Tag Archives: Community

From contribution to collaboration: Refugee Week and the value of seeing like a city

by Jonathan Darling, Geography, University of Manchester

Image from Refugee Week 2013

Image from Refugee Week 2013

Today sees the start of Refugee Week 2013, an annual celebration of the contribution of refugees to the UK that seeks to promote better understanding of why people seek sanctuary. Refugee Week has been held annually since 1998 as a response to negative perceptions of refugees and asylum seekers and hostile media coverage of asylum in particular (Refugee Week 2013). Refugee Week promotes a series of events across the UK, from football tournaments and theatre productions to exhibitions and film screenings, all designed to promote understanding between different communities.

Whilst Refugee Week is a national event it finds expression in local activities organised in a range of cities. In part, this is in response to the dispersal of asylum seekers across the UK, meaning that refugees and asylum seekers have been increasing visible in a range of towns and cities over the last decade. Asylum decision-making and policy take place at a national level, but the implications of such policy and the demands of integration and service provision are experienced at the level of urban authorities and communities. But what is the relationship between asylum seekers and cities, and how might we understand this relationship through the lens of Refugee Week? In this commentary, I want to suggest that by focusing on cities we might destabilise some of the problematic assumptions of national discussions of asylum and refugee politics, through drawing on the resources of cities as sites of social and political creativity, contestation and collaboration. Doing so shifts our view of asylum and refugees from a state-centred account of national hospitality, to a more complex account of the lived realities of urban refuge. 

National celebrations such as Refugee Week are in many ways positive interventions into public discussions over asylum. They have played a central role in challenging stereotypes, contesting myths over benefit claims and bringing to the fore the heritage of sanctuary that has shaped contemporary Britain. Refugee Week has also offered a platform for politically contentious campaigns for rights to work, access to education and anti-deportation campaigns, all of which have benefited from the shifts in public opinion and political will that Refugee Week has produced.  

However, as many of those working with refugees and asylum seekers in the UK note, Refugee Week alone is not enough. Rather, there are risks attached to ‘celebrating the contributions of refugees to our history and heritage’. These words, the slogan for Refugee Week 2013, suggest three of the central challenges of refugee politics in contemporary Britain. Firstly, the emphasis placed on ‘our’ history establishes a fixed group defined by distinction from refugees, a ‘we’ whose history refugees may contribute to but always a ‘we’ at a distance from refugees themselves. Secondly, a concern with ‘history and heritage’ positions the contributions of refugees in the past. Refugee issues thus become concerns to look back on through visions of a hospitable past, without necessarily providing a means to address issues of contemporary asylum. Most strikingly though, Refugee Week foregrounds a logic of contribution in celebrating refugees. While a claim about contributions can appear to be a strong argument in the face of those who assert that refugees and asylum seekers ‘abuse’ welfare entitlements, it risks reinforcing perceptions of worth and worthiness that make refugee status into an economic commodity. Whilst we should recognise the skills, knowledge and dynamism that those seeking sanctuary bring, a logic of contribution places asylum into an economic frame of reference similar to the points-based system that determines immigration status.

Taken together, these three concerns suggest that Refugee Week might be taken as a governmental tool for the production of benevolent responses to those deemed to have ‘contributed’ enough to be worthy of refugee status and humanitarian compassion. Akin to forms of celebratory cosmopolitanism that market cities as sites of diversity, whilst tightly regulating the limits of tolerance, the rhetoric of ‘contribution’ recalls a conditional hospitality that may be open to a select few. Often such hospitality is open only to those past groups who have contributed to ‘our’ history, rather than reflecting an ongoing process in which this history is continuing to be made. A concern with contribution thus makes asylum and refugee discussions part of government efforts to ‘manage migration’ for the ‘good of the nation’, rather than in the interests of those seeking sanctuary and fleeing persecution.

How then might we envisage a different view of refugees and asylum seekers, one detached from a concern with their potential contributions to the nation and with representing a benevolent history? It is here that cities come to the fore. If we take seriously Magnusson’s (2012) demand to ‘see like a city’ rather than ‘seeing like a state’, we might find a different view of asylum seekers and refugees, one less concerned with contributions to an already existing entity and its history, be that the nation or the city, and rather more concerned with the collaborations and collective engagements that shape urbanism as a way of life. For Magnusson, cities are complex constellations of ideas, relations, encounters and institutions, never exhausted by their present form and never subject to a single mode of authority. Rather than a common ‘history and heritage’ to which refugees may contribute, seeing like a city implies multiple histories vying for attention, histories which are being made and remade as the city is itself becoming something new through the actions of those who inhabit it and the material relations that form it. What we might take from this view of the city as a site of incomplete political authority and multiple histories, is a vision of how cities are formed through collaborations, through the coming together of diverse interests and opinions to make urban space.

