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On This Day in 2011: the inaugural I Love MCR campaign united Greater Manchester

Reviewing over a decade since the Manchester riots - and how the I Love MCR movement has mobilised a proud city, time and time again

On Tuesday 9th August 2011, following three days of disturbances in London, copycat riots broke out in Manchester and Salford, causing millions of pounds worth of damage.

It started on Market Street at around 6 pm. By nightfall, hundreds of violently motivated youths were out on the streets causing disturbances. Riot police were in running battles with groups of hooded hooligans, windows were smashed, and shops were looted and set on fire. Even a mini-digger was stolen to cause extra damage.

Councillor Pat Karney said the riots were “one of the darkest days in Manchester history.”

He wasn’t wrong. However, the epidemic also brought to the fore some of the city’s brightest and bravest qualities.

Out of chaos came creativity.

Reacting to the Manchester riots

The inaugural I Love MCR campaign was launched as a reaction to the riots and an antidote to anti-social behaviour. The movement quickly became an expression of solidarity with and love for Manchester.

It all started when city centre-based graphic designer Chris Greenhalgh witnessed a gang of “mindless idiots” break into a shop on Corporation Street from the balcony of his Green Quarter flat.

“People were terrified and were steering clear of the city,” said Chris, who wanted to jump from his balcony and “beat them up like Batman,” but thought better of it. He opened his laptop instead.

During a trip to the US in 2009 to visit an old friend, Chris had been impressed by the iconic I Love NY symbol and how ubiquitous it had become.

The “I Love NY” logo was designed as an artistic answer to dark times in New York City during the seventies – lots of riots and robberies – and to promote tourism at a desperate time when nobody wanted to visit NYC. 

This inspired Manchester-born Chris to create the I Love MCR symbol, which would subsequently be similarly executed and become widespread.

“Coming up with an effective acronym for the city region of Manchester was important. I studied graphic design and advertising at uni and was taught that symbols are used to create impact in large spaces. 

“The most powerful symbols are effective because they project a message to a broad audience in a very simple, eye-catching way. What’s more, the most influential symbols speak an international language and convey the desired message without words. 

“The message was clear. Manchester has always had a unique sense of civic pride and defiance, and I felt it very strongly during the riots. People were saying, ‘I love my city,’ and ‘we are going to take our city back’, so I felt I needed to display this passion and use my experience to mobilise these defiant residents.”

Cleaning up

Out of the wreckage of the riots came a remarkable display of resilience and community spirit inspired by the I Love MCR signs. 

A small minority of thugs, criminals and opportunists had taken to the streets to riot and loot. But a much larger number of positive people mobilised by I Love MCR came together to show their pride in their city.

“It was obvious to me that Manchester was missing a leader,” says Chris.

“The city was missing a brand. There’s been a giant Tony Wilson shaped hole in Manchester since he died of a heart attack in 2007.”

Mr Manchester selflessly – and sometimes shamelessly – promoted our city all over the world. Wherever Tony went, he took Manchester with him, proudly championing it like a doting parent.

Manchester needed a new ambassador to positively turn people’s attention to the city with a new understanding.

A clear visual identity can help a city to gel its image and give people something to rally behind. A simple logotype or pattern can go a long way without travelling far.

A good brand has the power to change the conversation and express a strong sense of civic pride like Tony Wilson did. 

“Although I didn’t have Tony’s presence or personality (listen, there’s only one Tony Wilson), I had one thing he didn’t. I had social media.”

Chris used his new I Love MCR social media accounts to start a movement that brought together thousands of people horrified by the riots. The campaign attracted an army of followers, and Facebook and Twitter users started to change their profile pictures to the I Love MCR logo

Inspired by the I Love MCR campaign, a ‘broom army’ of Manchester residents and businesses took to the streets to take part in a voluntary riot clean-up in Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens and Arndale Centre.

Newcomers to the city and gripped by the I Love MCR campaign, two friends, Tom Ash and Tony Lord, hopped in their pick-up truck with a couple of shovels and brooms and went to the city centre to help with the clean-up. 

