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Barton Arcade

I found myself in Manchester this week. Back ‘home’ in Manchester.

It’s a visit which has inspired this blog – a personal blog with an organisational message.

Since 1987 I have resided in London – Clapham to be precise. Our capital is where I have built my life, career & business and it never ceases to give me a thrill (see Noticing from a few years ago). I’ve dashed in and out of Manchester on business a couple of times in the last decade – and obviously have visited family in Lancashire on many occasions – but this was the first time in over 30 years that I had an hour or two to wander around the city by myself.

The ‘by myself’ is crucial to this story. For I had done it before.

I grew up in a Lancashire village about which I had (and have) markedly mixed feelings. I’ve blogged before about the attitudes of some people up there and how they shaped me.

My repeat habit in my mid-late teens was to jump on a train from Kirkham which took me all the way to Manchester Victoria. Inner city life in the very early 80s was quite an eye opener for me – a contrast to the sheltered existence in a Fylde village where I had learnt little or nothing about the real world. The contrasts in the urban world that I  pulled into at Victoria were stark, exciting, challenging and ones which I loved.

For Manchester was not having the easiest of times. That was clear. But its spirit was alive.

I suppose exploring the cities – for I would explore Salford too –  was a ‘dry run’ for launching myself onto London a few years later.

I’d wander around, hang out in and near Affleck’s Palace (where I bought the long-coat which was the mainstay of my wardrobe throughout my student years), browse the record stores and that underground arcade next to the Arndale. My favourite area however was around the Royal Exchange, the Barton Arcade and St Ann’s Square. I found a cafe where I could sit, chat to the occasional person, enjoy a cup of tea and a barm cake. And escape.

I see them as simple and yet very formative experiences in a place which I had found for myself and which felt like a home. Every time I made the train journey I would end up in that cafe. I’d be content.  In contrast my heart would sink when I knew I had to trudge back to the station and trundle through the mill towns back to that village.

St Anns-2

There’s a reason I am putting pen to paper. Manchester has changed of course – for good reasons and as a result of an evil act. My ‘home’ has been altered and reshaped. But the vibe, the Mancunian cheerfulness and a few of the old haunts are still there. And, as I did something as simple as sauntering down from Piccadilly to Deansgate this week, I had tingles running up and down my spine. I couldn’t stop smiling. The energy hit me again. The memories flooded back.  It was never where I lived but I realise now that I made those journeys because it felt like home.

I also realise that I feel that way about one place where I worked:  I long for the experience and culture of PW Management Consultants in the mid-late 90s. I think about it all the time. I’ve never found it anywhere else. That part of my career was formative and seriously developmental. I bumped into a couple of former colleagues the other day and the vibe & energy around the conversation was equally as energising for me. That also felt like coming home.

Given what I do for a living it shouldn’t surprise you that, on the train back from Manchester on Thursday, I was reflecting on the conditions we might create in our organisations so that people feel at home, can be themselves and will want to return – in fact are excited when they do. Cultures where people can simply belong.

Back to my Manchester experience……

I couldn’t quite find the precise spot where that cafe welcomed me – I walked round and round. I thought it must have gone. Then suddenly I wandered behind St Ann’s Church into a, now unremarkable, corner.

Behind St Anns

I might be wrong but I think it used to be there – just where that new building has gone up on the far right. I sat and stared at that corner for quite some time – trying to get my bearings. I had such a surge of energy and nostalgia.

I will now go back with my partner and walk around those streets once more. I want to point out where I used to hang out. Where I used to wander around as a slightly isolated teenager who found a place he could feel at home.

(Photos by me as usual – but just snatched on my iPhone)