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Wythenshawe reinvented

Can you 'rebrand' a neighbourhood? And will it make any difference anyway? Helen Clifton talks to the locals

Published on November 13th 2008.

Wythenshawe reinvented

Perhaps the most likely image to pop into most metropolitan Mancunian minds when they think of Wythenshawe is a teenage hoodie cocking a pretend pistol at a hapless David Cameron.

They may also know it as the largest council estate in Europe, or the place where Shameless is filmed.

None of these particularly positive perceptions are contradicted by the figures – eight years ago, Wythenshawe’s Benchill ward was officially the poorest place in the country. And in 2007, the picture hadn’t dramatically improved, with several neighbourhoods still in the top one per cent of the most deprived nationally.

Crime, unemployment, and poor health are still rife – so how can a new £30,000 'reimaging' campaign make any difference? Isn’t it just putting a sticking plaster over a gaping wound?

Brooklands Councillor Glynn Evans believes it will do the trick.

“This is more about people on the outside, encouraging people to live and work in the area. They need to see the real Wythenshawe, not just the bad things they write about in the papers.

“It is often printed that Wythenshawe was the biggest council estate in Europe when it was first built, and that is not the case anymore. About half the housing stock has been bought.

“I chose to buy a house here on these estates, and all my family still live on these estates. The vast majority of people here are lovely, law-abiding people. It’s a community where you can put down roots.”

Campaign designers Creative Concern – who are adamant it is not a rebranding, as has been previously reported – have focussed on the real lives of locals in an attempt to 'challenge outdated and negative perceptions' in areas like Hale and Didsbury, spending months consulting with tenant groups, local businesses and schools.

Anne-Marie Marshall, station manager at Wythenshawe FM, says it’s a good idea – but is wary.

“The use of terminology like rebranding and reimaging may not be appropriate, but if it raises people’s awareness and changes people’s perceptions, then great. People are media savvy and they are aware if they are being manipulated. You have to tread carefully, but it works as long as it is not just hype.”

Those behind the campaign – Manchester City Council, Wythenshawe Forum Trust, Parkway Green Housing Trust, developers St Modwen and Marketing Manchester would say it is a lot more than hype.

They have spent the past decade pumping £600m into the area. £24m has gone into the Forum Leisure Centre, the outdated precinct has been given a facelift, and millions have been committed to the rebuilding of the area’s four schools. And they want everybody to know about it.

Arguably, Wythenshawe’s design simply breeds problems, and no amount of cosmetic tinkering will change that. Even Councillor Evans admits that, “If they were building estates now, they would be built differently.”

But people in Wythenshawe seem happy to live there – and are positive about the changes.

“They have done a great job with the Forum – it is a lot better than it used to be,” says Lindsey Purdy, 20, from Benchill. “There are more things for the kids, and the mums.”

Lindsey and her friends say the reality of Wythenshawe is pretty different to the story the campaign tells. For example Wythenshawe Park needs a lot spending on it, they say. But along with others, they are cautiously welcoming.

“I think Wythenshawe is creeping up,” says Bill Hamilton, who has worked on the market for 15 years. “And I think, unfortunately, when you are trying to attract business into the area you do need this sort of thing, especially in the current environment.”

Others aren’t so sure. The United Estates of Wythenshawe community group call it a “waste of money.” Dave Garvey, 52, from Sharston, says: “It’s a lot of money to spend. Will they get £30,000 worth of investment back as a result of this?”

It seems that people who already live and work in the town are genuinely proud of Wythenshawe, aware of its faults, and working hard to put them right. They are rightly suspicious of outside interference – but welcome it, if done in the right way.

Stanley Tomlinson, 80, of Woodhouse Park has lived in the area since 1960.

“It is lovely,” he says. “I lived in Longsight and it was just two up two downs. There were no trees. The problem with Wythenshawe is a few arseholes that are just ruining it for everybody.

“Another problem is that we haven’t got a cafe society like Chorlton. Why don’t they build an M &S and a BHS? I think people would use them round here. Or are we just going to have more pound shops? We need decent jobs for people – but if you pay peanuts you just get monkeys.

“Of all the places in Manchester, I think it’s Ok. It’s better than Longsight in the 1960s.”

Maybe the campaign is right. There are no better ambassadors for Wythenshawe than the people themselves.

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mNovember 13th 2008.

Wythenshawe has a shocking lack of amenities. If you get the number 43 bus through to the airport you'll barely see a corner shop once passing Northenden. That's a half hour bus ride and no exaggeration. Consider that whilst Wythenshawe has the civic centre to entertain it's residents, Macclesfield, for example, which a similar size to Wythenshawe, has an entire town centre. Not that Macclesfield is a model to strive for but if you've been to both you'll notice something of a difference in terms of scale and therein lies Wythenshawe's fundamental design flaw.

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