Route canal

Lighting Designers Chris Lowe and Nick Meddows explore the transformative power of lighting in reclaiming neglected areas of Manchester.

Manchester, known as the “Venice of the north” for its extensive canal network, has faced challenges with neglected areas, particularly the Piccadilly Undercroft along Rochdale Canal. However, a recent temporary lighting installation has shed light on the potential of this space and paved the way for its revitalisation.

Preserving Manchester’s Canal Heritage

Manchester’s rich canal heritage, a testament to the Industrial Revolution, still weaves its way through the city, including Piccadilly Basin, Ashton and Bridgewater Canals, and the iconic Canal Street. However, as urban development continues, pockets of darkness and undesirability emerge. Recognising the need to address these challenges, forward-thinking developers and organisations such as The Canal and River Trust have embraced lighting as a solution to restore these spaces.

Illumination as a Catalyst for Change

Lighting installations transcend the purpose of illuminating the darkness; they possess the power to bring security, activity, and vibrancy to once undesirable and unsafe areas. By effectively integrating lighting technologies, Manchester’s neglected spaces can be transformed into welcoming, secure, and accessible places for all to enjoy. These installations aim to create striking visual effects, employing innovative designs that captivate and enliven; adding to the allure of Manchester’s waterways.

The Undercroft’s Dilemma

Among the spaces at risk of being lost within Manchester’s canal network is the Undercroft area of Rochdale Canal, located just steps away from Piccadilly Station. This unique underground space has fallen victim to neglect and has become synonymous with crime and anti-social behavior. Concealed from view and challenging to maintain, it has evoked caution among residents and visitors, especially during night time.

A Glimpse of Transformation

In March, the Canal & River Trust launched the “Transformation Through Light” project, inviting the community to witness a temporary lighting installation that aimed to reimagine the Undercroft. Generously sponsored by Studiotech, the event offered a safer and inviting atmosphere, demonstrating the potential of the space when invested in and cared for appropriately. This initiative not only sought to illuminate the Undercroft physically but also kindled the imagination of attendees, encouraging them to share their ideas for the future development of the area.

James Long, engagement manager for the Canal & River Trust, expressed excitement about hosting these transformative light events in the Undercroft. He emphasized the importance of preserving these unique spaces, highlighting the tranquility and mental well-being benefits that waterfront areas offer. He emphasised the need to ensure the accessibility, safety, and enjoyment of these special places for present and future generations.

Manchester’s canal network serves as a valuable historical asset, yet certain areas have fallen into disrepair, jeopardising their cultural significance and public use. By harnessing the power of lighting, neglected spaces such as the Piccadilly Undercroft can be revived, ensuring safety, enhancing aesthetics, and fostering community engagement. The successful temporary lighting installation has laid the foundation for future investments and discussions surrounding the transformation of this part of the city. Ultimately, by prioritising the revitalisation of these neglected spaces, Manchester can preserve its canal heritage and create vibrant, inclusive environments for all to enjoy for generations.

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