Arrive Awesome: Why Manchester rocks

Susie Stubbs

Virgin Trains is running a competition designed to highlight the old north-south divide. So of course we went along for the ride…

This week we were asked by Virgin Trains to describe all the things we love about Manchester. It wasn’t a random ask: the trains company is in the midst of a new “Arrive Awesome” campaign – which has two Twitter-powered trains racing against each other. One train is being cheered on by the north, while the other – you guessed it – has the support of the south. Ah, north-south divide; you old chestnut. So, naturally, when it came to highlighting the good things about Manchester, Virgin Trains came to us.

But when we sat down to make our list, we found ourselves stuck. Sure, we could talk about a political history that changed the world. Yes, we could skip through Manchester’s musical credentials, from its three orchestras to England’s “most innovative nightclub” (that’s the Warehouse Project, people). And, yes, we could talk about an art scene that ranges from new work found within a former office block (AKA Federation House) to the high-end delights of Manchester Art Gallery – but while all of the above are undeniably good, they alone are not what make Manchester great.

So we thought about the city’s theatre scene, buoyed up by our Maxine at the Royal Exchange, and we thought about the weather (we always think about the weather) and the food and all the libraries that make Manchester a bibliophile’s dream. But nope, those things didn’t quite do it either. Was it the piecemeal architecture, the gems such as IWM North or the John Rylands Library, which stand tall among the industrial relics? Was it Manchester’s proximity to coast and country, to Wales or the Lakes, to the pubs and the Peaks, that make urban life here just that bit better?

Yes, and no. Because the truth is there is no one thing that makes Manchester great. It is not the best, or the biggest, or the most brilliant. For those convinced that it never stops raining here – well, it’s not even the wettest. But what Manchester does have is an attitude, a sense of industry, and a sort of creative, collaborative approach to anything from the discovery of graphene to the setting up of a feminist art festival that means that interesting things happen here.

It’s a place that’s got it all going on, from the stellar names of Manchester International Festival to the back-room stage of the Castle Hotel. It’s big enough to be busy but small enough to feel like home. It’s ambitious enough to have ideas and close-knit enough for those ideas to come to fruition, usually over a drink and usually via a conversation that ends with the phrase, “shall we just give it a go, then?”.

“Yes”, comes the reply. “Yes. Why not? Go on then.”

So that’s what makes Manchester great: the sum of its parts, all those buildings and museums and galleries and music venues, all those clever, creative people, and all those curious minds doing curious things. The joy of living in or visiting Manchester today is, of course, that without too much trouble you too can have a slice of all that’s going on. Yes, you. Why not?

Go on then.

Get involved: Join the @VirginTrains Twitter race using the hashtag #ArriveAwesome and vote for the northern train by including #TheNorth in your tweet, and you could win a year’s worth of First Class travel anywhere in the UK. That’s a whole year’s worth of free peanuts and those super-shiny headrests, right? The competition is currently running, and ends on Sunday 28 September when, we hope, handkerchiefs will be waved as the northern Twitter train rolls to a victorious stop.

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