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Friday, 5 April, 2002, 21:37 GMT 22:37 UK
Choppy ride for Little Italy
Gondola on Rochdale canal
Making waves: A gondola on the Rochdale canal
By BBC News Online's Maria La Rocca

For a developer looking to promote a plush new apartment block, it appeared the perfect stunt.

Hailing from a country famous for its glamour and style, the Italian gondola was the ideal symbol for flats costing about 90,000.

But when the distinctive boat pushed its way along the murky Rochdale canal on the industrial edge of Manchester's city centre, it sailed into the centre of a storm.

To some of the city's Italian community, it was proof that their heritage was not being taken seriously.

Mills in Ancoats, copyright Aidan O'Rourke
Fallen giants: The old mills of Little Italy

Patricia Schiavo, from the Manchester Italian Association (Mia), said: "It's offensive - my forefathers had to work hard when they came here.

"They were not lazing about on a gondola. They would have thought 'Where are we in all this?'"

The regeneration of Ancoats is a cause dear to the hearts of the many Mancunians whose ancestors formed the Little Italy colony there in the early 1800s.

Thriving community

Once the narrow streets echoed to the sounds of factories spinning most of the world's cotton, and sirens wailing to summon workers to the mills.

The Italians who came to the area set up their own businesses among the booming Victorian mills - making everything from ice cream to barrel organs.

Granelli family
The Granellis opened a food shop in 1889

But when the area was cleared of its slums in the 1960s, the community was broken up and spread across the city.

Nowadays a walk down Great Ancoats Street - the city's main inner ring road - reveals car parks, sex shops and a few rundown commercial buildings.

However, this is a community being reborn - money is pouring in and its history as the "workshop of the world" has brought it within touching distance of becoming a World Heritage Site.

But some representatives of the current Italian community believe the regeneration should also help today's new residents remember the past.

'Preserve past'

They would like to see a heritage centre commemorating the birth of Little Italy and the efforts made by their ancestors in establishing a once-thriving Italian community.

Ms Schiavo, 44, whose family owned an ice cream business, spent her childhood in the colony during its last days.

Thousands of visitors are expected to this area for the Commonwealth Games but walking through here there is nothing to signify its heritage

Patricia Schiavo

She belongs to Mia, formed in 1888, which is pushing hard for an Italian heritage centre.

Ms Schiavo said: "Manchester's got Chinatown and the Irish centre but nothing to mark the Italians' contribution to the city.

"How can you call somewhere Little Italy when there is no focal point? It's just a banner businesses want to trade under.

"What we need is somewhere to preserve the past before it's lost forever.

Heritage artefacts

"A visitor here today would not know he was even in Little Italy.

"Thousands of visitors are expected to this area for the Commonwealth Games but walking through here there is nothing to signify its heritage."

Heritage signs, copyright Aidan O'Rourke
Ancoats is shortlisted for World Heritage Site status

Mia has been bequeathed masses of artefacts which could be exhibited to tourists at a heritage centre including photographs, war medals, 19th Century letters sent from Italy, accordions, even a 1950s ice cream van.

But Tom Russell, chief executive of the New East Manchester Regeneration Company, feels economic renewal is more important than a celebration of the past.

"I entirely understand the Italian community's desire for a heritage centre.

"But it requires some very sound financial, organisational and development planning to make it a reality."

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 ON THIS STORY
BBC reporter Maria La Rocca
"Little Italy in Ancoats was once the busiest area of Manchester"

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09 Jun 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
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