in these days of austerity) to organizations supporting migrants.  Cities can also include migrants in more subtle, but significant ways, by contributing to the construction of a local ‘sense of place’ that is multicultural and understands migration as a key element of local history and identity.  Cultural festivals that acknowledge and celebrate the contribution of migrants to the city might be one way of doing this.   An inclusive sense of place greatly influences the environment in which migrants live, and the quality of their interactions with other residents.   While racists and xenophobes can be found anywhere, a local identity that stresses the importance of inclusion and multiculturalism may encourage residents to view migrants positively and to offer their support to vulnerable migrants.   It can further provide migrant social movements with cultural and moral resources.

It is important, of course, not to overstate the power and influence of local government, particularly in the UK where the central government is especially powerful when compared to other EU countries.  Furthermore, the development of migrant-friendly local policies are often part and parcel of a wider neo-liberal strategy to construct a ‘cosmopolitan’ local identity and attract investors, tourists and upwardly mobile young professionals.  While said policies may still be of benefit to migrants, particularly economically privileged migrants, their neo-liberal character can exacerbate the economic exclusion of poorer migrants.  Nonetheless, given the importance of the local scale to migrants’ struggles, we must consider how local policy can be used to support and include migrants.

As part of Policy Week, there will be a roundtable discussion on Tuesday 29 October from 10-12 about how local policy in Manchester can be used to make the city more welcoming to migrants.  Confirmed speakers include representatives from Europia, Migrants Supporting Migrants, and Refugee Action.

To register for this free event, please visit

Statistical boundaries and small area data: something worth saving?

By Nissa Finney, CCSR, University of Manchester

Statistical and small area boundaries are invisible on the ground. Yet they shape the physical nature of cities because they demarcate areas that are governed. And they are part of the construction of places because they determine a space that has political representation, or is served by a care trust, or is provided with services by a particular local authority.

Statistical boundaries are ‘territorial units’ within the UK for which data are collected and collated by the national statistical agencies (Office for National Statistics in England and Wales, General Register Office for Scotland and Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency). The Office for National Statistics (ONS) provides a useful guide to the geographical boundaries it works with ( There are many types of sub-national boundaries for which small area data are produced – administrative, electoral, census, health, postal. And the boundaries within each of these types change frequently. For example, census boundaries change in an attempt to provide statistics that reflect geographical areas with some social meaning and amendments to electoral boundaries may reflect demographic change. Statistical boundaries both shape and reflect society.

In the UK, statistics are produced for very small areas. For example, census data are published for ‘Output Areas’. Output Areas have a recommended size of 125 households and are generated from data after the completion of each census. Output Areas are designed to have similar population sizes to each other and to be as socially homogenous as possible based on tenure of household and dwelling type. Output Areas are small enough to sit within larger boundaries and always fit exactly within local authority districts.

What kind of data can we get for these small areas? Good examples are provided by the Neighbourhood Statistics website, ( the portal through which ONS disseminates its small area data. By selecting the area you’re interested in, you can view hundreds of data tables on all kinds of topics drawn from census and other data that ONS manages. You can find out about population, education, health, work, deprivation and more for small areas. For example, we can see the area of the University of Manchester (Lower Super Output Area Manchester 018B; Figure 1). If we’re interested, for example, in immigration and diversity we can quickly learn that:

image 1

  • 772 households live in this area
  • of the 2,802 residents over the age of 3 in 2011, 1,766 (63%) have English as their main language
  • 671 (23%) of the 2,893 residents have lived in the UK for less than 2 years
  • the three largest ethnic groups are White British (816; 28%), Chinese (478; 16%), Indian and Pakistani (215 or 7% each)

How might this type of data for small areas be used? Perhaps it is used by providers of health care or education in Manchester to tailor their services for their population. Perhaps it is used by the University to monitor how well it is engaging with the community within which it sits. Perhaps it is used by the local authority in population and economic forecasts. It is certainly used by academics interested in population change. For example, census data for small areas have been used in Dynamics of Diversity: Evidence from the 2011 Census Briefings produced by the ESRC Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE) in association with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. These analyses of census small area data have revealed increases in ethnic mixing residentially   (Simpson, L (2013); Catney, G. (2013), available at Indeed, such data allow us to identify places that are superdiverse, including Moss Side, the most diverse ward in Manchester district (Figure 2). They also allow us to examine where certain population groups have grown. For example, Figure 3 shows that, between 2001 and 2011, the populations of Pakistani, African and Other White ethnic groups in Manchester and Greater Manchester grew more in areas in which these groups were less concentrated than areas in which these groups were most concentrated in 2001.

