In 2015 a partnership including Manchester City Council launched the Our Manchester Strategy. Informed by the largest consultation ever undertaken, it’s a 10-year plan for how people would like to see our city progress. Covering everything from the environment to transport, from training to social care, it was published amidst the most severe cuts to local government spending in decades. Seb Gooderson from Our Manchester relishes the challenge. “I’d be lying if I said I got excited by corporate strategy documents. What interests me is the approach we’re having to take to reach the Our Manchester ambitions. Yes, we’ve got less money but that forces us to find innovative ways of working that help us achieve those ambitions. “And the Our Manchester approach is common sense: working together, really listening to people, and building trust. It’s more personal and puts people before process which is the way it should be. “So the Central Neighbourhood Team’s idea to test a programme that trains community leaders really interests us. It gets to the heart of what Our Manchester is about: empowering local residents and organisations to come together to resolve local issues and encourage others. “We’re keen to try new things – we have to try new things – and a programme that helps residents make a difference in their areas is worth supporting.”
“The question is this: can we bring together a range of different people to work with council officers and others in a way that transcends the traditional way of working? “Can we train them up so they think more collaboratively, listen more deeply, have self-reflection and understand different perspectives? So when they go out and lead or facilitate others they can do it in the most inclusive way possible. “And does this make a difference? “We’re not even sure this is possible.”
Patrick Hanfling Neighbourhood Team Lead
Sally Coates Neighbourhood Officer and Project Officer for the MaDT programme
THE WORD IS OUT: The Neighbourhood Team do a recruitment drive to attract 12 participants.
We could have done with more time for the recruitment tbh.
‘Everyone is different,’ says the application form, ‘we value diversity and each person’s expertise.. ’ 49 forms are sent out and 12 participants are recruited. One drops out before the start - it’s not for them – so we start with 11.
The Making a Difference Together Community Leaders Programme is designed and delivered by amity, a Manchester-based team that facilitates transformational experiences. “It’s great that the Council acknowledges they have to embrace new ways of working.”
“We’re hopeful this will be about establishing new relationships and not abdicating responsibilities.”
LOOKING ON: A Partnership Group is set up to support the Programme.
I’m interested in what comes next. Things can fall apart if you’re not careful.
Frame opportunities: “How might we.. ?”
Explore Faciliative Leadership
CONNECT Define challenges Setting the foundations for collaboration
Have conversations with your community
Capture what you heard from people
Between May and October 2018 amity deliver 13 group sessions, one every two weeks. In between either Katie or Maria have a one-to-one ‘coaching for collaboration’ session with each of the participants by phone or video. And there’s homework too..
Create prototypes to test your ideas Generate lots of ideas
AMAZING COMMUNITY LEADERS
Plan next steps
By session 2 the participants write their own shared purpose: ‘Working together to support equitable and innovative community engagement that will bring about positive change.’
Over the coming months youâ€™ll practise facilitative leadership and creative problem-solving, and youâ€™ll gain a new understanding of the potential that exists, for yourself and your communities
The following week.. Hassan has his one-to-one with Katie from his Fallowfield flat.
Hello Hassan. How did you find last weekâ€™s group session?
“Since we moved to Britannia Basin six years ago there’s been rapid gentrification: empty warehouses renovated and apartment blocks built on vacant land. But sadly no community spaces have been created. “With the development came issues over parking and litter and so a few neighbours got together to tidy the place up. We’re now a constituted group, the Britannia Basin Community Forum, and we work with the Council and contractors to make improvements. “I’ve no experience of community get me out of my comfort zone. similar challenges.
work and thought the Community Leaders programme would It’s good to expand my network and meet others with
“We have a core group of volunteers but it’s difficult to encourage more. That’s what I’d like to investigate through the programme: the barriers and motivations for residents to get involved in our work. “It would be good at the end of all this if the Council asked our advice on how best to engage with local people in other areas who are going through what we’ve been through.”
“I moved into Hulme nearly 30 years ago. At that time the Aquarius Community Centre was just over the road in an old school building. It was a hive of activity, a sanctuary, a beacon. “Then ‘regeneration’ took over, followed by ‘refurbishment’. Now discussions about cladding dominate. The community centre survives, now as a new, purpose-built centre at the other end of the estate managed by our social housing provider One Manchester. “Lately, as the local universities expand into Hulme and communication technologies advance, local interests and demands are redefined. The community is tasked again with reasserting its value and credibility. “Acknowledging each other as neighbours and striving to be on good terms is something we all look for. Having a strong sense of community increases the feeling of safety and security. It enhances community identity and promotes civic participation, as well as mental health and wellbeing. “Perhaps, through the Community Leaders programme, that will happen.”
How might we.. lders . .connect key stakeho to nurture the t in natural environmen Hulme?
. . develop connec tion between time po or local residents liv ing in Britannia Basin?
on . .nurture co-operati between new and in a long-term residents ood? changing neighbourh . .utilise/support members of the communit y who have assets they wan t to use for a community purp ose?
ce . .develop the confiden le of unemployed peop who want a job which l makes a meaningfu contribution?
By session four each of the participants have come up with an aspiration that will inspire ideas for community projects in their area.
. .inspire community participation and belonging through skateboarding?
to . .support young men ns in make positive decisio their lives?
