Full interview cited in the article “Politika: Art & Local Power in Manchester, UK”
INTERVIEWED ON 19 September 2014 BY Felicity Clarke
TRANSCRIBED ON 22 September 2014 BY Felicity Clarke
Linda Carver is the coordinator of the Ancoats Dispensary Trust
Felicity: Can I just ask first of all what’s your full name?
Linda: My name is Linda Carver.
Felicity: And you’re from the Ancoats Dispensary Trust?
Linda: Yes, I’m from the Ancoats Dispensary Trust, I’m the coordinator of that trust.
Felicity: Do you live in Ancoats?
Linda: Yes, I do
Felicity: How long have you lived in Ancoats?
Linda: I’ve lived in Ancoats now for 6 years, but my family of course were born and died in this area. I moved away, but I have worked in the area for many many years. But I moved away, obviously with work and one thing and another, but returned about 6 years ago to Ancoats and I thought then: what am I doing back in Ancoats, back where my roots are really, and I soon found out why I was back.
Felicity: When you say that, what do you mean?
Linda: I mean that when I returned I thought, well I need to get involved in the community to start meeting people and I joined a forum where at that time there was a powerpoint presentation being given about the regeneration of the area and the plans for the area and at no time during the presentation could I see Ancoats Dispensary. Now, the hospital meant a lot to me, as a child, teenager, parents had been nursed and relatives had died there, so I asked the question: excuse me, where is the Ancoats Dispensary in all this? I’d seen it was surrounded with scaffolding and assumed something was happening with it and then somebody.. there was a silence in the room and I thought, I’ve touched a nerve here, I don’t what it is, but then I heard the word “demolition” and something happened to me inside. I thought to myself, I don’t think so.
So I started to make enquiries via local councils and they seemed to know about it: yes it was due for demolition. Planning permission had been sought with consent to demolish and the more I explored it and started talking to people, I thought, this is just so wrong. This just cannot happen to a grade 2 listed building that has meant so much to the people of this area. Slowly but surely people started to listen, started to write articles, started to hold meetings, started to get on board. We started to petition. The threat of demolition was imminent. My sister, who’s still involved in the campaign, said I think you ought to have a presence outside the dispensary, a kind of vigil really, and that vigil started in July 2O12 and remains to this day as a symbol of the local community to say you’re not going to do this without a fight. You’ve got a fight on your hands if you think you’re going to wipe out a piece of working class history really, a building that’s meant so much to so many people.
It’s more than a building. It’s about what has happened in this area over the last 2O, 3O, 4O, 5O years – the displacement, fragmentation, lots of changes, a sense of loss, and something needs to be brought back. I’m all for new buildings, new architecture, I think it’s absolutely marvellous, but I also think there’s a place for a fabric of Manchester’s heritage as well to remain as a reminder, not of what it was, but what it could be and that’s what we’re interested in at the Ancoats Dispensary Trust – what this could be. A sort of centre that traditionally used obviously conventional medicine to heal people and now is going to do that in a slightly different way, in a creative way.
We’ve gathered lots of supporters who’ve been out on the streets leafleting over the last 3 years, public consultations using a double decker, been on the BBC radio, people have got on board, professional people have now started to take notice, massive stakeholder meeting last year where the developer agreed, because he couldn’t quite get over the fact that this group had galvanised going down to the planning committee – no it’s going to happen, we’ve got to defer it because we need to do this this and this. He said right, that’s ok, I’ll stop the process towards demolition and it’s your responsibility to apply to the Heritage Lottery Fund to see if you can save the building from demolition. All the work then started and that’s been incredible. The amount of the work that’s gone into it has been incredible because don’t forget we’re still a small group of people. Henry Brace was very much involved in the preparation of that submission and we’ve gone, we went in under the heritage and enterprise scheme because there’s so little left of the heritage that if we went under the heritage and enterprise scheme it meant us, that we had to partner a developer so that once the building was saved it would provide job opportunities, apprenticeships, so that it was going to be sustainable, economically viable, etc. Not just like a piece of, a museum piece, it had to be a working building once again.
So, a developer came forward and was interested in becoming our partner for the regeneration and from then on the work started to prepare a submission to the Heritage Lottery Fund. We got a startup grant initially which was great, ten thousand pounds that allowed us to sort out the legal side of things, one thing and another, get some advocacy, structural surveys etc etc and in the meantime the group are doinf fundraising events. We submitted in – when was it? did we submit in October? No, we submitted in November and the decision was in March, we got turned down and of course, yeah we were disappointed but we thought, who gets through first time? So, we looked at the submission again. We knew there was a gap of about 2 weeks, but we’re still up against competition of course all this time. We knew we were up against strong competition with just as viable projects as ours. We resubmitted within two weeks and that was an incredible amount of work to sort of, almost tone up, to fine tune the submission and we submitted and we got the result in July that we’d been successful. We got stage one funding to take further forward the development of plans that we have for it.