Figure 2: Superdiversity in Moss Side, as shown by 2011 Census small area data

Figure 2: Superdiversity in Moss Side, as shown by 2011 Census small area data

Figure 3: Minority populations have grown most in parts of Manchester in which they were least clustered (as shown by Census 2011 small area data)

Figure 3: Minority populations have grown most in parts of Manchester in which they were least clustered (as shown by Census 2011 small area data)

In other words, these ethnic groups have spread out residentially in Manchester over the 2000s. To the contrary, the Chinese population in Manchester district and Greater Manchester grew most over the decade in wards in which it was most concentrated in 2001, perhaps reflecting a growth in the Chinese international student population who settle in the central parts of the city where other Chinese people already reside. These patterns tell us something interesting about how Manchester’s population is changing, and allow us to speculate about and investigate what’s driving these patterns of population change.

How else are small area data being used? Perhaps you have used them. Perhaps you have used them without realising their origins.

Now is an important time to think about how these small area data are used. That is because they are under threat. The Office for National Statistics is currently assessing alternatives to a census for producing population and small area socio-demographic statistics for England and Wales. The review programme is called ‘Beyond 2011’ (—projects/beyond-2011/index.html). The impetus comes from the Treasury (Treasury Select Committee report ‘Counting the Population’, May 2008) and the UK Statistics Authority who would like to see feasible and less costly alternatives to the census that will make the 2011 Census the last of its kind. This call to find a less costly alternative to the decennial census came prior to the 2011 census. The 2011 census has been widely acclaimed as the most successful in recent times; efficiently run, cost-effective and producing a breadth and depth of data that is world-leading. ONS will have a public consultation on its Beyond 2011 proposals between September and November 2013 and will put its recommendations to government in 2014.

The Beyond 2011 proposals may mean that small area data are not produced. It is a real possibility that the future data landscape in the UK will not include the world-leading breadth and quality of small area data that we currently enjoy.

If small area data are to be included in the Beyond 2011 recommendations the case for them needs to be made. There is a danger that small area data will be lost because they’re taken for granted; because they are used by many, but their origins and the efforts to produce them, and their world-leading quality are not necessarily recognised.

It is with this concern in mind that I urge you to consider the appeal by the Beyond 2011 Independent Working Group (Members of the Beyond 2011 Working Group are Piers Elias, Tees Valley Unlimited, and co-chair of Local Authorities’ liaison with central government on population statistics (CLIP); David Martin, Professor of Geography, University of Southampton, Deputy Director ESRC UK Data Service and National Centre for Research Methods; Paul Norman, Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Leeds; Phil Rees, Emeritus Professor of Population Geography, University of Leeds; Ludi Simpson, Professor of Population Studies, University of Manchester, President of the British Society for Population Studies). to provide examples of how you have used Census statistics, particularly for small areas (local authority level and below). These can be sent to ONS at and copied to the Independent Working Group at You may also want to respond to the ONS consultation in the Autumn.

Perhaps it is helpful to think about this is terms of what we won’t have, and what we won’t be able to do, if we don’t have small area data. If small area statistical boundaries and the information about population, health, housing, education, work, migration that they contain were not to exist, what would we not know about cities, and about how cities are changing? How would our understandings of contemporary cities be different without the backdrop of the world-leading quality small area data that we currently enjoy?


Enacting equality through insurgent housing practices in Spain

By Melissa García Lamarca, PhD candidate in Geography


Spain’s growth has always been intimately connected to the expansion of the built environment. (1) During the country’s third and most extensive real estate boom from 1997 to 2007, over five million units of housing were built – more than the UK, France, Italy and Germany combined – as housing prices increased over 200%. Even though real average wages fell 10% during this period, financial entities granted over 800,000 mortgages each year as the public administration, real estate sector and media actively promoted housing as a sound investment whose value would never decrease. Homeownership rates reached almost 85% of the Spanish population during this period, one of the highest rates in Europe.


