MediaCity is a large-scale regeneration project in progress. It is home to the BBC, ITV, Imperial War Museum North, University of Salford, over 270 digital and creative businesses and thousands of residents and over the next decade will see investment of up to £1 billion to double the size of the site. However, it has yet to solidify its place in the hearts and minds of Salford and Manchester locals as a vibrant waterfront destination and great place to live, work, learn and socialise. In short – MediaCity has needed some help finding its purpose; one that turns it from a development and a property brand to a real place; home to its community, a destination for culture and tourism and a hub for business and skills.
Over the course of a 4 year relationship with MediaCity (during which it has changed majority ownership from Peel to Landsec), we’ve developed strategy, vision and activations to address all of these – to help bring it some soul, generate positive social impact and shape public perceptions of the place.
A Place Brand
In 2019, our first project with MediaCity was to work on a placebrand in conjunction with local agency Modern Designers. The aim was to define and articulate the purpose of MediaCity as a place – going beyond existing development ambitions to uncover what it means to people – now and in the future.
As well as plenty of research covering local history, market research, stakeholder mapping, culture mapping and competitor analysis, we carried out engagement to gain insight into perceptions from those already spending time in the area, as well as a digital survey (1200+ responses) to assess external perceptions from a wider audience.
Based on this knowledge we developed a narrative based on seven pillars that define MediaCity in a way that sets it apart everywhere else. By aligning all future actions with these pillars, MediaCity can both live up to its brand purpose and have a meaningful positive impact on both external perceptions and the lived experience of its communities.
The Pandemic Hits
With the place brand in the development phase, Covid-19 hit. Having got to know the place and the team, we were keen to work with them on a project that could offer something to their community. Together, we conceived Box on the Docks to support local hospitality businesses and local artists through the Covid-19 pandemic. In a year of ‘unprecedented’ times, the speed at which this project took off and was delivered was truly remarkable.
The concept was to create self-contained dining pods, each decorated by a local artist, allowing visitors to return to Media City safely and attend their favourite bars and restaurants whilst socially distancing.
Within two months, alongside the MediaCityUK team, we zoomed, we discussed, we researched, we designed, we branded, we curated, we produced and we launched. Thirty sheds and greenhouses were installed on site and fifteen local artists commissioned to decorate them. The visual identity, produced by HemingwayDesign, was applied across the site and social channels. There were partnerships with BBC Sounds, CBeebies and the venue was even host to a socially distanced wedding!
Box on the Docks doubled footfall at MediaCity and has helped raise awareness of MediaCity as a cultural and social destination. The project has not only added local colour and flair to the place, but it provided the public and local residents with a free, exciting and unique new attraction to visit at a time when it was most needed.
The concept is now a long term placemaking brand at MediaCity and a core part of their winter activity programming. We were especially proud of this project as an immediate situational reaction – at a time when all of us as citizens wanted to ‘do something’ to address the fallout of the pandemic, the idea of supporting artists and the hospitality industry whilst providing a free cultural attraction for people in Salford Quays was a fantastic project to get our teeth into. Our project partners Peel as well as all of the brilliant local businesses, artists and individuals who made this happen so quickly under extreme circumstances all deserve a big pat on the back for a job very well done. Box on the Docks won Best Placemaking Project at the Insider North West Property Awards in October 2021.
After delivering the place brand and Box On The Docks we were asked by MediaCity to use our understanding of the place and put their new purpose into practice with a placemaking strategy for the places and places of MediaCity that responds to, and helps to deliver against, the pillars of the nascent place brand. This was a strategy to cover public realm enhancements, activating the underutilised waterfront, animating public spaces, and creating opportunities for social and entrepreneurial activity. The strategy identifies a series of proposals to be delivered in the short term (meanwhile activations and ‘quick-wins’), medium and long-term.
2022 – a large scale placemaking festival
Back in 2019, in a workshop with local workers and residents, someone said to us “I was watching Who Do you Think you Are on the telly and the weekend was invented here”. What a claim! We did some research and found out it was true – a Salford-based workers rights activist called Robert Lowes (who also happens to be Sir Ian McKellen’s great great grandfather) led a campaign to allow workers to finish early on Saturdays to give everyone more free time. And with that, the weekend was born.
This felt like a story worth telling – and what better way to tell the world that with a new, bold and imaginative free festival for the North, celebrating all the ways we fill our free time in the very place the weekend was invented!
We Invented the Weekend raised over £350,000 in year 1 and has fantastic partners including the BBC, The Lowry, the University of Salford, Eat Well MCR, HOST, Ipsos, The Open University, the Royal Horticultural Society, Salford Community Leisure, Salford City Council, Salford CVS, Sounds From the Other City, the Science and Industry Museum, Unity Radio, the University of Manchester and hundreds of community organisations from all regions of the city. And then on the eve of the festival with all stages built, the artist and performers rehearsing and the delivery team on site, Queen Elizabeth passed away. Unfortunately we had to cancel the event…with all the money spent!
Thankfully, the partners rallied round and in June 2023 the inaugural We Invented the Weekend took place throwing open all MediaCity and Salford Quays’ spaces and places to over 60,000 people (massively smashing all Media City footfall records) to celebrate the joy of free time with a programme over 270 free activities including sports, music, greening and gardening, theatre, dance, workshops, talks, food, charity, wellness, crafts and more. By bringing people to the space, activating the water, celebrating the history, and filling the place with creativity, culture and community activity, this event brilliantly communicates all of MediaCity values, lives up to its vision and activates the placemaking strategy.