At Creative Boom, we often like to focus on local creative scenes throughout the UK, giving a general overview of what's happening in each city and an insight into its creative industries and the people who work there. Manchester is very close to our hearts and it's currently the city we call 'home', so it was only natural that we made it the first contender for this new series.
So what's Manchester all about?
The birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and often joked as a place where it never stops raining (it does, we have sunny days too), Manchester is all beautiful red brick buildings, former cotton mills and canals. It's one of the most creative cities in the world with a rich cultural heritage to rival any major metropolis. And when you walk through any of Manchester's streets, you get a real sense of local pride and passion from its inhabitants.
With a population of half a million, its local economy is considered to be the third largest in the UK and – in a recent study – it was also ranked as the UK's second-best place to do business.
Considered by many to be the UK's 'second city', Manchester is notable for its music (consider The Stone Roses, the Happy Mondays, The Smiths, Joy Division and the all-out house scene that accompanied the days of Factory Records and The Hacienda), arts (Lowry, Ford Madox Brown, Adolphe Valette - need I say more?), culture, media (the BBC now live here and it's always been home to Granada Television - who recently joined the Beeb down at Salford Quays) and it has a thriving, growing tech scene with start-ups and digital agencies popping up all over the place.
What Manchester creatives say
"We're growing with offices in other cities but Manchester is where we have been headquartered for over 50 years. It has always been a great city to do business in; forward looking, vibrant, full of creative people, great universities and a history of great music, fashion, culture and sport to inspire the creative sector. Now, with sustained investment, the North West feels like a region rapidly becoming a truly global media hub, with Manchester at its heart."
Paul Smith, Content Director, Citypress - 2013 Downtown Manchester PR & Marketing Agency of the Year
"I came to Manchester around 16 years ago to study D&AD at Manchester Metropolitan University and have not looked back since. I think the appeal of Manchester for me then, and now, boils down to the innovation and collaboration of the creative industries. Back then it was all about the music scene, which is still prevalent of course, but it's now more about the design and moving image community in which Daylight has been rooted since 2004. Pockets of Manchester like the Northern Quarter thrive on collaboration, and the respect between creatives is more commonplace than rivalry. The emergence of homegrown groups such as Northern Digitals, Motion North, and Mad Lab, to name but a few, are a testament to this. It's an incredibly friendly place to work."
Matt Smith, Founder and MD of Daylight, an award-winning, independent creative moving image company
"Manchester is a brilliant place for freelancers. There's so much going on and so many creative events and networking opportunities, you could easily find something to do every evening of the week, and that's just the creative work related stuff. I really do love living here. I would especially like to mention Draw North West, a friendly bi-monthly meetup for local illustrators and creatives. I've made lots of good friends there!"
Emma Reynolds, Manchester illustrator & artist
Manchester's startup scene
I've had the pleasure of meeting so many startups since I moved to Manchester, and the scene is growing fast. There's a real sense of urgency and passion from the people I've spoken to – all of whom agree that Manchester has the potential to give birth to the next billion dollar idea but it has some way to go before it builds the kind of tech-eco system that allows for successful entrepreneurs. It is happening. There's certainly the talent here. It's just a case of connecting startups with the right contacts, support and finance they need.
A few Manchester startups worth mentioning… Sbiffy is a social marketplace that helps you share what you want to buy or sell with people near you. Moment.Us is a platform that enables brands to better understand and engage with their customers so they can provide exactly the right content at exactly the right time. App55 is a one-click payments solution for retailers.
SurveyMe offers realtime customer surveys for businesses. There's also CDNify, a new startup which offers a content delivery network for tech start ups and freelance developers… basically supercharging content to accelerate apps and websites. Beautiful.
CARVD is a Manchester based startup crafting and selling unique bits and bobs made with laser engraved hardwoods. And last but not least, check out WeProduce, another Manchester-based startup that creates content for all platforms.
Where to study in Manchester
Manchester is served by three major universities - Manchester Metropolitan University (with its prestigious Manchester School of Art), The University of Manchester and the Royal Northern College of Music. Together, they have a combined population of over 70,000 students in higher education.