Real estate cycles 1970-2007 Naredo et al 2008

Real estate cycles 1970-2007 Naredo et al 2008


Image 1. Spanish real estate cycles, 1970-2007. Source: Naredo et. al. (2008:184) from National Statistics Institute (INE), Ministry of Development and Ministry of Housing


But since the bust of Spain’s boom, unemployment has skyrocketed to over 26% and more and more people are unable to pay their mortgages. A critical situation exists as the country’s Mortgage Act does not cancel the entire debt of a mortgaged household if the confiscation and sale of their house by the bank does not cover all outstanding costs. As banks are unable to sell the foreclosed houses they repossess, those evicted find themselves hugely in debt; including late payment interest and legal costs this can total up to hundreds of thousands of euros. As over 325,000 foreclosures and 200,000 evictions have occurred between 2007 and 2012 according to Spain’s justice department, hundreds of thousands are left with no place to live and a debt to pay for life. This is happening, paradoxically, as millions of homes stand empty, unsold or repossessed by banks upon developers’ bankruptcy, and banks have been bailed out with hundreds of billions of euros from public purses.


A vocal and highly mobilised anti-eviction platform has emerged in response to these dynamics. The Platform for Mortgage Affected People (PAH) was formed in Barcelona in 2009 to defend the constitutional right to housing, specifically focusing on three struggles: stopping evictions, retroactively forgiving the debt of evicted households through reforming the Mortgage Act and enacting social rent. (2) Now with over 160 branches in cities across Spain, the PAH has successfully blocked over 700 evictions through their Stop Evictions campaign and are constantly in the public eye through street protests, occupying banks to demand debt forgiveness for affected households as well as lobbying for legislative change. As the latter, culminating in a Popular Legislative Initiative with almost 1.5 million signatures presented to Congress in February 2013, has led to no substantive change, the PAH is enacting equality through its most controversial campaign: occupying vacant, unsold buildings owned by banks to house evicted families.


Terrassa bloc Unnim

Terrassa bloc Unnim


Image 2: A housing block owned by UNNIM occupied by the PAH and evicted households since mid 2011. Source: PAH.


Driven by the motto “no people without houses, no houses without people” and “we rescue people, not banks”, this campaign seeks to recuperate the right to housing through first rehousing evicted families in empty flats owned by banks that have been bailed out by public funds and then entering into negotiating with them for families to pay social rent. The campaign was founded in November 2010 and occupations have slowly but surely increased since, particularly in the Barcelona Metropolitan Region where there are close to a dozen buildings occupied by the PAH to date. One of the first buildings occupied, in Terrassa in December 2011, recently won a victory at the end of May 2013: after one and a half years of negotiations, Caixa Cataluyna – one of several financial entities bailed out with billions of euros through the Spanish Fund for Orderly Bank Restructuring (FROB) in 2009 and merged into Cataluyna Banc – agreed to rehouse those occupying the building under a 150 euro per month social rent. Perhaps in part spurred by this success, a handful of building occupations have followed in the Barcelona Metropolitan Region and in early July the PAH released a how-to manual laying out different phases plus legal and other considerations when organising individual and collective occupations of buildings, in an attempt to roll the campaign out across Spain.


Occupied housing block PAH Barcelona city centre source pú

Occupied housing block PAH Barcelona city centre source pú


Image 3: Housing block owned by Valencia Bank in Barcelona city centre occupied on 11 July, 2013 by the PAH to rehouse four evicted families. Source: Pú


The PAH’s building occupation and recovery strategy is an insurgent practice that exemplifies a powerful enactment of equality. As lobbying for legislative change – in an attempt to create equality through government institutions – has failed, equality is instead being actively taken or enacted by the subjects of equality. (3) These insurgent practices are deeply political acts and, arguably, are the types that constitute politics; as Ranciére (1999: 11) would say, “politics exists when the natural order of domination is interrupted by the institution of a part of those who have no part.” (4) Those who constitute the anti-eviction platforms in Spain were people who allegedly “had a part”, who obtained the credential of “first-class citizens” through being property owners (5), but are now the part with no part as they have been evicted and indebted for life. Their building occupations rupture the police order – the structure, justification and legitimacy of a socio-economic hierarchy, or what we normally call politics – into a space for the appearance of a subject, making visible that which had no reason to be seen. (6) Such actions question and break with the current system, filling a critical gap left by the state, private sector and other institutions.


In Spain, as well as in many places across Europe and the world, the crisis has shown that the state and market have failed in their claim to provide a secure reproduction of our lives (7) – that is, a framework for us to provide ourselves with shelter, food and other basic needs fundamental to human life and flourishing. Yet the Platform for Mortgage Affected People’s anti-eviction struggles, in particular occupying buildings with/for evicted families, give hope for actively claiming equality in cities across Spain. The outcomes and larger transformative potential of these acts, of course, remain to be unfolded.

