Manchester’s Curry Mile crisis: Bad press, falling standards and social decline at root of area’s problems

Manchester’s Curry Mile has been a traditional focal point in the south of the city for many years.

For newcomers, it is easy to remember your first experience of this long straight stretch of Rusholme.

One experience can be in one of the several hundred blue magic buses that plough through the Oxford Road corridor every day.

At night-time everything grabs your attention. The crowds, the restaurants, the lights, the glamour, even the traffic.

As an outsider – particularly if you are a fresh-faced University student new to the area – there is not an ounce of denial that this place is razzmatazz with excitement.

If this is the case, then why is the Curry Mile experiencing such a decline? Rusholme folk are rightly proud of this place and there is a warm and vocal community around it. It is regularly part of the Mega Mela and two Eid festivals that take place throughout the year.

So why has Rusholme been given such a rough ride by the media?

Reports in more recent times have focused, sadly, on the negative and one even named it as the most anti-social street in Manchester. Another noted the large number of restaurants that failed Food Standard Agency inspections.

Only this week, Rusholme councillor Kate Chappell said the area needed to clean up it’s act if it wanted to attract large numbers of visitors again, as litter and food waste is blighting the area.

Other such areas across the country – from Bradford to Birmingham to London’s Brick Lane – are also in supposed decline.

One major loser in this is the food itself – the taste of curries and the warmth it has as a palate should never be in question in the educational development of new cultures in comparison to its economic issues.

But what of the economic effective? Would this place in another prosperous time have become busier?

The departure of Manchester City from Maine Road in the nearby Moss Side back in 2003 could be a starting point for the decline because of the major impact football as the world’s most popular sport economically can impact on cities and areas not fully related to matters on the field.

It was seen a popular stop-off point for supporters. The loss of the BBC, back in 2011 to Salford can point as a whole to what has happened in the changes of Southern Manchester itself.

In daylight, the Curry Mile though not as busy as at night time, is still awash with activity. Shops and restaurants are open for bus and the street scene is soundtracked by the constant drilling sound of the double-decker buses that trundle through the Oxford Road corridor come rain or shine.

It is easy to spot an influx of something different. Shisha bars with their closed off plastic sheets fill the street. There is one place at the opposite end that looks different however.

Adam Bahtti is a regular at the Shisha Cafe Bar, near the exit of the mile. He is working on his laptop whilst enjoying a Shisha. He has been going to the Curry Mile since he was a teenager.

He, like many others who have grown up around here, remains loyal to his roots.

“Sixteen years ago when I first came, there were more cornerstones and specialist places,” he said.

“Sadly recently there have been a lot of break-ins. Cars have been broken into and all the cash points have been taken down. You now have to walk to the opposite end of the mile to even to get to a cash point.

“There is a feeling that Rusholme in particular has a real sense of congestion. The road in the last 10 years has definitely declined. In terms of council parking there is no real type of available parking on roads. If you happen to park wrongly, you can get fined roughly £40-50 therefore it is pretty strict.

“There used to be free parking in the area five to six years ago but that has now stopped. If you can’t park in the area then clearly it becomes more inconvenient.

It is important to gain a perspective from the businesses themselves.

Amir is a manager of the Sanam Sweet House and Restaurant. He is optimistic and smiling even in the constant changes on the street.

Positively he points to the student population at the nearby Manchester Universities as a major help to the restaurant income, saying that particular demographic accounts for 20-30% of the restaurant income.

Walking in to the Lahori Karahi restaurant however is a different matter however altogether. There is a general mood of sombreness and the owner Mr Kahn looks visibly upset.

The restaurant itself is a gold-winning regional and national establishment but Mr Kahn is concerned with his area, and in particular the impact of the shisha industry.

He said: “You can get a £50 fine for smoking in restaurants and yet all the Shisha bars are technically illegal. There are young children coming in to these bars and it is not safe enough.

“The council is not bothering to do anything to help and the revenue is not being spent on correctly. In the past two years for example we have had no Christmas lights in Rusholme “. 

Even more disturbing is the realisation that there are beggars on the streets asking for money off the general public in broad daylight.

Mr Kahn’s restaurant has been regularly visited by beggars who have been scared off by the owner.

Manchester City Council face a battle to allow the culture of its local residents to prosper while ensuring everything is done within the rules.

Rusholme Councillor Rabnawaz Akbar said: “The Shisha is almost the equivalent of 100 cigarettes as stated on the NHS website. Cafe bars have a dilemma because it is not licensed and it is not defined as smoke.

“We want a multi-cultural faith and there over 200 languages spoken in Rusholme. In terms of improving car parking spaces, we know there are residents who are not happy parking in the Mile.

“However we do have a publicly owned local authority hold and there are chances things could potentially develop.”

Nationally, the perception is that curry miles such as Manchester’s are continuing to fall behind other foodie trends.

Peter Backman, managing director of food industry experts Horizons, believes that areas like Manchester’s Curry Mile are not doing enough to keep with consumer’s evolving tastes.

It is a time of real commercialization with new technological changes in the time with mobile apps as an example. Food choices like other leisure pursuits such as music continue to evolve and expand.

And Mr Backman said “Restaurant prices in general are coming down.

“It’s more to do with the bigger brands these days. The atmosphere of Indian restaurants perhaps doesn’t tie in with what people want today. It does not appeal to the general population.

“The bigger brands such as Pizza Express for example are constantly reinventing menus and have more advertising campaigns.

“There is evidence too in food trends that is age related and that there is a younger audience that will use social media to check up on things beforehand to find out about previous experiences.

“Indian restaurants back in the 1960’s were a leading brand to eat out and that was their time. Today in Manchester, there is a revolution on the cusp of eating out particularly with the Spinningfields area.

“In the forthcoming trends for the next 10 years, places like the Curry Mile might go downhill because it is not keeping in pace with its consumers.

“There is nobody running the food sector overall so my feeling in the main is the owners of the Indian restaurants may follow what their parents did and that is not a recipe for success.”

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