What is Unit X? A Student Perspective

Video produced by Danny Orwin

This year we have had a short film produced with some current students offering their perspectives on Unit X, and how their thoughts have changed since they were first introduced to it during their first year.

We hope you find it useful, and that it may answer any questions you have with regards to Unit X. Click on the link below and enjoy!

What is Unit X?


Placement Project – London Road Fire Station

Words: Harriet Redfearn 

Images: Harrier Redfearn, Alicia Hill, Benjamin Green

Undertaking a placement was one of the twelve options for our second year Unit X. I decided the London Road project would offer me a fascinating and engaging placement which would inform my future practice as a maker and/or curator. I was offered the role of the project and research assistant working alongside Jenny Walker. Jenny, my past tutor and now individual practitioner, is currently leading the London Road project in collaboration with staff and students from Manchester School of Art. Jenny is involved with other heritage projects similar to London Road. She is working as the creative advisor for the ongoing Bradford Pit project which aims to commemorate the lives of the miners who worked at Manchester’s Bradford Pit.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the City of Manchester Corporation commissioned a new fire station. No expense was spared. The finest architects, materials, and fittings were employed and state of the art technologies were installed to erect the ‘finest fire station in this round world’. But London Road Fire Station was much more than just a fire station; it was a thriving community at the heart of the city centre. The building was comprised of homes for forty-two firemen and their families, a police station, a coroner’s court, a bank, a club room, a gym, workshops, and more. This building, its fire brigade, police force, and ambulance service safeguarded the city of Manchester for over eighty years. Today, the building is derelict and has sadly been neglected for nearly three decades. However, the recent owners of the building, Allied London, are leasing spaces for the building to be resurrected and transformed into a variety of commercial uses such as a hotel, restaurants and apartments.

Before works on the building begin, there is a small window of opportunity for staff and students of Manchester School of Art to visit the site and gather inspiration for their creative projects in response to the fire station’s history. The intention for the student project is not to just visually respond to inspiration, it is to reveal some of the lesser known stories of London Road Fire Station through their artwork. This is so that future visitors can understand more about the history of the building, beyond what they can immediately see.

One of the London Road project’s aims is to collect and conserve memories of those associated with Manchester’s fire station. Over the past couple of weeks, myself and Jenny, along with volunteers from Manchester School of Art have been interviewing former residents of London Road Fire Station on site, often in the flats they used to live in. I have been recording the audio of these reactions, memories, and stories in order to compile an archive of oral histories. Perhaps these stories will also inspire the staff and student’s artworks which will be exhibited in the future. This exhibition may be held at the Greater Manchester Fire Service Museum in Rochdale but this venue is yet to be confirmed.

As well as recording the oral histories, we have been undertaking archeological style research at London Road Fire Station. We have been collecting and documenting old newspapers, rusted screws, fragments of vintage wallpaper, small pieces of terracotta and other physical material that may evidence what life was like at London Road Fire Station. Our documented findings, along with photographs, literature, and objects that people share with us will be gathered together and put into a digital archive that will preserve the memories made at London Road Fire Station.

Pursuing this placement is really giving me an insight into what is involved in running a creative heritage project and how a project like this can benefit a community. Managing both the public involvement and the student project are teaching me valuable skills that can be put into practice outside of university as well as within my studies. For example, I am learning about the various ways people attribute value to stories. The people formerly associated with London Road tend to recall memories of which they deem to be of real significance or value, stories they believe will inspire the creative students the most, such as the time a milk cart was stolen and driven into a wall of the engine house. But some of the students tend to attribute value to, and seek inspiration from, the more obscure and personal memories too, such as where an individual would seek lone refuge from such an inescapable communal place. Understanding these two contrasting ideas will benefit any further research I undertake. I will be mindful to encourage interviewees to speak of the less conventionally significant stories as well as their momentous memories in order to compose an in-depth primary research file.

I am also gaining an insight into the ways creatives and companies collaborate by working alongside professionals from other disciplines such as filmmakers and photographers, cultural institutions like the Greater Manchester Fire Service Museum, and commercial enterprises such as Allied London and Zetter Hotels. For example, I have gained an enhanced understanding of how regional museums can benefit from engaging with student projects. By inviting the students from Manchester School of Art to gather inspiration from their artefacts and paper archives, the museum increases their visitor numbers and improves their profile. This in turn has supported the Greater Manchester Fire Service Museum in its Heritage Lottery Fund bid to extend their Rochdale-based museum, as well as providing invaluable research for the students.

This is also helping me gain an understanding of how projects like London Road are mutually beneficial to all involved, from intergenerational members of the public and students to commercial enterprises and professionals. Gaining commissions and supporting applications for funding are examples of how creatives could potentially benefit from working alongside commercial enterprises. Commercial enterprises like Zetter Hotels could also commission creatives to work on projects which would add significant historical and cultural value to their businesses. Many of the older people we have interviewed on site have brought along younger members of their family who have been eager to finally connect the place with the stories they have been told throughout their lives of London Road Fire Station. As well as helping generations understand each other, recalling memories has been shown to benefit health and well-being, and revisiting the fire station has undoubtedly been a meaningful and emotional process for everyone involved.

