The Art Of Creating A Place Where People Want To Be

| Helen Hallsworth

Stephen Kirk, Head of Asset Management at MediaCity, discusses the culture that MediaCity brings.

“Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle. This is why any authentic creation is a gift to the future” said the early 20th century French philosopher Albert Camus. But why are Camus’ reflections relevant to today’s placemaking agenda?


Without doubt, MediaCity has been built on the ‘authentic creations’ of its past. It’s a place with history – built on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal, powering some of the greatest social movements and defining inventions of all time. These moments of social history were captured by artist LS Lowry whose works are celebrated today in The Lowry Arts Centre which overlooks the now iconic MediaCity skyline. But is it enough for MediaCity to dine out on its cultural past to build its future?


For MediaCity to further grow and truly succeed as a creative, tech and digital hub, our challenge is to create a place where culture and creativity is given the opportunity to creep out of every pore. It has to be authentic, not tokenistic and we have to provide a genuine platform for it to grow. Culture fuels and inspires creativity and without it, we’re simply left with a soulless cluster of shiny new, albeit highly sustainable buildings – where creatives just don’t see themselves.

Over the past decade, there’s been growing recognition that cultural activity within communities and places brings deomonstrable social and economic value. So as MediaCity begins fine tuning its masterplan vision for 2050, culture will shape its regeneration plans and not the other way round.


MediaCity’s place team is constantly evolving ideas which give local artists and creatives a platform, looking at our spaces and watching how people instinctively and naturally use the environment, engaging with our local communities – what do they want to see and do here?

The process is bringing fresh thinking on how we can continue to be a magnet for creatives and the industries they work within. And it all comes back to culture. It started with Box on the Docks (BOTD) – our collective pop-up of independent food and drink vendors which originally started as response to supporting artists and the hospitality sectors during the pandemic. Today, it’s and established part of MediaCity and gives a platform for emerging artists to showcase their work.

Experience has taught us, that if we’re generous with our public realm, give creatives the chance and embrace artist led activity it softens spaces and brings people together. It becomes a place where people want to be.

The success of BOTD influenced a change in strategy for Central Bay – our new food and drink destination which is now all about celebrating local independent talent and art which will reignite a previously underused water frontage. We’ve listened to the community and this is what they want.

Our boldest activation to date, was delivering, for the first time this summer, an entirely free cultural festival ‘We Invented the Weekend’ which used every conceivable space across MediaCity and the Quays with a variety of cultural activations. It attracted tens of thousands of people of all ages, from all walks of life and was truly inclusive. It was born through a shared passion and vision with our founding partners Peel L&P, The BBC and The Lowry and brough audiences to MediaCity who had never been before.


But how does all this let space? By giving permission and a platform for culture to thrive we’re inspiring, energising and drawing in like-minded people who want to innovate and create within a place that enables it to happen. MediaCity is a living lab for testing ideas and innovation. Of course, education plays a fundamental role in this, providing the resource and building the talent pipeline with The University of Salford, University Technical College and most recently the UCFB campus. All feed into this ecosystem while contributing to MediaCity’s cultural tapestry.

Gary Hilton founder of the multi award winning GAS Music, has been composing and creating world class music from the heart of MediaCity for 8 years, he shared: “We’ve received the accolade from our London agency partners that we have closed the gap between ‘Soho and Salford’ – for me Salford needs to act like Soho: creative and building together.”

Gary’s right, the power of collective creativity is key to MediaCity’s future success. Ultimately, occupiers are drawn to the collaborative vibe, reassured by the pool of talent and know this is an environment where there is genuine opportunity and where they fit in. We want people to feel that they belong here, that it’s a place for them to pursue their talent and dreams. We need to hold on to this talent, of which there is an abundance in the North, this in itself, will fuel endless opportunity, ultimately securing all our futures.

No one has ever complained about a a place having too much culture, so as we embrace the next phase of MediaCity, its identity and its people, as Camus reflected – it will be MediaCity’s ‘gift’ for generations to come.