‘Manctopia From Below’

By James Varney


I’ve lived in Manchester since 2015. In those eight years I’ve come to learn that Manchester is a city which refuses to remain the same shape. I often tell visitors from out-of-town, ‘You can leave Manchester for two weeks and get lost when you come back.’ It’s not really a joke. In 2021, I hosted ‘Manctopia from Below’, a series of online conversations with other Manchester residents, where we chatted and responded creatively to the changing city we make home.


Even in the intervening 24 months, Manchester has become a massively different city, accelerating into a future equally uncertain. Still though, the city is defined by the things which came up in our conversations: rapid development which we feel no control over; a shifting cityscape eating up the sky; shifting patterns of waste ground; the stark contrast between high and low rise housing on the fringes of the city centre. Though we feel alienated from the processes that transform the physical city, the conversations we have and art we create which records it are a way of reminding ourselves that it is us who live here who make the city.


My own situation has changed too; as of July 2023 I’m fighting eviction from the house I’ve lived in for four years, with a great deal of support from the Hulme branch of Greater Manchester Tenants Union. I’ve become an active part of my Union in the last three years, and in the face of my and others’ struggles, have found community, solidarity, and an ever-strengthening faith in collective action’s power to change the world we share.


From the thinking started with those workshops in 2021, I have grown a larger community project, We Live Here, focusing on creative conversations about our right to the city and a series of workshops in Hulme over this summer. You can check out (and sign up to) our newsletter through the links at https://linktr.ee/weliveheremcr


We will soon be hosting a launch event for a print zine featuring writing and artwork that came out of the Manctopia from Below workshops. For now, you can see the work below, from me, Jackie Haynes, Ali Michael, and Maureen Ward. I hope that our work inspires you to reflect on your own relationship with Manchester, or a city that is familiar to you. Perhaps you could take a walk and record your experience in writing, drawing or photography.


If you do feel like sharing any creative responses to the city, or would like to know more about We Live Here, you can get in touch with us at weliveheremcr@gmail.com


You can download the PDF of 'Manctopia from Below' by following the link here.


James Varney is lead artist at the We Live Here project, and secretary of the Hulme Tenants Union.


27 July 2023