The overlooked Greater Manchester town that will be the subject of new festival "with a little bit of magic"

There's a new focus on an often forgotten area.
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Swinton is not an obvious location for an arts festival. Like many outlying Greater Manchester towns, it is often overlooked. But if you look closer, says artist and festival founder Simon Buckley, you realise that these places are full of creative people, and festivals “can be a lightning conductor for that talent.”

Not Quite Light festival was founded in 2016 off the back of one of Simon’s photography projects of the same name. He had been inspired by a twilight walk through Angel Meadows, a rapidly developing area of the city centre with a deep and dark history. It’s at this time of day that you can really feel the “magic” of a place, Simon believes. 

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He said: “I like the idea of a bit of magic, the catalyst for magic. I use the idea of twilight and that magical time to inform the idea for the events. Although all the events aren't necessarily done at twilight, there is that sort of enquiry and curiosity that comes with it.”

We spoke to Simon about the upcoming festival and what it means for areas like Swinton.

Swinton precinct is to host Not Quite Light arts festival on 15-17 March. Credit: Not Quite LightSwinton precinct is to host Not Quite Light arts festival on 15-17 March. Credit: Not Quite Light
Swinton precinct is to host Not Quite Light arts festival on 15-17 March. Credit: Not Quite Light

‘Nowhere is ordinary’

Returning for the first time since the pandemic, the festival has now grown to incorporate other artistic disciplines, adopting the tagline ‘Art. Debate. Music. Architecture.’ The festival line-up for 2024, taking place 15-17 March, includes everything from music production workshops for teenagers to a talk by a Coronation Street set designer. 

At its heart, Not Quite Light aims to shine a light on the creative power of Salford’s lesser-known suburbs. He said: “It's looking at the places in which we exist, looking at them from various angles. I want it to be fun, informative, and entertaining. I want a little bit of magic thrown in there as well”

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Of all the Salford neighbourhoods, Swinton was selected as it is the focus of a new documentary by Simon called Gathering Points, which will premiere on the first night of the festival. It focuses on five locations in the town where communities gather:  The Hive Cafe in Victoria Park, the Valley Community Gardens, the Parade Chippy, Nail Studio Swinton and The Grand Palais. 

Simon said: “There was a couple of choices of places to film in and we decided to go with Swinton. It's a film about community and, almost like the festival, it's looking closer at a place to recognise the incredible stories that exist within people's lives. Nowhere is ordinary.

“It's easy to pass through Swinton on the main roads, there are three main roads that go through it. The idea is if you stopped and paid a bit more attention, you'd find fascinating stories and fascinating people, in these five venues that I've chosen where people come together. That's why it's called Gathering Points, it's kind of a play on words, as in points made and points where people come together.”

Parade Chippy will feature in a new documentary by Simon Buckley as part of the Not Quite Light festival in Swinton on 15-17 March. Credit: Not Quite LightParade Chippy will feature in a new documentary by Simon Buckley as part of the Not Quite Light festival in Swinton on 15-17 March. Credit: Not Quite Light
Parade Chippy will feature in a new documentary by Simon Buckley as part of the Not Quite Light festival in Swinton on 15-17 March. Credit: Not Quite Light

Elsewhere on the line-up, Simon has curated a varied program of events for all ages. When it comes to finding collaborators for the festival, he says he “keeps his radar up” all year round. “If you know what you're looking for it's amazing what falls out of the sky,” he added.

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Some of the highlights include a music night featuring exclusively local artists, a workshop by Buttress Architects helping children build their own cities out of cardboard, and a performance piece based on memories of music festivals in the sixties. There will also be an event to celebrate the life of famed Coronation Street writer and ‘local boy made great’ Tony Warren, featuring actors Jennie McAlpine and Noreen Kershaw, as well as scriptwriter Debbie Oates. 

‘Art will always find its outlet’

Grassroots festivals like Not Quite Light are a vital part of the wider arts community in Greater Manchester. But as creatives like Simon know too well, the tricky part of getting these projects off the ground is always funding.

However, the power of art is not to be underestimated. In many ways, it’s becoming more and more accessible to experience and create art, as Not Quite Light aims to prove, especially in cities like Manchester and Salford. 

Simon said: “I think it's like water, art, it will find its outlet, it's primal and deep within all of us. During Covid, people turned to creativity, so I think Manchester has always been one of those cities, and Salford has been one of those cities, they are like giant petri dishes, there's always people experimenting and trying things, having great ideas, and ultimately they will find an outlet. 

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“Particularly over the last ten years, the ability to make your art and share it is pretty much enhanced. It wasn't like that 15 years ago, now it's a very vibrant place for opportunity. It's becoming more democratic in terms of people trying everything.”

“Cities that are never finished”

In his work as an artist, Simon now operates under the alias of Not Quite Light, and has other Manchester-based projects in the works to look out for, including a podcast on Reform Radio, which will “tell the story of the city, its history, its present and future and the people I encounter when I'm out.” 

Both as a subject matter and a place to live, Simon says Manchester is “strange” and he says he has a “love-hate relationship with it. Some of the important themes within his work are ‘transition’ and ‘regeneration’ – two words which are often used when talking about Greater Manchester. He even describes Salford and Manchester as “cities that are never finished”.

Not Quite Light Festival is returning to Salford in March 2024. Credit: Not Quite LightNot Quite Light Festival is returning to Salford in March 2024. Credit: Not Quite Light
Not Quite Light Festival is returning to Salford in March 2024. Credit: Not Quite Light

He added: “I think that was one of the stimuli for the festival to explore these ideas of regeneration and change. I think increasingly, if I do it next year there will be bigger debates around what we are doing with our cities and how they look, are they good places to live.

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“I grew up locally in Bolton but I've lived in Manchester since the eighties and I sometimes curse and I sometimes deeply love it. I see it as a difficult teenage child, you really love it but, my god, it doesn't half annoy you sometimes.

“I think it's because it's always been an ambitious city and ambition causes people to do things, and once that happens, you can't predict the direction it's going to go in, because people throw all their energy into it. And I think that's what this city is. It’s a city of energy and it's a city of ambition. Sometimes it's a city of vision, too.”

  • Not Quite Light festival will take place from Friday 15 to Sunday 17 March at venues across Swinton. The festival is free to attend although booking is required for some of the individual events and activities. More information, including the full line-up, can be found on the Not Quite Light festival website.