I first explored the area that is now MediaCityUK nearly thirty years ago. I was a young, nervous assistant to an architectural photographer, who was documenting the building of the first houses to be constructed at Salford Quays since the docks had been demolished. It was a small segment of land that was being regenerated, and most of the surrounding ground was still simply rubble, making it difficult to imagine what had gone before, or what was possible in the future.
Old blue cranes, used to haul goods from ships from all over the world, lay on their sides like felled beasts. Under grim skies, rubble and weeds stretched as far as the eye could see. Your memory would be incapable of conjuring the scene into one of bright, sunny daylight. It was a wasteland, requiring a particular vision to understand the potential of this derelict port, and time and money to transform it into the place that now exists.
I think of this everytime I come to MediaCityUK. On this particular day I was in the Greenhouse remembering this past, sitting in a room with state of the art lights that came on as you entered. I was with Kate Duffy from Pure Innovations, a company which helps young people into work, and Alex, who works for a services company called Westgrove. I was here to chat with a woman called Stefania, who had just turned twenty.
Stefania was sitting quietly, nervously, watching carefully all that was happening around her, perhaps wondering what I had in mind for her as I switched on my voice recorder.
She told me that she grew up in Gorton, and hadn’t really heard of Salford until she began taking two buses to MediaCityUK each morning to attend college.
“I heard about the course from my teacher at Loretto in Hulme” she tells me, in her soft voice. Kate adds to what has been said: “Pure Innovations goes into schools and then pupils get referred to us. Our focus is to get them into work placement. We’re a stepping stone.”
At first Stefania speaks carefully, only revealing hints of her life beyond this room. And then Alex, who is her supervisor at work, reminds her of the fact that she sings at work. She smiles and begins to relax.
“Yeah, I do sing. I like Adele and so sing her songs whilst I work” Stefania says, laughing.
“She never stops singing” adds Alex, and they both laugh.
Stefania then tells us that her mother is from Nigeria, and that she herself was born in Naples. She remembers her school, and the markets and the food.
“I go to Italy on holidays, to see family. I prefer it to Nigeria.”
Myself, Kate and Alex are now listening as tales of holidays to Ibiza and her love of watching films are revealed.
“I’ve not seen you for a while” says Kate “And it’s just lovely to see how much you’ve grown, how much you’ve come out of your shell.”
Stefania looks down at her hands, modestly.
“She’s a hard worker too” says Alex.
The windowless room, which at first felt a little like a place where you’d come to be interviewed by a civil servant, was now full of joy. I turned off my voice recorder, and we walked out into the light. I photographed Stefania near her place of work, looking back towards a brightly painted cast iron bridge that had survived from the time of the docks, and was now very much part of the current landscape.
Stefania sat patiently on a wall whilst I photographed her, both of us now more confident in ourselves than when we first saw this place.