There’s a big difference between a house and a home. A house is a building, a structure, but a home is where the soul and warmth is. Manchester is a city full of warmth, yet this is barely seen in the media’s preoccupation with Chancellor George Osborne’s proposed ‘Northern Powerhouse’. It’s a concept which I believe alludes to Manchester, but doesn’t properly acknowledge it, instead trying to pull it into a conglomeration of a London-imagined North. Of those government officials tasked with helping to implement the Northern Powerhouse, 97.6% are based in London.

To be based in London yet attempt to ‘power-up’ places like Manchester is cooking up a cultural void. How can you truly experience the warmth of this city if you are sitting at a desk over 200 miles away? Manchester’s great cultural contributions are significantly under-discussed and under-covered by the Northern Powerhouse-focused media. It treats Manchester as a place for potential investment as part of a larger structure, rather than independently inspirational. Coverage of Manchester seems to be London-led, which undermines current cultural perceptions and therefore seems unfair.

Yet what the people put into Manchester, making it home, is something that deserves to be recognised. It’s recently hosted the Manchester International Film Festival and Wonder Women, a range of events celebrating the contributions and creativity of women leading up to International Women’s Day, as well as FutureEverything, a celebration of digital culture and discussed as a festival of ideas.

Whereas the Northern Powerhouse seems very investment and infrastructure focused – terms that are deemed highly attractive in London – this is not necessarily cohesive with the ideas and aspirations of the people who actually live here. As part of a powerhouse there have been allusions to turning the North’s 15 million people into a ‘collective force’, but with very little mention of the communities behind them. The Chancellor seems to see the situation like looking out over a factory floor – the population is part of the machinery, jobs are instruments, all fulfilling a function. It’s this kind of attitude which emphasises distance, something which falls so greatly between the Northern Powerhouse in the view of London and where the power really lies here in Manchester.

Power is at the pit of people’s stomachs. It’s what drives creative endeavour. Consider the recently announced season of events at the new contemporary cultural venue, HOME, including the international ¡Viva! Festival screenings. Its name seems so fitting here in Manchester and it uses the arts to connect with cities not just in the North, but all over the world. This is clearly not just northern, but international; not a house, but a home. The people here push on, determined to bring positivity with their activity in the city.

Surely a real show of power is when individual cities are celebrating their histories, people and cultures, and are recognised in their own right. Take the live music scene here, powering not just sound but social movements too. Iconic venue Band on the Wall hosted a showcase of female artists making a stand for International Women’s Day, including Avital Raz and Janileigh Cohen, who all first met via Beth Orton’s Brighter Sound residency. Live music and open mic nights are regularly on offer to people across the city, including at venues such as The Castle Hotel and The Whiskey Jar. It’s this intimacy in the arts which makes people feel at home in Manchester, and sees people getting creative, not just waiting for something.


Recent news has shown that Google searches for ‘The Northern Powerhouse’ are increasing and although this draws attention to the area, I often wonder what perspective of Manchester this provides. London looks on it as a long-suffering area in need of investment, when people need to realise that the richness spreads far beyond that.

And whilst the government dreams up a brand new Factory – an arts and theatre venue with a £78 million price tag – the traditional arts venues, key to the city’s cultural identity, have taken a massive hit. This is what the Powerhouse seems to serve up – investment based on a capital-driven identity, an attempt to imitate the capital, both the city of London and its financial centre. It’s certainly not the face of Manchester and hasn’t helped the creative spaces which have shaped history here. The traders in Afflecks have faced uncertainty over the years and, whilst venues such as the Roadhouse and Cornerhouse have closed, the Powerhouse has moved in. But the problem is that the Powerhouse hasn’t moved in at all, it’s still in London.

What is a particularly painful jab is that the government discusses a ‘creative economy’ whilst the people often at the forefront of creativity in Manchester feel little benefit. Recent figures still show that London remains leagues ahead in terms of job creation, as much as twice the rate of the UK as a whole between 2010 and 2014, according to the Trade Union Congress. So whilst Osborne is set to provide a factory, he doesn’t provide the jobs to fill it or the resources that so many talented but tired individuals need. Because Manchester gives the opportunity for everyone to be an artist in their own right, the public themselves are productive creators. Consider all the public events on offer, where the contributions of people are essential. Yet these are people who are also tired – tired of waiting for their time, tired of being treated like they haven’t moved in yet.

Supporting local culture shouldn’t be a concept that’s waited for. We should be enjoying it here and now. That’s what makes a home.

Photo by Lucy Oldfield

Emily Oldfield