Student Guide to the Northwest 2015-16

You have arrived! In Liverpool! Or Manchester! Or somewhere nearby! But where to begin? Behold, our whistlestop tour of the madcap, multicultural and (sadly) meteorologically miserable Northwest: from tech to food, radicalism to raves

Feature by Holly Rimmer-Tagoe | 14 Sep 2015

Innovation. Music. Sense of humour. Innovation. Music. Sense of… Repeat ad nauseum. Yes, Manchester is the home of The Smiths, vegetarianism, the first free public library and Ernest Rutherford’s atom-splitting; Liverpool is the birthplace of the underground railway tunnel, the first School of Tropical Medicine, The Beatles and one of the earliest public art galleries (The Walker). But it’s the here and now that you want to hear about.

After all, now is the time to get an obligatory late night selfie with a traffic cone; to join a society to knit jumpers for Antarctic polar bears; to find foam parties even mildly enjoyable. And whether you get thrills from going to a Tracey Emin exhibition, sweating profusely in a secret rave, trying the latest vegan superfood or mismatching stanzas and puns at a live literature event, the Northwest definitely has something for you.

The artistic economy of the Northwest has significantly expanded in recent years, with the Northern Quarter in Manchester and the Baltic Triangle in Liverpool being the centre of all things cultural. Inevitably, the sprouting of a myriad of bars with neon strip lighting and bare brick walls has resulted in a growing proportion of artisan beards and oh-so-cool clientele, who are rapidly becoming a parody of themselves. Still, looking past the hipster clichés, there are plenty of great things going on in these areas. The independent startups, from art spaces to dirty burger joints, are run by people with a passion for doing things differently and satiating niche appetites for something beyond the corporate clasp. At some point, you will definitely find yourself in a mill-cum-art gallery, a warehouse-cum-burger joint, or a party-cum-canal boat; the Northwest has a fondness for remaking strange spaces in a mingling of past and present. Get yourself involved.

Elsewhere, with two of the best Pride parades in the country and Manchester having been given the unofficial title of ‘gay capital of England’ (Brighton, we have declared war), the LGBT scene in the Northwest continues to thrive. The combination of a history of defiance and rebellion – Emmeline Pankhurst and Eleanor Rathbone, we’re looking at you – and a tendency for left-leaning politics means that the LGBT community forms an important part of the fabric of both Manchester and Liverpool. Whether you want to take part in the events of LGBT History Month, help those campaigning on LGBT issues or simply fancy a late-night kiki on Canal Street, you’re in the right place.

If JavaScript code and a new generation processor are your thing, there’s something to get your USB stick (do people still use these?) stuck into. Liverpool has experienced the second fastest growth in new digital companies in the UK between 2010 and 2013, and tech hubs like MadLab and Baltic Creative are making the Northwest an important part of the tech boom. These centres usually have free classes and workshops for you to get your tech skills up to scratch.

The Northwest’s multicultural makeup has resulted in an explosion of diverse street food and foodie delights from across the globe. Whether you want a particular curry dish, a quick stop Lebanese or a soupy ramen, there is plenty of choice to satiate any cravings. Head down to the Curry Mile (Rusholme, Manchester) and Bold Street (Liverpool) to try something new. The popularity of the burger – adding as many layers as possible and waiting for the Jenga moment seems to be all the rage – can quickly become a little repetitive. It's time to ditch the grilled buns and realise that variety is the spice of life. Head to Manchester’s Chinatown – spotting a big arch in the distance is a fair clue that you’re close – for a tasty meal when your student loan seems to be dissolving into thin air. Here, an array of Asian dishes come in at student friendly prices. Your overdraft will thank you later. And, foreign language students among us, why not test your language skills while you’re at it? Manchester is reputed to be the most linguistically diverse conurbation in Western Europe, don’t you know.

Lastly, a few helpful hints: oranges are your friend. The mix of overcast weather and the distinct lack of ‘real’ food requires a vitamin C boost to counteract the excesses that come with student living. The great outdoors are also your friend. There are beautiful beaches a 30-minute train ride from Liverpool city centre; when essay deadlines are piling up and exam stress threatens to boil over, some fresh sea air, a picnic and maybe the odd aggressive seagull may be the answer.

At the risk of being overly nostalgic about student life, this is truly the only time in your life when your friends, lovers, place of study and favourite entertainment will all be within a small radius of each other. It’s still acceptable to raid the family fridge before the start of each term, all the while proclaiming independence. Some corporate outlets will actually give you a genuine discount for the sake of being a student, and no one will judge you for wearing the same pair of dungarees for three years straight. Enjoy it!