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Community Spotlight: Manchester Peace Trail
An interview with Steve Roman
The Manchester Peace Trail project began in 2011. According to their website, “the Trail seeks to bring alive Manchester’s rich and diverse history to promote the people, ideas and movements that have encouraged peace and social justice in the city and around the globe.”
Elemental Tours’ Erica Mukherjee sat down with Steve Roman, a Peace Trail walk leader, to talk about the origins of the project, links between the environment and the peace movement, and what it’s like to do history out of doors. The following is based on their conversation.
ET: What is the history of this project? Why does Manchester have a peace trail?
Steve: Manchester describes itself as a “city of peace.” In 1980, it declared itself a nuclear weapons free zone, the first in the world. This was at the height of the Cold War when the government was issuing a booklet to every household saying that if a nuclear attack comes, create a shelter under your dining room table, take the doors off, and stock up on provisions to last three weeks. Ridiculous.
So Manchester and then several other municipalities declared themselves to be nuclear free zones. Then, in 1982, the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki created the Mayors for Peace network, and Manchester joined up; it is now a vice president city.
In 1985-6, Manchester designed a Peace Garden with dedicated trees and plaques, and anchored by The Messenger of Peace, the first sculpture in the city centre by a female artist, Barbara Pearson. That was in St. Peter’s Square, but the sculpture is now in storage as the Peace Garden was removed a little over a decade ago to make way for the tram expansion. It has now been relocated in Lincoln Square and includes ginkgo trees grown from seedlings from the mother tree that survived the atomic bombing of August 6th, 1945.
ET: What has been your role in the Manchester Peace Trail project?
Steve: I had been involved in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) since the early 1980s. Among other organisations, I am a member of the Victorian Society and the Manchester Region Industrial Archaeology Society, which have helped me understand how the area I live in developed and how the city, and society, works. After I retired, I kept up and developed my activities in history, politics and environmental matters. I now help groups and individuals to network across disciplines.
Around the time I retired, a senior policy officer of the Manchester City Council, together with Greater Manchester CND, began to make plans for a peace trail in Manchester. I got involved providing additional information and proofreading. The Peace and Social Justice Trail launched in 2011, as well as a junior version that was sent to primary schools in the Manchester city council area.
I had been on so many walks with other organisations that I knew how they operated, and because I had been involved in proofreading the material for the Peace and Social Justice Trail I had enough knowledge to lead walks from 2011. My first walk was for a refugee support group and since then I’ve led more than 200 walks for university courses, international students, conferences, campaigning groups and social groups, including for fund-raising.
This has become a living project. In 2014, the senior policy officer became aware of a project called Discover Peace, being developed by a Vienna academic. The project had European Union funding to develop peace trails in six different cities, and Manchester, because of its international links, became the seventh. Part of the funding allowed researchers to travel to all seven cities to help one another gain experience and information about their trails. The Discover Peace trails were launched in 2015 and we added a Manchester Young People’s Trail in 2018. We are about to launch an updated young people's trail in conjunction with Historic England Heritage Schools Project, and we hope to update the Discover Peace trail next year.
ET: Manchester has a Peace Garden and a peace walking trail, both of which are outdoors. What do you see as the relationship between the environment and the peace movement?
Steve: The new Peace Garden in Lincoln Square and the Glade of Light (a memorial to the victims of the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing) are both in stone and have also been designed to grow with appropriate plantings—trees, flowers, and shrubs.
Manchester has made a conscious decision in the past 10 years or so to add more greenery and green spaces to the city centre. When the town grew in the late 18th and 19th centuries there was no planning oversight, and so houses and factories were knocked up close to one another without any provision for open space. While Manchester had a densely packed city centre well into the 20th century, but now the council is developing more open and green spaces so people can socialise, gather and relax, and make greater use of the outdoors in the city centre. This includes a growing demand for outdoor eating and drinking, and use of pedestrianised areas.
The new Peace Garden in Lincoln Square has quotations inscribed in the stone paving. One of the eight quotations is from Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan political activist who won the Nobel Peace Prize for planting trees, conservation, and women’s rights. “When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and seeds of hope.”
While the statues are mostly of stone and the sculptures of stone or bronze, there are no generals on horseback and, indeed, only one figure of an armed man in public in the city centre, and that is the memorial for the African (Boer) War.
The trail crosses a canal which was part of the first major infrastructure network to be systematically developed in modern Britain. Where we pass by the Bridgewater Hall is a most attractive fountain, the one most similar to Continental examples. As with green spaces, the city has created several water features to enhance the environment in recent years.
ET: Usually, history is an indoor activity. Why do you like doing history out of doors?
Steve: A walking tour is based on the sites within the city—plaques, statues, memorials, architecture, spaces—and sometimes the lack thereof. I will sometimes give a walking tour as an outdoor contribution to a larger programme of talks or events organised by an organisation. The public like having the outdoor element of seeing the physical sites or memorials of their city, or the one they are visiting or studying in.
It is pleasing how many local people discover something new on the walks. Maybe it was something that they never really observed or noticed or maybe they had never been around that particular part of the city. This may also be because Manchester is changing so much, one reason why we need to update the trail.
ET: What are some of the advantages and disadvantages to doing your job out of doors?
Steve: It's not a job, as I lead most walks as a volunteer. I do like the outdoors. I usually cycle in to the city to lead my walks and I carry my cycle helmet to promote the acceptance of cycling. In general, people comment on how nice it is to be outdoors, especially when the weather is good.
Of all of the walks I’ve led, I’ve only had to cancel one because of the weather—and that was for a group of people in their 80s. I’ve had one or two walks curtailed because it got too wet, and occasionally a few people peel off because they get too cold, or tired. But I do try and warn people to come dressed for the weather, and the reality of rain in Manchester doesn't match the myth!
I’ve had one or two dogs join my tours over the years. But once, I had a young overseas student leave the walk because they were frightened of birds and couldn’t handle the pigeons that occasionally swoop down.
Luckily the route of the walk manages to avoid crossing many roads but I need to warn our overseas participants about traffic driving on the left. I also need to encourage participants to keep up with me, even when I walk backwards while I talk, as I have so much about the city that I want to share.
You can also contact Steve Roman directly at steve[dot]roman[at]phonecoop[dot]coop if you would like him to lead a walk around the trail for your organisation.