(1) Daniel Coq-Huelva. 2013. Urbanisation and Financialisation in the Context of a Rescaling State: The Case of Spain. Antipode, (April): 1-19.

David Harvey. 1978. The urban process under capitalism: a framework for analysis. International Journal for Urban and Regional Research, 2(1-4): 101-131.

David Harvey. 1985. The Urbanisation of Capital. Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd.

(2) Social rent is proposed by the PAH as a rent constituting no more than 30% of a family’s income.

(3) Todd May, 2008. The Political Thought of Jacques Rancière: Creating Equality. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

(4) Jacques Ranciére. 1999. Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press.

(5) Ada Colau & Adrià Alemany. 2012. Vidas hipotecadas: De la burbuja inmobilaria al derecho de la vivienda. Barcelona: Cuadrilátero de Libros.

(6) Jacques Rancière. 2001. Ten Theses on Politics. Theory and Event, 5(3): 1-11.

(7) Midnight Notes Collective. 2009. Promissory Notes: From Crisis to Commons.


Melissa García Lamarca is a second year Geography PhD student investigating the insurgent practices and forms of being-in-common of anti-eviction platforms within the context of the financialisation of housing in Spain. She is attempting to understand the role of these practices and forms in creating urban commons in Barcelona. Melissa is also a contributor to Polis, a collaborative blog on cit

Mayoral politics and the migrant economy: talking elections and “illegals” in Moscow

By Madeleine Reeves, Social Anthropology, School of Social Sciences

It is election season in Moscow. On September 8th, for the first time in a decade, Muscovites have the opportunity to vote for a new mayor. The election is a small concession to Russia’s political opposition, which saw a vocal Moscow-based middle-class take to the streets in 2011 to express their disillusion with a presidential party that was stifling political debate. Shortly after the last mayoral elections in 2003 Putin reinstated direct appointment of the Moscow mayor and regional governors as part of his assertion of a “vertical of power” throughout the country. In the case of the Moscow mayor, that decision was quietly reversed following the 2011 demonstrations: a PR coup, many said, that would not really affect the nature of politics as usual.

Dormitory accommodation in Moscow

Dormitory accommodation in Moscow

Today the billboards are out, with their pictures of mayoral candidates in decisive poses. There are slogans that speak to the concerns of an increasingly aspirational middle class (“Order, Comfort, Plenty” for Zhirinovskii’s LDPR; “Moscow power under the control of Muscovites” for the liberal Yabloko party). State buildings are getting a hasty coat of paint; there are election ads and TV debates (albeit without the participation of the incumbent and likely winner, Sergei Sobyanin), as well as pop-up campaign booths near the entrance to metro stations. The poster boy of the political opposition, Aleksei Naval’nyi, is running a slick campaign to “change Russia, starting from Moscow”. Amid the polemics over public transport and parks, bike-paths and Moscow’s escalating real estate costs, one issue has dominated the campaign: the place of Moscow’s highly visible, economically marginalised and legally precarious population of seasonal migrant workers.

Election season has seen a normalisation of anti-migrant sentiment that had previously been confined to the far right. These include the publication of some questionable data (such as the claim that half of all crime in Moscow is committed by out-of-towners in Naval’nyi’s election manifesto) and calls by several of the mayoral candidates for the introduction of a visa regime with the states of Central Asia—states that are today some of the most remittance-dependent in the world. In recent weeks, there have been highly publicised raids on markets and at metro-stations and vigilante sweeps of migrant apartments. Video footage shows scores of Central Asian labour migrants being frog-marched, prisoner-of-war style through a Moscow suburb. A huge tented community of 600 mostly Vietnamese textile workers, growing by the day, has been constructed in Eastern Moscow as a holding centre ahead of deportation, one of eighty planned across the country. The mayoral candidate for the Liberal Democratic Party has urged that the migrants detained there be given survival rations and be made to work “for the good of Moscow” before they are deported.

