The government’s stated commitment of closing the economic gap between the North and the South of England is nothing new. Successive governments have tried, and dismally failed, to achieve this objective with a range of initiatives and projects including city challenge, the Northern Way and most recently Local Enterprise Partnerships.
There is little doubt that the great Northern cities of Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool have all benefitted from this array of regeneration and economic development activity – but at the same time London has managed to continue to grow at an accelerated rate.
So, perhaps it is not London that we should be concerned with, but ourselves: London is not a good benchmark for any English city or region.
The financial muscle of London means that the UK has avoided becoming another Greece, so why do we wish to further redistribute wealth from our capital city to the regions? Indeed, why would they continue to let us?
What we could, and should, rightly demand is a decentralisation of the management of government funds and more importantly government power, so that we can take greater responsibility for our own destiny. Greater Manchester has proved that with a limited amount of autonomy city regions can achieve a great deal. It is a model that needs to be supported, but it doesn’t go far enough.
A ‘Northern Revolution’ is what Downtown is calling for – we hope you are inspired to sign up for the campaign ahead by the words of some leading regional players that have contributed to this special feature…
While some cities feel the pinch, Manchester’s food and drink scene appears to be in rude health. In fact, where some operators are tightening belts, Manchester’s diners are more likely to be slipping theirs down a notch, such is the rapid growth of the sector.
Simon Rogan’s takeover of The French at The Midland has lifted the standard. Even London-based critics like it.
Aiden Byrne, the youngest man to ever hold a Michelin star, is up next, with his Living Ventures-backed fine dining project, The Restaurant at Manchester House on Spinningfields, which opens in May.
They’re the big names on the chef front; but if you’re talking about Michelin-starred balance sheets, Living Ventures and San Carlo are Manchester’s undeniable big hitters.Living Ventures has the Alchemist, Australasia, Oast House and Grill in its stable, and is rolling out more. The Botanist; Artisan; Grand Pacific, Earth Bar. If nothing else, owner Tim Bacon must be running out of names.
San Carlo has powered on ever further in the last couple of years thanks in no small part to its Cicchetti brand – a smart and smooth addition and a victory for Marcelo Di Stefano as he takes the reins from his father. Annoyingly, as well as being far, far richer than me, Marcelo is better looking and a nice chap too. The swine.
In the Northern Quarter, you can’t have a restaurant without a shouty Twitter account – Almost Famous and Solita have cashed in on the recent trend for low-down and dirty burgers packed with, well, anything you can readily grill or fry and cram into a brioche bun. And they know how to market themselves.
Their ‘no reservations’ and social media hype marketing is a nod to Soho operators like Polpo and Meat Liqour, but it seems to be working on Manchester’s hipster brigade.
London has obviously been paying attention – slick Soho burger chain Byron opens next month on Deansgate.
Excess seems to be the trend at the moment. How long will it last? Well, everyone needs a salad eventually.
I got a bit cross with it all earlier in the year and wrote a post on my blog arguing that ‘fast food is bad, apart from when it’s served ironically at three times the price by people who could feasibly present T4.’
We’ve kissed and made up since. I even helped put Teesside’s favourite dish, the parmo, on the map in the Northern Quarter, although frankly, I should probably have got myself a commission-based deal with Solita, who have sold more in the last three weeks than I’ve eaten in the past 20 years.
Meanwhile, pies seem to be the new burgers, as do ribs. And possibly hot dogs.
Cool new bars such as Terrace, Kosmonaut and The Blue Pig have joined established NQ favourites such as Common, Trof, The Castle, Port Street Beer House and Black Dog Ballroom.
The real ale scene has really filtered through the Northern Quarter too, finding a younger audience. Older types know that pubs like The Marble Arch, The Angel, The Mark Addy and the Briton’s Protection have been doing it for much longer though.
Bowling is big news too – All Star Lanes and Black Dog’s Dogbowl have moved the sport on from spotty oiks at the multiplex to cool city centre pastime.
Out in the sticks, Aumbry in Prestwich; Nutter’s in Bamford; Ramson’s in Ramsbottom and Damson in Heaton Moor are all exceptional and inventive.
We have to talk about Red Hot World Buffet – an all you can eat hurricane of onion bhajis, spaghetti and nachos. And booze. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the restaurants fixed-price menus are packing them in.
