As the tributes following his untimely death made clear, Anthony H Wilson played an enormous role in the rejuvenation of North West England. Although he will rightly be remembered principally for his part in placing Manchester at the heart of popular culture, the final months of Wilson’s life were devoted, with his partner Yvette Livesey, to helping an area just to the north of the city. The project was also to be the last product of what has been one of the great creative partnerships, that between Wilson and designer Peter Saville. We talked to Saville about the project and heard from the people behind the creation of Pennine Lancashire.
In June 2005 Wilson and Livesey published their Dreaming of Pennine Lancashire report for Elevate (Pennine Lancashire’s Housing Market Renewal pathfinder, no less) which outlined a series of aspirations for a new, regenerated East Lancashire that encompassed the areas of Blackburn, Darwen, Burnley, Ribble Valley, Hyndburn, Pendle and Rossendale. Some of their ideas included a Fashion Tower, Chic Sheds (a wave of public spaces conceived by international architects) and a new brand that they’d termed “Pennine Lancashire”.
“The project that Tony was doing ran parallel with the work I’d been doing with Manchester, as creative director of the city, for the past three years,” says Saville, who worked effectively as executive art director on the new project. “As we had conversations about the work for Manchester, he and Yvette found themselves consulting to a federation of smaller councils to the north of the city. And as a result of our discussions, Tony asked me if I would help with Pennine Lancashire if a point arrived where some graphic work was needed.”
“These regeneration projects, while they’re about communitcation, they’re also an awful lot more than that. They’re also about psychological regeneration and this depends, too, on the nature of the location. The psychology of the society needs to be regenerated along with everything else, to give a new sense of purpose as well as place. Communication design will play a part but it’s important to realise that an identity, in the formal graphic sense, is merely a flag behind which many other issues have to be brought in. Tony and Yvette had a two-year program with the area going before the idea of a graphic identity even came up.”
The graphic device acts as a way of bringing the new term “Pennine Lancashire” into circulation and Saville was adamant that the work be carried out by people who knew the area well and understood the cultural landscape. He approached communications agency Creative Concern, a company that he believes have “some of the best designers working in the UK today.” The identity will be used both as a “flag” under which regeneration projects will be taken forward and as a more conventional “destination brand” for the area as a whole.
“Creative Concern aren’t a 100% design company,” says Saville, “they’re a communications agency. Steve Connor [their chief executive] is a writer not a designer. But a part of their strength is that they happen to have a group of really good young designers. If I wanted to have a company again I’d have them – but I don’t want that many people! I’m just terrribly happy they’re here in Manchester.”
Creative Concern developed the contour to have three different types of usage, explains the company’s Jillian Platt. “The primary use of the brand is as the flag for Pennine Lancashire that will lead the regeneration agencies, businesses and local communities of the area up the mountain of successful regeneration. The second use is as a more traditional “destination’ brand” for promotions that will attract visitors or investors to the area or that will mark out your entry into, or experience of, Pennine Lancashire. It’s been designed to work alongside partners’ activity – where a local authority, a themed event or a high profile public art initiative has a strong and well established brand that speaks well both to locals and to those who might wish to visit.
“And this use of the brand as an endorsement or “kitemark” represents the third suggested deployment of the brand. For example, a number of projects will have their own identity and brand: the fashion tower, Weave; the Pennine Lancashire Squared initiative, GOAL, Chic Sheds and Sound Investments are all either on the starting blocks or being launched. Each of these projects will have its own identity and the Pennine Lancashire brand will be best used as a “kitemark” attached to them, denoting their shared lineage and aspiration set.”
Saville certainly has no regrets about placing Wilson and Livesey’s dream in the hands of Creative Concern. “What the identity immediately communicates is that the area is beautiful, astonishingly beautiful,” he adds. “You can sit here in Manchester and not be aware of the area – but this aims to deliver it. Its key purpose is to make people here, from a large conurbation, drive half an hour in the other direction – instead of going south into the Cheshire countryside. It’s a fluid identity, with different potential readings within the imagery.”
Indeed the “contour” device evokes both the rolling landscape and the rooftops of the local communities while also paying homage to the weaving industry. Just as the aim is to connect these local areas north of Manchester, united under a common signature, the significance of the weaving industry’s role in building these communities is acknowledged too.
And the typeface? It’s based on Res Publica Medium. “We liked the almost-public-sector-type, the semi-bold serif fonts – from my geography book from the 70s,” says Saville. “This has these qualities but it’s a little bit fresher and still sturdy and robust, like an authoritative body.”
Saville says that on presenting the project to the local councils and government officials, not one single objection was made. “It was a thread between the various authorities as much as it was a thread in the landscape. They share that line – you could say – that landscape.”