We might see examples of this form of thought in some of the practices and events of Refugee Week, most notably those that seek to undermine assumptions of asylum as an issue of compassion and humanitarianism. For example, as part of Manchester’s Refugee Week celebrations, artists Anna White and Emily Hayes have been working with the Rainbow Haven centre for displaced people in Manchester and Salford, to discuss the journeys individuals took to the UK and their experiences of life in Manchester and Salford.[i] The project involves asylum seekers and refugees embroidering their journeys to the UK onto a map, using disposable cameras to take images of their everyday lives and of things that are important to them, and collectively making banners to express different aspects of their lives in the UK and to display some of the relationships that emerge through the Rainbow Haven group. These resources are to be displayed at a series of events across Manchester during and after Refugee Week, including a celebration of the city’s ‘Shared Future’ with refugees. [ii] 

Image courtesy of Anna White and Emily Hayes

Image courtesy of Anna White and Emily Hayes

The significance of this work is not simply that it offers a creative means of exploring and expressing the social relations of refugees and asylum seekers. It does this and draws in part on the diversity of people, histories and stories that are brought together in the city. But it is also a project of collaboration. This is not a case of narratives being extracted and displayed by experts or analysts, but a process in which stories are made through working with others, in making banners, sewing journeys onto maps and discussing photographs. The product of such interactions are snapshots of a creative process, owned by all those who played a role in such a process. It is this sense of being part of a creative endeavour and employing this as a means to communicate stories of asylum, that is so valuable as it works to negotiate two sets of barriers. Firstly, those between asylum seekers and other residents of Manchester and Salford – through communicating common concerns, shared spaces and the realities of the asylum process. Secondly, those often unspoken barriers between asylum seekers and those who seek to offer support to them – through a creative engagement that is productive rather than dependent, collaborative rather than charitable. Projects such as this gesture towards the potential that creative approaches have in both communicating multiple understandings of the city and in destabilising assumed notions of how asylum seekers should engage with cities.

More than this however, projects such as this reflect an appreciation of urbanism as a way of life tied to the multiplicity of the city. The banners and maps created in this process are not contributions made by asylum seekers and refugees; rather they reflect collaborations that express the coming together of different journeys, narratives and experiences. They are not individual expressions or timeless versions of events to be placed into an archive of ‘our history and heritage’, but are the products of encounters, relationships and shared collaborations that communicate understandings of the here and now. In this process, the banners and maps of this project become collaborations in shaping, rather than contributions towards, a ‘shared future’. Seeing like a city is to view the politics of asylum in a similar vein, to think of the city as a compositional arrangement of multiple stories and journeys, all in the process of being made, diverted and retraced. As a compositional arrangement, the city is made through such journeys, and whilst such a reading implies a ‘history and heritage’ that is reworked through the presence of diverse stories, this is never a static or fixed narrative, nor is it ever ‘our’ history, the property of any singular group. Rather, the city becomes a banner in the making – a collaboration of those present, always being made yet never finally displayed.

A further resonance for this mode of thought might be found in the ways in which a number of UK cities have made tentative steps to challenge the state over asylum. We might trace a number of examples. Firstly, the manner in which urban authorities can act to support and publicise anti-deportation campaigns for local inhabitants threatened with deportation, such as recent cases in Leicester and Glasgow. Such situations position the authority of the city against the will of the state and seek to oppose deportation on the basis that individuals and families are part of the city, actively engaged in the fabric of local communities. Secondly, city councils in Bristol, Glasgow, Oxford and Sheffield have all recently passed motions that express concern over the destitution of asylum seekers and have begun lobbying national government to allow local authorities to assist destitute and refused asylum seekers. Again such voices stand at a critical distance from the decisions of the Home Office and challenge national policy from the perspective of those living with the consequences of such policies. In Manchester a ‘day of action’ is proposed at the end of June to highlight the situation of destitute asylum seekers in the city and to call upon the city council to both oppose the government’s stance on destitution and to intervene by offering support to destitute asylum seekers. Doing so would challenge a concern with refugees that extended only to those able to ‘contribute’ to the city or the nation, and would instead mark a concern with the needs of all those present in the city, regardless of status, contribution or ‘worthiness’.