These populist public crack-downs on illegal residence and labour in the city belie a profound tension at the heart of Russian migration policy. On the one hand, fears of demographic decline, depopulating mono-industry towns, and an oil-fuelled building boom have generated huge demands for low-paid, un-unionised and tractable migrant labour. Whole industries, including market retail, catering, cleaning, and construction, have come to rely upon seasonal migrant workers from poorer states to Russia’s south, often employed in sweat-shop conditions. There have been simplified procedures for some post-Soviet citizens to receive Russian citizenship, and ethnic Russians in former Soviet states have been actively courted as compatriots to be helped with finding housing and work in a “motherland” where most have never previously lived. On the other hand, politically restrictive quotas for documented, legally recognised labour, and the lack of a minimum wage policy mean that those (mostly non-Slavic) seasonal migrant workers who cannot access privileged routes to citizenship are often, of necessity, working or living in conditions that are in violation of civic administrative codes.

There is a stark political economy to the illegalization of migrant labour that goes unremarked in much of the election-season hand-wringing over the city’s growing population of nelegaly (“illegals” in derogatory officialese). For one thing, demand for labour that is low-paid, verbally contracted, un-unionised, and flexible far exceeds the city’s (deliberately minimalist) quota of work permits. Perhaps as many as four fifths of the city’s migrant workers are therefore employed without an official work permit, or individual patent permitting private employment. There is an open market for official work permits, as well as a (near indistinguishable) market for fakes. As I have explored in my research on the difficulty of creating documented selves in Russia, the degrees of intermediation for obtaining a work permit means that “cleans” and “fakes” are often distinguishable only at the point that they are checked by the police.

At the same time, the gulf between average wages and average rental costs in the city mean that many migrant workers live in conditions that violate administrative regulations: in multi-tenant “rubber apartments” (rezinovye kvartiry) without corresponding residential registration, in container-dormitories on building sites, or in the unventilated basement of a multi-storey apartment building entirely unrecorded within city housing stock. The choices here are stark: for those on a typical migrant wage in the catering sector of 15-17,000 roubles (around £300-£330 per month) the only way to make ends meet in a context where the rental costs exceed average wages three or four-fold is to share an apartment illegally with 15 or 20 other tenants, paying money to a notional “landlord” (another migrant who takes a cut) and paying off the local policeman to ensure that the apartment is protected from raids. In a city where the 2010 census identified over 92% of the city’s registered population to be ethnically Russian (russkii), the economic constraints upon legal migrant labour have made for an easy popular conflation between being visibly non-Russian, being a “guest worker” (gastarbaiter), and being an illegal.

Xenophobia is not new in Moscow. But the combination of a laissez-faire wage policy (with a race to the bottom for undocumented labour), together with excessive restrictions on legally documented labour, and the widespread use of bribes to circumvent administrative regulations has allowed for the normalisation of a casual racism in which discrimination on the basis of ethnicity is justified through concerns for security and comfort—or protection against “illegals”. One commercial website offering temporary accommodation to non-Muscovites, for instance, cites its own policy of ethnic selection in the following terms:

“we don’t have racist prejudices, but today the situation has developed such that the largest demand for a place to stay in Moscow comes from Russians, Belorussians and Ukrainians. In accordance with the existing demand for inexpensive hostel accommodation in Moscow, we attempt only to house people of Slavic appearance (litsa slavianskoi vneshnosti), for the comfortable living conditions of all residents, and in so doing avoid any conflictual situations.”

The conflation between ethnic origin and legal status has also made its way into the heart of election talk, in which “Uzbeks”, “migrant”, “guest-workers” and “illegals” tend to be invoked interchangeably. Here’s the incumbent, Sobyanin in a May 2013 interview about his vision of the city and the role of its migrant population. Moscow is a Russian city, he insisted, “not Chinese, not Tajik, not Uzbek”:

I’m against the idea that just anyone is able to stay. If people are to stay it is first of all Russian-speakers, with an acceptable culture [s adekvatnoi kul’turoi], compatriots as we say. [But] people who speak Russian badly, who have a completely different culture, it’s better that they live in their own country. Therefore we don’t welcome their adaptation [ikh adaptatsiia] to Moscow, I consider that these people are seasonal workers who have worked and then should go home to their families, to their homes, to their countries.”

Finding a roof in Moscow

Finding a roof in Moscow

And here’s the opposition candidate, Naval’nyi, writing on his blog in characteristic polemic, criticising Sobyanin’s own city officials for employing irregular migrant workers (here simply “Uzbeks”) to take down Naval’nyi campaign banners:

“Dear Sergei Semonovich [Sobyanin],
You’ve not answered my previous questions [about how the mayoralty has been stealing paving slabs and trees]. But maybe you’ll answer me this, why you with your jobbing Uzbeks you are stealing our Navalnyi banners from the balconies of people who’ve put them there? As we know, you have given the order for the head of the building administrations to take the banners from balconies.

