Take a trip into Salford and discover a standout Grade II listed building bustling with creative artists at its centre and still-evolving: Islington Mill. Describing and cementing itself as ‘the home of artist-led endeavour’, it offers not just a platform for creatives but provides a unique experience for every visiting individual.

Islington Mill Rainbow

 It has been home to Fat Out’s Burrow – a club space with a difference - weird and wonderful workshops, gigs celebrating everyone from Thurston Moore to GNOD, and even has a B&B – and that’s not to mention the well over 1500 artists who have been involved within. Many people also know it as the home of music and art festival Sounds From The Other City, which has been running for 15 years and still going strong; celebrating creativity and Salford.

Yet it started out with a lone artist in 1996 – Bill Campbell braving it and taking out a lease on a single floor of the mill; a space that had not been used for some 30 years and still haunted by its industrial past ( a historic picture of Islington Mill is below, the image believed to have been taken in 1950). Built originally for Cotton Spinning in 1823, Islington Mill suffered a structural collapse just one year later, tragically killing 19 workers: 16 women and 3 boys (more historical information is available here). Every year the mill remembers those that died.

Islington Mill 1950

In turn, the mill faced reinforcement and updates; building work which went on to be influential on later skyscraper architecture in New York – highlighting the developing and innovative nature of the space. Innovation surely was on the mind of Bill Campbell back in 1996 – the same year that the mill was granted its Grade II listed status – as when the whole place came up for sale, he successfully raised enough money to buy it.

By 1999 the first art exhibition had moved in and going on to operate under the name Islington Mill independent Arts Club, the mill gradually became recognised as a celebratory creative space. As an independent venue, it seeps with a mood of Situationism and the Avant-Garde: approaches which avoid hierarchy and emphasize cross-collaboration.

In Islington Mill painters work alongside textile artists, designers double-up as photographers and musicians regularly come together with other creatives who have their studio space there to forge new projects. The mill can be home to over 100 artists and up to 50 small businesses at any one time; with Aliyah Hussain Jewellery, 7 Spot Pottery and Caustic Coastal just being some current examples.

Islington Mill Exhibition

The art that emerges from the mill certainly oozes a distinct charm; from Rachel Goodyear’s darkly ironic artworks, to the work of WONDERHAUS (part of Salford Makers) and the creative costume design of Louisa Thomas. It’s also home to Drag Lab Manchester – providing a space for drag artists of all backgrounds to be creative, and also the iconic IMPATV (Islington Mill Public Access TV) – creating quirky video footage which turns heads.

The mill also attracted attention as offering one of the most immersive and eye-opening event venues, as back in 2015 the local organisation Fat Out were given the club space, which they transformed into ‘The Burrow’. Fast building a bold reputation for weird, wonderful and innovative content, during their two year residency Fat Out hosted parties, nights and gigs here including the likes of Thurston Moore, Lydia Lunch, Ought and William Basinski; to name just a few.

Yet creativity in this thriving space has not openly felt at times against the clock, but against the odds – an aspect which makes the mill’s story perhaps even more captivating. During the last fifteen years, the building and its activities have faced a number of pressures: from the physicality requiring expensive structural upkeep to noise complaints.

By 2012, it was evident that the mill was in need of refurbishment – an inevitable essential given the age of the structure; and a £2 million scheme was drawn up. This would involve installing a new lift to make the building DDA compliant, opening up the 5th and 6th floors – allowing for more artists to move in – and a new public entrance. The much-loved Courtyard space is pictured below.

Islington Mill Courtyard

Although Arts Council England and Salford city Council provided significant funding, this was not all it would take for the mill to reach its regeneration target. In turn, a campaign was set up to ‘Save Islington Mill’, set up by the creative community itself and underlining its collaborative ethos. This certainly attracted innovative artist approaches to help raise the funds: some of which are ongoing. For example, GNOD – a music collective based in the space– celebrated their tenth anniversary with a box set raising money for the mill. Plus performance artist Christeene made an appearance, Mr Scruff hit the decks, Too Many Blogs put on a party and there was an enormous New Year’s celebration.

In addition, Maurice Carlin, one of the founding members of Islington Mill Arts Group and now the Director of the mill, created a unique piece of art not only capable of raising funds but capable of transforming people’s relationships which the pieces they purchase.  He produced 100 unique prints, using the surface of the mill’s derelict 5th floor to do so and titled it ‘Temporary Custodians of Islington Mill, 2018–2028’. In turn, the pieces became available to buy – and rather than simply owning the piece, buyers actually become ‘Custodians’, sharing the prints with other buyers as well being part of its ongoing transformation. These are pieces of art which are still evolving – as much of the venue continues to.

Islington Mill Art

After all, creativity at the mill keeps on going. Islington Mill Art Academy (IMAA) is yet another example of an organisation founded in the venue back in 2008, and celebrated its 10th anniversary just last year. The Academy is a free art school with peer learning at its core, led by artists and celebrating alternative ways of teaching. It also announced a new PhD partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University, starting in 2019.

The ongoing activity in the mill and of its artists highlights a community people can very much be part of and inspired by; with recent months inspiring action from IMPATV recording inside a former Derbyshire lead mine and working with cellist Emily Williams to Salford Makers opening a pop up shop on Chapel Street. To find out more about the artists, to support the mill and to get involved – visit the website. A place to celebrate, as well as a place to be creative.

By Emily Oldfield

Pictures provided from Islington Mill