In March 2020, Manchester went into the first national lockdown, and would remain in a state of lockdown until the following year. At that time, the Manchester City of Literature team had only been working together for a matter of weeks. In response to the state of crisis that our city, along with its communities, their libraries, bookshops, schools, and favourite places to read and write found themselves in, we created a large scale project to support Manchester’s Literature scene as best we could: A City Connects.
In response to the need identified by our partners to amplify their digital offer, in April 2020, in just over a week, we created the A City Connects website to support any and all activity from the partnership network as it moved online. From its launch to the retirement of the site in December 2020, there were over 150 events listed from our publishers, spoken word nights, book launches, readings and more. In that time, more than 4000 visitors used the site as a way to find out how to stay connected with the world of literature in Manchester from home.
We can find community in stories, in conversation and in learning that we are not as isolated as we thought. Literature can be the heart of this connectedness- it’s what brings us together. In a world that is changing at break-neck speed, where we carry out social distancing for the good of public health, how do we stay connected?
Manchester City of Literature is inspired by the possibilities that still exist for our city to bring people together. You’ll find everything that’s going on on the A City Connects site, whether you’re a reader, a writer, you want to support independent publishers or are looking for something to entertain you or young children.
– The introduction to the original A City Connects website
The A City Connects site connected not just the locals, but the wider City of Literature network, attracting people from Russia, Australia, Canada, South America, all across Europe, South Africa, New Zealand and beyond! We hosted key events on there too, including:
- Slamovision global spoken word competition, when poet Jardel Rodrigues brought the joint crown home to Manchester along with Quebec City of Literature!
- For South Asian Heritage Month July-August we interviewed seven writers of South Asian heritage on their writing practice and created a reading list of their favourites to accompany the celebrations
- We launched the first Manchester Book Fair in November 2020 to support book sales direct from independent publishers, featuring twelve Manchester publishers to guide us through their insider knowledge and insight into the best reads and recommendations. You can still watch the videos over on our YouTube channel.
- The Hook project where we paired up contemporary writing groups with a text local to Manchester to create new work, which you can still watch exclusive discussions with partners like Commonword and the International Anthony Burgess Foundation below.
A City Connects was always much more than just a website. As well as featuring events on the site, there were projects born out of our desire to join up the literature offering in the city during such a difficult time, many of which were developed around the idea of writing for wellbeing. These included:
- Creative writing workshops for vulnerable adults in partnership with The Men’s Room by writer and therapist Jane Bradley
- Workshops on resilience with writer and coach Shamshad Khan for female writers of South Asian Heritage
- Commissions for three creative writing activity packs by writers Nicole May, James Varney and Cheryl Martin
- Literature activities were distributed across the city as part of the GMCA Creative Care Kits
- Spoken word night Our City Speaks in partnership with Contact Theatre, Young Identity and United We Stream, fundraising to support Manchester’s nightlife as it closed during the pandemic
- Connectedness Through Comics: we commissioned local comic artist Ian Bobb to create a comic strip that was used in workshops with 42nd Street as part of a project to discuss the effects of the pandemic on young people. The same comic was workshopped with young people in Nanjing City of Literature to show how we are all connected in our feelings of isolation during this time.
In Manchester City of Literature’s first year as a team, it was a year none of us could have predicted. But we believe it shows the strength of the partnership that all of this activity to support each other, the local community and literature scene was still able to go ahead and feel it’s something we should all be proud of.