Gareth Hollyman, spokesperson for Manchester Metropolitan University said: "Manchester is fearless, optimistic and never self-indulgent. University-wise, it’s incredibly popular with a major local, national and international profile. We get giddy by the number of students based here. I think it’s nearly 80,000 in one city which is tremendous in an ageing country. It's a city that has so much to offer."
If you're after some retraining and you'd like to get into graphic design, then Shillington College has a branch in Manchester where you can study three months full-time or nine months part-time. They've got a solid reputation and are well loved by the local industry for producing high-quality design graduates. Watch the video below to discover a 'day in the life of Shillington'.
Where to network in Manchester
There's plenty going down in Manchester and networking groups for all sorts of creative disciplines. For general focus, check out CING and Northern Sohos whilst Northern Digitals is specifically for web designers and developers. For more digital events, check out Madlab who are always putting on very focused workshops and meeting groups.
If you're a startup, go to TechBasin Beers, a very friendly meet-up for startups every Friday evening. Illustrators will love Draw North West and Drink n' Doodle, a great way to meet new friends and scribble together.
For animators and videographers, check out MotionNorth - plenty of showcases and meet ups. Also, check out 2022NQ - it's a fantastic event, gallery and cafe bar in the Northern Quarter now with an 'After Work Social' every Friday night - see more on their Events listings.
Where to work in Manchester
There are a few co-working spaces in Manchester, including The Classroom at The Hive in the city's Northern Quarter, The Assembly off Great Ancoats Street and where desks cost £160 per month, and Openspace over in Hulme.
If you're after some actual office space and you work in the digital or production fields, you could check out The Sharp Project. It's a 200,000 square foot building offering converted shipping container glazed offices, 40 services offices and four production stages – just outside Manchester. They've also just opened The Campus - a communal hub for non-tenants where you can basically rock up and hot-desk.
Or there's The Greenhouse over at MediaCity in Salford Quays. Work stations start from just £50 per week. It's a short walk away from the local tram stop and it's got nice covered cycle bays.
Where to hangout in Manchester
North Tea Power is a very friendly coffee shop on Tib Street where freelancers are often found huddled over their laptops. Takk is an Icelandic inspired coffee house on Tariff Street with a similar, cosy feel. For food, Almost Famous is good for after-work beers and burgers but there's often queues going around the block outside (don't let that put you off - the burgers are amazing).
There's Home Sweet Home with comfort foods and a kitsch cocktail menu. UmeZushi is a great little sushi place under an archway on Mirabel Street and worth a visit. Common seems to be a favourite with the local digital crowd. Hey! Little Cupcake in Spinningfields does the most delicious, quirky cupcakes.
For some great cocktails check out Dogs n Dough hidden away at the bottom of Bow Lane - it's a best kept secret and my personal favourite (try the 'Blazing Saddles' or the 'Ron Burgundy'). And the King's Arms does a lovely pint, offers live music and even has theatre and comedy upstairs.
What to do in Manchester
Manchester has a wealth of attractions, art galleries, music venues and creative wonders. Check out Manchester Art Gallery for the latest exhibitions. The Lowry down on Salford Quays has plenty going on, including visiting comedians and some world-class theatre. Whitworth Art Gallery is nestled alongside the University of Manchester. HOME is Manchester’s international centre for contemporary visual arts and independent film, located on Tony Wilson Place.
Band on the Wall is a great little music venue on Great Ancoats Street. For some comedy, check out The Frog & Bucket. For a bit of shopping, support local arts and crafts independents by visiting Manchester Craft & Design Centre. Or you could check out the famous Afflecks - an emporium of eclecticism in the Northern Quarter.
To dig deeper and find some cool, local artists and their exhibitions - have a look at the Blank Media Collective. They curate, champion and support artists throughout the North West. Castlefield Gallery is worth a visit, as is the Chinese Arts Centre on Thomas Street. And 2022NQ always has something going on, as it champions and supports local artists through regular exhibitions. And if you love music, check out Piccadilly Records, an independent record shop that's as famous as Manchester's most successful musicians. Nice one, sorted, see you later...
Find out more about what's happening in Manchester at CreativeTourist and VisitManchester. For a local gig guide, visit Pride of Manchester. For restaurants and bars, it's got to be Manchester Confidential.