One of the things I love most about working in the voluntary sector is that if you have a really good idea you can generally find a way to make it happen. It might take a while – things like our State of the Sector and Civil Economy work were on my wishlist for years before we were finally able to publish the finished work. But sometimes you can be taken by surprise at how fast you can go from the idea to it actually happening.
Back in January I stopped off in Moss Side to go to Hideaway’s 50th Anniversary event. The manager Julie Wharton welcomed everyone, talked a little bit about Hideaway’s work and then introduced a range of staff, volunteers and people who’ve been supported by Hideaway. They spoke or sang or read some poetry. It was inspiring and, in places, funny – it didn’t just tell me about Hideaway and make a good pitch for fundraising, it was also interesting and entertaining in its own right. It wasn’t a big production number: it was simply using the space they already work in and inviting people to see who they are and what they do.
So the questions and ideas start tumbling around in my head. Why aren’t there more people here? How many local people know about all the voluntary and community groups right on their doorstep? I bet there’s lots of hidden talent among all the people who work in and with the 3093 groups in Manchester. Why don’t we all do more things like this? What could Macc do to encourage and support that?
What I kept coming back to was that we shouldn’t just celebrate individual groups, we should celebrate the sheer scale and diversity of the voluntary and community sector: and that’s where the crucial bit of the idea came from. What if we all did a little event like this but (and this was the lightbulb moment) we all did it in the same week? And we had a calendar of all the events so people could choose to go to events all across the city. That would get some attention wouldn’t it? We could get the TV and the press interested. In fact, if we did it in the same week as our Spirit of Manchester Awards … I started getting a bit giddy with the possibilities.
But as always, how to make it happen? I thought this would probably have to linger on my wishlist for a while but as luck would have it, a few weeks later I had some conversations with the University of Manchester about an internship programme they wanted to launch. Their idea was to use dormant trust funds to support students undertaking internships in local voluntary and community sector organisations. A fantastic idea - and the commitment to pay the interns at above Living Wage was one I was particularly happy to support. This meant that we could encourage local groups to put together interesting projects for interns to undertake *and* be encouraging more people to come and work in the voluntary sector. And, I realised, I’d already had a very nice idea for a project....
So I was particularly delighted when the University told us they’d approved our application and that there were some students who were interested in taking up the internship role. Mia, our intern, started with us on 21st July and now we’re inviting everyone to get involved in the Spirit of Manchester Festival. All the details are available here: http://www.manchestercommunitycentral.org/spirit-manchester-awards-2014-festival
My hope is that in September we’ll have a programme full of all kinds of events from dancing to hotpot suppers*. Like a fringe festival, part of the fun will be the sheer range of small, offbeat events and the people you meet as you go along. For me, this isn’t about putting on a polished stage production: it’s about all of us involved in voluntary and community groups across the city welcoming, entertaining and reaching out to the people of Manchester.
It’s going to be fun!
*Before you ask, yes the Macc team will be doing something. Probably involving music and cake.