So Is Salford’s Media City A ‘Wonderful Town’?

We went to see Leonard Bernstein’s Wonderful Town performed by the Halle Orchestra at The Lowry in Salford last night.  And by coincidence, it transpired, yesterday was also the day when the BBC began transmitting the popular Breakfast show from its brand new operation in Salford Quay’s Media City.  Apparently, despite the anticipated longer term advantages of being in Salford rather than London, there are still BBC people who think it not done to be going Up North regularly to broadcast to the nation.

One gathers these folk expected simply grime and crime, so they must have been astonished to discover that the North West of England has not just one world class orchestra right next door (the Halle), but three (the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestras, to boot). Plus, there are for all to view buildings which would pass muster in any respectable major city.  Fancy that.

But of course life is never simple, and there are indeed particular problems with living north of Watford.

For a start, southerners seem to believe it’s further for them, travelling ‘up’ the country, than for those of us who have to travel south to get to meetings and events.  (The truth, let it be known, is that we are familiar, and therefore more comfortable, with the journey, because we have to do it so much more often.)

Then there’s the infrastructure. There’s no realistic way, without a car, to get beyond central Manchester after an evening at The Lowry. Whatever the powers-that-be might say, it’s drive or stay put (somewhere?) till the morning; not eco, and not a great way to encourage support for Salford’s evening economy.

Reaching Salford from elsewhere still has to be done via Manchester city centre, just the same as way back in the early 1970s when I did my post-graduate studies commuting from Liverpool to Salford University.  More thought about transport systems remains needed here, to ensure The Lowry and Media City are fully positioned as regional centres of excellence, not ‘just’ as outreach facilities for Manchester and routes south.

We didn’t if we’re honest enjoy Wonderful Town as much as we had hoped. The performers were of course excellent; it was the work as such which needs pruning and perhaps shaping up some more – too stark and too long for picky, picky us. But these caveats concern another story, by an American about another place (New York), at another time now eighty years ago.

And what we did enjoy last night was seeing how rapidly Salford Quays has progressed as a location. Here’s a shot taken, almost exactly four years ago, from precisely the same spot by The Lowry as the photographs of Media City above:

There may still be work to be done to get the Media City show truly on the road, but it’s about time that some folk down south got on their bikes heading north, to see what’s cooking.

I’m not as yet convinced Salford’s Media City is in every sense a Wonderful Town, but I’m absolutely certain that investing ‘in the regions’ must continue, and the BBC is right to be leading the way. It’s not the London Broadcasting Company (amazing though I think our capital city is). It’s the British Broadcasting Company.

And Salford is as much in Britain as is London.

Posted on April 11, 2012, in Arts, Culture And Heritage, People And Places, Regeneration, Renewal And Resilience, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thanks wfw. But does it actually matter whether Salford and Manchester are as one, or two administratively differentiated, urban areas? The same issue could easily be identified for varying parts of Greater London and environs, or indeed for the Liverpool-Manchester conurbation.

    I don’t think that local culture – if that’s what concerns you? – is compromised by wider civic adminsitrations. All cities have (and indeed need) different feels in different parts, so that shouldn’t be a worry.

    The fundamental problem to my mind is how to achieve more equity of investment between the north and south of Britain. Without more equitable resourcing / investment very serious problems will be further exacerbated, to everyone’s detriment.

    That’s why I applaud the BBC initiative, and its collaboration with ‘local’ partners such as Salford University. These things are critical at regional level, and the BBC investment seems to recognise that.

  2. I think the fact that the two cities are “co-joined” compromises Salford’s identity in favour of its more international famous “twin sister” Manchester. I know several foreign nationals who if they have heard of Salford at all regard it as a district of Manchester. The false entity of Greater Manchester causes similar problems to outlying areas such as Bury for example which has also been geographically absorbed by Manchester in parts for example, Prestwich where I live, once part of Salford, and Middleton itself, which seems further distant and separate but has a Manchester postcode but is administratively part of Rochdale.

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