But what are we missing? And don’t say a Michelin star. We really don’t need one.
I’d like to see a real Basque pintxos bar come to Manchester – inventive table top snacks with beer or lashings of cheap Rioja is a winning combination.
And a Colombian restaurant too please. Just me? No?
People, Footy and Frank McKenna…
There’s something special about the North. The people. The community. The collaboration. The fun. The life. The banter. The music. The countryside. The football.
After spending my formative years in Manchester, I spent the next ten years in London. I actually went to London to be famous. I wasn’t. I did however have a fantastic time living it up in my twenties before I decided to grow up, get married, move back to Manchester and get a proper job.
The North welcomed me back with open arms. We do that in the North. We collaborate. We celebrate when we succeed, we look out for each other when we don’t and we have fun doing it.
The people in the North are special. Doing business here is unlike anywhere else. Running a business here you don’t feel isolated; people will you to succeed. There is a sense of community.
Then there’s the football – the North is the hub of football with the best fans in the world. Blue or Red – we are all just as passionate and just as insane about our teams. There is nothing like the football banter of the North.
And then of course, there is Frank McKenna.
I love the North.
It’s Great Up North
“How on earth do you cope, when everything happens in London?”
I’ve been asked this question twice recently. Guess where both questioners live?
And, last month, I was the only Northerner in a group where someone said “If you want to know what the North looked like 20 years ago, go there now”.
Oh, the comedy. Laugh? I nearly did (actually, I did laugh at the last one).
So, given all this, why would any of us live here? I mean, why don’t we all go south and beg for a job. Maybe as someone’s butler?
But, you see, I love it here. As comedian Graham Fellows once said “It’s nice up North”. And by “it” I think he meant everything.
I love sport. And the North is home to the country’s best football teams, the Grand National, Rugby League…
I love being able to walk across a zebra crossing without the need to ring my children beforehand and say my fond farewells. I love that you can get a decent amount of house for your money. And that we serve “honest” food (whatever that means). And I love the views in West Kirby where I live.
Most of all, I love the people – not just the fact that they actually talk to you on public transport, but their warmth and friendship.
I remember my Mother – who is blind – once saying “I love it here. People could walk past a blind person, and I’d never know. But they don’t. They come over to ask if I want help. I’ve never experienced that before”.
Now that’s a great place to live.
Why I Love the North
Having spent my childhood being brought up in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, I was lured to the bright lights of London as a graduate to climb the corporate ladder. 9 years later, 3 jobs down the line and a stint of being thrown into the public eye having taken part on The Apprentice, I returned home to The North and have never looked back.
The London Underground was the bane of my life. Cramped, hot, smelly and overall grim! As an entrepreneur time is money and it frustrated me that you could never get anywhere quickly in the capital. I love the great transport links of the North (M1, M62 and the East Coast train) and quick accessibility to open spaces quickly.
I crave greenery and there is nothing I enjoy more than riding my horse Briar in the Yorkshire sunshine. Being able to park without the continual fear of being clamped/towed/ticketed is also a bonus!
I am a real foodie and I think we have some of the best meals in the world served here. Fish n chips never taste quite the same served by our southern cousins, Yorkshire pudding, parkin and of course a good old cup of Yorkshire tea. This is the only tea I drink. I am convinced that it can solve a whole magnitude of problems! Betty’s tearoom is world renowned with their rascals (a current scone) and one of my favourite places to escape to for some quiet time.
I live by the motto ‘Work Hard Play Hard’ and the north boasts one of the UK’s best spas. Eastthorpe Spa is heaven on earth and a place every person should visit to recharge.
The north has a passion, drive and energy which I am proud of. We celebrate our history, culture and have a sense of community. Long may it live on, it’s why so many of us will never leave here!
Why I Wouldn’t Want to Live Anywhere Else
Pinpointing one feature that defines the North isn’t easy. For me, the north isn’t about any single, individual feature or characteristic. It is a coming together of people and places, and culture that join, link and overlap, creating a place that is geographically defined as “the North” but is affectionately called “home.”
From thriving cities, to tranquil countryside, popular culture to cutting edge industry, the north offers something, and somewhere, for everyone. It is this diversity that is the foundation and future of the communities who continue to make and shape the North.