1. This is illegal. The banner is the property of the campaign HQ […]
2. It is dangerous. Your Uzbeks are rock-climbing without any safety nets for this kind of work. They’ll fall and kill themselves.
3. Those who don’t die will tell other Uzbeks just how easy and simple it is to get into Muscovites’ apartments this way. It will lead to an increase in apartment robberies. […]
Sobyanin’s and Navalny’s tone and intended audience are quite different here. And yet both rely on a series of reflexive conflations about culture, labour, exploitability, and the capacity (or not) for “adaptation” of non-Slavic migrants within Moscow society.

In this mayoral race, as in so many others in European capitals, sustained debate about what an economically vibrant and socially inclusive city might look like has been sidelined in favour of politically dubious stunts to look tough on irregular migration. In a context where whole industries depend on migrants’ documentary illegibility (and economic quiescence), it is the city’s non-Slavic migrants themselves who are bearing the brunt of this political experiment.

Challenging Homophobia in Manchester: Theatre and Education

Royal Exchange Theatre - image from purplemattfish via flickr

Many of you will know the stunning Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester City Centre. A grade II listed building it was originally used as a cotton and textile exchange and like much of Manchester’s industrial heritage has been reappropriated for cultural purposes. The main theatre has a unique architectural design; a seven-sided construction free-standing in the centre of the Great Hall. Designed by Richard Negri it is the largest in-the-round theatre in the UK. The theatre hosts a full schedule of high profile touring performances (drama, music and dance) as well as working with local and emerging writers and directors. However the Royal Exchange’s role in the city is not limited to staging productions.

While in some ways it is less visible, the work of their Education team is central to what the theatre does. Through this they engage with adults, children, schools, colleges and community groups from all kinds of backgrounds. Part of this work is simply making it easier and cheaper for people to attend performances who might not otherwise do so.  They also run a host of events and activities aimed at opening the Exchange to a wider range of people and enhance their theatre experience. Amanda Dalton and her Education team collaborate with all kinds of individuals and organisations to deliver workshops and classes as well as projects attached to specific plays.

One recent example of a play-attached project is ‘I Can Dream, Can’t I?’ which ran alongside a staging of Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing in November 2011. The play deals with the emerging sexuality of two teenage boys who develop a relationship in a working class area of London in the 1980’s. Supported by Manchester Pride, other partners on the project were the Albert Kennedy Trust (who help vulnerable LGBT young people find supportive places to live) and the Lesbian and Gay Foundation.

For this project workshop facilitator Mandy Precious (currently Director of Burnley Youth Theatre) devised and led a series of workshops at LGF and in communities around Greater Manchester, in response to a brief from the Exchange. The workshops were attended by LGBT teenagers who were interested in trying their hand at playwriting. Mandy has lots of experience co-ordinating workshops and as a director and writer and has worked with the Royal Exchange Education team on numerous projects over the years.

Working with Mandy the young people responded to extracts from the play Beautiful Thing and explored their perceptions and experiences of being LGBT teenagers today. Professional actors were engaged by the theatre and directed by director Sam Pritchard to create a presentation of the work of the young people alongside commissioned pieces from prominent lesbian and gay professional writers including Jackie Kay, Antony Cotton, Tom Wells and Stella Duffy.

It was this project which inspired Jackie Stacey, organiser of the Sexuality Summer School at the University of Manchester, to get in touch with the Royal Exchange about working together.  Now in its 5th year, the Summer School brings together postgraduates and researchers working in the broadly defined area of sexuality studies. The Summer School is comprised of an intensive programme of masterclasses and discussions, lectures, film screenings and performances and always has some public elements (details below). Over the years the Summer School has worked with Cornerhouse, the Library Theatre and (the now sadly defunct) Queer Up North festival.

Sexuality School Poster

The theme for this year’s Summer School is ‘Homophobia and Other Aversions’ and Jackie was keen to find creative ways for the students to think this through.  Working with the Royal Exchange and Mandy Precious, and funded by cities@manchester, the Summer School will run a writing workshop for students called ‘Challenging Homophobia in Manchester: Empowering LGBT young people through creative writing and theatre’.

