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New light installation to launch as part of Salford’s Lightwaves festival to commemorate The ‘Navvies’ who built the Manchester ship canal.

A new community-led, audio-visual installation will open to the public at MediaCity and Salford Quays this winter as the headline artwork in the popular Lightwaves festival taking place 1-4 December 2022.

Navvies is a new participatory artwork commissioned by Quays Culture, MediaCity and Mediale, recognising the role of the labourers who worked in harsh and often lethal conditions in the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal which took six years to complete, finally opening in 1894.  Artist Matthew Rosier is working with the local community in Salford to create a unique audio-visual installation and a programme of supporting events including the creation of a community garden within MediaCity’s gardens, all of which explore the links between the past and present of Salford Quays and MediaCity.

It is estimated by the Navvies Union that up to 1,100 men died digging the Canal with many more injured. Men who migrated from all areas of the UK, alongside thousands from Ireland, who in particular faced extreme prejudice.  The artwork and related events will, for the first time, recognise and commemorate those who lost their lives and tell their story to today’s audiences.

As a multi-strand project, Navvies will comprise a series of workshops and events and will include a new co-created piece of orchestral music by composer Hayley Suviste, arranged by Daniel Whibley and recorded by the BBC Philharmonic.

The community garden at MediaCity will be co-created by Matthew Rosier and Salford’s Loaves and Fishes charity and will feature fruit trees, ornamental plants as well as vegetable beds with its seasonal produce donated to Salford Food Bank.  Food poverty was a key driver in Irish migration during the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal and the community group felt it important to address this through the garden.

Artist Matthew Rosier explains: “Since I first heard the navvy story of the Manchester Ship Canal, I’d been in awe of the scale of the collective effort. I also felt that this scale was not sufficiently recognised within society. With the support and engagement of so many individuals and organisations, this project has also become a collective endeavour. Every aspect of the resulting artwork, comprising music, a garden, and an audio-visual installation, is a community collaboration. Above all else for me, the most powerful part of this project is the sense of connection and comradery, between this community that has formed around the Navvies story and those 17,000 men and their families who toiled here over a century ago.”

Josie Cahill, Place Director for MediaCity added:

Connecting MediaCity’s amazing heritage to our current, and future plans has always been an important part of our story. There is a genuine pride among the thousands of people who live and work here about the part the Manchester Ship Canal played in the industrial revolution, and how it placed Salford and Manchester on the international map. We’re delighted to support this unique and creative project which both creatively celebrates our history whilst supporting our local communities.

Tom Higham, Founder and Creative Director, Mediale added:

“We’re extremely excited about this project, and the opportunity Matthew has had to work in such depth and richness with the stories and histories of the community there. His work is always of rigorous depth and nuance, using things like projection technology in a considered and engaged way. Matthew is an artist we have been working with for some time, and is truly at the vanguard of considered and high quality digital art.”

As part of the Navvies project, there will be a series of community workshops exploring the navvy legacy in Salford.  A special workshop was hosted at the BBC Philharmonic studio, with musicians from the orchestra and composer Hayley Suviste working with participants to gather material, sounds, feelings and ideas that will form part of the musical composition.

The installation will launch as the headline artwork of Lightwaves Festival 2022 and will run from December 1st – 10th at Huron Basin in Salford Quays. The projection into the canal will be accompanied by the new musical composition performed by the BBC Philharmonic.

This series of projects are Commissioned by Quays Culture, MediaCity and Mediale. Produced by Mediale and Quays Culture, with support from Loaves and Fishes and BBC Philharmonic. Supported by Arts Council, England, Historic England and Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

Find out more about Navvies visit

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