By Najeeb Rehman
Ten years ago the rain-soaked closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games was being staged at the City of Manchester Stadium.
As the Queen declared the Manchester Games over, the attention had already turned to ensuring there would be a lasting sporting, economic and social legacy to the biggest multi-sports event the country had ever staged.
The prime focus though was the regeneration of the area around the Sportscity in the east of Manchester.
Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, said: “Part of our bid for the Games was our commitment to regeneration and improvement work pre and post-Games, while creating a lasting legacy for communities, residents and Games volunteers.”
There are few places in the Western world that have suffered as badly from industrial decline as the east of Manchester.
For decades the people living here were left abandoned by policymakers as factories, foundries, and cotton mills began to close down one by one until there was no work left.
The post-War slum clearance frenzy led to the disastrous decision to demolish terraced housing and force entire communities into newly built council flats on the city’s edge.
This migration out of the city broke up communities and condemned the people who remained to live in a contaminated post-industrial wasteland.
These neglected and abused streets, where Myra Hindley and Ian Brady selected the victims for their crimes and which social scientists were describing as the most deprived in the country, were desperately in need of investment.
If the IRA bomb in 1996 is seen as the catalyst for the redevelopment of the city centre then the 2002 Commonwealth Games was going to be the beginning of a process to rejuvenate an impoverished East Manchester.
The organisation tasked with this job was New East Manchester Ltd (NEM), a regeneration company established three years before the Games started and responsible for over 2,000 hectares of land.
Eddie Smith, Chief Executive of NEM, said: “Since the early 90s East Manchester had been ear marked for regeneration to turn the tide of 30 years of industrial decline and falling employment opportunities. East Manchester was home to the city’s forgotten communities and the Games were the turning point for the area.”
NEM came to the conclusion that it wasn’t so much the loss of industry that damaged the area but the subsequent loss of population, in particular a skilled population.
The organisation set themselves a target in 2000 of increasing the population by 30,000 over ten years and replacing the old Victorian terraced houses with new builds that would attract people into the area.
So far only 6,500 new people have come to East Manchester and the Housing Market Renewal Initiative, a central government fund that provided the money to build new homes, has now come to an end.
The housing schemes in Ancoats, New Islington, Clayton, and Beswick add up to 5,000 new homes so far, well short of their 12,000 home target, but average house prices have increased by 400%.
The council and NEM were forced to apply for Compulsory Purchase Orders on a number of Victorian estates but, unlike in the 70s, communities were re-housed together and had a right to return to there home.
Len Grant, the acclaimed photographer who was commissioned by NEM to document the changes, said: “There is this nostalgic view people have of Victorian terraced houses but younger people here want a house with a garden, somewhere to park their car, and more flexibility in terms of bedrooms and bathrooms.”
Mixed community house schemes ensured that both private houses and those run by social landlords were in the same street.
Mr Grant said: “There’s a saying here ‘It’s not the house that makes the slum it’s the people that live in them.’ Streets that were occupied by those on benefits were valued at below build price but if they were in London they would have gone for up to a million.”
He did voice concerns that the area might be trapped in a cycle of regeneration as the new builds are not designed to last and will have to be replaced again in 50 years.
The other goal was to improve the education and employment prospects of people in the area by improving the schools and attracting new businesses into East Manchester.
Mr Smith said: “One of NEM’s core aims is to raise both the incomes and the aspirations of East Manchester people and by strengthening the local economy through business investment, hundreds of jobs have been created helping to mobilise local people in to work - creating a sense of pride that is integral to successful and sustainable neighbourhoods”
NEM can boast that secondary school attendance has increased over the last decade and hope the East Manchester Academy will improve the skills base of area.
The Academy, built in 2010 for £31.5 million along with the adjacent Beswick Library, is home to the only sixth form centre in the area.
Simon Walker, spokesperson for Manchester City Council, said: “The new economy is going to be media based and the East Manchester Academy will be at the forefront of developing new talent.”
High-tech commercial office space has also been built to attract media and tech companies into the area.
