Manchester Central: the old train station which has become a premier conference centre in the heart of the city

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The city centre train station has since been changed for a very different purpose

When you say Manchester Central, many people from the city and further afield might not think of a train station. With Piccadilly and Victoria as well as many others, train lines head elsewhere these days. 

Yet Manchester Central was once a bustling railway station, connecting Manchester with destinations afar. Its iconic rounded-roof top is still a feature of the Manchester skyline, but in 2023 it has a very different purpose. 

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The venue is one which, if you are heading into the city via Metrolink, almost instantly catches your eye. Routes from the south into the city pass next to the huge venue, which is the closest you’ll get to passing through Manchester Central on a train now. 

Earlier this year, the building which once housed Central train station hosted one of the biggest political events on the calendar. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak rounded off the Conservative Party Conference in the building, perhaps ironically using the speech to officially cancel the HS2 train line from Birmingham to Manchester. 

The instantly recognisable and eye-catching design of the building has sat proudly in Manchester for over 130 years. It opened in 1880 and trains left for Stockport, Liverpool, Chester and London St Pancras. It became one of Manchester’s biggest rail terminals but in 1969 it closed. 

Security fencing is erected around the Midland Hotel and Manchester Central conference centre as the build up for the Conservative Party Conference Security fencing is erected around the Midland Hotel and Manchester Central conference centre as the build up for the Conservative Party Conference
Security fencing is erected around the Midland Hotel and Manchester Central conference centre as the build up for the Conservative Party Conference | Getty Images

For several years, the station building was left derelict and abandoned. Greater Manchester Council purchased the site in 1978 and its first use after being a train station was as an NCP car park. The station building was left relatively untouched, however it would soon change even more in the years that followed 

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Manchester Central’s fortunes changed throughout the early 1980s and a huge restoration job was started and completed during the decade. In 1986, the venue reopened as the G-Mex (Greater Manchester Exhibition and Events Centre) conference centre, with a main hall which could hold 9,000 people. 

In 2023, the centre has dozens of spaces for meetings and conferences. Its hosting of the Conservative Party conference is one of just several large scale events this former train station hosts these days. 

The centre is an example of not letting an iconic city centre building go to waste. Its necessity as a train station faded in the 1960s, but by the mid-1980s it had been redesigned as something which Manchester needed as the city edged towards the 21st century and a whole new way of working. 

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