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25 years of excellence

Sian Claire Owen discovers there’s something fishy in the Northern Quarter

Published on November 28th 2007.

25 years of excellence

What do a thriving arts and crafts community, an ex-fish market, and an imminent birthday bash have in common? The 25th anniversary of Manchester Craft & Design centre.

It has been a quarter of a century since a group of artists and craftsmen set up shop in a near-derelict ex-fish factory. An enterprise that over the years has grown to become the hub of Manchester’s artistic community.

Tucked away from the main drag of Piccadilly Gardens are 18 independent studios situated in what used to be the Victorian Smithfield fish market, all offering unique works that are made on the premises.

As Kelda Savage, the Crafts Programme Officer, explains: “The centre started back in 1982, and the building was empty. They didn’t even have electricity to start with, so they literally had to put a cable through the window from the buildings next door and use their supply.”

“People would move into the building, and one studio was responsible for locking up, another studio would be responsible for doing a bit of publicity. Basically the jobs that needed to be done were shared by the tenants, but now Manchester Craft & Design is a company and so they rent their studios from us. It’s changed quite a lot over the years.”

“But we’re a unique establishment. There’s nowhere else in the UK where workers produce onsite and sell directly to the public. Usually studios are closed off and are open maybe twice a year.”

For those who are already breaking out in a cold sweat at the prospect of braving Manchester City Centre for their Christmas shopping, the Design & Craft center may prove to be a peaceful and stylish oasis in a sea of Primark-driven chaos.

In addition to what’s on offer from the studio tenants, punters can also expect tasteful exhibitions displaying work from up-and-coming makers. “We want to show the best of craft and design in the North West,” says Savage, “So it’s all about supporting makers in their businesses and also showing really good, high quality exhibitions that complement what’s being made in the building.”

In keeping with the 25th anniversary, the current exhibition “Silver” is themed on a banquet, and features work from eight of the best silversmiths in the UK: from Selina Campbell’s quirky use of silver and acrylic to Victoria Kershaw’s experimental approach in combining silver with concrete and rubber to make functional tableware.

The celebratory event itself will take place on Saturday 1 December and it looks set to be pretty spectacular. Let’s face it, it’s not every day you get to see the Manchester Community Choir raise the glass roof off an old fish market.

“They’re amazing,” says Savage. “The sound just fills the whole space, and it’s a big space to fill. Everybody’s welcome, it’s free, and it’s going to be really buzzing.”

“All the tenants have kindly donated a piece that they’ve made, so we have about 30 available, and they’re really beautiful” explained Savage. “This is a chance for people to come and bid for one-off pieces.”

The strong sense of community and history is part and parcel of the charm for the centre. The building itself is memorable, and many people remember the fish market from before it was the Craft Centre. This is something that the organisers and tenants clearly take pride in.

“We still get visitors who tell us they used to come to the fish market when they were kids, or whose Nan used to work there and cut the fish up,” says Savage.

“For the people from Manchester there’s a lot of history here. If people want to come and share their stories with us, then that would be brilliant.”

The event, which features face painting and stand-up comedy kicks off at 2.00 pm with “family friendly” activities until 4.00 pm. At 6.30 pm there will be an auction of commemorative pieces, the proceeds of which will be donated to Marie Curie Cancer Care.

17 Oak Street
M4 5JD
Tel: 0161 832 4272
Opening hours: Monday - Saturday: 10:00 - 17:30, Sunday (in December): 11:00 - 16:00

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