Participatory work like this and the ‘I Can Dream, Can’t I?’ project are a central and vital part of the life of the Royal Exchange.  Amanda Dalton explains, “we genuinely believe that taking part in theatre, as audience, writers, makers or performers, can transform people’s lives. We hope that projects such as these really do empower participants and enhance their confidence and self esteem, as well as celebrating their creativity, voice and the power of the written word – especially powerful when it is shared in a live space.”

The collaboration is also a great example of how the University can work together with cultural organisations in the city around common interests.  The Summer School students will get a chance to think about homophobia from a new perspective and with a different set of critical and creative tools.  These partnerships are very important to the Summer School.  Jackie Stacey explains, “since the demise (due to Arts Council funding cuts) of the international Arts Festival, Queer Up North, with whom the Sexuality Summer School used to collaborate, it has become crucial for us to find new partners in Manchester with whom we can work to sustain the more creative aspects of this postgraduate event. This year’s collaboration with the Royal Exchange Theatre (via the Albert Kennedy Trust) is very exciting and promises to be a highlight of the summer school.”

About the Sexuality Summer School:

The Sexuality Summer School has been held annually by the CSSC since 2008. The Sexuality Summer School is coordinated by the Centre for the Study of Sexuality and Culture (CSSC) and the Research Institute for Cosmopolitan Cultures (RICC). This year’s collaboration with the Royal Exchange is sponsored by cities@manchester.

Events Details:

The Sexuality Summer School: Homophobia and Other Aversions is fully booked for this year.  However there are three free public lectures this year which are open to all:

Tuesday 22nd May: 5pm, John Casken LT, Martin Harris Centre, University of Manchester, Oxford Road

Ann Cvetkovich (Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, University of Texas): “To Be Able to Stand Not Knowing”: Depression, Creativity and Self-Aversion

Drawing from her forthcoming book, Depression: A Public Feeling, Cvetkovich will address the summer school theme by considering the prevalence of self-hatred within everyday life and creative practices that address it, as well as ongoing debates within queer theory about the politics of positive and negative affects.

Wednesday 23rd May: 5.15pm Kanaris Room, 2nd Floor Manchester Museum, Oxford Rd.

Lois Weaver (Professor of Contemporary Performance Practice, Queen Mary, University of London): A Long Table on Senses of Aversion

A Long Table is a performance installation that uses the form of a dinner party as a structure for public debate to encourage informal conversation on serious subjects and to experiment with formats that inspire public engagement.

Thursday 24th May: 5pm, John Casken LT, Martin Harris Centre, University of Manchester, Oxford Road

Mary Cappello (Professor of English, University of Rhode Island): Vice Viscera: The (Dis)gustatory Implications of Aversion

Mary Cappello recently won a Guggenheim Fellowship for her literary non-fiction, which explores forms of disruptive beauty, figuring memory in a postmodern age, bringing incompatible knowledges into the same space, and working at the borders of literary genres.

For more information go to the Sexuality Summer School webpage.

Caitriona Devery.

Cafe Historique

Dominique Tessier
Local Historian + Museum Consultant
Founder of Manchester’s Cafe Historique
November 2011

Since its creation in Autum 2009, the Cafe Historique has been presenting talks, discussions and quiz events promoting new interpretive approaches to local history. A recent focus on the history of science and medecine led to surprising discoveries such, as mentioned below, Sigmund Freud’s stay in Manchester.

I still marvel at your description of the seven weeks spent in 1875 visiting your brothers in Manchester, England. If the verbal portraits of your brothers and city were paintings, they would be displayed in a prominent gallery in Vienna.

Source: Letter written in 1883 by Martha Bernays to Sigmund Freud

“Freud and Manchester Historical Women” was the Cafe Historique’s first quiz event. Fascinating links between psychoanalysis and Thomas de Quincey were also explored. Born in Cross Street, Manchester in 1785, the author of the Confessions of an English Opium Eater is credited for the first use of the word subconscious. Interestingly de Quincey lived in Moss Side which, as illustrated by the quote below contributed to its status a prime touristic attraction to cosmopolitan Victorian travellers such as William Sanders Scarborough.