These gestures, whilst limited and fractured at present, highlight the importance of viewing asylum from a different lens to that of a state-centred concern with contribution and historical hospitality. The potential of the city, as Derrida (2001) argues, is to take a critical stance relative to the forms of conditional hospitality and welcome offered by the state – to demand more on behalf of all of those who inhabit the city. Seeing like a city implies an awareness of the complex and unfinished nature of urban life, of how cities evolve, change and adapt as newcomers arrive and others leave. This framing of the city is therefore centred on valuing those who inhabit the city, those who make urban space at any given moment and through it perform a claim to a ‘right to the city’ that arises precisely from taking part in the negotiations, tensions and contradictions of urban life (Darling and Squire 2012; Lefebvre 1996). Whilst such a lens is unlikely to ever fully usurp a state-centred account of asylum, its importance may be in proposing a critical alternative, an urban critique of asylum and refugee policy centred on the possibilities that collaboration may bring.

Refugee Week brings with it opportunities, opportunities for dialogue and discussion around asylum seekers and refugees, around current policies and around the histories of sanctuary that have helped to shape many British cities. But such discussions should not be limited to a concern with the contributions that refugees have made or may make to the nation or to the city. This simply expresses a paucity of imagination and a failure to recognise the realities of asylum in contemporary Britain. Refugee Week should be about offering space for the expression of collaborative projects, collaborative politics and collaborative realities. It is in collaboration that contemporary cities are made and remade, as much through the investments, experiences and journeys of those seeking asylum as through any other inhabitants. Taking seriously such collaborations implies a politics of critique towards narratives of refugee contribution, fixed histories of national hospitality and policies that produce the destitution of many asylum seekers. Such a politics starts with the critical potential of seeing like a city.

References

Darling, J. and Squire, V. (2012) Everyday enactments of sanctuary: the UK City of Sanctuary movement in Lippert, R.K. and Rehaag, S. (eds) Sanctuary practices in international perspectives: migration, citizenship and social movements London, Routledge, 191-204

Derrida, J. (2001) On cosmopolitanism and forgiveness translated by Dooley, M. and Hughes, M. London, Routledge

Lefebvre, H. (1996) Writing on cities translated by Kofman, E. and Lebas, E. Oxford, Blackwell

Magnusson, W. (2012) The politics of urbanism: seeing like a city London, Routledge

Refugee Week (2013) Refugee week: different pasts, shared future available at:  www.refugeeweek.org.uk (last accessed 10/06/2013)


[i] Rainbow Haven offers a communal space and drop-in centre for new arrivals in Manchester and Salford and seeks to meet the immediate and longer terms needs of asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers. Anna and Emily have been working on a series of creative embroidery, painting, drawing and photography exercises at the centre for Manchester Refugee Week as part of a project funded by the Arts Council. Further details of their work can be found here: www.podcollective.co.uk
[ii] The banners produced through the project will be on display throughout Refugee Week (17-21 June) at the Peoples History Museum, Manchester and the Lowry Gallery, Salford, alongside forming part of the Shared Future Refugee Celebration on 22nd June at Cross Street Chapel, Manchester. This day of celebrations is organised by The British Red Cross to encourage understanding between and within communities and forms one strand of their work to support vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.

Practising urban alternatives

by Jana Wendler, PhD candidate in Geography

There is lots of talk about the need for cities and urban life to become more equitable and sustainable – and there are initiatives and people that already practice alternative ways of living based on such ideas. Often described as some form of experiment, these places currently attract much attention as sites where alternatives are tested, showcased – and ultimately lived. What is interesting here, and what I researched as part of my PhD, is that their ‘alternative-ness’ is not only, and sometimes not even primarily, a direct statement. It emerges from the way the spaces look and feel, and how they are inhabited and performed. They are places that challenge our perceptions and interactions, with subtle invitations to touch, to explore and to think differently about our urban environment.

One of the biggest and best-known alternative areas in Europe is the free town of Christiania in Copenhagen, Denmark. A former military area next to the central neighbourhood of Christianshavn, it was occupied by squatters 40 years ago and has carved out an autonomous existence ever since. Christiania maintains its label as a “social-ecological experiment”, a term applied by the Danish government in the early 70s as a way of politically managing this alternative space in the middle of the city.

