"Things that must’ve seemed like nothing to some people, made me so indescribably happy."Rebecca Mcneill

So, here I am. Back home, and back to reality. Manchester.

I’m a proud Mancunian. I love our people – kind-hearted, spirited and loyal. I love our music, our culture, our football. I love our solidarity, our strength in numbers, our Northern grit, all in the face of industrialism, poverty, and even terrorism. It’s unmatched.

Trapped inside my house for the last few weeks, though, watching the world trudge on out of my bedroom window, I’ve had a bit more time to think about where I am. To think about my little part of town. Gorton.

“I know there are people here who’d really love to see some of the things I’ve seen”

It’s a forgotten neighbourhood with a bad reputation. Pavements littered with thrown-out sofas and smelly, black bin bags. Streets lined with neglected, boarded-up buildings. Shady street-corners patrolled by track-suited boys. It’s a place that’s been hit hard by austerity, stripped of its soul, its former glories bulldozed and replaced with council housing. Malfunctioning public services, overcrowded schools and hospitals, record levels of unemployment, dangerous alleyways, petty crime and anti-social behaviour. We’ve seen it all.

But it’s my town. The place I’ve lived for 20 years, my mum for much longer, my grandma for nearly 80. And, like hundreds of other families here, we live very contentedly, with a steely determination to make the best of life. After all, we don’t have it nearly as badly as others. There’s always food on the table, and, while we may have to share bedrooms and queue for the toilet, we’ll always have each other.

Recently, though, I’ve realised that some people here probably don’t get to see much more than Manchester’s grey, inner-city streets. Listening to that constant growl of engines from outside, inescapable even during a lockdown, and watching the occasional hooded figure walk by, head down, faceless, has reminded me how lucky I’ve been to have had my second life, away from a place that can so easily mould you into just another working-class lad, just going through the motions.

“Gorton will always be my home, and I’ll always be excited to come back at the end of every term...”

Before I was old enough to understand all of this, it was my uncle who pushed me that extra step further when he helped me with homework, and it was my mum who decided to take me to Manchester Grammar School (MGS) for an assessment day, knowing full-well it was unaffordable and unrealistic, just to see how I’d do. But it was a group of people I’ll never get to meet, the generous benefactors of MGS’s bursary system, who pooled together thousands in tuition fees to allow me to attend that amazing school for eight, homework-filled years.

That paved the way for a Cambridge application, and before I knew it, I was moving from Gorton to Girton College, a place that I’ve completely fallen in love with since. My bedroom view quickly turned into a beautiful courtyard. Rush-hour traffic and car horns became tweeting birds, and plastic bags drifting along the road were suddenly replaced by scurrying rabbits and squirrels. I used to play football on a busy street, using people’s garden fences as goals, having to stop every 2 minutes to let the cars past. Now I had a perfect pitch, right there. Things that must’ve seemed like nothing to some people, made me so indescribably happy.

Not only was I given the chance to live in one of the most beautiful places in the UK, but also access to some of the world’s highest-quality education, along with the opportunity to see, experience and do so many things that people like me don’t really get to do. I’ve eaten caviar, wild boar, veloutés and crème brûlée, sipped on free champagne at glitzy black-tie balls, learnt to ski in the French alps, before dancing the night away in the snow. I’ve been to garden parties on perfect lawns, had supervisions in some of the country’s most stunning buildings, read books and written essays, then discussed those essays with the people who wrote the books.

"I’ve eaten caviar, wild boar, veloutés and crème brûlée, sipped on free champagne at glitzy black-tie balls, learnt to ski in the French alps, before dancing the night away in the snow."Photo courtesy of Thom Harris

Best of all though, I’ve made friends from all over the planet – of all cultures, social backgrounds and personalities. Friends who will go on to be successful, change the world. Friends who own multiple houses across the globe, but remain as down to earth as people I’ve spoken to on Gorton Market.

Yet, no matter how high the dazzling highs of Cambridge may take me, I’ll always have that perspective. Gorton will always be my home, and I’ll always be excited to come back at the end of every term; to have a proper brew, a chippy tea, a few £2 pints and a night of belting out The Smiths – it just makes me sad to know that, in having been able to indulge in so many Oxbridge extravagancies, I’m one in a million Gortonians.


READ MORE

Mountain View

Rediscovering reading for reading’s sake

And that will continue, as long as trying to sell academic ambition to your typical working-class kid remains a practically impossible task, especially when the success stories rely on so much luck, determination, hard-work and generosity. Education, providing no immediate income, is bottom of the priority list for so many families here, who, knowing nothing else than impoverished living, won’t aspire for anything more.

Having said all that, it doesn’t mean these people aren’t happy. There’s a certain spirit that working-class life instils in you. We get on with it, take each day as it comes, and I’m sure the people of Gorton will continue to do that for generations to come. But, I know there are people here who’d really love to see some of the things I’ve seen, speak to some of the people I’ve spoken to, and do some of the things I’ve done, but won’t be as lucky as I’ve been.

It’s a sad truth, but it’s one that makes me feel all the more grateful for the other life I’ve got to live. And, while it hurts me so much knowing that most of my friends won’t be waiting for me in Cambridge after my year abroad is over, I’m just so glad that I get to spend one more year in a place that makes me so happy; a place that I’m so, unbelievably lucky to be able to call my second home.

Sponsored links

Partner links