ROCK DJ…Robbie Williams, Staffordshire’s most famous son, offered advice to students at the newly opened Liverpool Media Academy at the former Metquarter retail complex, which he co-owns. The performing arts and music campus was created by repurposing 17 retail units into 50,000 sq ft of studio and events space in a project led by asset manager Queensberry and landowner Bywater Properties. After a long, successful career, Williams had some pearls of wisdom for the wide-eyed students he addressed in an online Q+A. “Every one of you needs to know we are lions”, he said, before delivering a soliloquy on fear that, while well-intentioned, could have been improved with a thesaurus. “We are braver than any fearFear thinks it’s bigger than you but, you need to show you’re not scared of it every time and that you’re bigger and stronger than any fear can ever be. Think bigger than you ever have and then think bigger again. Without fear, you have no boundaries.” Message received loud and clear, Robbie!

Easel Artwork

EASEL…Like art but hate leaving the house? Boy, have we got something for you then. Introducing Easel, a new venture from the good people at Manchester Art Fair, which allows you to shop for artwork easily online without having to get up from the sofa. With Christmas looming, it now seems easier than ever to buy your loved ones a painting while supporting an industry that has taken a beating this year. Within 24 hours of launching, Easel’s sales have soared into the thousands of pounds. Thom Hetherington, founder of Easel, told THING: Covid meant we couldn’t run Manchester Art Fair this year, which has given us the bandwidth we needed to develop Easel. It has launched at a time when artists need support and routes to market more than ever. It’s desperate times for the region’s cultural ecology, and we hope Easel can play a big part in keeping artists motivated and funded, and art buyers enthused and engaged. There aren’t many silver linings to Covid, but we hope this is one.”

Merseyway DIY

DIY…Rethinking retail is high on the agenda of councils everywhere. The high street needs to adapt to cope with changing shopping habits and the rise of evil mastermind Jeff Bezos – this much is clear. In Stockport, a community group is doing just that. Through crowdfunding, community-focused design team Easy Peel Studio and community benefit society Plastic Shed, raised the requisite funds to transform the former Meeks Shoes store at Merseyway shopping centre into a DIY workshop. Handy types can use the space for free to make things out of discarded materials such as wood and plastic, before selling them on. Rachel Lewis, co-director at Plastic Shed, summed up the endeavour quite nicely. “This is ‘building back better’. Having places on the high street put back into local hands means it is connected to local people and accountable to the community. In the new normal, it’s vital that we listen to what the community needs.” 


WIRE WIFI…Broadband speed has never been so important. Whether you’re Zooming, quizzing or streaming, sluggish connections can elicit violent thoughts. How many of you this year have considered launching your computer out of the window after one frozen screen too many? If this sounds like you, perhaps you should consider a move to one particular street in Warrington, which, according to a study by price comparison website Uswitch, has one of the fastest broadband speeds in the country. Dale Lane in Appleton, Cheshire, averaged a download speed of 639mbps. To put that into layman’s terms, if you are fortunate enough to live on Dale Lane, you could download a two-hour film in just under four minutes. By way of comparison, if you live on the posh-sounding Queens Road in Weybridge, Surrey, it would take you about 12 years – average download speeds on that street are a miserable 0.12mbps. Ouch.  

Hip Hop Archives

HIP HOP HOORAY…Rave, rock, indie, Britpop: ‘Madchester’ is famous for its music scene across multiple genres, but perhaps not hip hop – that was born in cities like New York and Atlanta, right? Well, yes, but Manchester’s Unity Radio is giving US rap a run for its dollar bills. The station has pulled together a collection of local hip hop stories and received a £345,000 grant from the National Lottery Fund to create the Manchester Hip Hop Archives (MHHA), in celebration of its 10th birthday next week. According to Unity, the archives will reveal that “Manchester has its own collection of fascinating stories to be shared”. It has appointed as its chairman Robert McFarlane, aka ‘Prince Kool’, who was the UK’s first rap champion in 1987 and won the DMC UK Rap completion at the Hippodrome in London. McFarlane, who relates his memories of Manchester’s early hip hop scene in the archives, was a founding member of the Rock The House Crew and created the first Manchester Rap Competitions series at Fielden Park Young People’s Centre in West Didsbury in 1989 and 1990. Former Hacienda DJ Dave Haslam, now a writer and activist, said: “People know Manchester’s headline music history, but I love that now, thanks to MHHA, we have a chance to celebrate an under-documented and under-appreciated part of that story, and the communities and the context, and share that with the world.”

Crewe Clock

JUST IN TIME…Regeneration usually means an element of loss, as certain parts of a place are cleared away to make room for a fresh start. In Crewe, residents have been anxious over the future of the landmark clock tower that sits atop the town’s Royal Arcade shopping centre, the demolition of which began last month as part of a £48m town centre redevelopment. However, they needn’t have worried, as a specialist team from Crewe Heritage Centre stepped in to save the day, scooping up multiple components of the clock tower and taking them away to be stored safe and sound. According to the centre, the acquisition from Royal Arcade owner Carwarden included four clock faces measuring 2.4 metres in diameter, five bells including the 1.1 tonne Big Bill, the clock’s mechanism, and surviving glass from two original blue faces. So what’s next for the much-loved timekeeping device? Readers will have to wait and see. A spokesperson for Crewe Heritage Centre said: “We are currently in the process of establishing our short- and long-term plans for this local landmark and will be excited to share them shortly.”

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