Although intricately tied up with ideals of alternative politics, anarchism and the right to self-determination, the experience of Christiania as a space of alternatives is primarily embodied. What strikes the visitor-researcher are the sights, sounds and smells. There is no traffic noise (Christiana is a car free zone), and the smells of hash (openly available) and woodfire (the main source of heating) are everywhere. At night, the unmarked gravel roads and paths are pitch-black. This sensory expression of being alternative marks the boundaries of the freetown as clearly as the big entrance gates proclaiming Christiania’s non-EU status.

Leaving Christiania: "You are now entering the EU"

Leaving Christiania: “You are now entering the EU”

Living Christiania: Open-air kitchen with rainwater harvesting system

Living Christiania: Open-air kitchen with rainwater harvesting system

Living Christiania: Colourful and creative house

Living Christiania: Colourful and creative house

These differences continue much deeper into the daily lives and the homes of the Christianites. Alternative urban life becomes materialised in the self-built houses that spread along the water. These wooden houses are reminiscent of anything from a playground hut to the masterpiece of a skilled craftsman, and they are intricately linked with the people that live in them. Some houses give a physical shape to their builders’ spiritual ideas (the pyramid house), others show their connection to nature and resources (a hut with an open-air kitchen and a compost toilet). They are part of the family history, and people come to be named after their house or vice versa. Often the effects of these open relationships between people and material are quite playful, with bright colours, strange angles and unusual objects. Beyond a different sense experience, ideas of alternative living are practised here through unusual material constellations.

Another example is the Prinzessinnengarten, an urban garden in Berlin, created in 2009 on a brownfield site in the hip but poor area of Kreuzberg. It offers 6000 m² of green against the roundabout and towerblocks just outside its fence, with a café area and many ways for people to get involved. It is experimental mainly in its approach: of seeing what you can do with a wasteland once you allow people to ‘plant’ their ideas onto it, and of asking questions about food, biodiversity and the sustainable city in an unusual setting.

The garden stands as a counterpoint to its surroundings but it remains fundamentally urban: the vegetables grow in colourful plastic boxes and bags because the soil is not usable, the sound of birds mixes with the police siren outside, the label on the garden-produced honey says it comes from “city bees”. This gives it a unique aesthetic and sensescape, and it makes room for interactions that are lacking elsewhere. There are no signs warning visitors against touching the plants; in fact people are encouraged to feel, to smell, to dig. If you order herbal tea, you can choose and cut your own ingredients. During the gardening days, anyone can help shovelling soil, and then harvest their own produce. The interactions with the space are tactile, embodied, direct.

Prinzessinnengarten: Growing Alternatives

Prinzessinnengarten: Growing Alternatives

Prinzessinnengarten: Touching Alternatives

Prinzessinnengarten: Touching Alternatives

 

These invitations to explore bring the alternative ideas of the garden to life. The suggestions it makes about sustainable urban life are not proclaimed but practised – by the office worker who tends to his bees in his lunch break, by the volunteers who mix soil and plant tomatoes. They are also expressed in the colours, materials and solutions in the garden, which provide new starting points and practical inspiration. The garden as a space for learning and engagement both emerges from and creates the conditions for new relations between people, plants and materials.

The buildings of Christiania and the plant boxes of the Prinzessinnengarten give us a glimpse of different ways of being urban, and of ways in which such alternatives can be tried out. They speak of the connections people form with their immediate surroundings, and introduce alternatives not based on any overarching idea of the sustainable city, but on direct embodied, material interactions. The spaces allow people to give a material expression to their values and visions. They encourage further experimentation by leaving loose ends, by juxtaposing ideas and by asking the visitor to take an active stance. They are also fun, interesting places to be – adding a playful element to the challenge of finding urban alternatives.

The fieldwork in Christiania was kindly supported by the Christiania Researcher in Residence (CRIR) project. More information on the research: http://greenplaylab.co.uk

Understanding urban eco-systems and their cultures of participation

by Abigail Gilmore, Director of the Centre for Arts Management and Cultural PolicyInstitute for Cultural Practices, University of Manchester

Site of Home. Image by Abi Gilmore.

Site of Home. Image by Abi Gilmore.

