Thursday, 8 February 2007

Just like Switzerland Isn't

Like a nine-year-old at the swimming baths, I appear to have leapt straight in without warning, explanation or introduction. And while it would overstate matters to say I caused a big splash, at least there have been some satisfying ripples. To be honest, I wasn't actually expecting anyone to read this blog for the first few months, so the succession of kind comments after my first entry caught me somewhat off guard. With that in mind, let me explain who I am and exactly what I'm doing here.

If you look to the right - just over there ===> you will see a link to the brand new (and nearly complete) website of Old Trafford News. The magazine celebrates its tenth anniversary this month. We began as a photocopied and folded double side of A3, which the mathematicians among you will recognise as four pages. For the first few years we appeared occasionally, according to available funds and needs, but over the past three years we have established ourselves as a quarterly, full-colour 48pp magazine. I came on board as co-ordinating editor about 15 months ago.

Unlike many community publications we are an independent project - we are not owned or run by the council or a development agency. We are non-profit making (in every possible sense!) so our only obligation is to provide a service to this community.

Old Trafford is a slightly odd place. We're world famous of course - you could go to Boston, Bahrain or Bhutan, tell people you are from Old Trafford and they will say 'aaaah... Bobby Charlton! George Best! Wayne Rooney!' Or occasionally 'aaah... Wasim Akram!' Then there will be a slight pause and the follow-up arrives: 'But do people actually live there?'

Well yes, they do. Somewhere in the region of 40,000 people in fact, depending how you count. For those unfamiliar with Manchester, Old Trafford is a little triangular district that somehow manages to touch borders with Hulme, Moss Side, Whalley Range, Stretford and Salford. Like the Switzerland of Greater Manchester. With less chocolate.And fewer mountains. And no banks. So actually not very like Switzerland at all now I think about it.

Also just like Switzerland isn't, we are a designated area of multiple deprivation. That's a label that official bodies pin on districts. It means we're not just skint, we're sick as well. Officially we're among the 10% most deprived communities in the country. In some ways that's unsurprising. Go for a stroll between the towers of the Tamworth Estate that we call the Seven Sisters, and it matches most of the stereotypes of inner cities: gang-related graffiti; vandalised phoneboxes; burned out cars. There's a similar picture on the Rivers Estate around the corner, an isolated island between the dual carriageway and the canals. Old Trafford has always been a first point of arrival for new immigrant communities. The Irish were here to build the canals 150 years ago, and now we are home to huge numbers of first, second and third generation immigrants from South Asia, the Caribbean, Africa, Hong Kong and more recently, Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

We have our leafier streets too, typical Mancunian redbrick two-up-two-downs in neat little terraced warrens. The house values have doubled over the past couple of years as Chorlton rejects look for an affordable alternative. These cul-de-sacs look attractive enough - unless there's the yellow tape across the street again, a regular reminder of a gun crime problem that neither the authorities nor the community have found a way to contain. Yet.

But no community is quite so easy to pigeonhole. Old Trafford is in demand. Now that New Hulme has reached saturation point for yuppies, the loft apartments are spreading down Stretford Road: whether new-build on wasteland or adapted from empty factories - decorative and expensive body art hiding the scars of industry past. Office blocks and million-pound apartments may soon spread from Salford Quays right through Pomona as the Irwell City Park project comes to life.

It is part of the role of Old Trafford News to bring this diverse community together. To bridge divides, provide opportunities to the excluded and encourage pride in this area for all of us regardless of ethnic origin, income bracket or religion. If you keep an eye on this blog you will read about some of the ways we do this. You'll hear about the articles and features we run to keep the community informed, entertained and occasionally inspired. You'll hear about the volunteers we help and are helped by, the contributions they make, the remarkable stories they have to tell. You'll hear about our partnership work with community groups, mental health service users, schools, young offenders. And you'll catch some of my own opinions about the power and value of community media and the joys and the agonies of working in the voluntary sector. And probably the occasional joke.

And now if you'll excuse me, I have work to do.


JoeinVegas said...

I've always wanted to visit Switzerland, maybe I should try Old Trafford instead.

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

I'm enjoying this.

Dave Hill said...

You wouldn't like to come and live in Hackney, would you Ally? Sometimes it's almost like...Switzerland.

Rob said...

Presumably if you mentioned Old Trafford in India or Pakistan they'd start reciting test scores at you.

Wayne who?

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