“People always think of community in small villages or small towns,” says Tom, co-founder of MCR Self Storage, “and they don’t really think about it how a city with as large a population as Manchester can actually turn out in force the next day and help people they don’t even know. You look at that and think: ‘that is the city I want to be part of.”

The following day, many people were too scared to come into the city centre for fear that disturbances may still continue.

“There was a catastrophic drop in confidence and trading activity in the city centre,” said Cllr Karney. “A lot of shop owners thought the hooligans and rioters were going to come back for a second and a third night, so that week was very important to get Manchester back working and get confidence back in the city.”

With a limited budget, Chris launched an I Love MCR website to bring all the buzzing activity together in one place and to give the campaign a global presence. It was used as a platform to publish all of the positive news that came out of the response to the riots and boost the local economy.

“My mission was to use the website and social channels to spread a bit of sunshine and happiness in the world,” said Chris, “or at least where I live and highlight just how much good stuff happens.

“I like the good news and Manchester has plenty of it.”

Support from influencers

Just 48 hours after the first night of disturbances and riot clean-ups, the I Love MCR movement gained recognition from major players such as Bruntwood and The Co-operative. 

Manchester City Council and Marketing Manchester became a valuable driving force behind the campaign, and I Love MCR was granted free outdoor media space across the city. The sign was emblazoned on posters, on shop fronts, buses, lamp-posts, billboards and hoardings. 

Manchester Airport looped the logo above check-in desks and across screens inside the terminals. It was even projected onto tall buildings – most notably on the CIS Tower.

I Love MCR merchandise such as T-shirts and mugs was sold in Manchester Arndale and the Visitor Information Centre, and council leaders urged shops to cut prices as part of the drive to boost the city’s economy.

Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero wears an I Love MCR t-shirt during a pre-match warm-up

Coronation Street stars and celebrities and Manchester United and City players were pictured showing their support wearing I Love MCR T-shirts. Manchester Pride handed out I Love MCR flags during the Parade.

The movement united the residents and businesses of Greater Manchester, turning a negative into a positive, and becoming a symbol of the city’s resilience recognised not just by the city but nationwide.

“It is the latest response to the I Love MCR campaign that has united the Greater Manchester region against the rioters,” said The Guardian, “and produced a package of measures to boost the local economy.”

Inspired by the I Love MCR campaign and its association with the positive action taken by residents and businesses, The Lord Mayor of Manchester’s Charity Appeal Trust adopted its ‘look and feel’ and rebranded to become the beneficiary partner We Love MCR Charity, a charity that aims to improve the lives and life chances of the people of Manchester.

“The I Love MCR campaign makes us all feel rightly proud of our city and its people and shows the world what real Mancunians look like,” said Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council.

“The city has embraced it [the I Love MCR campaign] with enthusiasm, and there is no better way of demonstrating that spirit than getting out and enjoying everything the city centre has to offer – whether it’s shopping, culture or nightlife….”

What began in 2011 as a multimedia campaign became a vehicle for bringing together Mancunians – and anyone who loves Manchester – to celebrate the city and the things that make it such a special place.

Mourning the Manchester Arena terror attack

By 2017, I Love MCR was a well-established independent multimedia organisation that had kept up the momentum created by the first campaign in 2011 by consistently publishing inspiring news and creating content from the heart of the city.

When 22 innocent people lost their lives and hundreds were injured in the terror attack at the Manchester Arena on the night of 22 May, the city brand felt an unprecedented weight of responsibility and suspended all commercials while mourning the attack.

I Love MCR signs were displayed across the city, not just on tributes and at vigils, but on advertising billboards and in shop windows.

“People were speechless,” says Chris. “People looked to I Love MCR for inspiration for how to react and relied upon the organisation to respond positively. When you have no words, displaying a sign like “I Love MCR” says it for you. It says solidarity, it says defiance, and it says resilience.”

Newly-elected mayor Andy Burnham made his mark in a baptism of fire and changed his social media profile to the I Love MCR symbol. So did thousands of others.