In a nutshell, the London Road project aims to integrate heritage, arts and education by combining historical and archaeological research with creative interpretation, approaches, and visual responses. We intend for this interdisciplinary approach to add significant and unique social value to this heritage project. Jenny and I, along with everyone currently involved in the project, are all passionate about connecting people with an extremely significant part of Manchester’s history, with a building that holds so many stories within its walls, London Road Fire Station.

Punk Workshop

Words: Aimee Plumbley

Images: Zoe Hitchen

Last week, level five students on the option three Punk project stream took part in a process led workshop held by graphic designer Malcolm Garrett, and stylist and art director Judy Blame. Malcolm and Judy are old school punks who studied in Manchester in the 1970s.


The students prepared research in advance of the workshop, which fed into a physical response to image and identity. The brief required students to ask questions such as ‘What inspires/ frustrates you?’ and ‘What do you feel a part of?’ to inspire their physical manifestations of punk.

Our students approached the brief from different perspectives, and the physical responses varied. Some of the ideas explored throughout the workshop included:

  • Punk and femininity acting as masks.
  • The commodification of punk and feminism. Especially conversation i.e. wearing the punk aesthetic, but not actually making any political statement.
  • Does punk still have currency? What is punk in 2017? In this world of hyper-reality, is making conversation with eye contact breaking the norm and rebelling? Could putting away our phones and in fact talking to one another be punk?

Malcolm explained the workshop was a unique opportunity for students to act unprofessionally in a professional setting, the punk aesthetic after all is supposed to be fun. The students were learning in a different style of learning as opposed to usual workshops at University.

“Punk encouraged personal expression and endorsed positive, personal intervention in society.”

We caught up with a second year Interactive Arts student who found the workshop “exciting”, and was inspired by the sense of community in collaborating with various creative students. She felt the workshop “allowed me to express how I’d like to present my work”, and was a welcome break from the academic model.

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Images Motion Connection Workshop

Words & Images: Poppy Cartwright

On Thursday 9th March, our Level 4 Fashion, FAD and Interactive Arts group got together for a workshop.

Based on themes of motion, each group was given a word to creatively respond to, such as loop, weave, and twist. They were asked to think about a physical action as well as a process that could be used when making their work. Supplied with a vast choice of recycled materials such as ribbon card, rope so on, they had to creatively collaborate together to make a costume that would be used in an impromptu performance.

The workshop was a great icebreaker and encouraged them to be free with ideas and explore. The performance took place over in the Benzie building and all students participated and enjoyed performing!

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Fashion Protest

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Words: Susan Atkin

Images: Ilona Gill 

On Tuesday 7th March there was a Protest event which showcased Fashion Level 4 students’ garments made under that heading. Themes ranging from the miners’ strike and Stonewall to free the nipple and black power were covered, all of which held resonance for the students who chose those themes.

The show itself marked the beginning of a cross-collaborative project with Fashion, Fashion Art Direction and Interactive Arts. All students’ specialist skills were utilised as they worked together to present garments within a traditional catwalk setting with a protest tableau forming as models gathered post catwalk through the show.

An impromptu collaboration with graphics occurred as their own one day  workshop on protest produced a series of banners.


Words by Hanieh Hazrati

Manchester Met’s Spectrum embarked on an exploration of art and science in response to a major international exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery.

Spectrum was a learner-curated gallery intervention in response to The Imitation Game, a major exhibition held as part of the European City of Science festival, which critically examines robots, computing, engineering, and the impact of such technology on our understanding of life.

The event brought together students from Manchester School of Art with those from the faculty of Science and Engineering, with the aim of expanding Manchester Met’s exploration of art-science practice through teaching and collaboration.

During the process students worked alongside professional artists, scientists, curators, gallery educators, and science communicators, as well as experiencing a range of tours and presentations from people including artist Tony Hall, who demonstrated his table top experiments with Ferro fluid and ink, and Professor Andy Miah who delivered his experiences in science education and public engagement.

Students were introduced to each other’s working environments, operating in both art studios and science labs, exposing them to each other’s curiosities, methods and social concerns.  They continually worked on experiments in both the lab and the studio, experimenting together which in turn accelerated new questions and knowledge that changed learning habits and developed their science and art practices.

Organised by artists Annie Carpenter, Ella McCartney (MSA)  Dave Griffiths (Manchester School of Art), physicist and poet Sam Illingworth (Faculty of Science & Engineering), and curator Clare Gannaway, the art gallery came into life by featuring six exhibitions called; Emotional Training, Eternal Return, Vibrio Fischeri, Nothing, Evolution and Remember Me.

Manchester Art Gallery curator Kate Jesson said: “We felt the evening to be a great success. We are at our happiest when the gallery comes alive with all the creativity of the city’s future artists. The partnerships with young scientists made this year’s Unit X project extra special.  So a huge thank you from us to you, Annie, Dave and Ella and especially the students who rose to the challenge admirably.”

The amazing photos from the MMU Spectrum and the Manchester Art Gallery can be found here – https://flic.kr/s/aHskA7XKp3.


