As Manchester City Council cuts services and grants to various events, it’s essential that the public is able to have an honest debate about what should be funded.
The organisers and City Council exaggerate crowd numbers for this parade enormously, probably by a factor of ten, while the media fail to scrutinise and report accurately.
The photographs below show the true level of attendance at the 2012 Manchester Irish Festival Parade as it passed through the city centre on 11 March.
On the event’s website, the organisers claimed: “100,000 people are expected to flock to the city centre and line the three mile route” and that this was “one of Europe’s biggest St. Patrick’s Day Parades.”
Since the parade, they’ve continued. Claiming that: “Organisers said an estimated 12,000 were packed into Albert Square alone — with more than 100,000 lining the full parade route.” See below for more analysis of these figures.
I was first alerted to this last year by a fellow photographer who had gone along and afterwards expressed amazement at the low turn out as compared to the hype. So the small crowds this year aren’t anything new…
The parade route was from Queen’s Road in Cheetham Hill, along Cheetham Hill Road and into the city centre along Corporation Street and Cross Street, around the back of the town hall, and into Albert Square. A distance of about 1.5 miles. Later in the afternoon the parade returned to Queen’s Road — so in all a round trip of about three miles.
You can see what Cheetham Hill road looks like on Google Street View. It’s mainly superstores and industrial buildings. Not an area that’s likely to attract a large crowd on the street.
The first photograph picks up the parade as it reaches the junction of Cheetham Hill Road with New Bridge Street. I can see nine people standing watching.
As it crosses the railway line near Victoria Station the street is almost empty.
It turns the corner onto Corporation Street near the CIS building at 12:31.
The junction of Corporation Street and Withy Grove.
The view from the Arndale Centre walkway above Corporation Street.
Outside the Royal Exchange on Cross Street.
Plenty of empty pavement on Cross Street.
These two shots show the density of the crowd in Albert Square.
IT’S BASIC MATHS
Let’s start with Albert Square… Including all the road and pavement it’s approximately 140m x 80m, which is 11,200 metres square. You can measure it for yourself here on a satellite image.
With all the tents, monuments, trees and empty roads and pavement it’s obvious that the crowd is nothing like 12,000 people and that number couldn’t possibly fit in. How many do you reckon? 1,000? I’ve been told a maximum of 2,500 people are allowed into the Square when they turn on the Christmas lights, though I need to confirm that figure.
As for the parade, what would it look like if 100,000 people were on the streets watching? If you filled every square metre of road and pavement all the way from the CIS building to the corner of Albert Square, squeezing two people into each square metre, you could only fit in about 40,000 people.
This is based on measuring that part of the parade on a satellite image (1.3Km/0.81 miles) and the roads being an average of 15m wide from building to building. This distance represents slightly more than half of the parade route into town.
Looking at the evidence, there’s no way this parade is watched by 100,000. I would say less than 10,000.
People are being encouraged to spend money and come to Manchester to see this and it’s on false pretences. If businesses are paying for a concession to sell items at the parade on the basis of 100,000 people watching it, they’re being diddled.
“Mine is bigger that yours,” seems to be the rather desperate message, as they lay claim to being one of the biggest parades in the UK and Europe. But what about reality, honesty and accurate reporting?
Perhaps most disturbing is the way the media and City Council play along with this.
Note that the BBC published this report at 13:10. Yet a photo which includes the town hall clock shows that the parade was still entering Albert Square at 13:03.
This is churnalism; described by Wikipedia as “a form of journalism in which press releases, wire stories and other forms of pre-packaged material are used to create articles.”
I suggest that the BBC’s crowd figure of 100,000 came from the press release that was put out by the organisers and this was done despite the fact that PR people and those who run events often have every reason to exaggerate. When the Corporation was challenged on it, in an email, the story was edited to remove the phoney number. By 17:18 it had disappeared, as shown in the second screen capture. But note that the “last updated” time wasn’t changed.
Interestingly, the “churn engine” on the churnalism.com website matched the parade press release with the very same BBC article.
MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS
Above its live chat, the Manchester Evening News reported that the parade was “one of the biggest of its kind in Europe,” and that the organisers expected 100,000 people to enjoy the event. Wrongly it claimed that it was a three-mile route “to” Albert Square. When in fact that is the distance to and from Queen’s Road.
In a separate article the MEN published the 100,000 figure as fact (there are some interesting comments underneath).
CITY COUNCIL SPIN
In its events section, Manchester City Council stated that 200,000 people were expected for the Festival. It continued: “just over 100,000 visitors are expected to converge on the city centre on Sunday 11 March to greet the annual The (sic) St Patrick’s Day Parade which is now the biggest such Parade in the UK.”
The City Council has a long history of publishing exaggerated attendance figures for events and the public is entitled to expect better.
Also have a look around at the photographs that are published by the Festival itself and various media outlets. You’ll see lots of tightly cropped shots of people that show very little else. Rarely any wide pictures like those above.
Last year Manchester City Council withdrew funding from various events, including the Queer Up North arts festival and Manchester Pride parade, while it continues for the Irish Festival Parade. Funds are being pulled from advice centres, libraries and youth clubs.
The decision to fund one thing instead of another MUST be made on the basis of accurate and truthful figures.
Finally, I should point out that I fully support all of our communities in Manchester celebrating who they are and where they came from and I’m sure most local people who go don’t care whether it’s a crowd of 10,000 or 100,000, they just enjoy themselves. It’s sad that such events have to be hijacked and “used” by marketing and business people and the media in this way.
This undermines trust in the media and, even worse, raises questions about past events in our history and whether politicians and the press in Manchester have always done this.