In the shadow of Manchester’s tallest buildings lies an estate home to one of the city’s most unique communities. A footbridge over Mancunian Way is all that separates the glittering Deansgate Square development – home to Premier League footballers and social media influencers – from Hulme’s Redbricks estate.
Yet just a short walk from the huge glass towers, life is rather different. While the city center has evolved and expanded beyond recognition over the last decade, the estate has remained untouched. Redbricks, also known as the Bentley House estate, is made up of six rows of art deco flats spread across three streets – Rockdove Avenue, Hunmanby Avenue and Humberstone Avenue.
Built in the aftermath of the Second World War, it has long been home to a proud and thriving community. Unlike the infamous Crescents, the Redbricks survived the redevelopment of Hulme during the 1990s.
In the ensuing years, the estate saw an influx of bohemian artists and activists, some of whom had been squatting in the Crescents. Community gardens were set up, while a bomb shelter beneath the blocks was transformed into an underground cinema and social space – before the council eventually shut it down.
Many of those who live on the estate today were drawn in by its alternative culture and activities. While some say the Redbricks have changed, its radical spirit still burns bright.
As the city center creeps closer, locals have been forced to fight for what they hold dear. In 2019, they successfully fought plans to destroy a treasured green space as part of the £10 million redevelopment of a nearby junction connecting Princess Road, Mancunian Way and Medlock Street.
Manchester Council eventually agreed to spare Rockdove Gardens – home to wildlife and a natural barrier to noise and pollution which has been tended to by the community for more than 40 years.
But with the city’s building boom showing no sign of slowing down, some fear the estate could ultimately disappear. When Gail Duncan moved to the Redbricks estate 14 years ago, its proximity to the city center was one of many things that attracted her.
She explained: “It doesn’t feel like you live in town but it’s the closest you can live without actually being there. Having this green space is amazing. I can take the dog round the block and there’s Hulme Park as well.
“People do a lot to support each other and try to make this a better place.” Over the past few years, Ms Duncan has watched the city centre’s rapid expansion close-up.
The 210m Deansgate Square South Tower – the tallest building in the UK outside of London – and its neighbors the East and West towers were completed in 2020. At first, Ms Duncan was not a fan of the skyscrapers that loomed above the estate, but they have since grown on her.
“I really disliked them when they started going up and they were changing the skyline,” she explained. “Now I kind of like them. In a way, it makes me feel a bit closer to the city centre. Hulme is Brooklyn to Manchester’s Manhattan.”
However, the estate is not without its issues. Its secluded location on the outskirts of the city center has attracted drug users and dealers in the past, according to Ms Duncan.
The Redbricks also suffers from some of the worst congestion and worst air pollution in Greater Manchester, unsurprising given it is sandwiched between Mancunian Way and Princess Road.
Suad Sheikh is originally from Somalia but has lived on the estate for three years. She says the high levels of pollution have taken their toll on her daughter’s health.
“My daughter has become asthmatic since we moved here,” she said. “The pollution is bad. You can hear the traffic even when you close the windows. Other than that, we are happy here.
“The people are friendly and we’ve never had any problems. I can walk into the city center and the bus and tram are close.”
The estate is made up of a mixture of private homeowners and tenants who rent their flats from housing trust One Manchester. Listening to residents speak, it’s clear that many have a deep connection to the Redbricks and are fiercely proud to live there.
Throughout the year, an active tenants and residents association organizes a series of events while a gardening group tends to the community gardens which – despite being somewhat overgrown – are an oasis of calm next to the bustling city centre. During the pandemic, residents organized socially distanced bingo and karaoke nights to stay in touch, while the Redbricks Little Free Library was also set up.
Rosie Mellor came up with the idea of the book exchange, which is situated in Hulme Street, after the city’s libraries were forced to shut down during lockdown. “It was a real community effort,” she said.
“The carpenter who made it lives on the estate and it was painted by people who live here.” Rosie moved into one of the estate’s three-storey blocks with her partner de ella about five years ago and has no intention of leaving any time soon.
“I’ve never lived in a place like this,” she said. “It’s a really special area. It’s such an interesting blend of people. There are people who are here intentionally and people who didn’t have any choice.
“It’s such a tight-knit community and there are so many great initiatives, but that’s not to say we don’t have our problems with anti-social behavior and crime.”
Lewis Armstrong, 26, arrived on the estate from Salford about 18 months ago.
“It’s nice living here,” he said. “It’s as sleepy as you can get and still be in town. Some people keep to themselves but the people I talk to are friendly.”
Although Lewis is a fan of the skyscrapers, he worries that developers could soon cast their eyes across the Mancunian Way. “It doesn’t feel like anyone here has any control,” he said.
“As an aesthetic, I quite like the skyscrapers but eventually it’s going to encroach on us.”
There is a perception among some on the Redbricks estate that they are treated differently to those living in the city centre.” There’s definitely preferential treatment for the new buildings,” said one woman, who asked not to be named.
“People from this estate are actually from Manchester. People from that side aren’t. There are a lot of artists and activists who have been here a long time.
“There aren’t many estates like this, it’s an interesting spot. It’s like it’s frozen in time because we are being built around.
“Some people worry that we’re going to get compulsory purchase though.”
Rob Hayward, 48, dreams of eventually purchasing his rented flat on Humberstone Avenue. A PhD student at the University of Manchester, he only moved to the area two years ago.
“I love it here,” he said. “It’s a really diverse community and it’s close to everything.
“I can walk to the city center, Gay Village, the university campus or I can bike it.”
Although he welcomes the “cleaning up” of the area around Deansgate Square, he too fears for the long-term future of the estate. “It’s really weird having the massive towers overlooking you but it was always a bit of a dump over there,” I explained.
“I’d quite like to buy this flat one day and I’m worried they might start pricing me out. There’s some concern that they are going to move us out at some point and put in another big tower.
“That would be a mistake because this whole area would become a rich enclave.”