Emily Oldfield, Manchester Metropolitan University
Exploring alternative culture, encountering hidden histories and combining academic research with powerful, public-facing online content is at the heart of HAUNT Manchester – the website and network showcasing Greater Manchester’s mysterious side, informed by research at Manchester Metropolitan University and hosted by Visit Manchester.
HAUNT Manchester celebrates the work of three research groups in particular at Manchester Met: the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies, Encountering Corpses and the Manchester Centre for Public History and Heritage (MCPHH). These centres’ varied and eclectic research underpins HAUNT’s public-facing content, with the website hosted as a subsection of the Visit Manchester site, which is the leading tourism portal for the city. Having featured everything from in-depth histories of the city’s music venues to exploring artistic responses to the area, HAUNT functions as a platform for connecting residents of, and visitors to, Greater Manchester with alternative social and cultural histories of place.
We have tried to provide a refreshing, even surprising, contrast to the typical journalistic approaches to representing the city and its boroughs. Articles that exemplify the unique approach of HAUNT include an in-depth interview with award-winning writer Benjamin Myers on the ‘dark power of the North’, guides to heritage locations including The John Rylands Library, Ordsall Hall and Victoria Baths, and a consideration of hidden burial grounds in the city. Working to celebrate the work of the MCPHH research centre, for example, HAUNT is also covering Greater Manchester’s Peterloo 2019 commemorations – with Dr Michala Hulme significantly involved in the Peterloo Descendants project and Dr Shirin Hirsch a researcher at The People’s History Museum.
The range of content covered on HAUNT allows the local, as well as visiting, public to engage with alternative histories and culture of the county by shining a light on the often uncelebrated and under-represented. The website and network also provides a platform for the work of academics across the research centres, featuring news of book launches, symposiums and conferences – with the academics themselves able to write for HAUNT if desired.
Salford and Rochdale have been two of the boroughs focused on so far. Informed by the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies, an article on the history of Rochdale Town Hall and its future for the community generated significant local response, shaping the prospects of further involvement in Rochdale, including a role in co-organising a Halloween event there this year. HAUNT also has social connections in Salford that have grown through collaborations with Ordsall Hall and the Not Quite Light Festival.
As it encounters and covers Greater Manchester, HAUNT Manchester gains contacts and connections that it curates, too, as a network. It therefore serves the double objective of engaging the work of the research groups with a public audience whilst also celebrating the work of wider network members including local creatives and businesses. The network involves various cultural organisations across Manchester, as well as further afield. This in turn drives content creation and ongoing cultural relationships, with HAUNT celebrating the work of network members including Grimmfest, Manchester Murder Mystery events, Flecky Bennett Ghost Tours, and the initiative is a proud supporter of The Sophie Lancaster Foundation. HAUNT Manchester further shares its work and connections via its social media channels on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Considering its social engagement, HAUNT Manchester functions not only as a platform for articles, but also features event listings and is involved in curating multiple bespoke events and bookable content. The direction provided by the research centres again means that these are events with a typically unusual approach, many providing an alternative encounter with social history and allowing audiences to perceive place from different, unusual perspectives. Just some examples include involvement within the Gothic Manchester Festival, the Encountering Corpses symposia and Manchester Folk Horror Festival.
This approach means that HAUNT does not simply revisit past stories of place. As the main writer for the site, I have instead integrated these histories with a celebration if the social history of the present. This process can be seen as a form of Creative Placemaking – that is, one that has made Greater Manchester Gothic. As HAUNT Manchester continues to grow and expand, this yields the prospect of unearthing even more hidden histories and secret stories, while celebrating the communities that it serves.
About the Author: Dr Emily Oldfield is the editor and main writer for HAUNT Manchester. The project was conceived and launched by Helen Darby (Research Impact and Public Engagement Senior Manager at Manchester Metropolitan University) with Dr Matt Foley (Lecturer in English at Manchester Metropolitan University) as Academic Lead.