The announcement before Christmas by Newcastle City Council to axe all of its funding to city arts groups, as part of £150m budget reduction, led to much vocal protest. Petitions were raised and articles and blogposts corralled the public to protect the cultural life of the city. The concerned voices of arts infrastructure in Newcastle and Gateshead were joined by luminaries such as Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall, soap actress Jill Halfpenny and rock stars Sting, Mark Knopfler and Brian Ferry. This week, the decision has been softened as a new proposal for funding arts organisations has found £600k to fill the £1.15m hole – following intervention from Harriet Harman, and behind-doors negotiation by the Arts Council with the local authority.

Early on in the period of New Austerity, Manchester signalled its intention to buck the trend of local authorities by investing in its cultural infrastructure, through major capital development plans including Home (the new Library Theatre and Cornerhouse amalgamation). Investment in the Central Library renovations and in revenue funding for the new National Football Museum take place against a background of service delivery savings of £109m in 2011/12 rising to £170m in 2012/13. Elsewhere, the Whitworth Art Gallery have begun their major capital development and other venues such as Contact Theatre are hoping to attract investment for building improvements as well as continue fund-raising for outreach and engagement work.

Media City. Image by Abi Gilmore.

Media City. Image by Abi Gilmore.

Behind these high profile investments, lie other less newsworthy stories. The reorganisation of music education provision as part of the National Music Plan, perhaps the  coalition Government’s  most defined area of explicit cultural policy making,  has resulted in not one but two music education ‘hubs’ for the city-region (one for the Manchester City Council footprint and the other for the remaining authorities), albeit as part of a 27% overall funding reduction to music services nation-wide. Development and investment across art-forms in the AGMA authorities has been hit by waves of local authority reorganisations and restructuring, and although there is a sub-regional strategic arts fund, obtaining investment is dependent on the capacity of arts organisations and artists to work closely with local authority officers to achieve an increasingly disproportionate amount economic impact as part of their measurable instrumental outcomes. Libraries, museums services and local authority-run heritage attractions are all subject to the increasing competition for diminishing budgets and led by an inherently shrinking capacity to defend or champion, let alone manage and fund-raise.

So for those working in the arts and cultural sector in Manchester, Salford and the other authorities in the Greater Manchester conurbation the context for engaging people as audiences and participants in their work is quite clear. But what of the other recipients of these urban cultural policies? How do these changes play out at ‘community’ level, outside of city-centres, in neighbourhoods and localities which are ill-defined by national policy frameworks? Are they recognisable in their impact on people’s daily lives or do they remain the conceit of a metropolitan arts elite, who are ultimately more concerned with rationalising their own existence?

Lowry on Walkabout Broughton. Image by Zora Kuettner.

Lowry on Walkabout Broughton. Image by Zora Kuettner.

From ballet to bread-making

Data from national statistics suggest that participating in arts, cultural and leisure activities has a place in the majority of people’s lives, if not on a daily basis. Taking Part statistics  find nearly 80% ‘engage in the arts’ at least once a year, and levels of museum and gallery visiting have according to these metrics risen by 10% over the survey’s lifetime to over half the population.  Similar numbers take part in active sports. Library and archive visits have decreased, reflecting changing patterns of use and consumption, and undermining arguments to keep libraries open. Taking Part does not reveal local patterns of participation however, or show whether these patterns are related to particular policy infrastructure, investments or developments. Furthermore surveys of these type are based on shared understanding of what constitutes arts and cultural activity, which is primarily ordered around formal ‘offers’ which are often venue- and institution-based. They cannot reveal much at all about participation taking place in communities, or what is means to participants in the context of their everyday lives.

A new research project lead by Manchester and involving co-investigators from four universities and from the cultural sector, in collaboration with a wide range of policy stakeholders. Understanding Everyday Participation – Articulating Cultural Value is a five-year research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, part of their Connected Communities: Cultures and Creative Economies programme. The project is led by Dr. Andrew Miles, ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change and involves an interdisciplinary team of researchers based at universities of Manchester, Leicester, Warwick and Exeter.

Cheetham Hill Road. Image by Abi Gilmore.

Cheetham Hill Road. Image by Abi Gilmore.

The project argues that orthodox models of culture and the creative economy are based on a narrow definition of participation: one that captures engagement with traditional institutions such as museums and galleries but overlooks more informal activities such as community festivals and hobbies. The project aims to paint a broader picture of how people make their lives through culture and in particular how communities are formed and connected through participation. Fieldwork research will be taking place in villages, towns and cities in England and Scotland, beginning with the case study site of Broughton, East Salford and Cheetham, North Manchester, from Spring 2013.