In a measured, thoughtful post on Twitter Burnham wrote: “People who use this to push hatred are doing exactly what the terrorists want. Division and hate make us weak; unity and resolve make us strong. It’s an act of extremism and people need to remember that at all times.”

The logo gained global visibility and became what The Independent called ‘a ubiquitous image of defiance’. The logo was even displayed above the departures entrance at Manchester Airport and on the side of a Thomas Cook aeroplane.

I Love MCR posted thousands of items of Manchester merchandise not just all over the UK but all over the world – including the USA, Canada, India, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan and more. Conscious of how a large number of shop orders posted worldwide could leave a mark on the planet, I Love MCR decided to invest in reusable and sustainable products, including certified organic clothing.

After unprecedented international reach, global media company BuzzFeed said: “Manchester responded to terror with togetherness, and I Love MCR has become an emblem of the city’s refusal to bow to hatred in the wake of the terror attack.”

Ariana Grande returned to Manchester for “One Love Manchester”, a benefit gig at Old Trafford Cricket Ground. It united some of the biggest  names in music  including Miley Cyrus, Justin Beiber, Coldplay and Liam Gallagher – who all declared, “I love Manchester.” In fact, Liam Gallagher asked for the I Love MCR logo to be projected behind him on stage. 

The hugely moving One Love Manchester concert raised over £21million for I Love MCR’s partner beneficiary charity, We Love MCR Emergency Fund.

Later that year, the city displayed its affection for Ariana Grande by adopting the global superstar as an honorary citizen of Mancunian.

Liam once again requested that the I Love MCR logo be lit up behind him for his set at the Brit Awards.

Ed Sheeran bought eight I Love MCR T-shirts – which included a donation to the beneficiary partner charity – ahead of his gig at the Etihad Stadium before buying a further four tees for his second Manchester show.

What does I Love MCR do today?

Photo: Withington Walls/Instagram

Today, I Love MCR continues to unite people and champion a better future for the city by monetising an evolving website which now features an online directory and positive news platform. 

The fiercely independent organisation promotes Manchester businesses and charities with digital marketing, out-of-home media, and by creating unique activations across the region.

The Manchester website now receives an average of five million (5,000,000) impressions per month, inspiring the people and businesses of Greater Manchester to work together while also helping to raise money for Manchester based charities and boost the local economy.

During the restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic, which of course had a much bigger negative impact on the local economy than the riots did, local influencers and celebrities helped I Love MCR spread hope with an “I Love MCR More Than Ever” campaign. The idea inspired many initiatives across the city to help encourage a well-needed boost to the economy.

Twelve months after the ‘social bubbles’ came into existence following the first lockdown in the UK, I Love MCR launched the first-ever “I Love NHS Day” on Sunday 13th June to say thank you to our National Health Service, its key workers and to raise money for NHS Charities Together.

I Love MCR informs people about what makes the city region such a special place to live, work and do business by spreading positive news, and through advertising and marketing and media partnerships with like-minded organisations such as CityCo and The Heart of Manchester Business Improvement District.

As a result, I Love MCR and its partners help build economic prosperity and create a dynamic image of the city region around the world.

To put it simply, I Love MCR shows the world that the people of Manchester are proud of their city. The city stands together as one and will not be divided.

Show your love and support Manchester

Cath Tyldesley

The trademarked logo, independently owned by Christopher Greenhalgh, the founder and CEO of I Love MCR, appears in souvenir shops and brochures across the city, some licensed, some not.

Show your support and love for the official Manchester brand by purchasing official I Love MCR merchandise, Manchester gifts and souvenirs from the official Manchester shop. All I Love MCR clothing and merch is 100% organic, Fair Trade and vegan material. What’s more, profit from the sale of all items is donated to the I Love Manchester Foundation, raising vital funds for wider communities across the Greater Manchester city region.

You can also donate what you can to the I Love MCR Foundation.

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Manchester is a successful city, but there are many people that suffer. The I Love MCR Foundation helps raise vital funds to help improve the lives and prospects of people and communities across Greater Manchester – and we can’t do it without your help. So please donate or fundraise what you can because investing in your local community to help it thrive can be a massively rewarding experience. Thank you in advance!

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