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

Celebrating 100 years of Social Action

On Monday 22nd July 2019 we marked 100 years (to the day) of the formation of Manchester and Salford Council of Social Service. Macc, Salford CVS and Gaddum worked together to mark the occasion with a celebratory event at the People’s History Museum.

We felt it was important to take the time to remember and reflect on a century of social action across the twin cities of Salford and Manchester.

Our event reflected on the collective charitable histories of the two cities. Gaddum was established as a charity in 1833 as a direct result of the cholera epidemic in the area. Manchester and Salford Council of Social Service was established on 22nd July 1919 in the aftermath of World War One, with food poverty, housing shortages and unemployment endemic.

From the start, it was a strategic decision (and one shared by the public and charity sectors) that some central organisation was needed to make best use of resources and maximise the potential of voluntarism, charity and philanthropy in the city. Gaddum was instrumental in establishing the new body. Henry Gaddum was the first Chair of the Council of Social Service.

In 1973, it was decided to split the organisation into separate bodies for Salford and Manchester, reflecting the changes to local government which came into effect in 1974. The modern-day descendants - Salford CVS and Macc – have continued the development of this role in Salford and Manchester. Salford CVS continues to this day. Macc has its roots in Manchester CVS which closed down some years ago but we essentially play the much the same role in the city:

  • Supporting local voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations

  • Developing volunteering and active citizenship through our Volunteer Centre and our work on Employee Volunteering and older people’s involvement in Greater Manchester

  • Policy and influence work including the city’s Voluntary Sector Assembly and relationships with the Council, the local NHS, businesses and others.

  • Distributing grants and building partnerships

  • Celebrating and championing the sector through our Spirit of Manchester programme

salford2  

What is striking when you read the history – particularly the Golden Jubilee booklet produced in 1969 – is that the place is fundamentally the most important thing and has been from day one. Local voluntary sector infrastructure is about places (including their diverse communities), supporting and encouraging social action because of the difference it makes in places. The history shows how this infrastructure organisation adapted, changed and organised to play whatever would be the most useful role through the Great Depression, World War II, the post-war recovery and creation of the welfare state, social and economic changes over the last 60 years and even the impacts of recession and austerity in this decade.

This is the hidden history of towns and cities up and down the country: in most, there is some version of what we do. I’m a trustee of the national membership body for infrastructure – NAVCA – which allows me to see how so many members have created their own version of infrastructure, but they are all locally owned, locally shaped, rooted in and identified with a place: part of the architecture. They create a space where those interested in social action come together; an organisation which takes a lead in channelling resources and support to where they are needed (the leverage we can create is huge). We champion practical action to support social change. That emphasis on practical is most important: we are policy-led but want most of all to be pragmatic and useful – meaningful change.  I firmly believe charitable anchor institutions that tackle inequality and address all forms of poverty in our cities, towns and rural areas are still needed.

I’ve been looking again at the People’s Powerhouse Charter and the ambition to transform the fortunes of the North and its people. A risk is that it becomes or seems only a plea to London/Whitehall to let us get our hands-on power when in fact it is about changing the way the North itself works too. As I’ve said before, devolution shouldn’t just be about moving power to a different set of institutions which are only different in that they are further up the M1. The principles of inclusion (of different places and people), creating meaningful change, building trust – all these are in our gift to act on already.

Infrastructure bodies act as an honest friend to other local institutions, working behind the scenes to collaborate, to share and to act. We build relationships and influence decisions in ways which are rarely seen or acknowledged. Partly because it means having those difficult conversations and doing so over a long period, influencing and persuading. We are part of the wider ecosystem which helps improve thinking and avoid poor decisions. In a people’s powerhouse, these institutions would be valued and celebrated far more than they currently are.

Often infrastructure organisations act as a co-ordinator (something between compere, receptionist, wrangler, referee and bouncer) between public bodies who want to engage communities in policy and decision-making and the many local community groups and voluntary organisations where people come together. As a system, it is a means of creating genuine diversity and inclusion, building trust and understanding.

The voluntary groups, charities, community organisations and social enterprises want to help with informing and shaping – but too often there is a promise of genuine involvement only to have their time, enthusiasm and insight wasted on simply getting words into a policy document. Moving away from that means letting go of some power and devolving it to local people. Supporting others to have power is a huge risk, possibly even allowing people the space to make mistakes and learn.

Although Manchester and Salford Council of Social Service was founded in the wake of World War 1 to tackle issues such as poverty, housing and unemployment, the work of local charities and community groups is also about hope. Social action makes places good to live in – it is about building places and communities which everyone can share, spaces where our children and young people can play, learn and develop. It is about inclusion, diversity, enabling people - a characteristic of our welcoming, forward-looking cities. That’s our offer for the future of Manchester, Salford and from my many counterparts across the other communities in the North, urban, rural and in between. After all, we’ve been working on this for over 100 years now.

We provide the platform - you provide the content

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 blogs@peoplespowerhouse.org.uk 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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