Rebecca Hurst – writer, opera-maker, illustrator and University alumna – has written a commemorative poem for our bicentenary year.
The emotive piece is entitled Mast Year: A poem for the bicentenary of The University of Manchester. It begins with a walk from Manchester Piccadilly Station to our Oxford Road campus and contemplates the University’s 200-year history – starting with the handwritten minutes of the founders of the Manchester Mechanics’ Institution, to whom we trace our origins.
‘I’m meant to be here’
A line from Rebecca’s poem is the inspiration for an eye-catching new installation on campus.
‘I’m meant to be here’ will be visible in large purple neon lettering on Booth Street East, on the bridge connecting Booth Street East Building and Crawford House (situated between Engineering Building A and Oxford Road).
It forms part of the pathway of light created for the Light Up event on 17 January 2024 and will remain there for 28 days.
The installation presents a brilliant photo opportunity for our University community – who can share their pictures on social media using the bicentenary hashtag #UoM200.
An interview with the poet
We caught up with Rebecca to find out more about her inspiration and writing process for the poem:
What does Manchester mean to you?
Manchester's the place I came to do my PhD in creative writing. It's the place where I made an amazing community of friends and collaborators – people I've been working with since I graduated in 2018.
It's a place that I love. I've decided to make it my home. I moved here from the southeast, where I'm from, but after finishing my PhD I decided this was my city and I'm staying here.
“I was reading handwritten pages from the founders, their thoughts and ideas, and looking at their smudged thumbprints and the splotches of ink. That was my starting place.”
Tell us about the writing process. How did you decide what to write about?
The writing process took place over about four weeks. I didn't have that long to work on the poem, which was probably a good thing. I had 200 years of history to think about, but also the present University and its future.
And so, my process started by observing myself thinking about and working on this poem. Literally, it begins with a walk from Piccadilly Station to the University where I was going to visit the archives.
But maybe it also begins with a really tangible object, something that I held in my hands, which was the minutes of the Mechanics Institution: I was reading handwritten pages from the founders, their thoughts and ideas, and looking at their smudged thumbprints and the splotches of ink. That was my starting place.
What surprised you during your research?
The thing that surprised me was to learn about the founding of the day school for girls. The founders of the Mechanics Institution, about ten years after they opened its doors, decided they should also be educating the girls in the city, the sisters of the boys who were already attending the day school.
And so, they advertised for a teacher and in 1835, in January, this new school opened up and offered lessons to girls, which I thought was incredible.
What's your favourite piece of the University's history?
My personal favourite piece of the University's history was that Alison Uttley actually graduated from the University in 1906 with a degree in physics. She was one of the writers who had a really profound impact on my childhood imagination.
“I was really surprised by the hopefulness of their answers, particularly the climate change scientists I spoke to.”
I loved her books, both her picture books for younger readers and then her books later on, including A Traveller in Time, which I think really combines her interest in physics and time travel and the sort of mystery and wonder of the world.
What do you see for Manchester's future?
Everyone I spoke to while I was writing this poem, I asked them the question: what gives you hope? And I was really surprised by the hopefulness of their answers, particularly the climate change scientists I spoke to.
I think for me personally, what I see for Manchester's future is that it will continue to really embed itself in the city that it’s in. The University of Manchester has this amazing global reach now, but talking to people here, I think something that seemed very important to them – and that I also share – is the role that the University plays within the city.