I didn’t really know I was Mancunian until I left the city.
I arrived at university in 2015 and quickly discovered I had an accent. Short vowel sounds and asking if people wanted owt from the shop distinguished me from my peers, and I began to realise that I wasn’t just British or English, but Manc. To new people who had so much in common (reading Virgil, having a second home, anecdotes from far-flung gap years), I didn’t know whether this was a good thing. I overcompensated by leaning into Peter Kay impressions and kept quiet about my roots.
I knew what being from Manchester meant to others: Oasis, Coronation Street and lots of rain. It would take me a few years to figure out what being Mancunian meant to me.
“Aunties arrived with complaints and cousins with stories about who’d done them wrong. All left feeling lighter.”
When my brother and I were small, we spent each Saturday at Nanna and Grandad’s while my parents worked overtime. They lived at 11 Anita Street in Ancoats, and we’d rock up for one of two breakfast staples: a bacon butty (real butter, thick white bread) or tea and biscuits (rich tea, custard creams, bourbons).
I played ‘cars’ and ‘shop’ with my cousin on the carpet, privy to the conversations Nanna had with her visitors. Her door was always open, the teapot always hot, and family and friends ventured over from neighbouring streets for a chat. Aunties arrived with complaints and cousins with stories about who’d done them wrong. All left feeling lighter.
I started asking Dad about his childhood more when I came home from uni at the end of term. I knew the iconic stories by heart: Nanna (a chambermaid) met Grandad (a guest) whilst working at a holiday site in the Isle of Man. They went their separate ways but kept in touch by way of love letters – which we still have in the loft – before reuniting and having four kids.
“Twenty pence. This same person was Eton-educated and lived off a trust fund.”
Dad shared dozens of snippets. Like Little Italy’s Harry Tiani, who let him paint the fruit and veg barras for Cross Street, “just so that we felt included and he could help us out a bit financially.” Or trotting over to the Ice Works (now known as the trendy Cutting Room Square) at nine o’clock at night to be given free ice cream from kind people like Marco Rea. Or the time Dad was saving for a motorbike, and Nanna gave him half the money towards a proper car, just so he’d buy a less dangerous vehicle. It was always “I’ll pay you back”, Dad said, but if you did, you’d get it back twice over. Nanna believed that the last bits of cash under the mattress could solve any family crisis, and they often did.
After student nights out in Oxford, we would go to the same kebab van for cheesy chips on the way home. One time, I was twenty pence short and a friend gave me his spare change. The next morning, I wandered into his room and he immediately reminded me that I owed him money.
Twenty pence. This same person was Eton-educated and lived off a trust fund.
“Our Anita Street address had been the centre of it all, and the crystal chandelier and sheepskin throws felt as important as the lives we’d shared and lost there.”
When Nanna was dying from ovarian cancer, I didn’t want to think about it. Her final weeks were all-consuming, and the only way I could help was by caring for Dad. He would come back from Anita Street each night and I made him different variations of “fun teas”. Through jacket potatoes with cheese, beans and brown sauce, or cheese and ham omelettes with ketchup in the shape of a smiley face, I tried to show him that I was there for him now and would be forever. I tried to start filling the hole that would be left when she was gone.
By 2017, both Nanna and Grandad had passed away and the question of what would happen to the flat arose. Our Anita Street address had been the centre of it all, and the crystal chandelier and sheepskin throws felt as important as the lives we’d shared and lost there.
My brother and his girlfriend moved in, stripping it back to the bare bones, even drilling to expose the old bricks. They made the place their own with stylish Scandinavian finds from Ebay and Etsy, creating new warmth and new memories. Only the dodgy toilet flush or scalding bathroom tap remained to transport us back to the old days.
“If my Mancunian identity stems from a family so warm and giving, then I realise I can share it with everyone I meet. There is an abundance to go around.”
Aged twenty-one and heartbroken, I offered to dog-sit at the newly renovated flat to be helpful. In reality, I just wanted to be in his space. I had so many questions about who I wanted to be and where I should go next, and I knew deep down I would find the answers if left alone in the Anita Street flat.
Today I live in Brixton, south London, a place filled with vibrant Caribbean stalls, incense, and optimism. But Manchester is never far from my thoughts. I think about the way I can look at the community from afar and write a little snapshot. I think about how my life is so different from those in my family that came before me. I think about Mum and Dad wanting to give me what they didn’t have: A-levels, a degree. I think about wanting to write something Dad can be proud of. And I think about him taking all my Depop orders to the post office without ever asking for the shipping costs.
Before writing, I asked Dad if he could think of any specific stories that would illustrate my Nanna’s kindness. “It’s just the whole way”, he said. I see this warmth as I scroll through the Ancoats Forever and Manchester Memories pages on Facebook; strangers acting like family as they share jokes or pray for a loved one’s health.
It’s the look I know is on both of our faces as I meet a fellow Mancunian outside of the city, exchanging tales from teenage dreams in Affleck’s and Factory aged eighteen. It’s spotting Anita Street on TV adverts and screaming and scrambling for the remote to pause and take a photo and tell everyone why it matters.
If my Mancunian identity stems from a family so warm and giving, then I realise I can share it with everyone I meet. There is an abundance to go around, and if you have felt loved and safe and cared for others, then you’re Manc, too.
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