It is hoped that One Central Park’s flagship tenant Fujitsu and the smaller entrepreneurial firms in the Sharp Project will attract a highly skilled population into the area.
Tom Russell, the former Chief Executive of NEM, recently admitted to struggling to find a solution to the deep-seated inter-generational problems of unemployment in the area.
They took a simplistic approach of supplementing the large number of construction jobs created by the mass redevelopment with low-skilled service jobs.
A number of new supermarkets have opened in the last decade including the Morrison’s in Openshaw and the Asda in Beswick, which was the largest Asda in Europe at the time it was built.
It’s difficult to know what the affect of so much physical and economic change has had on the people living here.
According to Camilla Lewis, who has done a PhD on the effects of urban regeneration in East Manchester, people have responded to these changes in different ways.
Ms Lewis said: “I found that there wasn’t just one community perspective. An example is the East Manchester Academy. People I spoke to were very supportive of the fact there was going to be a new high school and library in the area. But when it came to the people who had to be re-housed to make room for the academy things changed – some were very apprehensive and others spoke positively about how they were treated.”
CHANGES: The new Beswick Library
She said that she observed a community still deeply connected to the industrial past struggle to come to terms with the ambitions of developers who wanted to erase this history.
“People talked about the past with great pride. One person said that there used to be a highly skilled working population here but now the only employment opportunities were supermarket work," Ms Lewis added.
"Work defined neighbourhoods then but now, even after everything that’s been built, there is still widespread unemployment”
A new sense of pride and identity seems to have built around Sportscity.
Mr Grant said: “It’s the landmark for East Manchester. It’s right in the middle of all the regeneration work and means so much to people. It was the catalyst for so many things.”
Sportscity was built on the site of the Bradford Colliery and soaked up the bulk of the £600 million budget for the Games.
The world-class sporting facilities have left a huge legacy for elite sports and are also available for the general public to use.
Mr Grant said: “If you’re on benefits even things that cost three or four pounds can be expensive when you have a family. But groups associated with the community, such as schools and youth clubs, have some of the best sporting facilities in the world at their doorstep.”
Sportscity has already been added to with the new £24 million BMX Centre and Abu Dhabi United Group have submitted proposals to build a new football training complex.
Mr Smith, NEM Chief Executive, said: “Working with Manchester City Football Club has allowed the investment opportunities required for an exciting future programme of regeneration, such as the Etihad Campus – a new 80 acre football and community hub – and further projects that will benefit local people for years to come.”
While Manchester City Council are building more elite sports venues local clubs, such as the widely used Ardwick Leisure Centre, are being earmarked for closure in an effort to find £170 million worth of savings.
How much progress would have been made in East Manchester without the Games is unclear.
Claims have been made that regeneration was pushed forward by 20 years but Mr Grant pointed out that between the 1990s and the 2010 there was a perfect storm of funding – New Deals for Communities, Neighbourhood Renewal Fund, Housing Market Renewal Initiative, New East Manchester, two Olympics bids, government targets for building on brownfield sites, and a number of other streams.
Most of this funding has now come to an end and cuts to council budgets and central government funds mean the future of the area is unclear.
The past decade had been one of mixed success with unemployment and poverty stubbornly refusing to go away.
A report by Save the Children last year showed that Manchester’s record on child poverty was the worst in the country - 27% of children are living in severe poverty, most of them live in East Manchester.
Every study looking into poverty and deprivation continue to show East Manchester as being among the worst regions in the country.
According to Sir Richard, the Games repositioned Manchester as a global city, increased tourism, and left a strong legacy of volunteering.
He said: “The Commonwealth Games saw 18 million people visit Manchester. Today the city welcomes upward of 100 million day visitors each year – as well as more than 8 million staying visitors – a testament to the city gaining a genuine status on the world stage as a renowned destination for arts, culture, sports and business.”
In East Manchester though the sense of optimism the Games created will come to an abrupt end unless solutions can be found to deeply-entrenched social and economic problems that continue to plague the area.