Hulme is a haven of stories, a part of Manchester packed with its own rich heritage, yet so often misrepresented. Sweeping generalisations and the same old narratives – the crescents, crime, criticism – have for too long obscured what is in fact a community thriving in many ways. Thirsty Scholars, a book by Tina Cribbin, Anne Finnegan and the residents of Hulme, celebrates just that. Published by Empire Publications and available on Amazon, it upholds the importance of old community, connectivity and challenges misconceptions about place.

Thirsty Scholars

The book has been born out of the On Top Of The World project, a local programme operated by Tina and Anne, working with older residents in the original Hulme tower blocks – Hopton Court being a key example - and forging a sense of community. This has led to conversations about growing up in Hulme, or the journeys made many years ago to get here – by car, train, even boat. Hulme has a diversity really worth celebrating after all; Irish, Caribbean, African and Asian communities just an example of some of those thriving side by side. A number of accounts in the book especially, detail current Hulme residents travelling from Ireland in the 1960s and '70s. For years here friends from across walks of life have played in the terraced streets together, met together, drank together. Stories to tell – and the ones in the book stem from those shared in the old laundry room at Hopton Court.

So why Thirsty Scholars? The title itself reflects some of the change that Hulme has faced – with many of the area’s original pubs cleared or closed often in the name of ‘redevelopment’, names such as The Falstaff, The Grey Parrot, The Unicorn – now gone. It is easy for developers to present this as ‘progressive’, yet what often goes unrecognised is that the loss of pubs like this is also the loss of vital meeting space, presenting a challenge to older regulars in the Hulme community – finding themselves increasingly marginalised. Now one of the last pubs in the area is The Salutation, often associated with university students and staff, rather than local people. Within the book, Tina Cribbin’s play The Hopton Hopefuls focuses on The Salutation itself and some of the old boys’ relationships with it. The loss of pubs is just one of the examples touched on in the book – examples of how Hulme’s older community, despite its closeness, seems increasingly side-lined. Recognising this tension and taking steps to address it, is key.

Characterfully arranged featuring colour photographs as well as beautiful portraits of Hulme residents by artist Abigail Finch, the book invites readers to get to know the people who make a place what it is. Each chapter is an introduction to a resident and an interview with them transcribed by Tina, meaning that Thirsty Scholars is bursting with real voices and passion. Rather than a book written on behalf of the community, this a book written by the community – involving everything from Seanchais: storytellers of Irish culture, to tales of local characters, dancing, football. It tells of ongoing local hubs such as The Aquarius Centre, current activities including fitness classes, Seanchai cafes and the Hulme Aquarius Writers. (Pictured below: an example of inside the book)

Thirsty Scholars

Hulme is so much more than the misconception of it being a place that became notorious, now redeveloped. It is a place people have called home for many years, and Thirsty Scholars celebrates their insight, as well as their accounts that ‘redevelopment’ might not be as positive as it is portrayed as – often falling at the expense of the older community. An eye-opening and emotive book, it is also a crucial piece of community history – an archive of old pubs, churches, dancehalls, meeting places, residential blocks – some gone, some still remaining. It also provides an opportunity for connectivity, so that all generations living in Hulme may be sensitive to each other.

A brilliant collective effort, the book has been designed and edited by Anne Finnegan, whilst the principal author is Tina Cribbin – herself born in Manchester, growing up in Moss Side and Hulme. Not only has she lovingly transcribed and arranged the accounts as seen in Thirsty Scholars, but she is also involved in multiple local projects, championing long-term residents of the area. Just last year also marked the launch of Tina’s own powerful poetry collection Classphemy, considering Hulme’s community in the face of urban change, developers and corporations. Written with wit, insight and gripping imagery, it is another crucial insight into Hulme life. Thirsty Scholars also contains further examples of Tina’s creative work – with two poems as well as the play script. We spoke to Tina herself to find out more…

Thirsty Scholars Hello Tina! Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind Thirsty Scholars?

“My inspiration came for the book basically came from my neighbourhood and living in an area of constantly feeling under siege through the rapid development. When all your physical memories of childhood are being or have been demolished it stirs something inside... a grieving I suppose. I know I wasn't alone in this after speaking with many members of the older community in Hulme at the Top Of The World drop-ins run by Anne Finnegan and myself.” (Picture left: a portrait of Tina by Abigail Finch, which is within the book)

The blurb says that the book aims to give 'a voice to a generation that helped build this country but are now largely forgotten' - why do you think 'forgotten'? 

“The indigenous communities in Hulme I do feel are largely forgotten in that most people assume Hulme is a university campus or part of the city centre. The rapid development and gentrification does not feel accessible to us. Consultation is a big word… and I have seen some really awful ones who employ consultants whose aim is to confuse and ignore residents voices. I have also been very aware that our community is a tired community, in that the only time professionals/students/the university reach out, it is to research, study, gain knowledge. It always felt what we said was guided by someone else. It was essential that people in the book got a chance to get their voices heard. 

“I also wanted the community to be honoured in that despite its shrinking population and change, they matter. Our community is a community that cares and has a history in fighting injustice. I think in our own way this is our fight back.”

Can you tell us more about your play within the book - and your decision to focus on one of the last pubs in Hulme (The Salutation) and relationships with it, including how older residents may feel excluded now? 

“In the play I really wanted a different outcome for the men. The pub was more than somewhere to drink - it was a centre of community support for decades. There are many ways to exclude a community… if you read the play you will understand. It can be in the smallest of things or sometimes just blatant. In the play I also offer a solution. If any budding historians/oral history buffs are interested please contact me!” (Pictured below: Tina Cribbin)

Tina Cribbin

How would you describe your experience of working on the book- and has there been anything that has particularly surprised you?

“I was totally blown away in some of the interviews and how they highlighted that we have a generation that went through so much leaving and loss from Ireland and Jamaica, plus how many older (mainly) men were alone and had no contact back home. I wanted to humanise a statistic and share the amazing community we have.”

Tina also told us about the ongoing progress of the project…

Hulme Residents“I am absolutely pleased that we are making inroads with the university now. We do have more work to do on both sides... we are totally open to that. But it has to be acknowledged that we have lots to offer and what we bring would be a learning asset.

“Most importantly I wanted the book to be a celebration of our community - for too long what has been written about us has identified us as a problematic community. We are so so much more than that. (Pictured left: members of the Hulme community)

“If anyone is interested in getting involved in our community projects such as our storytelling cafe, drop-ins, drama development, creative writing, food bank - to name a few - I can point you in the right direction!

By Emily Oldfield 

Community photographs provided with thanks to Tina Cribbin