Nowhere is this diversity more evident than in my home of Liverpool. Our beautiful parks – such as Calderstones in my constituency – provide somewhere to relax as well as somewhere to play. Grade II listing buildings provide, history, majesty and splendour, whilst creative and digital industries offer an innovative, exciting and hi-tech future.
People come together, promoting and sharing major cultural events such as the astounding Sea Odyssey whilst always campaigning for fairness when needed, or justice when due.
The North isn’t one place, or one person, or one passion. It’s all of these things and more. That’s the reason why the North is special – and the reason I why wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
Football and fashion, culture and music
Since the summer of 1977, the year when youthful, straight jean wearing scallywags circuited Wembley Stadium, the title has been won by north-west teams a great deal more times compared to the title heading down south, past Birmingham. The FA Cup has had divided ownership, so we’ll call that a score draw. I won’t even go there on the European Cups that have been won by northern clubs in weight and balance, facts and figures, and if you know your history. We are superior. We should also mention for the record that Preston North End, one of the 12 founder members of the Football League, were the first ever Double Winners, while remaining unbeaten all season in 1888-9, and they didn’t even concede a goal in the FA Cup too.
A feat never bettered, and I doubt it ever will be.
Music and bands: Mersey Beat and the world dominance of the Beatles may have happened many sunsets ago but ‘Beatlemanics’ still pilgrimage from around our earthly sphere to Liverpool to pay homage to the Fab Four. The scousers came good once more at the beginning of 1984; there were seven Merseyside artists in the Top Twenty of the charts come one Sunday in January, which is quite a major accomplishment indeed.
The iconic psychedelic, Madchester scene and bands created in those dolce vita , loved-up times, by Mancs, Salfordians and the confines of Greater Manchester alike, in the mid-to-late Eighties, will never be recaptured or superseded again. We did have the Oasis v Blur (north v south) saga in 1995, though – yawn. And there has been nothing of worth, or of note, to date since, aside from the resurrection of the Stone Roses, that is.
And on the fashion forefront: Well, stone the crows. The southerners of late think they’ve invented the Bakers Boy/flat cap! I’ll have you know us northerners have worn flat caps/bonnets since the 14th Century, and southerners have ripped us for many years for wearing such titfers – as well as braces and thick-knit woolly scarves. So, you urban chic chappies that are claiming bragging rights, I can’t doff my cloth cap on this one either.
Do cockneys/southerners really believe that they were the vanguards and trailblazers on all of Britain’s cults since the teddy boys; or that they created the last big cultural explosion, the casual? I guess they do, but I, and other northerners, beg to differ, because we are in the know.
What’s great about the north of England?
The bird stood motionless on a tuft of Bowland heather, alerted by my heavy breathing. Walked-up grouse shooting demands absolute fitness as you clamber ever upwards across Lancashire’s peaty fells and it wasn’t on offer from yours truly.
A lonely curlew cried high above and my quarry cocked its head as the wind caught its rusty bronze plumage and hinted at the extra propulsion on offer. It seemed to prompt a decision and the grouse launched itself forward, hugging the landscape low and fast to my right as the whirring sound of its wings gave way to its characteristic call.
Two shiny gun barrels represented danger and it wanted to let its peers know.
My swing was unsteady for the first barrel as I sought to secure my foothold and a puff of dust flew up to the bird’s left as 32 grams of shot missed its target. Game shooting is a bit like golf: it’s all about the swing, so I followed through, accelerating the barrels past the bird as it began dipping down the side of a steep clough.
It was forty yards away now, at the limit of the cartridge’s range for an instant kill and so I raised my barrels and it took the wind in its wings with gratitude, zipping over the edge of the ridge-line, out of sight and to safety.
I stood and took in the view as I reflected on the experience. Away to the north west loomed the Cumbrian mountains, hazy in the early autumn sunshine. To my right, across the border in North Yorkshire, stood Ingleborough Hill, the flat-topped sentinel of the western Dales, sight of which always heralded our family’s arrival at Botton Head, the lonely hill farm below me where we would escape the madness of Liverpool for weeks at a time during summer.
It was a magical vista: part visual narrative of a happy upbringing and part majesty. You could believe in God in a place like this. I sleeved my gun and sat down for a slug of whiskey as a flock of fieldfares whirled and chirped below.
The north: as good as it gets. If I tire of this I’d surely tire of life.