. .inspire residents of the Northern Quarter to connect with each other and participate in enhancing the community?
. .support the over-50s to develop a sense of purpose within the Brunswick area?
. .have common g oals for everybody in a new community?
growing a e d i v s . .pro connect t a h t e m program oung people in y old and lme? Hu
Dani and Christian are both skateboarders who met through mutual friends. They’ve discovered a large, ill-used area of green space in Ardwick and are hoping to transform it into a fun recreational and learning space. In their day jobs Dani is a performance academic and Christian runs his own materials science company; both of these roles involve a lot of creativity, group working and organisation. “Riding the streets is a foundation of skateboarding practice,” say Dani, “but part of the boarding ethic is also to re-imagine existing urban spaces too. It’s a really innovative activity. “Rondin Green is a huge green space quite close to the city centre with great potential. There are signs of criminal activity but essentially it’s unused and unloved. Now we’ve identified it we feel a responsibility to try and make it work for the local community. “We both have experience of managing big academic projects sometimes working with communities, but neither of us has experience of taking on a large multi-use community green space. We knew we needed to develop some skills so this programme was well timed. “The course isn’t what I expected. It was quite undefined at the beginning, maybe on purpose. I’d imagined workshops on specific community-related topics. But we both really like the human-centred design approach (HCD), putting the needs of
the beneficiary first. It’s relevant in every aspect of your life. It’s obvious for creating positive community change but it’s not the way councils normally seem to work. “I think this course works best for those who’ve defined the community they want to work with. You need to know your audience. So those about to start a group or who need to reinvigorate an existing group would really benefit. “We’ve learnt so much – yes, it’s been hard sometimes to come here after a day’s work – but it’s been really beneficial and given me more confidence. Our project might still have happened if we hadn’t done this, but it’s been really integral to us. We’ve already used lots of the strategies and ideas we’ve learnt. “I think everyone who’s involved in community projects should do this programme, it’s fundamental. The principles behind HCD – designing projects that people will feel ownership over and be able to use and change – is, I think, vitally important. There’s nothing better that councils could provide for community leaders.”
At Brunswick Church they take an holistic approach to improving their community’s health and wellbeing. As Community Resource Manager, Mo facilitates groups for women; the over 50s and for parents and toddlers as well as hosting external support groups. “When I first heard about the programme I thought it was right up my street because it tied in with what I was doing and what I needed to learn. I thought it might be quite formal but it’s not like that at all. It’s fluid and transparent. It moves with you. There’s no right or wrong. That’s the beauty of it. It’s amazing. “It’s stopped me in my tracks. I’ve now changed the way I facilitate my groups. I listen more – remember those deep listening exercises? – and try to really find out what the clients need. I plan more and put structure into my sessions. There’s now time for feedback and reflection which has made a big difference. People have noticed. “My whole style of working has changed. The way I’m connecting with people, even people who in the past I might have found a bit difficult. “It’s been a real pleasure to work with others who do so much for their communities. Sharing with people with that passion has made it easier for me. On this programme you are welcomed whoever you are, wherever you are from. Your contribution is valued.”
Joanne and her family have lived in the Northern Quarter for four years now. Not one for sitting back, she takes an active interest in wherever she lives. With a handful of other residents she’s revitalised the Northern Quarter Forum.
“Straightaway it struck me as a very friendly neighbourhood. All the shops and bars are independent and everyone comes out and talks to each other. It makes me go out of my way to smile and say hello. “I must admit I was cynical: the Council wanting ‘community leaders’ to do stuff for nothing. And at first I thought no, I wouldn’t apply for the course. I thought it would be too big a commitment. In the end I did apply but had no idea what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised at the diversity of the group: all ages, backgrounds and ethnicities, I liked that. “It’s made me more confident about speaking up. In meetings I might normally keep quiet and come away seething because I didn’t say what I felt. Now I’m able to express my opinions, so it’s been good for that. “I’ve also learnt to listen. I realised I didn’t listen to other people, even friends and family. I’m listening much more carefully. Yes, I’m glad I went on it and would certainly recommend it to others. Increasingly we have to realise it’s not a ‘Nanny State’ any more, we’ve got to go back to doing things for ourselves.”
The Old Abbey Tap House is the last surviving pub in the Greenheys Estate in Hulme. Run by Rachele and her fellow activists it’s now a hub for grass roots community projects. “This course has changed my expectations. As a community activist I’ve always been keen to get on and change things straightaway. But I’m beginning to appreciate how things work and that change takes time. The skills we’ve learnt – group dynamics and deep listening, for instance – have given me a greater understanding of how to collaborate with organisations like the Council. “Before the course I went to a Hulme Residents’ Group Meeting. A few individuals tend to dominate those meetings and there’s often a lot of negative energy. “After the course we three Hulme Community Leaders – Bernard, B and I – were invited to facilitate the next meeting. I’ve never been so anxious. I didn’t want to be the one shouted at or seen as some sort of Council representative. But it worked really well. “We encouraged everyone to pair up and listen to each other: residents met other residents for the first time and everyone got their voice heard. There was a real sense of community in that room. “It’s a shame we couldn’t have had this course a few years ago.. it’s a really good approach for the Council to take.”