Ben Fitzgerald was invited to visit Salford Quays to witness for himself the radical re-invention of a post industrial wasteland.
Until recently, Salford is not a place that you would immediately think of as a place to visit. When I was a skinny faced student in the early 90s in Manchester, I remember visiting a friend there.
The Salford I remember was as a post apocalyptic wasteland… all soot blackened terraced houses and half eaten kebabs.
Fast forward 25 years and I struggled to recognise the place. Huge investment has been pumped into the area, once rife with unemployment and gang crime the area boasts glittering high rise apartments jostling for shoulder room with art galleries, museums, theatres, restaurants and market stalls – not to mention BBC’s media city and the set of ITV’s Coronation Street. We stayed at the 133-room Hotel Football, which was so close to Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground that with a strong throw from the eighth floor you would have a good chance of lobbing a prawn sandwich onto the hallowed turf.
The hotel, backed by former Red Devil teammates Gary and Phil Neville, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt has a subtle football thread running throughout the design – but not so much that it would alienate not football fans.
Original sporting artwork and memorabilia graces the walls throughout the building which also boasts a 5-a-side pitch on the roof area. Our room offered a view of Old Trafford and everything that you might expect from a top class room – from flat screen TV to comfy bed and even an amazing ‘rainforest’ shower. My favourite thing was the mini-bar stuffed full of retro sweets. There’s nothing quite like relaxing at the end of the day, watching a high-definition television from the comfort of your bed, with a mouth full of spacedust.
When we were able to drag ourselves further from the excellent hotel, having wolfed down a full English breakfast, we had a busy itinerary ahead of us. First stop was the Lowry Art Gallery where the development of Salford lad JS Lowry as an artist was revealed through thoughtfully displayed original artwork and accessible notes. Turns out that it’s not all matchstick men – he was an incredible draftsman as well and it was a delight to spend a wonderful hour or so losing myself in his world. With a quick detour to the relocated Blue Peter garden, where I placed my hand against the handprint of my childhood hero John Noakes, it was off to the Imperial War Museum North. Housed in a jaw-dropping steel architectural sculpture, the war museum was one of the highlights of the tour. Far from being a celebration of war, or a weird collection of bayonets – the museum focuses on individual people and their amazing stories. There were heartbreaking farewell letters hastily scribbled by young lads before they went towards certain death. And there were complete diaries written by prisoners of war who had to use tiny writing for each entry on a single sheet of A4. I could have spent an entire day there.
We were spoilt for choice when it came to food, but opted for the pre-theatre food at the boisterous Lime restaurant, where I opted for a pretty decent steak and chips followed by a reassuringly boozy Tiramisu (it would be rude not to). The following day, we were up early because we had a date with a boat – we took a six hour meander down the famous Manchester ship canal all the way to Liverpool.
There’s something enchanting about travelling by water and it was a good way of getting a close up view of the industrial powerhouse that helped establish Salford during the early part of this century. However, I would only recommend this trip for the more hardy heritage fan, six hours of looking at the rear end of chemical works and swing bridges if not for everyone.