New Islington Marina - image credit: Jane Williams
Living on a canal barge I'm aware that 'pound' has two meanings, not only currency but also a stretch of canal between two locks. I'm a Trans woman. My home isn't on dry land, it floats. Its location, New Islington Marina, is close to Manchester's city centre and home not only to myself and husband, but also thirty seven other families. It lies in the pound between lock 82 and Butler Lane Locks. In a way it is a Pink Pound. The marina community and surrounding apartments is home to every letter in the LGBT alphabet. There is an important reason for this.
Paul Allen, a Gay friend recalled to me a trip made to Boston in 2009. He found himself sitting next to a man from Philadelphia returning to the U.S. He relates
"The passenger and I started a conversation, during which he told me about his business trip to Manchester. He was from a State planning committee on an investigation to see how Manchester City Council had used the Pink Pound/LGBT communities to regenerate the city centre. He was so impressed with how successful this had been he was going to encourage the same process for American cities".
The Millennium Community of New Islington grew up around the Marina. In the early noughties, the council's strategy of using brownfield sites for new build housing was focussed here. An ambitious project to create over a thousand new homes was put forward with an array of properties from new builds to residential conversions of old mills. The marina with its colourful boats, afloat in a little park, provided a central focus for this new development. As so often happens with regenerated waterside locations, gentrification soon began. With the pioneering boat dwellers established, creative young professionals moved in. Among these were substantial numbers from Manchester's LGBT community. In neighbouring Ancoats, the quaintly named General Store carries Attitude Magazine, Diva and Gay Times as well as an amazing selection of designer teas. It is easy to stereotype our community, but such a product range signals an affluent new Gay population with money to spend; those pink pound coins provide the basis for artisanal restaurants, eclectic bars and high end interior design.
However, the stereotypical affluent Gay couple with a cute dog and lots of money can be misleading. In reality the LGBT community here on the Marina is diverse and far from rich. We do not work in media consultancies or bespoke interior design studios. Many of us work in Manchester's low paid hospitality industry. Trans individuals like myself can suffer an huge drop in income when they come out. A qualified professional, I found it impossible to get paid work after beginning transition. I was instead compelled to work on a minimal wage. My bi-gender partner has fared little better. Having lived in a narrow minded and puritanical North Wales town, suffering transphobia, workplace discrimination and harassment, moving to Manchester was a flight to a place of refuge, not exactly a stepping stone to assured affluence.
I had never owned my own flat or had a place that felt like home. To me, home means a place to feel safe, a haven of acceptance and belonging; somewhere you can sleep at night without worrying about 'passing', being outed or hated. New Islington Marina, a harbour for up to 40 canalboats became that haven when I moved here in July 2016. Both myself and my husband found a close knit community we could finally call home. Moving from rented accommodation to a canal barge, we bought our first home from a lesbian couple who were moving to Skye. It provided a low cost starting point for our new business, Northern Grind. Aware of Manchester's reputation as a street food capital we set up a mobile barista company, trading in Manchester's many LGBT events. It was a decision we haven't regretted. The response has been amazing and our business is beginning to flourish. For me, the Pink Pound is both my home and my livelihood. I am part of Manchester's hospitality industry and contribute to local wealth generation. This is something I want to hang on to dearly.
Successful as the Pink Pound has been in regenerating post industrial Manchester's rust belt, there are alarming signs of corrosion. Last month saw an unexpected turn of events for all 38 of the Marina's residents. We received letters from Manchester City Council informing us that repairs to the Marina would mean eviction at the end of August. It was made clear that there would be no guaranteed return even after a 12 to 18 month closure period. A once safe, secure and supportive community is now facing displacement and disintegration. It seems like the Pink Pound, essential in pioneering the area's renaissance, is now no longer good currency with the City Council. Intent on handing the Marina over to a faceless, commercial management company the council now risk the jobs, homes and security of a whole community.
For me as a Trans woman, I face the very real possibility of a forced return to stealth and living in the closet. I risk losing my newly founded street food business and my home in the city that sustains it.
The marina residents are pledged to fight this decision which imperils their very livelihood and safety. Their resident's association: NIMRA is working hard to change it so that the community can remain. Their slogan 'Divided we Sink, United we Float' sums up how strong the feeling is and how devastating the loss of their homes would be.
You can find out more about the campaign and how to show your support here: