Dazzled interior designer Sarah Whatmore is stood on top of Manchester, gawping at the city below her feet.
She’s been tasked with kitting out a luxury penthouse in West Tower – one of Britain’s tallest skyscrapers outside the big smoke – but the view is distracting her.
During a conversation with the building’s general manager, she gazes through the floor-to-ceiling windows at the concrete labyrinth wriggling away into the sunset.
The two women look out at Manchester and share a moment of silent awe.
“… great place to live,” Sarah eventually mutters, still in half a trance.
Even after days spent dedicated to this building, they’re still taken aback.
This scene plays out during BBC’s Manctopia – a property boom documentary that dedicates much of its final episode to teasing the arrival of a new penthouse owner in the Deansgate Square development.
For almost an hour, the episode keeps its cards close to its chest. All we’re told is that the new buyer is an international businesswoman who’d spent so much on fittings that the designers won’t even reveal the numbers on screen.
“Very expensive,” is all they’d give away.
Then, around the 50 minute-mark, the owner appears.
It turns out to be Sarah Lomas, a born-and-bred northerner who’d spent her early twenties just a few miles away in Denton – completely broke and living on inflatable furniture.
Now the CEO of global health brand REVIV, Sarah recites a truncated version of her rags-to-riches story in Manctopia, calling it an “incredible feeling” to be standing in the best apartment in Manchester after her upbringing on a council estate.
It’s only a forty-second cameo. But after the credits rolled, Sarah’s social media inbox was almost set ablaze.
More 3,000 messages poured in from viewers who wanted to know how she’d done it.
Manctopia covered every kind of character and story in modern Manchester – but it was Sarah’s rise from below the poverty line up to a penthouse that struck the biggest chord.
Nonetheless, Sarah isn’t convinced her tale is worth talking about too much.
“There’s not a really interesting story there,” Sarah tells The Manc.
“Other than the fact it was bloody hard work.”
In Sarah’s eyes, there’s a much bigger narrative in play here: The one that’s shaping Manchester’s future.
According to the REVIV owner, Manc still isn’t being taken seriously as it should – despite all these brand new glistening buildings bumping their heads against clouds.
Relentless urban development aside, Sarah believes that London still sees Manchester as being behind the pace.
But it’s not so much the wealth divide. Apparently, it’s the way we talk.
According to Sarah, there’s been no bigger hindrance to her corporate career than her northern twang.
“I was working as a single mum in a male-dominated environment, but the largest obstacle wasn’t being a parent or even a female – it was my northern accent,” she explains.
“To get further up the ladder, I was actually told to go for elocution lessons.”
You’re a single mother with no qualifications. You sell all your furniture to pay your bills. You work night shifts to put food on the table. You spend years upskilling and studying in your spare time. You earn a long-term deal with one of the world’s biggest banks. You rapidly rise through the ranks and enjoy an enormously successful two decades in finance.
But then… you’re told that none of that really matters.
What’s really important is that you speak proper.
“In the end, I went to work in countries where my accent didn’t matter,” Sarah admits.
“I was the only British person in an international group; so nobody detected the Manc. They just thought I was from the UK.”
Whilst Sarah accepts the corporate scene has changed a lot since the nineties, she believes accent discrimination remains rife and is holding fellow businesspeople back as we speak.
“It still exists, 100%,” she asserts.
“I can see it’s still out there by the sheer volume of people coming to me.
“Most of the messages I get are from people feeling held back by their accent. And interestingly, about 65% of them are men.
“Perhaps you could say I took the easy way out – I left the country.
“But others are still having problems with it right now – and I think that’s something we need to address.”
Despite its archaic, prejudicial nature, accent discrimination did lead to Sarah opting to go her own way and build a company on her own terms.
It’s the business that ended up buying her the flat in West Tower: REVIV (a health organisation that offers intravenous (IV) vitamin hydration and wellness therapy).
The company’s global hub and flagship clinic is operating right here in Sarah’s hometown – with the service being rolled out to a staggering 41 countries around the world.
Big names like Hap Klopp – the founder of Northface – are on the company board, and the service has proven unsurprisingly popular with the cultural elite – from pro athletes to actors and actresses.
But what’s intriguing about REVIV is that services are also accessible for the everyman.
Product prices start at just £25 – and their IV Therapy has now been commissioned for public use for the very first time.
But most amazingly of all, REVIV can offer customers a personalised diet and supplement plan based on their own genetics that ensures the best possible levels of health; with an app in development that lets users scan an item and reveal how beneficial it is for their body.
Sarah says she wants to change ideas and understanding of wellbeing in Britain – whilst making these treatments – typically considered exotic – available for all.
“The reality is, everyone is different,” Sarah states.
“Coffee is good for some people, bad for others. A glass of red wine is beneficial for some, but can do real damage in some cases.
“It’s all down to the individual.
“There are millions of variables and you need to be able to understand your own blueprint to stay healthy.”
REVIV has also weighed in to provide support with COVID testing services since the pandemic took hold – and Sarah believes that the emergence of coronavirus has forced people to reevaluate the way they look at their own health.
“We’ve got work to do; but this situation [COVID] is a brilliant opportunity to make something positive out of negative,” she says.
“The World Health Organisation is starting to make this connection of nutrition being key to our ability to fight off viruses such as this.
“We’ve heard a lot about how people without underlying conditions are being even affected by the virus. But having no underlying conditions is very different to actually being healthy.”
Sarah’s in her West Tower penthouse when we talk – and as she scans the city from thirty flights above, she’s conflicted.
“Whichever side of this house you go to, you get an incredible view,” Sarah muses.
“I can see everything in the city. I find that quite inspiring.”
But something is eating away at her. An itch no skyline could scratch.
“I’m worried about Manchester,” Sarah admits.
“I’ve got concerns about the economics of the city. I’ve got concerns for small businesses that aren’t able to recover.
“I’m also aware that many people still aren’t recognising us for the city we truly are.
“I want to play my part in helping wherever I can.
“I want to work on that.”
Sarah has already inspired hundreds of Mancs and now runs a company that’s dedicated to creating a healthier city for tomorrow.
It’s safe to say that ‘work’ has already started.
We tried Greater Manchester’s first eight-course pie-tasting menu and it was absolutely unreal
Every now and again the opportunity to eat something genuinely new and different and which pushes the envelope when it comes to the kind of food you ever even thought you’d enjoy — sitting down for the inaugural ‘PieSessions’ was one of those such occasions.
This month, we had the privilege of being invited along to one of the most exclusive and highly-anticipated dining events in Greater Manchester: an eight-course pie-tasting event created by pie-pros Ate Days A Week, Scotty’s Pies and a number of other collaborators.
Hosting a true first for the region, Notion Bar over in Stockport was packed out with over 50 guests who were all eagerly awaiting to taste pies from the local favourite, MasterChef contestant turned meat and pastry specialist Scott Eckersley-Bell, as well as Wigan staples Baldy’s Pies and Harwoods Patisserie.
At first glance, the popular SK Deep South-inspired dive bar might not look like the place to offer up a gourmet tasting menu, but what it did have was an accessible charm and a bunch of hungry people not only willing to keep their minds open but who simply love all things pie. Who doesn’t?
At the top of the bill was probably one of the most interesting things we’ve eaten all year: a Japanese-inspired ‘Pie-Scream’ which delivered the exact savoury spin as it promised on the tin. A malt-crust cone stuffed with smoothly pipped mash, katsu curry sauce and crispy Teriyaki bacon in place of a flake.
We believe we call that ‘making a good first impression’. From that moment on, we knew we weren’t just going to be eating any old meal and that it wasn’t just going to be plate after plate of what you normally consider a pie; everything was different and we can honestly say everything was good, if not amazing.
Next up we had probably one of our standouts from the entire night which was a garlic, ginger and soy pork mince tartlet with a perfect piece of honey-glazed pork belly next to it, as well as a light edamame and spring onion purée to balance out the strong flavours.
Following on from the opener, the pair delivered all of the tried and tested Asian flavours in a method most will have never experienced them in before and, in truth, we could have even taken some extra spice with that virtually perfect tartlet but they were careful not to thrash our palettes early doors.
Two down, six to go and when we tell you it was plate after plate of precise pie-based ingenuity, we’re not exaggerating. From the short rib slider, which was almost like an elevated Wigan kebab, to the gentler poached cod pithivier which kind of reminded us of a seafood twist on a Cornish pasty, there was a single thing we didn’t like.
The way the menu was also carefully constructed not to beat you over the head with non-stop meat, pastry and gravy but to fluctuate between smaller bites and more substantial courses was already pretty impressive, as we managed to make it to the end of the meal at the perfect level of full.
We were even pleasantly surprised to see how the team tackled the issue of pudding, with a sweet and just sharp enough take on parfait with fresh orange, stem ginger and brown sugar, as well as a much richer chocolate, salted caramel and hazelnut brownie for a big finish.
To be honest, we loved the tiny little lemon madeleines they surprised us with as an after-dinner treat even more than the desserts (the two of us in attendance are lemon fiends, to be fair) but the best course of the night has to go to the ‘Big Jim Volume 2.0’.
Speaking to Ate Days A Week Founder Andy James on our way out, you could clearly see how his passion for the concept had translated amongst his colleagues, into the excitement of the guests and then back onto him after he saw how well the whole thing went down.
There was a real buzz about the place that was nothing like we’d ever experienced before with other tasting menus and we think it’s because those in attendance had never sat down for a meal that was as experimental as this one whilst also being that accessible.
Yes, it might be a touch posher than pie, mash and gravy but it never stayed too far away from that simple British pleasure and while there were certainly a few thrills to give you that tasting menu feel, nothing felt out of place and neither did the diners.
Pulling off one of the best teas we’ve had in a long time from a tiny kitchen inside a rough-around-the-edges late-night drinking spot, we already know there will be a sequel to PieSessions not only because Andy told us so but because it was such a massive success. Count us in for the next one.
Manchester Christmas Markets 2023 — dates, locations, prices and everything you need to know
Rejoice, Manchester it’s that time again — famously the most wonderful time of year, and you know what that means: we’ll soon be filling our faces with bratwurst, cheersing steins of Bavarian beer and filling our houses with far too many festive trinkets because the Christmas Markets are back.
We’re not even tooting our own horn when we say this, it’s just a fact that the Manchester Christmas Markets are some of the best and most popular on the planet and this year we celebrate 25 years since the seasonal stalls first opened up in 0161 and started a legendary annual tradition.
It doesn’t matter how many years roll by, we still await their arrival like little kids waiting for Christmas morning and set our schedules for what time we’re going to head out on which day to cross off the must-haves on our markets checklist.
With that in mind, we thought we’d help you put together your own plan of attack this holiday season and give you all the info you need to know to make the most of the 2023 Manchester Christmas Markets. You can thank us later.
Manchester Christmas Markets 2023 mug design and price
Every year the Manchester Christmas Markets has a limited-edition mug design, and this year the collectable souvenir has taken inspiration from the Nutcracker.
There are two different sizes and 2023 designs to collect when the markets officially open next week.
When you order a hot drink at the markets you’ll be charged a £3.50 deposit for a mug (that’s up from £3 last year).
You can then return your cup when you’re finished to get your money back, or take it home as a memento.
Last year, the Manchester Christmas Markets mugs were so popular they ran out before the markets had even finished – but they’ve ordered extras this year to be on the safe side.
Travel advice and how to get to the Manchester Christmas Markets 2023
Transport for Greater Manchester has urged people to use public transport wherever possible to travel in and out of the city centre for the Manchester Christmas Markets.
That’s because of all the events running alongside the festivities, from huge football matches to gigs at the AO Arena to Black Friday sales.
The Bee Network app will help you to plan your journey and you can read all the latest travel advice here.
The best hotels to stay in for the Manchester Christmas Markets
Now, for those of you travelling into town to sample our world-famous markets — as literally thousands do every single year — you might be in need of somewhere to lay your head after a few too many steaming mugs of Glühwein.
Fortunately, since this city continues to be such a popular tourist attraction all year round, there are plenty of hotels to suit whatever your budget is.
In fact, you’re so lucky that we already put together a list of the best hotels in Manchester a little while back, so you’re welcome in advance.
And that should do you for now and your guide to the 2023 Manchester Christmas Markets — we’re sure most of you know the score by now: it’ll be a big, cold, a bit busy but utterly wonderful as it always is.
We’ve found the trick is to try out a few days during the week if you want to beat the rush and then come back at the weekend for the full-bellied crowds brimming with festive cheer.
There really is nothing like it in our opinion and we’ll be sure to keep bringing you plenty of updates on all things Christmas Markets-related going on in Manchester over the next couple of months.