I went to Young Manchester’s Welcome Event a couple of evenings ago held at HOME. It was a positive and celebratory event with performances by a number of young people including beat boxing, singing and dancing, as well as the usual heartfelt speeches, the best of which (sorry to other speakers) was one by Saeed Atcha, founder of the magazine Xplode (an invitee to the royal wedding!). He is definitely one to watch.
Young Manchester is an independent trust that has been set up and funded, to a large extent, by Manchester City Council to do some of the roles that the council used to carry out including running a youth and play grant programme. It also has a much wider role in promoting the wishes, needs and rights of young people, bringing more funding in, and promoting a wide range of partnerships. One new and interesting development is a link-up with JD Sports, a GM based, international company.
It’s early days, but the potential is fascinating. Manchester is a young city and predicted to get younger - the proportion of young people to older people is steadily increasing. It is a diverse city that is getting rapidly more diverse. However, I’m not sure Manchester has really started to exploit these strengths properly, at the kind of scale and pace that is needed. We can make so much more of the diversity, talent, creativity and energy of young people.
This is at the heart of the challenge that Young Manchester faces. How does it help to make Manchester a city known, nationally (and maybe at some time internationally), for being a city of opportunity for young people from every background, ethnicity and orientation. We need to go way beyond being a popular place for students to come, a proud history of youth culture or trying to reduce the number of “NEETs” (the stigmatising term used for young people not in employment, education or training).
Part of the answer to meeting this ambition, and one that Young Manchester already understands and is working on, will be partnering with community and voluntary sector organisations, whether they are funded by Young Manchester or not. The collective energy of these organisations needs to be encouraged and sometimes guided in a way that is disruptive and maybe even, on occasion, alarming. That should be the benefit of having an organisation such as Young Manchester, which is independent from Manchester City Council. It has the freedom to take risks, to experiment, to encourage a spirit of newness and rapid development.
Young Manchester is part of an historic tussle for the heart and soul of Manchester. Is it a commercial city, driven by business and corporate priorities, full of expensive apartments and restaurants catering to the well-off, serviced by poorly paid young people? Or is it a city driven by the dynamism of young people, that values and encourages play, experiment, innovation, risk in culture, art, finance, business, housing, and education? It is, of course, a balance and Young Manchester’s role is to help to sway the balance a little more in favour of young people. (whilst, not forgetting, of course, the need to promote Manchester’s Age Friendly approach for people like me).
Young Manchester is in the process of appointing a new chief executive. It’s a big job and I wish whomever is appointed all the best.