As Jack Blanchard explores Salford Quays he wonders why BBC staff made such a fuss about the move north.
IT was in the early 1980s that England’s cities began to see their crumbling watersides as potential assets rather than relics of a bygone age.
It began with London’s Docklands, where an unprecedented regeneration project led by Michael Heseltine saw the decaying shipyards of the previous decades transformed into a thriving financial centre. By 2012, shabby old east London was an Olympic venue.
Leeds, of course, has tried something similar, albeit on a smaller scale. And just across the Pennines there is the Mancunian version of this dockside renaissance, Salford Quays – once the bustling dockyard for the Manchester Ship Canal but now a rejuvenated offshoot to the city which is home to many of its proudest cultural assets.
The newest of these is the BBC, a fair chunk of whose employees have somewhat-begrudgingly upped sticks from London to occupy a huge and breath-taking glass office.
The Media City buildings are stunning in their own right, but for Manchester and for Salford Quays in particular this feels like something of a game changer, with the city thriving on a sudden injection of thousands of well-paid media types.
It is here that Match of the Day is now filmed; Radio Five Live broadcasts from here too. Granada TV has decided to follow suit – a brand new life-size version of Coronation Street is currently under construction.
For all the alleged grumbling of various London-centric BBC types about being forced to move up North, it really must be a great place to work, with views out across a beautiful waterfront zigzagged by stunning new bridges and walkways.
The hustle and bustle of Manchester city centre is only 15 minutes by tram, yet feels a world away.
You can even take a pleasure boat trip around the quays.
Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United Football Club, is only a few minutes’ walk from here and the reconstructed cricket ground is just down the road.
Beyond the sport, by far the best attraction here is the terrific Imperial War Museum North, ostensibly a smaller regional outpost of the London-based institution but in reality a bewitching cultural asset of which Manchester is rightly proud. The building itself is brutally striking, a twisted modern construct of concrete and steel. Inside are exhibitions far more engaging than the tired collection of weapons and helmets I had vaguely imagined, including stunning works of art and sculpture inspired by recent conflict, and war photography from across the world.
Centre stage in the main room are two huge pieces of charred and twisted metal – the first the remains of a vehicle blown apart in a car bomb attack in Baghdad and brought back to this country by a keen-eyed artist; the second a charred and shattered girder taken from one of the towers of the World Trade Centre in New York after it was attacked on 9/11. Side by side, the two warped metallic structures look oddly similar. Together they stand as testament to the brutal futility of war.
It’s also well worth taking a trip up the museum’s “air shard” – a 180ft tower offering panoramic views out as far as the rolling hills of the Peak District. Be warned, however; it is not for the faint-hearted. The floor is a see-through iron mesh and the effect is purposefully, delightfully terrifying.
Back outside and it’s a short walk across the footbridge and along the waterside to the Lowry, home to Manchester’s premier theatre as well as an art gallery hosting the country’s finest collection of work by the much-loved artist. The familiar stick-men paintings offer a fine reminder of this city’s proud but filthy industrial past, and are supported by other touring exhibitions through the year.
For those wanting to shop, there is an outlet mall opposite the theatre and, for the duration of the festive period, a small but well-heeled Christmas market.
There are a couple of places to eat, Pizza Express probably being the pick of the bunch – if you’re after something more sophisticated then the city centre is a short tram ride away.
We round off our evening with a trip to the theatre, a fine 1,700-seater venue which attracts some of the country’s biggest shows. We caught the new Alan Bennett play and the place was packed – more recently it hosted the smash hit War Horse and also frequently offers world class ballet, comedy and opera.
Afterwards we wander along the waterside by night, the buildings and bridges lit up in sparkling colours which shimmer on the water, and survey the stunning scene.
That, in a nutshell, is the pleasure of Salford Quays – a place where you can enjoy a wealth of cultural delights within a beautifully-designed pedestrianised waterfront, seemingly a million miles from the bustle of the city centre.
Those BBC types don’t know how lucky they are.
Jack Blanchard stayed at Old Trafford Lodge, Talbot Road, Old Trafford, Manchester, M16 0PX.
Rooms start at £59.99 per night.
To make a reservation call 0161 874 3333; or email: email@example.com
For more details on Salford Quays go to www.thequays.org.uk