With their work Monuments, the team at ThickSkin are foregrounding voices from the communities of Ancoats, Clayton, Beswick & Openshaw, all in Manchester, guiding you over cobbles, old and new, asking you not to overlook the buildings and the communities that make the area unique.
Ancoats, Manchester has been voted one of the worlds ‘coolest neighbourhoods’ to live in, but that’s a relatively new development. Before that, it was the world’s first industrial suburb.
The place is aching with history, an ongoing culture clash of new and old everywhere you look. I’m a part of the ‘new Ancoats’ tribe, and like so many of the current inhabitants, I may have been guilty of overlooking its past before this project.
As a director living and working through the pandemic, we found ourselves exploring new ways to engage our existing audiences and also how to introduce a new group to our work. Monuments, which is part of ThickSkin’s Walk This Play® series, celebrates monuments big and small, and the people that built the buildings from the ground up and that keep the beating heart of the area alive.
It is a part local, part individual, history of those who live here, with a huge emphasis on personal stories.
Working closely with Community Engagement Coordinator Ailbhe Treacy, we set out contacting and meeting with local residents to hear their stories of the area, what it means to them, and how much the area has changed.
Their voices, recorded over zoom calls and phone calls, have been lovingly woven into the sound design created by Pete Malkin.
Sometimes a phone call might last 20 minutes, but others went on for a few hours as locals shared their passion for the area.
For those who preferred to share things via email, we had an online form, and from that we received stories ranging from small anecdotes to huge life altering memories. No story was too big, or small, to become part of the final piece.
The place and the fabric it’s made from also steered the writing process.
I would walk the route, creating lists of everything that caught my eye and store these on my phone; the different coloured bricks, knotweed poking out of the roofs of the old factory buildings, the smell of baking bread. All these details helped centre our audience members in the area. Alongside the geo-triggered audio, these little validations gave us the sense that we were in the right place at the right time.
As with all projects that ThickSkin undertake, Monuments was hugely ambitious.
Created under lockdown restrictions, it was at times incredibly local, as I stomped out the route, attaching stories to locations. But also, at times, digital, through remote working with collaborators online.
Pete Malkin has created such beautifully scored binaural audio, which takes the sounds and energy of the local area and scores them into an experience, that you feel is just for you.
You’re guided around by the unmistakeable voice of Julie Hesmonghalgh, who recorded the audio from the bottom bunk of her daughter’s bedroom, the amazing sound quality created from a top microphone and the teddy bears all around her.
It was a real pleasure to collaborate with the whole team on this.
My hope is that our work continues to be a record for locals, new and old, to learn from, and to understand what makes Ancoats more than modern conversions and bars; it’s the people that built the place, it’s the moments that shaped it, and it’s a fact that it continues to evolve.
Monuments guides you around the Ancoats cobbles, old and new, asking you not to overlook the buildings and the communities that make the area unique.
Jonnie’s article is the second in a series of the artists shortlisted for the Sound Walk September 2021 Awards talking about their work.