In DiscoverIdeas

The Manchester Ship Canal was a revolutionary idea. By-passing the powerful (and expensive) port of Liverpool and bringing goods directly into Manchester was audacious, to say the least. It created Manchester Docks, more than 40 miles from the sea.

Crazy, but it worked.

The docks closed in 1982 and became a gigantic symbol of industrial decline. But then someone had the vision to see the site’s potential. Today, The Quays is a regeneration success story. It’s Greater Manchester’s waterfront and one of the region’s most popular cultural and leisure destinations.

Crazy, but it works.

The harder you try to define ‘culture’, the more difficult it becomes. But you know it when you see it, right? There’s all kinds of cultural activity going on at The Quays and it’s not just for visitors or consumers of culture. There’s a lot going on for creators too.

IWM North

Art

The Lowry opened in 2000 as a new landmark, multi-purpose centre for the arts. It can be seen as the heart of The Quays and the breadth of what’s on offer is very impressive. But it’s important to remember who it got its name from: L.S. Lowry. Lowry’s unique style and technique, not to mention his distinctly northern scenes are held in genuine affection by pretty much everyone.

Lowry gave flat caps and cobbled streets an eternal dignity and he painted people and places never represented in art before. It’s a fitting tribute to name one of the region’s most successful cultural attractions after him. More than that, The Lowry is home to the largest collection of Lowry works anywhere in the world.

The Lowry gallery also hosts temporary exhibitions of other artists and movements too. Keep an eye on their what’s on lists.

Architecture

Religion and politics are best left alone if you want to avoid arguments. Architecture can be divisive too and few things can provoke love/hate responses like a new building. But if modern architecture is your thing, The Quays is well worth a look.

The Lowry and IWM North must be two of the most photographed buildings in Manchester. They are the iconic poster boys/girls of The Quays and for good reason. They look great and work well. NV Buildings are pretty photogenic too but it’s all very subjective. Architecture is a dialogue.

For example, MediaCityUK won the Carbuncle Cup when it opened in 2011. That’s a slightly tongue in cheek award for the UK’s ugliest new building (we should add that MediaCityUK has won lots of more positive awards too). But, okay. Perhaps The Quays would not be Prince Charles’s cup of tea but that doesn’t matter. The Quays was conceived with an aspiration to be daring, original and unique. Love or hate any individual building but you

Cinema

It isn’t 4K digital projection, Dolby Surround Sound or even popcorn that makes cinema so rewarding. It’s the way a film can connect on a deeply emotional level.

Vue Manchester Lowry is a seven-screen multiplex showing all the latest blockbusters. It also hosts Big Screen Events including live sport, opera and theatre. And if you want to make it special, they even have VIP tickets with bottomless seats and extra spacious drinks. Correction: bottomless drinks and extra spacious seats.

Ordsall Hall

Comedy

If there’s one thing the British are famous for, it’s our sense of humour. We love a chuckle and we have an endless appetite for people who make us laugh. Between the Edinburgh Fringe and appearing on TV or radio panel shows, Britain’s brightest and funniest sharpen their wits by touring.

The Lowry lends itself very well to stand-up and other comedy performances. It’s firmly on the national comedy circuit and attracts famous names and familiar faces. At the time of writing there’s Frank Skinner, Shappi Khorsandi, Rhod Gilbert, Michelle Wolf, Jimmy Carr, Tommy Tiernan, Michael Palin coming up. It’s literally an endless list at The Lowry.

Museums

The Quays is filled with history but the one true ‘museum’ is IWM North (Imperial War Museum North). It stands on the Trafford side of the docks, just a Salford Quays Millennium footbridge away from The Lowry.

For people who aren’t fortunate enough to have visited other museums designed by Daniel Libeskind (Jewish Museum Berlin, for example), IWM North is not like most other museums. It takes you on a discomforting journey through more than 100 years of war and global conflict.

IWM North wants you to see and think about things differently. Exhibits aren’t arranged in chronological order. Military and civilian stories are placed side by side – like a seven-metre section of twisted steelwork form the World Trade Center next to a WW1 Filed Gun. Oh, and it’s free!