The research focuses on participation as a ‘situated’ process, with ‘community’ and ‘place’ as central logics in the governance of culture, as a critical engagement with the Bourdieusan conceptualisation of cultural capital and its role in the reproduction of social structures. It will bring together evidence from historical analyses, survey data and qualitative research to understand how people participate in culture in their everyday lives and the value they attach to that participation. The empirical work has been devised to embrace different geographies of participation and the communities which are articulated, connected and reproduced within these ‘eco-systems’.

The Manchester city-region eco-system is characterised by Manchester’s rebranding as the ‘original modern city’, which draws on its history of civic engagement paralleled by investment in built creative and cultural infrastructure, alongside Salford’s more recent renaissance in the regenerated Quays.  It is not expected that these same characterisations will be upheld in the fieldwork sites of near-city centre Broughton and Cheetham, despite their geographical proximity to the heart of the cities’ creative infrastructures. The mixed methods research aims to see how these places and their cultural economies are constituted through ‘everyday participation’ to radically re-evaluate the relationship between participation and cultural value.  So, rather than measuring or analysing levels of engagement with recognised and legitimate cultural infrastructure – of Salford Quays, MediaCityUK or Manchester City Centre – the study proposes participation within communities as a source for articulating alternative understandings of value leading to a broader, more nuanced appreciation of ‘creative economies’.

In studying the situated practices of everyday lives in Northern towns, it re-treads the territory of Savage, Bagnall & Longhurst and Taylor, Evans & Fraser. The forms of participation which we expect to encounter may reflect the composition and the histories of these fieldwork sites, The demographics of the two bordering areas include high levels of benefit claimants and ‘NEET’ school-leavers, rich textured histories of immigration, great cultural and linguistic diversity, but a narrow(ing) range of public institutions – comprising libraries, churches, housing associations and lack of shared ‘neutral’ space. We will be hearing about what people do, eat, make, say, contend and ignore in order to produce their lives, and working with communities, policy makers and stakeholders to articulate the research findings in meaningful and productive ways,  to enrich knowledge of these eco-systems and their cultures of participation.

To follow the research visit www.everydayparticipation.org or follow us on Twitter @UEParticipation

Ten Years After! What is the Legacy of the 2002 Commonwealth Games for Manchester?

The B of the Bang was a sculpture designed by Thomas Heatherwick and was commissioned to mark the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

 

In July and August 2002 the city of Manchester hosted the XVII Commonwealth Games.  This eleven day event was to mark the beginning of a strategy to systematically redevelop the east of Manchester.  After decades of losing its population and suffering multiple forms of distress, the plan was to use the Games to reintegrate the area’s neighborhoods back into the wider space economy.  New East Manchester, an urban regeneration company, was established to oversee the redevelopment.  Fast forward to July 2012 and London is about to host the Olympics.  A central feature of the discussions prior to the Games has been over their legacy in the area to the east of London.  This has involved learning from the efforts of other cities, such as Manchester, who have hosted major cultural and sporting events.

On 10 July 2012, cities@manchester will host a panel discussion (view full details and book a free place here) to explore the current state of East Manchester and the on-going legacy of the 2002 Commonwealth Games.  This forum will bring together stakeholders with a wide range of views to debate this vital issue.  The aim is to develop understandings that can inform the wider redevelopment efforts in the city, particularly in the context of shrinking public sector finances. Below are some brief provocations from each panelist to initiate reflection and debate.

Pete Bradshaw, Head of Corporate Responsibility & Infrastructure, Manchester City Football Club.

Ten years on… legacy in action or inaction?

The Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games undoubtedly captured the imagination of people across our city, our region, our nation and across the Commonwealth too.

Manchester and its city region had gained valuable experience in bidding for two Olympic Games (1996 and 2000) and in doing so, had the opportunity to stage a variety of international sporting events and an insight and understanding of what Games’ host cities needed – and indeed the risks involved. Embarking on a bid to stage the Commonwealth Games therefore, would need to be founded in reality, deliverability and should leave lasting legacy for the people of Manchester and for sport, locally, regionally and nationally.

When considering the development of Games’ facilities – it would be critical that they should be fit-for-purpose insofar as the Games were concerned, but no less important would be the need for those very facilities to provide a life beyond the Games without the need for further funding whilst developing new opportunities, events, inward investment and jobs.

