I just had the second launch of Jericho Road Solutions – this time in Manchester. Another basement of another pub, this time very informal and no high-heeled speeches on wobbly tables. But with great people – community organisers from cohort 1 graduates to cohort 6 trainees, local activists from London Road Fire Station and Save Ancoats Dispensary, and the fabulous Tony Wright who doesn’t know it yet but is going to be a Guest at one of the first Social Salons!
Of all the cities in England, Manchester is the place that seems to me to have enormous potential – people really love it, they are proud and energetic and full of ideas, and the place is bursting with buildings needing care and attention and new uses. But that huge resource is currently locked down, feeling that the council doesn’t have to listen to them so it won’t and that anything they offer will be taken as a criticism. It doesn’t have to be like that, and having elected members willing to stand up for the city’s hidden resources would be a fantastic asset – I’m hoping to have lunch with one tomorrow.
I am very serious about wanting to help, not only to rescue some important buildings that local communities care about but also to change the dominant narrative about the ways local authorities are seen by, and the ways they behave towards, groups of local people who want to do things differently. There is no doubt that councils need people with them, for them, behind them, in the massive changes they face. The old paternalism is unaffordable; the worst case is that you could get left with a massive sense of entitlement in the voting population and absolutely nothing to offer it. The best case is if people recognise that the state’s weakness is their opportunity at last to say “we can do it; you can help”.
We had a fascinating and rewarding session today with community organisers from all over Greater Manchester – a collaboration between CoCo (the legacy body for the Community Organisers programme) and Church Action on Poverty (who have recently established the Powered by People UK network). They all shared what they are hearing on the streets – in the city centre, Ardwick, Gorton, Hulme, Moss Side, Levenshulme, Tameside, Rochdale, Stockport, Salford. They shared approaches to help local people tackle massive issues, and they decided to get together every 6-8 weeks to support each other. I was just delighted to be able to offer the Biscuit Fund – they organise it all, CAP provide the meeting space, we pay for the food. This feels like a metaphor for my regen approach – trust people; invest in relationships; reward the three great grassroots virtues of thrift, impatience and sociability; and never, ever, ever think that you know best…