As I was sitting at a picnic table in Picadilly Gardens watching a harassed mother and her sulky teenage daughter lock horns over the contentious issue of back to school shoes, it dawned on me what the point of the Manchester Picnic and, by extension, the self-proclaimed “city centre management company” City Co really was.
The event, which lasted from Friday to Sunday, saw food purveyors from across Manchester gather to flog their delicious wares to parents and shoppers, whilst activities in the form of science demonstrations, Printworks DJ sets, and cutesy pirouetting teddy bears kept children and teenagers entertained.
Behind a carefully constructed kitsch facade, accompanied by a well-executed marketing campaign and some humanising website copy, City Co have clearly worked hard to create an event that gives people a reason to come to Manchester and spend their money.
This isn’t a bad thing. People need to spend in order to ensure that everything positive that has been achieved in terms of making Manchester the UK’s real second city is not for naught, now that the country’s economy is well and truly in decline.
City Co seems to be a force for good; Manchester needs people to visit, and City Co provides a platform for businesses and the council to work together to make this happen. And some of their initiatives are really very clever, such as promoting Manchester as a leading photographic destination. This helps gain the city publicity amongst art and media types, after which promotion continues at no cost, courtesy of the images taken by amateurs helping to create strong word of mouth.
The motives for other initiatives are a little more opaque, however. Perhaps I’m being dense or have not quite thought it through, but I cannot see why an organisation that is essentially a PR machine needs to provide a business crime reduction service; surely that is the job of the police, and any information concerning criminality in the city shouldn’t be restricted to “members only.”
Anyway, I digress. Back to the picnic.
Pictured above is an Aumbry’s Bury Black Pudding Scotch Egg served in a sleek black box with homemade ketchup. I salivated as the chief deep fried this golden-crumbed globe of oozing pudding with a quails egg tucked up inside. It’s easy to see why they are described as “legendary” in Prestwich, where Aumbry is based.
Next up was a City Cafe Venison Sausage barm, slathered in Jagermeister Jam with a token bit of salad. Chunky, meaty, and gamey but not overbearingly so, all-in-all it was surprisingly subtle. The Jagermeister Jam was really more of a sauce, but it added a sweet balance and some sharper end notes to the earthy tones of the meat.
The banoffee cupcake pictured next to it is from Dessert Harvey Nichols. Personally, I’m not a massive cupcake fan. The icing is generally overbearing, and they have become something of a twee affectation in recent years. I like homemade ones; it’s mainly the ones that appear in large boxes as corporate gifts or as an alternative to a wedding cake that I have a problem with.
As for the one above, it was extremely sickly, and might have been more successful had it been either just toffee or just banana. Lurking within the suspiciously light crumb was a centre of flavourless sweet brown gunk standing in for caramel, and adorning the top was a sugary banana icing with, inexplicably, a small chocolate digestive hidden underneath.
That said, Harvey Nichols were kind enough to give us a discount leaflet for their restaurant, and I reckon we’ll make our way over at some point. And we’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for more events like this in the future.
The Manchester Picnic certainly worked as an exercise in getting us to spend time and money in the city centre. After we had eaten, we went for a wander around the shops, and I bought some fairy lights from Habitat, which is going out of business.
The guy on the till said he will be given just one week’s notice before him and all of the other staff find themselves out of a job; they aren’t yet sure when this will happen, though. This brings home the importance of events like the Manchester Picnic in terms of drumming up city centre trade.