In the days after the attack on the Manchester Arena in May 2017, that led to the death of 22 people and the injury of many more, the City of Manchester came together, united in grief and defiance. It was a time to stand together, to remember and to recover. Crowds gathered in Albert Square to honour the people that had been killed, injured and affected by the atrocity. During the ‘Vigil of Peace’, a few days after the attack, Tony Walsh, also known as Longfella, read his poem ‘This is the Place’ to the large crowd that had gathered outside Manchester’s Town Hall. Tony’s poem became a fitting tribute, a ‘uniquely Mancunian tribute’ to this great city. The poem was also the inspiration for a creative project, it motivated James Torry to approach Manchester’s thriving and diverse creative community to produce a fitting memorial to ‘mark a moment, but to look forward with hope’.
Longfella on the steps of the town hall, image courtesy of James Torry.
Creatives from across Manchester were given a line from the poem and asked to interpret that line in an unique and thoughtful way. True North were given the line: And they built us a city, they built us these towns.
For us, the line illustrates the pride and hard graft of Manchester’s working class, the people who manually laid the foundations of the city we live in today. An early concept was to permanently imprint the line back onto the physical walls of the city. The medium chose itself, with Manchester being known for its range of industrial architecture; its warehouses, railway viaducts and cotton mills all synonymous with red brick. We wanted to build something new, but something that acknowledges the past with respect and appreciation, using original bricks from the city. The piece was to be about rebuilding, taking a mix of single, different bricks and fitting them together to represent a city broken by a tragic event but coming together to rebuild. Manchester’s strong foundation.
The first step was to source local bricks. There is a lot of demolition going on around the city at the moment so we approached a few of the sites to ask about original bricks. We were pointed in the direction of a reclamation yard that works closely with local demolition contractors. With the help of Dave at A1 Reclaimed Bricks, we were able to sort through the stacks of bricks they had at their yard to find a number of unique and individual pieces, some beautifully detailed.
The brick is such a simple building material, but by taking it away from its original purpose and context, and seeing it from a different perspective changes the aesthetic, creating a new structure that is visually strong and beautiful. A lot of time was spent creating the structure, interlocking the varying shapes until we had a suitable arrangement, we then looked at using a font that we could etch onto the bricks. How we used the type on the bricks would influence the decisions for the position and construction of the design.
A chiselled font was chosen, at first we used a design that was too detailed, we tested it and then re-drew it to create something that would work more effectively, that had enough detail but also complimented the bricks. We wanted it to look like it had always been there. The font was tested on paper and then on the brick and amended to make it as effective as possible.
Once the design had been finalised it was taken to be etched into the sides of the bricks. At this point we entered the unknown, we wanted to etch type onto the bricks but had no idea how to best achieve this, we had no idea what it would turn out like. After some extensive research we found Rob at The Blast Shop, he would attempt to sandblast the type into the bricks. Each brick had been made differently which meant we weren’t sure how they would individually turn out, thankfully Rob was happy to test and experiment to achieve the best results. The process and craft and the detail Rob managed was amazing. It was so exciting to watch the process, seeing the words revealing themselves, becoming permanently engraved.
With the finished bricks beautifully crafted, we took them to the photography studio of Will Shaddock, to rebuild the structure before shooting them for the final piece. The bricks were so detailed and beautiful, we just wanted them against a simple background so the brick told the story. After a day in the studio the finished image was submitted to the book creators.
For us this has been a unique and poignant project. Born out of tragic events and brought together by people who wanted to contribute to a lasting memorial, to look to the future and to offer hope. We want to thank everybody who helped make this happen. It was a truly collaborative project, with many people involved, eager to give their time, skills and experience to support us and to make a piece of work that in some small way would raise awareness and show that love wins.
The proceeds from the book will be split equally across the following three charities; Forever Manchester, We Love MCR Emergency Fund and The Greater Manchester Mayors Homelessness Fund. Forever Manchester will receive all funds and distribute evenly between all three charities. The organisers hope to raise money from the book for those worst affected by the darkness of that day and to help fund brighter futures for young people, the homeless community of Greater Manchester and strengthen communities and enrich local life by inspiring local people to do extraordinary things together.
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