Crompton, E., 2022.
Mainstreaming Inclusive Spaces: The Manchester LGBT+ Centre
This research project is concerned with investigating how a marginalised group gained, maintained and mainstreamed a physical presence in the city, and the role of an architect/activist in that process.
Manchester's LGBT+ Centre is the only purpose-built building for the LGBT+ community in the United Kingdom which is managed by a charity called The Proud Trust. There have been two buildings designed specifically for the LGBT+ community in the city, just thirty years apart and on the same constrained city-centre site. After occupying several basement spaces, a purpose-built single-storey community centre was constructed on Sidney Street in 1988, and while other centres began to emerge in UK towns and cities over the 1980s and 90s, none managed to maintain such a consistent presence as the Manchester Centre. Having outgrown the original 1988 building, a new Centre was co-designed between 2015 - 2018 and was built in 2020, opening in 2021.
Architectural activism and Participatory Design/ action research methods were employed in this project through a seven-year collaborative design and construction process to re-build the LGBT+ Centre, as well as documenting the Centre's present and understanding the building's rich past. As a member of the LGBT+ community myself, I have a unique perspective and empathy on the implications of the design and research process as well as the outcomes, and part of the research has been examining my role as an architect in the project. The specific requirements of working with a marginalised group also affected my (design and research) actions, and I gained an understanding for the need for space and time to engage with a large number of people who all felt some ownership or care towards the original Centre. Critical for the methodology was how I carried out the role of Architect on such a project, giving access to a group not used to commissioning such work or using professional services.
The propositional nature of the project has had significant impact on the charity's outlook as an organisation and the Centre's continuing future in the city. The construction project was granted £2.25 million from over 40 separate funders and hundreds of individual donations. My research on the history and design process has been widely shared to the general public, at academic conferences and in exhibitions and has also been included in the final interior of the building to ensure the significant social heritage of the Centre continues to be recognised.
In the wider context of marginalisation and reduction of public and community space this project demonstrates a realisation of spatial justice for a minority community in Manchester. And shows the city's committment to providing an accessible, alcohol-free space for LGBT+ people to make sure that they can access support services and live full lives as valued members of our society.