Facilities  for the future and in helping deliver legacy would only be one consideration; participation and engagement another. Some twenty years previous, the Sports Council in its launch of Sport – The Next ten Years noted: “Although participation is made possible through facility provision, it is made actual only by sensitive management, inspiring leadership and energetic promotion”. Never more would this be the case with the legacy of Manchester 2002.

Programmes and activities directly related to the Games were (and are) there for all to see, successful at the time and in some cases setting precedence for events and investments ten years on. 15,000 Volunteers engaged with M2002 Pre Volunteer Programme and across the city we can still find them working on events and engaged in jobs as a result. There was Games XChange which created a comprehensive data base and event information resource; the Community Curriculum Pack shared with local education authorities from across the region whilst Let’s Celebrate engaged people of all ages in arts, cultural and events management. Passport gave people access to opportunities which included art, sport, environment, health and jobs and these were supported by Healthier Communities and Prosperity North West programmes.

The emerging development of east Manchester in 2012 is testament to the faith City leaders places in the Manchester 2002 Games and the benefits it would bring. The building of a stadium with a clear and thought-out after-life and the associated infrastructure of Sportcity helped realise the investment now seen, not just in facilities, but in structure and policy which recognises the benefits of local supply chains, local employment, skills development and aspiration for high quality environment, sustainable development and engagement at all levels in the spirit of building neighbourhood.

The changing, even unstable economic climate has presented challenges, no doubt, but the grounding, the character, the leadership and aspiration that lead City leaders to host the XVII Commonwealth Games is vital to our future success and the creation of and access to opportunities for people in our city. I remain convinced that there has been and will continue to be action and investment, there is certainly confidence in this city and about this city.

Rev. David Gray – Faith Network for Manchester and Growing faith in Community

Building trust between communities and practitioners is essential

Having been the workshop of the world during the great industrial push when mines, mills, factories and foundries were producing steel, cotton, coal and railway rolling stock for communities around the world, by the 1990’s East Manchester had become the most disadvantaged community inWestern Europe. Following industrial decline, the well meaning but empathy void slum clearances had broken the back and the heart of the community. Intricate connections reminiscent of eco systems like the Wood Wide Web were broken as orchestras, extended family networks, faith communities; sporting and artistic societies were broken up forever. As psychopathic predators preyed on the children who dwelt in a landscape where a once proud people no longer seemed to matter to those who wielded power, the working class became the post-working class and fell to their knees feeling useless, overlooked and de-skilled. Mortality rates rose to endemic levels due to the impact of hitherto misunderstood industrial diseases; mental ill-health spread like a plague and crime and anti-social behaviour took root among the disaffected. In a trail of broken promises from politicians and planners, hope began to retreat. Children growing up in a culture of unemployment that had been passed on like a baton down several generations lost any concept of there being a link between school and potential career paths.

In due course, a remnant of community activists and a new generation of regeneration professionals began to address the issues. But trust that had been broken had to be re-earned. The prospect of the Commonwealth Games being hosted in East Manchester came with mixed blessings. On one hand, this offered energising hope for the future – but on the other, fears of the gentrification of the area were fuelled as the dreaded compulsory purchases of living memory were once again used to destabilise the existing community.

The games themselves proved an uplifting experience for those local people who managed to remain in the community. Manchester Royal Artillery at nearby Belle Vue Barracks had been threatened with being disbanded, but received a reprieve when myself and others wrote to her Britannic Majesty to plead their cause as a force for good in our community, resulting in a battery salute from artillery field guns opening the games themselves.

The summer of 2002 was a balmy one and the atmosphere around the games was positive for visitors and host community alike.

The games over, a new threat reared its head when the politicians and planners put all their eggs into one basket with a proposal to regenerate the East Manchestereconomy by creating a super casino. Once again the long suffering community was filled with dread.

‘Communities for Stability’ was formed to explore alternatives and the Faith Network for Manchester held a conference “Gambling with our Future” that explored the positives of job creation alongside negatives such as organised crime, sexual exploitation and the impact of habitual gambling. Soon local communities were shouting loudly for something more diverse that was built on local experience and the diversity of the communities of this great city. In short, they were saying: “Bring Back Belle Vue – but with a modern, ethical ethos”.

In due course myself – by now made redundant from my post as community coordinator on the team that restored Gorton Monastery and going through the transition to becoming a sole trader – and unemployed trades union steward Damian Carr compiled, in consultation with local people, businesses, faith and community groups, Manchester City Football Club, police officers, teachers, children and health professionals a business plan that, with the help of Sir Gerald Kaufman, we presented to then communities minister Hazel Blears.

