Photography by: Aishah Ali and Esther Olude
Words by Harry Potts
Ben Wallsworth MBE was born in Ordsall, Salford in 1920. Ben’s vision to transform the disused and desolate Salford Docks into the what we now know as Salford Quays and MediaCityUK, cemented Greater Manchester’s reputation as the foremost city region outside the capital.
On an inspirational trip in the early 1980s to visit his daughter Christine in Canada, Ben observed the waterside developments at Vancouver and Victoria. On his return he wondered if these radical redevelopments could be the blueprint for the derelict Salford waterfront with its empty buildings, and redundant cargo cranes.
Ben convinced the then leader of Salford City Council, Les Hough, and the chief executive, Roger Rees to buy the ship canal and docklands off Manchester Council for £1m. Greater Manchester owes a great debt to Ben’s ambition. Salford Quays and MediaCityUK has been described as one of the most successful regeneration projects in the UK.
Salford Quays is Greater Manchester’s contemporary waterfront destination, home to some of the most spectacular attractions and iconic buildings in the UK, incorporating MediaCityUK, home to the BBC and ITV and the Northwest’s most exciting cultural, sporting and leisure destination.
In 2001 Ben received an MBE from the Queen. In 2019 he was bestowed the freedom of the City of Salford to acknowledge his 44 years service as a councillor which included a term as mayor from 2002-03.
The resilience, imagination and humour Ben demonstrated during his tenure as the city’s planning boss, were forged during his courageous army service during the Second World War. He was awarded the Military Medal by King George VI for his bravery with the British Expeditionary Forces on the beaches of Dunkirk in May 1940. He shot down with a machine gun, several German fighter planes which were attacking British forces stranded on the sand, and played a part in disabling a German gun emplacement.
“Ben embodies everything which we could ever hope to see from someone bestowed with the honour of the Freedom of the City.” – City Mayor, Paul Dennett
“A local lad, a war hero, a man completely dedicated to improving the lives of fellow Salfordians.” – Former Salford council leader, Bill Hinds.
Student reflection: Esther Olude
Meeting and photographing Ben at Salford Quays was such a great experience, particularly as it was all Ben’s vision. He described in detail how much work was put into this extraordinary redevelopment project. At first I was nervous meeting him, but his smile and good energy made me feel relaxed. Ben has a great sense of humour, is charming and is very knowledgeable… incredible for a 99 year old. I was very happy with the photos I took of Ben set against the backdrop of the Quays, but I was particularly pleased with the portrait of him holding his prized medals – which managed to capture his infectious personality. It was a pleasure working with Ben. This opportunity gave me a massive confidence boost and a belief in my own photography.
© All images – The Manchester College (unless otherwise stated)