Of course the plans for the future are that first and second floor become art studio space for all sorts of different artists using all sorts of forms. The ground floor is dedicated for community space. Now that, going out into the area and finding out from people what it is they wanted, because in the end it’s kind of, it’s not what we want, so we’re not imposing, we’re saying to people “what is it you want? You love Ancoats Dispensary, you love the building, it’s not enough, we need to know, we’ve got to provide evidence why you need certain things inside that building and what it is that you feel is needed in this area” And we’ve got our answer so we’re moving forward with those type of plans for a community cafe which will do more than serve food. It will train people, it will increase confidence, building skills, prepare people going for interviews, a place where people can learn how to cook, you know? The rest of the building, flexible space for social enterprise businesses, because this building has to be part commercial. It has to earn its living. But maybe..
Although it sounds vague, the vision is of course that this will be a community hub, become the center of Ancoats where people will go and find out information about all sorts of things that are going on in Ancoats, because there’s a lot going on in Ancoats but nothing’s sort of links together. Well the Dispensary will link everything together and things will go on there – there will be theatre performances, exhibitions, linking with different groups. In three years time, who knows, the vision will hopefully be revealed.
What can I say? It’s just amazing that when people have said about this area “Oh it’s very difficult to reach, difficult to engage with this community, there’s a lack of engagement”. Well actually, this is living proof that actually this community just need to be asked. Just need to have the opportunity to become involved, because they think it’s great this area. They think it’s wonderful and maybe they’re starting to speak about it now, instead of remaining silent, they’re starting to be active, which is what we want. It’s their building, it’s their community, so it’s for future generations, it’s not for me, it’s not for other people in the group, it’s for the future. So instead of looking to the past all the time, which is very important because we have to have heritage exhibitions which will connect people to their local heritage or history, that will all be going on all the time, we’ll be looking to the future.
Felicity: Can I ask about your involvement in the Politika exhibition? How was that?
Linda: That came about when Upper Space, the organization, approached me about this idea of a patchwork banner about Ancoats, particularly about the Dispensary, and it sounded a fantastic idea to me, because it kind of fitted in with what we are as a group, a real mixed bag, a patchwork of people from all different backgrounds who robably, under normal circumstances, never have met or come across each other, but because of this one building we’ve been drawn to it and connected. The idea of a banner expressing in an artistic way how people feel about this building without being able to articulate it in words, sounded just fantastic to me, so I said “well, let’s get involved”. And of course, as you can see, the project it will be unveiled tomorrow and people will see.
Ed Hall who’s a famous banner maker who’s actually made the banner and he’s obviously.. when he saw the building a few weeks ago for the first time, he said it was the best example – it’s hard imagine this because it’s in such a state – he said it’s the best example of neo-Victorian gothic architecture he’s ever seen. Even that is inspirational really, but when you see this banner tomorrow you’ll realise just how much Ancoats Dispensary means to people and it’s their way of expressing. It’s the tip of the iceberg because people for the first time, when they’re asked to get involved and you don’t have to be a brilliant artist, you may not think of yourself as creative, but to my way of thinking in one sense or another and this has allowed them to say “This is how we feel about it”and I can’t wait to see it. I haven’t seen the finished thing actually, but I’ve got a fair idea of what it’s about. Yeah, so there you go.
Felicity: I know you need to get off so just one last question if that’s ok?
Felicity: The victory of the Ancoats Dispensary Trust and a lot of the themes that are dealt with in this exhibition are examples of ways in which local people can take back a certain sense of ownership and power and direction over what happens in their local area. Obviously it’s been a very big week in British politics about these questions and there’s been lots of discussion raised about these issues and I just wondered what your views on this and what your hopes are for Britain, Manchester, Ancoats going forward from this moment?
Linda: Well, yeah, there is a sense, it’s almost palpable, there is a sense now that people, particularly after the Scots having the referendum, it’s almost as if the Scots have led the way into saying do you know what? We want to take control over what matters to us, what’s important to us. Never mind someone imposing something on us that might not fit with our philosophy or way of life. I think, taking the Scots lead, there is a sense now that throughout the country, ordinary people now perhaps see themselves as “do you know what? if we all get together and we want something badly enough, let’s start doing something about it, instead of sleepwalking into the future, let’s – in a peaceful way, I’m not saying you have to go out and start marching, which we have done incidentally, in the early days – but you can change things and people want to change things for the better. For the better. Not just for themselves. I think that people are starting to think about more than themselves now. They’re starting to think outside themselves. There’s something more important than me. There’s the other. And it’s bigger than me, and I want to be part of it.
I do see a growing movement throughout the whole of this country where different regions now are starting to think “You know what? Look what’s happened in Scotland.” Everywhere you go, hairdressers, on buses, on the streets, in flats, in houses, on the seashore, people are talking about it. Talking about politics. Who may never have spoken about it, or might not think they’re talking about politics in the sense of the Westminster style of politics, but they are becoming politically alive and it’s happening, and it’s scary but it’s also also very very interesting. Very very interesting. And maybe in other countries they’ve been doing this for a lot longer than we have. I don’t know. People talking to the streets. We tend to have not done that kind of thing here. We’ve marched yeah, against the Iraq war and stuff like that. But this is different. This is like a local people, ordinary citizens who maybe feel powerless because they are not in positions of power in any other form of life, saying actually we have got quite a bit of influence. So I thin