“To change the conversation, we have to change who is part of it”

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People’s Powerhouse Convention highlights and reflections

Last week we held our 3rd annual People’s Powerhouse Convention, with over 250 people, 23 different workshop sessions, a People’s Powerhouse communal choir, art exhibitions, poems and a metro mayor there is lots to reflect on and think about as we head into 2020.

There will be some more detailed information coming from us about what we heard and what you said in the next few weeks but first we thought we would share with you a few of the highlights and reflections from some of the team of volunteers who made things happen at the event and a few pictures that capture what the event was all about.

Benjamin Barnes, Trueman Change

If I had to describe the People’s Powerhouse Convention in two words they would be, inclusive and interactive.

Inclusive: Everybody was welcome, and it was great to hear from a wide range of speakers. It was equally as great to speak to so many different people, from different organisations and from different places. So many accents in one place, but one shared perspective. Every person I spoke to was interested in making a difference together.

Interactive: Throughout the day there was a buzz coming from each session taking place, as minds came together to share ideas. There was a real celebration of identity, who you are and what you thought. I loved how each table was decorated with sweets and fun games, it really broke down the barriers and allowed people to get to know each other in a more relaxed environment.

Blackpool here we come!

Michael Taylor, Manchester Metropolitan University

I came away with two burning thoughts. The first was the way we use language and the way we refer to actual people. These can be emotional times and we have to be feisty to get what we want. And there’s a but coming. But there has never been a more urgent need to dial down the hate and to channel the anger. There are other people out there who want to build walls. I loved the Tortoise Media “think in” about how we can fix British politics, partly because I despair of the choice we’re faced with. But we need to go out and have conversations like that in communities, in cafes, in church halls, in schools and workplaces. I want to build bridges; and that means an urgent conversation with people when you might not like what they have to say.

The second thought was the power of “one”. Nazir Afzal’s talk was both joyous and shocking. Any conversation will shock and upset when it talks about victims of rape, grooming gangs, terrorists and, yes, family members who thought they were killing for ‘honour’. But it was joyous for how one man uses his impatience, persistence and canny sense of timing to correct wrongs. We need to take on bad people in workplaces and communities. That needs to fuel a narrative of love, against the easy answers of hate. And I know that’s hard.

I love the spirit of the People’s Powerhouse. I’ll be honest, I still like the idea of the northern powerhouse. But creating an unstoppable movement in the middle of perfect storm isn’t easy. But we don’t have a choice. We have no choice at all.

Helen Furnivall, High Rise Communications

I'm lucky enough to have attended all three People's Powerhouse conventions and Sunderland was definitely my favourite yet. It was amazing to see how the People's Powerhouse in such a short space of time has succeeded in creating so much interest - including the amount of media we had there on the day.  I also loved that for the first time along with issues like skills and a universal basic income there was also a big focus on arts and culture. 

Sometimes I think there can be a view that the arts is somehow not serious or too fluffy and that the real work of supporting communities goes on elsewhere. The vital role that places like theatres and arts centres play in helping create vibrant communities is overlooked or ignored. Laura from We Make Culture made a really good point that not all children get the opportunity to be creative or think that a career in the arts might be for them and that is a huge shame. It would be great if the People's Powerhouse can now help to give artists, performers, creatives and innovators a louder voice in the plans that are being made for the North.

John Fahy, member of Transform Lives employment programme

I am delighted to have been offered the opportunity to attend the People’s Powerhouse Convention as a guest delegate, but I was unsure what to expect.

Being involved, has been a revelation for me, I had the chance to engage with a variety of people from a range of projects and organisations, something I found insightful and valuable. It was a wonderfully informal atmosphere that promoted open discussion.

I was able to involve myself in a couple of the great break out sessions and get a feel for the great work, projects and ideas that are happening across the North. I am following up the experience by connecting with some delegates from one of the sessions, something I would have found very difficult to do just a few months ago. I hope that other connections will also lead to further discussion and involvement.

Kira Cox, Community Transport Association

Having attended the Peoples Powerhouse convention in Bradford in 2018 as a first-time delegate, I was excited to be heading to Sunderland for round two in 2019!

The Peoples Powerhouse team are some of the friendliest, most knowledgeable people who have a genuine vision for the North! So, despite Sunderland being rather cold it was a privilege to spend the day inside the Beacon of Light with such a diverse mix of people. I was especially proud to see so many wonderful women be given the platform to share the amazing work they’re doing across the North. I loved the emphasis on the arts this year too and enjoyed many conversations about why supporting the arts is so fundamental to helping our communities thrive.

I walked away from the convention feeling inspired and empowered and look forward to meeting more new faces in Blackpool in 2020!

Jane Eckford, People’s Powerhouse Exec Team

The importance of the People’s Powerhouse as a place where people can share their experiences and ambitions for their communities can not be overstated. The strength of the People’s Powerhouse comes from its lack of predetermined destination other than to be a listening post and to help people speak back to power to get a place of values – led wellbeing and opportunity, without reliance on political or charitable patronage, and with increased public accountability and a return service to each other. It was fantastic to see this in action at the Convention.

Jonny Ross-Tatam, UBI North

The People’s Powerhouse Convention brought people from all backgrounds together to develop a socially just and prosperous vision for the North.

There were some innovation ideas discussed at the Convention – from investing in our communities, building local wealth, local citizens’ assemblies and trialling a Universal Basic Income. Overall, the message of the Convention was clear: with the right investment and powers, we can power up our region and build a North where everyone shares in our opportunities and prosperity.

Looking forward

It is good to reflect after an event like the Convention, and we would love to hear some of your reflections too. However, it is also important that we look towards the future, to take what we have learnt and heard and turn it into meaningful action.

As the Convention came to a close, we heard resounding feedback from the audience for the need for the People’s Powerhouse, support for our model of taking events to places like Sunderland who often are left out of the spotlight and the opportunity to learn from each other.

We also heard that there is more work to be done to include working class voices in our work and events, opportunities to use people’s expertise and assets to support and strengthen each other and a request to help people to understand politics and devolution in the North.

A huge thank you to all who attended our Convention and made it the warm, inspiring, challenging and creative day that it was.

If you have any of your own reflections which you would like to share with the team please email them to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Read our latest guest blogs here or search for them by subject on the menu below. We are always looking for guest contributors for our blogs so if you’ve got something to say please email with a brief synopsis of what you’d like to write about and how it relates to our our five pillars of change.

* These blogs are a collection of thoughts and opinions from people living or working in the North. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the People's Powerhouse.




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