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Filmreel Review: The Spirit Of Hulme

Who would have thought that a Tory MP would lead the way in clearing slum housing in a major city, to create a more people-first environment? More so, it was housing designed and built under the not-so-watchful eye of a Labour-led council and was a government-specified social experiment.

Who would have thought that a Tory MP would lead the way in clearing slum housing in a major city, to create a more people-first environment? More so, it was housing designed and built under the not-so-watchful eye of a Labour council.

The rise and fall and rise and fall of the Hulme area of Manchester, less than 10 minutes away from the city centre, is ably captured in a recently released documentary, The Spirit of Hulme. Following the style of recent documentaries such as Senna and Amy, there’s deliberately no running commentary that could possibly introduce an outside contamination or forced narrative. This affair splices together extensive historical footage, sometimes incorporating black and white still images or video, of those involved during the 70s and 80s, with interviews from survivors around today.

Growing up around Moss Side at the time, my family was offered housing in this new experiment, but thankfully a “no” spat out with venom by my mum was enough to make sure we never asked why not. Sometimes parents do know best.

For others, they placed their honest trust in the planners, and boy did they suffer. Rat and cockroach infestations were soon the norm, along with a heating system that rapidly became a form of refrigeration. Oh, and the asbestos.

When the people decided to stand up for themselves, they were vocal, but needed leaders and leadership. The people behind community filmmaker REELmcr, who created this documentary, must have sifted through hundreds of archives, probably stored on movie tapes held within dubiously labelled tins, in order to locate snippets of the residents’ meetings that were filmed on static cameras and with limited fields of view. The editing is so nimble so as to give the impression that recordings made in the 70s and 80s were planned with the intention of someone coming along at a later date to create a coherent story of how the spirit of the people will win out, rather than merely capturing a struggle about which no one knew the outcome.

The filmmakers have pinpointed some of the key protagonists such as the Maureen Moonsammy, Maureen Mohan, Mary Murphy and others, focusing on that critical core which demanded, and eventually succeeded in, achieving positive change.

Nowadays, we take the ease of pressing a button on a handheld device in order to capture an event then upload it for everyone to view five minutes later for granted. So in nearly 60 minutes, REELmcr chart the ups and down of a community through the decades, highlighting those in every community who try to help others because it’s the right way to do things, not because they will later become a celebrity.

With the number of interviewees perhaps their names could have been displayed more towards the end especially as the hairlines and styles did change over the years. Similarly, the riots of 1981 and the fact there were a lot of casualties to drugs and guns is alluded to, but not dwelled on. Perhaps it’s an indication of the notoriety that the area once garnered, that the outer fringes of Hulme are being extensively redeveloped, having long since been relabelled as Castlefield.

However, if you want to know why it was so difficult to keep Sir Michael Heseltine, aka Michael, away from Manchester, then watch the video that is freely available on the REELmcr YouTube channel.

Still, this tale of councils and governments not prioritising the wellbeing of people is a template that could easily be adapted to a future instalment, possibly titled ‘The Spirit of Grenfell’.

REELmcr are currently working on a heritage project on the life of radical, poet and weaver, Samuel Bamford, the chronicler of the Peterloo Massacre.

Background and inset images by Ged Camera.

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