As an independent Commercial Property Investment Agency, we have created a campaign to show our support for local, regional and national independent businesses.
For our seventh interview, we interview Thom Hetherington, founder of Landing Light and Exec Chair of Easel Projects.
Q. How long have you been based in Manchester and how have you seen the city change over the years?
My whole life has been in and around Manchester, from Glossop on its fringes to Angel Meadows at its heart, and I have seen in change beyond comprehension. As a kid I used to come in to town in the late seventies and early eighties, and it felt like a city on its knees, or at least down on its luck. You still had sparks of Mancunian spirit and creativity of course, but the landscape was unremittingly grim – endless derelict plots, some dating back to the blitz, soot-stained buildings, little in the way of animation and energy at street level, and at 5pm it felt like everyone turned the lights off and went home.
You look at it now, with world class culture to the fore, incredible hospitality permeating every nook and cranny, new buildings, indeed entire new districts, much of our heritage buffed up, the bustle of tourists and city centre residents, and trams rattling back and forth, and it’s really quite astounding. It hits me afresh every time I get off the train at Piccadilly. I feel huge pride, optimism and excitement.
Q. In your opinion how important is it to the city to have a strong group of independents…
It is crucially important, for all sorts of reasons. Independents are rooted in their city and committed to their city, and as such they engender pride and identity, and without that we really are lost.
More importantly that sense of place, of terroir, is what drives the visitor economy, as tourists travel to a city for a holiday because they feel they know its distinct character and want to see it and feel it on the streets. That inward investment is a huge driver of hospitality, culture and more besides, and means jobs, skills and money for local residents.
Also, independents tend to be independent of thought, so it is them who take risks, who change things, and who raise standards. This dynamism is vital to any city. Equally, unlike online businesses or national chains, the vast majority of independent’s income tends to get spent locally, not just on wages for their teams but with supply chains, the spending of the owners and investment of profits, and hopefully their commitment to local causes.
Q. Which independent restaurants and bars would you recommend?
It would be hard to know where to stop! The Sparrows, Mana, Erst and Flawd are my top Manchester indies, but I also love 10 Tib Lane, Kala, Neon Tiger, Beeswing, The Jane Eyre, The Black Friar and more. Equally you might want to visit Café Marhaba for the best naans in town! I’d also recommend Sterling or Schofield’s for cocktails, The City Arms on Kennedy St or The Circus for a pint, or Salut for a glass of wine. For breakfasts or coffee, it’s Pollen or Trove for me every time, and pick up a sourdough or some patisserie whilst you’re there.
Away from food and drink I’d urge everyone to visit Private White V.C. and Doherty, Evans and Stott, and I also spend too much time in Fred Aldous, Unitom and Anywhere Out of the World second hand bookshop. Everyone should sign up to become a member of the Portico Library and the Modernist Society too, supporting vital independent organisations that enrich and sustain the city, and contemplate purchasing some new art at Saul Hay or Castlefield Gallery.
Q. What would your perfect day in the city centre entail?
Well my lists above should give you some clues. Get the train into Manchester; brunch at Pollen on Kampus; a stroll up around New Islington, the best promenade in Manchester; a pint in the Edinburgh Castle and maybe lunch at Erst. A wonder down through the Northern quarter, stopping to shop at Anywhere out of the World, Unitom and Fred Aldous; then a Ferris Bueller moment taking in the world class art at Manchester Art Gallery (the chariot race is still a favourite of mine) followed by a poke around the supermarkets of Chinatown, maybe visiting the excellent Blue Whale and grabbing a honey bun at the Wong Wong bakery. Then down to Doherty Evans Stott to pick over their new season items and surely it’s time for dinner? Whilst I think about where to go – so many choices – I’ll be in the bar at 10 Tib Lane, knocking back some oysters.
Q. How do you see the city changing over the coming years?
For the better, always. The city centre is a success story, and is bringing tens of thousands of residents (and their all-important council tax revenue and spend with local businesses) to areas that had been brownfield sites or underutilised plots for generations. I also think the demographic mix is improving, with many older people choosing to retire to the city, as well as families staying put. But more needs to be done to knit the shiny new towers into the surrounding communities, and create a blend which feels sustainable, enjoyable and truly Mancunian.
I desperately hope that we can solve the issues around homelessness, and improve on the grime and anti-social behaviour which still scars some quarters. Manchester is never going to have huge parks slap bang in the city centre, but I think the balance around open spaces is improving – the new Mayfield Park is a delight, Angel Meadows has bangs of potential, and I hope that as the city centre core expands people will start to see existing, historic parks like the wonderful Peel and Hulme Park as part of it. The task is to make Manchester work as it changes from a tight commercial city centre surrounded by run-down hinterlands, to a dynamic mosaic of tens of interlocking districts and neighbourhoods, each with it’s own character.
Fundamentally though I believe Manchester will continue to capably ride the ongoing developments, the wider socio-economic trends, and the waves of people who come to the city to make it their home. I think it will become more international still, and will harness the power of it’s academic campuses, the airport which truly links it to the world, and industries like tech and biosciences where it has considerable strengths and the future surely lies. I’m sure over the next decade it will develop and change beyond all recognition, but it will still remain undeniably Manchester.
Thanks to Thom for a thorough verdict on independent businesses and how they benefit towns and city centres, not just in Manchester, but across the World. A detailed recommendation list too for those looking for inspiration over the festive holiday period!