Unit X Exhibition 2016

Words by Ayah Alshami, Ayesha Mirza and Houda Kaddouh

We have just celebrated the fifth year of Unit X in style with a truly fantastic exhibition of our student collaborations. The exhibition was held at London Scottish House, an ordinary office block transformed by inspirational work ranging from the modern era to classic renaissance compositions.

The students’ work was displayed using an array of techniques, each uniquely developed to the subject matter. From compositions to full office installations, the building was brought to life in the most brilliant of fashions.

Second year students from Illustration with Animation, Creative Multimedia and Fine Art Curating collaborated with renowned composer Peter Byrom-Smith who composed incredible short pieces for each student, which were played live by a 12-piece orchestra. Each animation spoke an intimate story, from the threats of biodiversity, to a Native American folk tale about a grasshopper and a cricket, produced with puppets! Each live performance felt like a personalised experience, as though you were being let into a little secret. It was definitely not one to miss, the energy in the room was incredible and the performance set a wonderful tone for the rest of the evening.

‘I was challenged to work in disciplines that I wouldn’t usually consider exploring’

Tapping into Manchester’s Year of Science, first year Textiles in Practice and Three Dimensional Design students were involved in a project entitled ‘Art Meets Science’. In groups students deliberated on how science and technology have reformed methods in representing the body. Visitors were encouraged to look at every detail within the various fabrics. The embroidered pieces were particularly delicate and intricate. Students also strategically laid out their sketchbooks next to their exhibits, and it was lovely to see the creative process from start to finish.

‘Working with people with other skills gave me the opportunity to produce a product that looks more complete. My ceramic vessels look a lot more interesting with the textiles features.’

On the second floor, work by Filmmaking, Animation and Photography students, expressed their brief with pieces relating to the English National Ballet, thereby accompanying the world premiere of Giselle, choreographed by the renowned Akran Khan, which will be performed in September. This had the audience walking through a series of projectors, much like an American drive-in movie theatre, except that one was able to navigate through many different movies in the same space.

Property developer Bruntwood asked students to develop original ideas for hoardings to surround the new Circle Square development on Oxford Road, and reimagine spaces within Blackfriar’s House.

As we become infatuated with the advancement of Manchester’s development, it is crucial that we are able to reassess how we occupy the city.

By working on this brief, students had to pitch, create proposals and liaise with Bruntwood representatives to develop their own ideas.

Unit X has continuously proven to be ingenious and resourceful.

The work produced was extremely professional and I could easily see any of these designs being cultivated in Manchester.

Another enterprising brief involved developing 12 looks for client James Long, who has quickly become one of the most sought after fashion designers. Long has recently won the Fashion Forward Award, an initiative set up to promote emerging design talent, a wonderful opportunity for those who selected to undertake the Fashion brief for their Unit X project. Students experimented with different materials such as foam, and produced sample pieces alongside sketches. The exhibit attracted many visitors who came to marvel at all the bright colours and exaggerated shapes. The students curated each outfit with aesthetics very much at the forefront of contemporary fashion.

Out of the four floors of installations and art, it would be impossible to choose a favourite, however first year students from Fashion, Fashion Art Direction, Interactive Arts and Interior Design definitely came close. This collaboration played with ideas of temptation and escapism, creating environments that heightened your senses and immersed you into alternative surroundings. Students experimented with different materials and delved into themes surrounding the question ‘Can space affect your behaviour?’. Each installation evoked feelings from the public, be it tranquillity, or an unsettling sense, as each atmosphere was unpredictable, flicking quickly from one emotion to another.

‘It was challenging to work with courses that work in a completely different way to how we work. I am doing Interactive Arts and working with Fashion students that are used to strict timescales and deadlines, I felt pressured in a productive way. I had to make quick decisions and be selective with my ideas.’

For me, the highlight of the evening had to be the educator workshop. A student who had worked on this project explained that students from a variety of courses had worked together to develop and deliver engaging workshops in public settings. Most of the students who chose this option would like to go on to work in schools.

It was therapeutic to escape from the busy exhibition, have a chance to unwind and make pompom key-rings, and visitors were able to create their own collaborative piece by throwing darts at paint filled balloons.

Overall, I was exceptionally overwhelmed with the high standard of quality, professionalism and how the eclectic mix of courses harmonized. It was truly interesting to see how everyone approached each notion in a different way. Students have raised the bar, and expectations next year will be high. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Unit X 2017!

‘As an alumni of the Three Dimensional Design course at Manchester School Of Art, the Unit X exhibition is always a highlighted date in my calendar. It is just incredible to see how the students developed their unique approaches to the collaborative briefs this year resulting is this phenomenal transformation of the London Scottish House in the city centre. It is notable that the standard of the work across all courses is creeping up each year. The experience from the initial introduction to the unit through to the final exhibit is invaluable for the students careers beyond university.’

‘From the inspiring talks, trips and workshops to the opportunity of engaging with an external organisation, Unit X offers the perfect package for students to experience working as a creative in the real world.’  

You can access a gallery of works from the exhibition here.

There are also lots of posts detailing the processes our students went through to get to the exhibition here.