In my lonely and arguably romantic wanderings through the wildscape of Kersal Dale, as described and evoked above, a key part of its appeal is the feral nature of its wildness – its progression from ordered and domestic environment to a place overtaken by nature. This is most present in the ruins of the five large houses that occupied that space that are now only evident in the stones, lintels and sections of walls covered in moss and ivy, grown over with trees, like a slightly less dramatic Ta Prohm – the famous section of the Angkor Wat complex in Cambodia where the huge fig and banyan trees ooze evocatively over the temple ruins. Such ruins, as Alice Mah points out ‘are never static objects, but are in a constant state of change across time and space’ (2012, 3). However, one of the appeals of these abandoned stones, in their seat of greenery, is exactly that they seem to represent a slowing down of time - a drip drip of ruination and process - which is distinct from the brutal tearing down and throwing up of buildings in Manchester and Salford. The lope of the many cranes overhead, heralding the economic boom of the cities (so we are told), also heralds a dizzying speeding up and shift of the vital materiality of the buildings that Tim Edensor identifies in his loving consideration of stone as ‘in formation, shedding its previous incarnations as it becomes repositioned and resituatedwithin a host of changing co-constituents and agencies’ (2012, 449).

In the quiet of the Dale, the process of ruination is reassuringly slow, not reminding me, as the literature indicates it might, of my place in the ever changing assemblages of materiality in the world, but rather fixing me in time and in a tranquil moment through what Edensor calls ‘an affective, more-than-visual sensual encounter with materiality’ (2012, 448). My intermedial practice in Kersal Dale often focuses on capturing the intersection of the remains of the houses and the ‘raucous greenery’ that has sprung up and established itself around the abandoned stones. Perhaps this is comparable to the ‘musing on the aesthetics of pleasurable decay’ (2012, 446) that DeSilvey and Edensor identify as characteristic of the ruin-gazing or ruinenlust, popular in the 18th century. Flaubert comments, ‘I love above all the sight of vegetation resting upon old ruins; this embrace of nature, coming swiftly to bury the work of man the moment his hand is no longer there to defend it, fills me with deep and ample joy’ (in Jorgensen and Tylecote 2007, 451) – a felt perspective that chimes with my own. Unlike the ‘work of man’, offered to my vision when I peer over the fence into the flytipped section of the reserve, these reversed intersections, where nature overtakes ‘the work of man’ represent wildness ‘as process, something continually at work in the world, something tumultuous, green, joyous’ (Macfarlane 2007, 234), leading me to gentle imaginings, tinged with a little melancholy, of the lives that were lived here and their intersection with its peaceful but sometimes unnervingly quiet present.

Ruinenlust and Ruination


The swift ruination of Ascension Church was a shocking event – unexplained, unfathomable and indicative of larger, longer processes of ruination, beyond my understanding and control. This redbrick church, built in 1869 was set alight early in 2017, in a suspected arson attack. The roof collapsed and the interior of the building was almost completely destroyed – a fast or ‘new ruin’ (McCauley in DeSilvey and Edensor 2012, 466), both full and somehow also empty of meaning. This swift process of ruination prompted little action on my part, either as a practitioner or a resident. I adjusted my route to avoid the building, I took a little video footage of the shell of the building, but it was just too close – too close for me to be able to form any coherent response to its destruction. As Alice Mah points out, it is proximity that determines an affective relationship to the ruined or processes of ruination and this ‘can be measured in terms of time, physical distance, or wealth’ (in Jorgensen and Tynan 2012, 24). My gentle meanderings and imaginings through the layered landscape of Kersal Dale stand in marked contrast to the rigid period of not-looking, not-passing and trying-not-to-see – the helplessness - which characterised my response to this ruin, which was so close to me in terms of time and physical distance. There is a similar if not quite as sharp response to the slower ruination of Mocha Parade, a slice of ‘devalued capital’ that sits to the south of Broughton, close to Manchester City Centre

