Universities as Regenerators 2017

Place Skills | Liver little

It’s hard to recall precisely when I knew how much I loved working around the built environment, writes Shelagh McNerney of Salford City Council.

For more than 30 years I have blended personal interests in architecture, design, concrete things, cities, history and art with a career in many aspects of development, regeneration and planning. The sector is the most stimulating, relevant and important. I believe strongly that how a building comes about is the ultimate form of human self-expression.

The traditional CV starts in an average Liverpool Comprehensive School and my home on a posh council estate. No teenager thinks of working in the built environment! My interests were typically fashion, music, Thomas Hardy novels, disco dancing, hanging around the chip shop and working out how to get enough money to buy a pair of pink suede kicker boots.

But I grew up in a city with intact Victorian and Georgian buildings, a stunning waterfront that was smelly and exciting and defined by what seemed like enormous skyscrapers with Liver Birds on.

A city with two cathedrals, two football clubs and even a bombed out church that everyone loved. My dad told me about the bombs in the war and how the city had been flattened. As I grew up a little more, enormous parts of this city were bulldozed, re-built, bulldozed again and people talked about plans, change and progress. I imagined being in the conversations with the people who made these plans; architects and builders who knew how to carve stone and create beauty for us all to live and play in.

My biggest desire in the 1980s unfortunately was to leave Liverpool. With a grant, some ropey A levels and a very ropey BA Hons, I got myself to the Bartlett School and focussed on getting a strong qualification in something real, then into the world of work, in the public sector in Cheshire County Council for many years and then Manchester City Council.

The city of Manchester became my permanent home and after the Commonwealth Games I moved into the private sector, for 10 years in architecture and planning consultancy businesses.

I learned so much from the people I worked with, and set up my own at the bottom of the recession, working in Liverpool, Manchester, North Wales and making plans with people for when things turned around again.

I worked for construction companies, the North West Construction Hub, even at one point teaching film studies, working for a think tank, and considered switching careers or moving South as the recession dragged on. Apart from the family wrench this would have been, I also loved architecture and construction and the people in the industry in the North West.

I realised that we would in fact always build, that I knew almost everyone, every scheme, site and building, and it turned out I also had opinions on everything.

So when did I know? It must have all come from when I was pushed around in my pram with a view of Liverpool’s skyline with giant Liver Birds on.

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