The Skyliner is a blog founded by urban enthusiast Hayley Flynn, featuring articles about unusual and under appreciated architectural features in Manchester and Liverpool, as well as about the history of these cities; with Hayley referring to Manchester as “the original modern city” and Liverpool as “the gateway to the world”. The Skyliner has also expanded into tours and events, with a successful exhibition, Streetview, at 2022NQ last year, and a tour of the Godlee Observatory in late September available to book now. We interviewed Hayley over e-mail and met up for pictures, delving into her passion for urban exploration, opinions on wrongheaded re-development and the experience of leaving work to pursue a creative dream.
It started around two years ago, I thought after I’d quit my career in finance and started one in advertising that I’d be happy but it soon became clear that it was office work that was the problem – maybe the routine of it; of being appraised and told my worth by someone who didn’t know me at all, well whatever it was my heart wasn’t in it. So I started to write Skyliner as a way to escape from all of that, but a few months later I hit a very deep trough of depression and it was a combination of feeling trapped in my job and feeling lost in my life that pushed me from the precipice and I quit work. Skyliner was the one thing that remained. Now I’m poor but I sure am happy.
I’m from Wigan, and my family are all from Liverpool or thereabouts so Manchester was always a stranger to me. When I started working here I was underwhelmed, visually – what did Manchester have that Liverpool didn’t? But that’s the beauty of the place. Liverpool was this grand spectacular, with architectural masterpieces along the waterfront and Manchester, on first glance, didn’t have any of that immediacy to it. You have to work at Manchester to love it, so it’s all the more rewarding for it.
Godlee Observatory is an amazing little place, the pretty green dome is made of papier-mache and is over a hundred years old. It’s listed as one of the top places to visit in Manchester by Lonely Planet yet hardly anyone seems to know about the place. I’m also very fond of Pomona, I love how you’re only a few minutes from the city centre but you’re suddenly in this dystopian wasteland. I hope the developments they have planned don’t ever come about, it’s like an oasis if you want some peace and there’s a waterside path that’s all broken up and reminds me of the crumbling yellow brick road in Return to Oz – although I wouldn’t recommend a visit after dark! Of course, UMIST is a lovely place to spend time and with its future uncertain I’d suggest you explore and document it whilst you can.
I’m often excited by the little things, I spotted a lovely carving of a beehive on King Street a few weeks ago, and I remember being delighted by the tiny colourful mural in Levenshulme on the former Martin’s Bank. If you ever have the chance to go inside the diving centre in Chorlton then you must, it’s like a Wes Anderson film in there – blue walls covered in mounted crabs, nautical maps line the tables, the bar is made from an old boat, a beautiful vaulted ceiling in the equipment room.
Cities change all the time, and sadly Manchester is a city that is bulldozing its heritage in quite obscene haste. Not only that, take a look at what’s happened in the Northern Quarter this summer; Dobbins burned down, followed by two further fires. You won’t get those places back. It’s important to document where you live and create awareness of places that we can put to inventive uses. Manchester is peculiar in that it’s a very small city and so natural shifts in ‘scenes’ are slow to occur – the Northern Quarter is where it’s cool to be seen and there’s little scope for that to move on to another part of the city like it would in London; as such people are so blinkered to the rest of the city. I ran a competition once asking if people could guess the scene of an unfinished painting and every single guess was in the NQ. Go and take a walk around the Irwell border of the city, the backstreets of Ancoats, the alleyways that run from Victoria to Peter Street, the snug curves of the Mancunian Way….
I gave myself 6 months to see what I could do with Skyliner, within three I was shocked to be invited onto the BBC to talk about it – it was very much in its infancy but that gave me hope that it could actually go somewhere with it. More and more it started to present me with all these scenarios that made me uncomfortable and I’d avoided throughout my life but for the first time I relished in them. My biggest fear is public speaking and the radio interview made me face up to that; I realised if I didn’t face my fears then I/Skyliner would fail so I pushed myself (I started running tours solely to get over my phobia). Six months passed and I’d won an award and there was nothing to tell me to stop now. I saw that this hobby that I loved, and that I’d used as a kind of distraction or therapy to get me through some turmoil in my life at the time was perhaps not just a silly indulgence after all, but had potential to become a career. I’m still not clear how I’ll make a living from it, the majority of what I do is unpaid, but it’s opened a few surprising doors for me – I’ve worked on locations for a couple of short films, and I’ve just signed a contract for a local history book. I work in a bar to support what I do and time off is a thing of the past – I’m always working, and of course there are consequences to that (bye bye social life) but I can at least say I didn’t give up on my dream.
I’ve got ideas for events this year but time creeps up and I’m still no closer to realising them. The next few events I have in mind are really ones that require funding and I don’t know where to begin with funding. I really have no idea. If I figure it out then I have three big ideas that I’m very excited by, one is a kind of travelling film festival that you have to hunt down, another is an artist residency on the most unusual set of buildings that I wish I could say more about but another word would give it away, and the third is a seasonal art gallery in an amazing location in Salford. I’ve thought about running Streetview in another city too, maybe Glasgow – which I see as a very similar city to Manchester.
Questions by Lauren Velvick / Photos by Elle Brotherhood
With thanks to Bruntwood for letting us on their rooftop.