In relation to these ‘new ruins’ and their potential redevelopment, some wild imaginings arise of the corridor transformed into communal riverside growing spaces, with the theatre operating as a multi arts venue, meeting place and community hub. The stark reality of development dictated by the needs of the market, developers’ profits and returns to shareholders seems unlikely to deliver this, so what function does imagining have here? Alice Mah indicates both the ambivalence and the importance of imagining in the context of post-industrial communities, suffering from high levels of deprivation, acknowledging that ‘while imagining place may create exaggerated utopian or dystopian visions, it is also a way to facilitate social change’ (2012, 175). That such imaginings are contested ground is a given, in that ‘imaginaries are diverse and contradictory, situated in particular times and places, and linked to different social actors and interests’ (Mah 2012, 194). Equally, as Mah indicates, the act of imagining is also linked to ‘questions of identity, belonging, aspiration, memory, equality, and social justice’ (175). The ‘visions’ (almost in a spiritual sense) of urban developers and the local council, that imagine the glittering future of the city, are linked, as are my more muted creative imaginings, to very particular and situated ‘identities’ and ‘aspirations’. Whether such imaginings ultimately ‘facilitate social change’ is yet to be seen and how they sit within my creative practice with others in this locality is also an ongoing question. However, it is worth noting that when I prompted an imagining of the future of the post-industrial River Irwell on the part of local residents at workshops in Broughton, their ‘visions’ were spectacularly bright, invigorated and full of energy:


In the future, I think there’ll be a lot more people living alongside the river. I think we will continue to make it a more beautiful space that everybody else can enjoy. I’m hoping that there’ll be more wildlife there, which will allow the flowers and the bees and the beautiful insects to take over a little bit more than they do now instead of cutting everything back and I think we will have people fishing there a lot more.


I think the river Irwell will get cleaner and greener and the area around the wetland will become a haven for wildlife and for people that enjoy being closer to nature in such proximity to the inner city. I think it will be beautiful.


The future of the river will be a safe, relaxing community space for people to enjoy. It will be an educational setting, so children can learn about their environment and how to protect it.

Click to play video

Dubbed the ‘neglected shopping precinct that time forgot’ (Keeling 2018) by the Manchester Evening News, Mocha Parade was built in the early 1970s and has persisted in that space since then, becoming slowly more neglected and dilapidated, while all around it has changed. The shops on the ground level are topped by tinned up flats, which are covered in graffiti, rubbish and pioneer plants, sprouting bravely from the dilapidation. Sitting opposite the also currently abandoned Victoria Theatre, which played out its most recent role as a bingo hall in 2008 and now is also falling into ruin, a corridor of dereliction is formed. The theatre contains a beautiful Victorian auditorium, which a trust is now attempting to save from destruction (or redevelopment). Equally, Mocha Parade has a tight community of local shopkeepers who ply their trade beneath the abandoned flats above. These ruins are not simple – as DeSilvey and Edensor point out - they have different meanings for different people, revealing ‘social and cultural values and commitments that become legible through the different narratives that ruins are asked to carry’ (2012, 467). For me, Mocha Parade carries a narrative of neglect and entropy – a kind of given-up, ‘what’s the point?’ feeling that is embodied in the fact that it has been allowed to persist in its current state, without intervention. For others though, the Parade is a community, a livelihood, and is threatened by the redevelopment that now looks likely will happen in the near future: ‘One person sees a derelict lot, another sees wildlife habitat. One sees a painful reminder of a colonial past, another sees affirmation of a glorious history. An artist sees abstract beauty while a resident sees painful abandonment. A squatter sees a home whereas a neighbour sees an eyesore. (DeSilvey and Edensor 2012, 479). In this sense, ruins take on the meanings you want them to embody – they soak up affective and critical responses, reflecting what you feel and see in the ruin back to you.


This sits in marked contrast with another ruin a short walk from my home.

Someone has torched the church on Ascension Road – that church that I used to walk past every day, on my way to work, admiring its red brick solidity and the beauty of its proportions, the daffodils in the grounds in spring, the open door and offerings left there. I struggle to understand why anyone would do this, but why do I think that I should ‘understand’? Why would I have any sense of that? The idea that we all have affinity, that we share values, that we think and feel similarly is just wrong.

I think the Irwell in the future will be a great public amenity – I think it will open up and you will be able to walk along it from Manchester right through to Bolton and I think it will be an incredible place – like a big outdoor park. People will enjoy it and hopefully, respect it. That’s what I think it will be in the future.


I think the river is such a source of life for the future and development. I love the fact that it’s now quite clean and it’s a place for people to be able to relax because we live in such a stressful world. It is an environment that allows you to de-stress – a wonderful environment. There’s so much to see, there’s so much life, there’s so much beauty around and I think rivers map the basic landscape and give the borders to different areas within our country