We took with us the directors of a company wishing to bring an eco-affordable housing manufacturing base to the area.

A lot has happened since that meeting. The Moscow and Chinese State Circuses have visited East Manchester; in September we will host a Circus themed parade and Carnival and the legacy of sporting and leisure represented by the games and the old Belle Vue have begun to inform the way ahead. But there is still no eco-affordable housing manufacturing base here, despite all the signs of its being sorely needed.

With a new national speedway stadium in the pipeline and the reintroduction of animal features such as EST Donkey Centre where Donkey’s housed in five star accommodation work to enhance the lives of children with learning difficulties, the magic of Belle Vue is unfolding once again.

This is part of the legacy of the Commonwealth Games, but it has been far from easy for local people to help drive new initiatives with so many disappointments in the fields of politics and banking in our national life. We are determined that our future is not driven by the greed and self interest of a minority of people who are unlikely to settle here themselves to share a stake in our unfolding future. We don’t say we know best, but we do say that unless the indigenous populace – including people who settle here from other lands – are thoroughly involved in what emerges post Commonwealth Games, the damage done by previous waves of regeneration will be compounded and our communities, indeed our national life itself, may never recover from the resultant wounds, allowing apathy to take a hold that will slowly throttle breath out of democracy as people cease to exercise their voting power within a system in which they have totally lost faith.

Camilla Lewis, Social Anthropology PhD candidate, University of Manchester

An uncertain future?

In 2002, the Commonwealth Games were championed as a win-win solution for Manchester. The sporting event would bring worldwide attention and investment to the city and offer a unique opportunity to kick start social regeneration and transform the fortunes of some of Manchester’s poorest neighbourhoods. East Manchester was chosen as an ideal site as it offered large, cheap, de-industrial areas suitable for the main sporting facilities. Over the past ten years, under the banner of ‘New East Manchester’, the area has been radically transformed through multiple processes of rebranding and rebuilding. The industrial past has been largely erased in order to refashion the landscape and, in turn, to create a sustainable, cohesive community. This begs the questions; what kind of legacy has the Games produced and have the expectations of the ambitious regeneration plans been met?

The answers to these questions are complex and contested. East Manchester is a large geographical area with a heterogeneous social landscape. Since local people report constant changes to neighbourhoods it is very difficult to talk about how a single event has changed people’s experiences in a uniform way. Rather than one moment of transformation, the social life and landscape in the area have been reconfigured in multiple ways with changes accelerating over the past decade. While there have been many positive reactions to the newly configured landscape, many local residents feel that the area is characterised by a sense of precariousness and uncertainty about the future. Despite the continuing regeneration efforts, East Manchester is still socially and spatially dislocated from the rest of the city. The future and sustainability of the area is questioned, due to the persistence of high levels of unemployment. In this context, new dynamics of social life have emerged in which relations to place have been reconstituted around historical ideas about community rather than a linear idea of progress and development. The Games promised to instill a sense of certainty and optimism for East Manchester which would be based on a socially accepted ambition towards progress. However, ten years after, community in the past is often remarked on with nostalgia and warmth whereas the future is described as uncertain.

Tom Russell,  former Chief Executive of New East Manchester

Lessons for driving social and economic renewal?

The 2002 Commonwealth Games, by common accord, was one of the most significant milestones in the recent history and development of Manchester. It also has had wider significance in  terms of the approach adopted by London towards the staging of the 2012 Olympics, and by Glasgow in looking forward to the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Arguably both cities success in winning these events has been helped by perceptions of Manchester’s success in 2002.

The city was always clear, through the bidding process for the event and beyond, that it was a means to an end, not an end in itself. Heavily influenced by Barcelona’s approach to the 1992 Olympics, the city’s primary objective was the comprehensive economic, physical and social renewal of the east of the city, one of the most disadvantaged parts of the country in terms of poverty and urban deprivation. Yet the relationship between an international sporting event – elitist by definition and frozen in  a moment in time – and deep-seated problems of urban decline and renewal is not obvious, and cities have faced considerable criticism over the cost and opportunity cost that such events involve.

My contribution to the Forum will aim to examine this relationship and evaluate progress towards the ambitious objectives Manchester set itself, the continuing challenges that the area faces, and the lessons that can be drawn from Manchester’s experience of harnessing a major international event to drive economic and social renewal.