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Creative Manchester : Part 18 : Skyliner 28 Aug

skylinerportraitThe 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.

1To cover the basics – When and why did you start The 
 Skyliner Blog?

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.

3Are you from Manchester originally, or is this your adopted home?

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.

2Can you recommend one or two interesting places in central Manchester to 
visit, for somebody looking to explore?

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.

9Have you made any exciting discoveries lately?

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.

8Why do you think it’s important for people to take notice of the city 
surrounding them?

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….

7You started The Skyliner as a hobby, and have now expanded into tours, won awards and been invited to speak on BBC radio; how did your hobby develop into a career?

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.

4Last year you curated the exhibition ‘Street View’ at 2022NQ that was a great success; have you got any events planned for this year?

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.

6Questions by Lauren Velvick / Photos by Elle Brotherhood

With thanks to Bruntwood for letting us on their rooftop.

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