Manchester is rich in libraries as I found under Dr. Axon’s guidance. The famous Chetham Library of some 60,000 volumes has many rare manuscripts – most interesting to an antiquarian. Then there is the John Rutland’s Library of some 60,000 volumes has many rare and ancient manuscripts which includes the costly Althorp Library of Earl Spencer, totaling some 90,000 volumes of the finest collection of Bibles in the sixth century. There is also a Free Reference Library of 125,000 volumes. I could have spent months among these books with Dr. Axon’s enriching knowledge and comment to aid me. Add to this the small De Quincey collection in Greenheys near Dr. Axon and we understand something of the city’s wealth in books.

Source: William Sanders Scarborough, The Autobiography of William Sanders Scarborough: An American Journey from Slavery to Scholarship

This quote was read by Elizabeth Gow, Archivist at the John Rylands Library, during her talk on Cuba born Enriqueta Rylands – it was presented as part of the Cafe Historique’s Manchester Women series (March 2011). Back to Greenheys – sometimes spelled Green Hayes – in one of her memoirs, Suffragette and Pan Africanist campaigner Sylvia Pankhurst provides an interesting description.

Green Hayes: the very name seems caressing. In its garden were borders of London pride; the starry little pick flowerets wonderfully beautiful amid the black soot of Manchester; like fairy flowers (…)

Volumes have been written about Greenheys and its police station…

On 8 July 1981 more than 1,000 mostly young people besieged Greenheys police station on what is now Charles Halle Road and tried to batter their way inside before being repelled.
Source: The Manchester Compendium: A Street-by-Street History of England’s Greatest Industrial City, Ed Glinert

Named after one of its most famous residents, Charles Halle Road deserves closer historical investigation. Sir Charles Halle, German conductor and founder of the Halle Orchestra resided there with his family for about 40 years. His first wife Desiree, native of New Orleans, was related to French painter Edgar Degas.


Interestingly in 1914 Jerome Caminada, Manchester’s first Victorian detective, died a short walk away from Moss Side Police station. “One of the Manchester’s most successful thief-takers”, he was according to Don Hale “of mixed race parentage with an Irish mother and an Italian father”. Caminada’s autobiographical “Twenty-five Years of Detective Life” (1895) – is a must read as it challenges current stereotypical understanding of Manchester’s crime and gang culture.

The Manchester with all its great moral, religious and political associations, its commercial enterprise recognised in every part of the world, and its corresponding wealth, still has its dark spots.

Areas such as Deansgate are one of the dark spots covered in “Twenty-five Years of Detective Life”.

Within an arrow’s flight of the princely grandeur of the Town Hall may be seen many dreary dwellings of misery and wretchedness.

For the very first time this October, the Cafe Historique presented a Black History Month programme which opened at Victoria Baths, Manchester (02/10/11) with a talk by Bill Williams on early Black communities in Ordsall and Greengate. Bill stressed that Black presence in Manchester has been continual for at least 200 years. With the opening of its Ship Canal in 1894, Manchester joined a global network port cities which led to the formation of new urban communities including newcomers, such as a Japanese hairdresser, arrested in the 1920s for using his salon as a front to store contraband goods.

From beginning to end, amazing connections and historical facts were revealed throughout this first Black History Month. The last talk, The 1945 Pan African Congress: Manchester contribution (28/10/11) by Washington Alcott, Manchester’s city centre as home to an influential cosmopolitan pan africanist hub led by Guyana born T. R.Makonnen, key funder of the 1945 Pan African Congress and owner of several businesses. His Pan African Federation and Bookshop was located at 58 Oxford Road – it might have been visited by Sylvia Pankhurst who was a friend of T. R. Makonnen. She also corresponded with African American Sociologist and President of the 1945 Pan African Congress W.E.B. Dubois, who at the time of her death wrote:

I realised … that the great of Sylvia Pankhurst was to introduce Black Ethiopia to White England, to give the martyred Emperor of Ethiopia a place of refuge during his exile and make the British people realise that Black folks had more and more to be recognised as human beings with the rights women and men.
Source: The Correspondence of W.E.B. Dubois: Volume III, Selections 1944 – 1963

Each Cafe Historique event is an invitation to reconsider both the nature and the geography of Manchester’s history. When it comes to exploring the cosmopolitan nature of the local, autobiographies and comparative family histories are the key tools used by the Cafe Historique. Focusing on individual histories allow to effectively fill current historical interpretative gaps and challenge stereotypical approaches to “community histories”. In keeping with a long standing local tradition, the Cafe Historique also promotes the free exchange of knowledge and the creation of new self-learning networks.

More information about Cafe Historique at or email