Not exactly a museum but Ordsall Hall is by far the oldest building in the area. It’s weird to think that this half-timbered Tudor manor house pre-dates almost everything around it. MediaCityUK, The Quays, the docks, even the Industrial Revolution – they’re all new kids on the block compared to Ordsall Hall.

In some ways, Ordsall Hall is the most important building in The Quays. It gives historical context and reminds us that whether we’re buying clothes at Lowry Retail Outlet or starring in Coronation Street, none of us can hold back time.

Music

The Lowry is an established, versatile and well-loved music venue. The variety of performance spaces gives The Lowry a flexibility that not many other venues can match.

The Lowry doesn’t really do mosh pits, indie bands or teen sensations. It prefers a more civilised night out with big names and experienced performers connecting with real fans. At the time of writing, a glance at the calendar includes Lisa Stansfield, Sheryl Crow, Art Garfunkel and even the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Tip: take a look at the Ukulele Orchestra on YouTube.

If you prefer to enjoy music for free (wait, free? Yep, free!), the BBC Philharmonic is a professional orchestra based right here at The Quays. They rehearse, record and perform at The Studios in MediaCityUK, often in front of live audiences. They’re a busy, working orchestra with a packed programme. Tickets are free but only by application via their website

Coronation Street: The Tour

Popular culture

Culture comes in many forms. There’s high and low brow and the snobbery and inverted snobbery that comes with that. But the words ‘popular’ and ‘culture’ aren’t mutually exclusive in Manchester.

Manchester United and Coronation Street need little introduction. Together, they have achieved a level of success that would’ve been unimaginable, even to their originators. They’re now more or less neighbours and both offer terrific visitor experiences.

Coronation Street The Tour is a behind the scenes look at this distinctly Mancunian phenomenon. It’s pre-book only so if you want to wander down the UK’s most famous cobbled street, be sure to visit the website first.

Old Trafford is a bit like Camelot. It swirls with legends and heroic tales but Old Trafford is real and even has a very cool museum and stadium tour. It’s filled with memorabilia, archive footage of United’s most glorious moments and more silverware than any other club in the world – or King Arthur, for that matter.

Quays Culture

We shouldn’t forget that The Quays is more than a collection of attractions and organisations. Greater Manchester’s waterfront is a creative space in its own right, with several public spaces that hold special cultural events throughout the year.

Quays Culture has free annual festivals, special commissions, residencies and even pop-up events. It’s all about bringing culture out from behind closed doors, finding new spaces and outlets for art and thinking differently about what and where culture can be.

TV and radio

In 2011, the first phase of MediaCityUK was complete and the BBC moved in. BBC Sport, BBC Breakfast, CBBC/CBeebies, Radio 5 live and several other departments moved from London right into the heart of The Quays.

Just a couple of years later, ITV Granada and ITV Studios also moved to The Quays, this time on the other side of the water and right next to IWM North. Even Coronation Street, the nation’s longest running soap, re-located here as part of the state-of -the-art production facilities.

MediaCityUK is a hub of creativity. It’s the real thing. Think of it as TV’s base in the north. And as the cold-water laps at the old loading bays, thousands of hours of content are being conceived, commissioned and created. MediaCityUK also supports and attracts countless talented people from the creative, media and music industries to the region.

The Lowry

Theatre

The Lowry has two stages: The Lyric Theatre and Quays Theatre. The Lyric is the biggie with 1730 seats. Quays Theatre is smaller with 440. There’s also Studio Auditorium and between the three spaces, The Lowry has huge flexibility for staging theatrical performances.

Musicals, opera, contemporary dance, drama, ballet, there is nothing The Lowry can’t do. Skim through their events lists for the latest information. But more importantly, book some tickets! Get out there and watch something you wouldn’t normally go to.

Last but not least…

There are some cultural phenomena that are so highbrow, so delicately nuanced, so ground-breaking and so esoteric that only the sharpest minds can appreciate them.

Gnome Island is a tiny island inhabited by gnomes. It isn’t clear what they are doing in the middle of the Manchester Ship Canal but they’re there, waving the flag for eccentricity.

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