I’ve been thinking a lot about city centres recently. Well, why wouldn’t I? I spend most of my life in one and often travel to others. They play a key role in my life. When I want to be inspired by arts and culture, a city’s cultural hubs are my first port of call. The best places to eat, places to drink and places that inspire are right there. For me, city centres are where the exciting happenings happen.
And the real magic is the people. I’m a bit of a people watcher. When I find myself in a new city, I get as much pleasure from viewing a piece of artwork or a famous landmark as I do from seeing the joy it gives to others. Simply watching the world go by and their reactions is, to be honest, quite rewarding. In the time it takes to drink a café au lait, you can get a pretty good idea of the culture, values and energy of a place. Once you actively observe and spark up conversation with a stranger, you’re well on your way to feeling right at home.
It's both delightful and eye opening to hear the views of customers visiting Manchester for the first time. More often than not, it’s words like friendly, vibrant, diverse, edgy and cool that are used when I ask them what they think about our city. Yes, it’s not always all positive, but it is refreshing and revitalising to hear this viewpoint of the city, most likely similar to when we first visited.
Ask a local and the conversation most likely won’t be quite as positive. Dirty. Busy. Expensive to park. Frustrating to travel to. You know the usual gripes. And yes, I would be inclined to agree. I dislike the Christmas markets. I don’t get the new traffic system either. And I really (really) can’t stand Piccadilly Gardens.
Unfortunately, though, too many locals say they don’t feel it’s worth the effort anymore, which makes me sad. Not because we rely on folks making their way into this great city, but because it feels like the soul of the city might slowly slide away. And while a lot of the city’s ills could be fixed - I’m looking at you Manchester City Council - what would Manchester be without its Mancunians?
"How about making a little New Year’s resolution in 2024? A simple pledge to head into Manchester city centre a little more often...."
A great city centre is the sum of its parts. Those amazing cultural centres, retailers, restaurants, buildings, galleries, bars and workspaces in the city centre are what make Manchester feel alive. It's history too. Textiles, Marx and Engels, Suffragettes, The Hacienda, the worlds greatest football club and a football club with the worlds greatest lawyers! Music. Fashion. Charm. Creativity. That’s why the likes of Chanel choose it for fashion shows and events. Manchester’s suburbs and surrounding towns are genuinely brilliant too - I would know, I live in one - but they will never have the special sauce of a properly sizzling city centre: the cultural draw; the mish-mash of people from all over.
It blows my mind when someone tells me they haven’t been “into town” for ages. By ages, I assume they mean a few weeks — they mean years! The sad truth is, you have to use it or lose it. Your suburb or town might have everything you'd need to live, learn and socialise, as well as work and relax. Yes, it’s not easy getting into town, but if everyone decided against going into the city centre, is it going to get better or worse? A visit into the city shouldn’t be viewed as a pain but as an opportunity to imbibe what Manchester has to offer and to actively shape it's future by participating in it.
How about making a little New Year’s resolution in 2024? A simple pledge to head into Manchester city centre a little more often. Maybe once a month or at least a few times a year. Get some gigs, theatre trips and art gallery visits in the diary. In the process, I know you’ll discover new retailers, restaurants, bars and working spaces. Equally, by supporting those institutions, you'll help to create space for more, and showing appreciation for the people who are working to make the city centre as good as it should be. And guess what? You'll leave feeling inspired.
That is, for me, the raison d'être of any city!
"It feels like we’ve really started to make our mark on this corner of the city centre..."
I want Seen to be so much more than what can be found outside of the city. I want it to be worth your time and effort coming into town. I want it to live up to the buzz Manchester’s famous for. Manchester inspires Seen and we hope Seen shapes Manchester. That’s why we make tough decisions with our stock curation; bringing in new and exciting collections and stopping working with brands if we don’t feel they’re doing it right anymore. It’s why we also love working with local artists and creatives, making quality accessories and creating a community around our opticians.
Two years ago we were just about to move to Police Street, the new kids on the block, neighbours to retail titans. After nearly 2 years, united with the most passionate team I could wish to work alongside, it feels like we’ve really started to make our mark on this corner of the city centre. Independent retailers are such an important part of the UK’s cultural heritage, so I’m proud to be representing on this stage and, I hope, inspiring others to take the leap and do the same. Supported by the most incredible clients and friends.
So, how about it? Let us know when you’re popping into town this year and we’ll pop the kettle on. Gritty northern city? Or world leading city? Together, I reckon we can make the North Star shine brightest over Manchester.
Peace and blessings for 2024
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