In so many ways 2016 wasn’t a great year was it? There seemed to be tragic stories flying at us every day which were about the worst sides of humanity. It was often hard to remember the positives. I doubt that is going to change very much in 2017. It’s very tempting to write a lot of words about the new political realities but other people are far better qualified to do that than I am. Being someone who has a healthy respect for people with knowledge - call them experts if you like - I’ll leave that to them.
Once again, I start the year thinking life in our sector isn’t going to get any easier. One of the things I learned last year was the importance of learning how to live with ‘volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity’. In that sense, the mood of dismissing ‘experts’ has something of a point: anybody who claims to know where this is all going really doesn’t (though they probably do have some insight or wisdom to share which it would be wasteful to ignore). For me, that just makes it all the more important to stay true to values and purpose. I keep going back to a couple of very fundamental beliefs summed up beautifully by two men who had wisdom and insight far beyond mere expertise:
“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centred men have torn down, men other-centred can build up.”
Dr. Martin Luther King
“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity; it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”
That’s what I’m going to try to keep in mind this year, amid all the shouting and the noise in the media and in the midst of all the day to day stuff like the conversations I’ll have, the meetings I’ll go to and the papers I’ll read or even write, I need to remember it’s that long, unceasing effort to make sure no-one’s left behind, that everyone has a right to a safe, healthy and happy life and that the collective efforts of people in organisations with values can and will make a difference.
So with all those high-minded ambitions (yeah, I’m an idealist – you think I work in a charity by accident?), here are a few things to be aware of in the coming months:
Devolution – we have an election approaching rapidly. The new GM Mayor will be appointed in May. Get involved. Make sure you get a chance to say what you want the future of Greater Manchester to look like. We have a rare opportunity to do something different. What I’ve seen of devolution is that it’s at its best when it has those ambitions. So let’s be bold. Let’s make Greater Manchester the kind of place which shows the entire planet what a 21st Century city looks like. Yes there’ll be politics, and lots of discussion and progress might be frustratingly slow as we get our institutions to change. But it can be done. All the problems we have are man-made, remember.
Cohesion – I wrote last year that we need to focus on building and maintaining cohesion across local communities: Manchester could and should be a model of how people live together with a shared sense of community and humanity. I don’t think I’d change anything I said last year except that the scale of the challenge has got even bigger following events such as the divisive EU Referendum campaign which fuelled so much fear and hatred. Irrespective of the arguments about the EU as an institution, we can’t become communities (or nations) which turn against each other because of difference or ‘otherness’ – because it simply doesn’t work. Everyone is different or ‘other’ to someone. We need to challenge attempts to divide people and keep celebrating our efforts to ensure nobody is left out.
Public services – there is still a lot we can do to help improve services and support for the public working alongside colleagues in the public sector. There will be opportunities this year to find new ways to work around health and wellbeing as the new Local Care Organisation develops. There is a lot we can offer to do around supporting children and families with an offer of ‘Early Help’, we can work with Young Manchester, the city’s new Trust focusing on youth and play services. We can work with the new mental health services; develop more opportunities for people with learning disabilities; improve our support for people who don’t have a place to live, don’t feel safe or simply don’t have enough even to be considered ‘just about managing’. And of course we can create great places for people to gain skills and experience as volunteers and paid staff. More than that, we can work with other organisations all across the city to speak out about what we’re seeing, how services and support could be improved. We are not just providers of services, we’re a huge movement of groups and individuals who are working to ensure everyone who lives, studies or works in Manchester has the chance to be safe, healthy and happy.
As with last year, I am still concerned that we’re having to work harder and faster and our determination not to give up can leave us exhausted if we’re not careful. We need to remember – particularly those in management and trustee roles – to look after the wellbeing of our staff and volunteers. None of us can help more people by burning ourselves out.
So I’m not claiming I know everything that’s going to happen in 2017 or how it will work or what exactly we’ll need to do. Everyone we know and work with will get something wrong during the year! But if we’re going to do anything and cope with the challenges, we need to remember why we’re here and what we’re about. My own version of it still boils down to ‘more good stuff’.
Best wishes for 2017 from everyone at Macc.
You know where to find us if we can be of any help.
This piece was written as the introduction for the "Coming Up in...." e-bulletin we send out on the first day back at work every January. To read the full edition, subscribe to our ebulletin here: https://www.manchestercommunitycentral.org/ebulletin-registration-page