On May 21 it will be five years since I stood on the steps outside of HOME with Danny Boyle and Sir Richard Leese when they declared the building open in front of 5,000 Mancunians, it only seems like yesterday. Over five days we welcomed 28,000 Manchester residents into the building to 112 events, worked with 750 young people, 100 artists, 143 musicians, 70 volunteers, spoke to 175 journalists and sold 400 outdoor pizzas!
It was a very busy, exhausting, beautiful and amazing few days, that lead to a very busy year and it has been non-stop ever since. After the opening weekend I was regularly asked how I was feeling about it all and the questioners were often surprised when I said the overwhelming sense was of relief.
Relief that people had actually turned up. Relief that the building worked. Relief that people where making a place of First Street. I felt like this because from the moment the project was announced many people told me, our Board, and our stakeholders that ‘no one will go to that part of the city centre, no one’, ‘First Street is nowhere’. They were also concerned because HOME was being constructed to house a new organisation formed from the merger of the Library Theatre Company and Cornerhouse. They were both much-loved organisations with loyal audiences and strong artistic track records and their audiences were invested in them and worried for their future in the new iteration. When we announced the new name for the merged organisation, HOME, this added to the concern of many. As HOME was a project green-lit at the start of austerity and no other council in the UK was even thinking about building an arts centre at that time, the level of civic risk was significant. So the pressure was on and made sure that every person our team understood the responsibility; we had to do everything in our power to make this work.
As custodians for the legacy of the two parent organisations, the Library Theatre Company and Cornerhouse, we realised that we had to do whatever we could to take people on the journey with us, after all, we cared as much about these two Manchester institutions as they did. The Library Theatre Company was homeless following the refurbishment of the Central Library and Cornerhouse occupied buildings that were reaching the end of their life and were not fit for purpose. It was also clear that both organisations needed to change with the grain of contemporary arts practice, audiences and stakeholder expectations. So the reality was that both organisations were very vulnerable at that time and this project offered not only an important lifeline but a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hit the reset button and reach out to new audiences.
As the project developed, we took listening to our audiences very seriously. We worked with our architects, Mecanoo, and wider design team on making sure that the DNA of the Library Theatre Company and Cornerhouse was reflected in the design of the new building at the same time as designing a building for the future needs of audiences and artists. There were many site tours, conversations and surveys with our audiences and artists, that not only informed the design of the building but also the name and how we thought about the programme.
Less than five years after the first phone call, we opened on time and on budget. In our first year, we attracted in the region of 1m visitors and had an economic impact of over £23m on the Manchester economy, we have never looked back. The people of our city laid claim to HOME, their building, and made it their own. It is a tribute to the huge team of people within the council, funders, sponsors, contractors, sub-contractors, artists and staff who worked hard to make it happen. More than anything, it is a tribute to the people of our city, our audiences, participants, donors, and volunteers, who have made HOME a place, a living room in the city. HOME is only five years old yet it is built into the fabric of the city.
When we closed our doors on March 16 for the Covid-19 lockdown we had completed an amazing year with our best ever visitor figures. One week later I walked out of HOME with the final few of our team members after mothballing the building that had dominated 10 years of my working life, and that of many of my team, and moved to working at home. It was all a bit emotional and was made even more so by the outpouring of generosity and love for HOME from our audiences and donors but…
I know that we will be back and I hope soon. I know that our audiences and artists will be back with us. I know that we have a job to do in helping the city recover. I know that we will need to help rebuild emotional and artistic confidence. I know that we have a job to do helping our key workers recover. I know that we can and will help and work with young people and vulnerable people. I know that we have work to do helping arts organisations, artists and creatives come out the other side of this. I know that we will play our part in combating climate change. I also know that we will not be the same as before, we are not going back to what was normal. In some cases this is because we can’t go back because society and the economy have changed and in other cases what we had before needed to change. The future for all of us is almost certainly going to be a bloody huge challenge and test of our resilience, tolerance, community spirit, creativity and energy but we can and will get through this stronger. I know this because I work in Manchester, the personification of resilience, and work alongside of a brilliant team of people. We are planning our return.
Director & CEO