The Meteor is driven by a mission to promote social, environmental, and economic justice. But what does this really mean? And is this idea of justice something people care about locally?
At a time when we are seeing what seems to be the opposite of well-worn phrases like ‘levelling up’ and ‘building back better’, we decided to reach out to those around us and start a conversation about what this idea of justice means to people in Greater Manchester.
Why Greater Manchester?
Though we first started The Meteor with a focus on Manchester, it didn’t take long for our curiosity to lead us out of the confines of the city boundaries to the surrounding boroughs.
It was with that curiosity that we brought together a diverse group of citizens from across Greater Manchester for an online conversation. Lifelong residents, newcomers to the area and those now living elsewhere shared their* opinions, experiences and memories – including the creation of Greater Manchester itself.
*we gathered quotes at this event anonymously so that people were able to speak as freely as possible.
“I remember the day when Greater Manchester was invented in the 1970s. It was part of the local government reorganisation under a prime minister called Edward Heath, god bless him – long, long forgotten.
“I’ve accepted it in administrative terms, and I’m not ranting about it, but I know my sense of home.
“I identify very strongly with Lancashire – I’m from Bolton, and it’s Bolton-comma-Lancs, not Bolton-comma-Greater Manchester.”
The view that Manchester sometimes “sucks the soul” from its surrounding boroughs was shared by others in the (virtual) room, but someone else on the call explained that the opposite can also be true, with the loss of the Mancunian identity to a broader Greater Manchester focus.
“If you look proportionally, it’s such a huge city. It’s like the beating heart of the whole region, but there’s always a tendency to say, ‘we must mention the other boroughs so they don’t feel left out’. Sometimes it feels like a bit of a vacuum – and you can’t really live without a major organ.”
Speaking specifically about where they live, Victoria Park, they said:
“It’s an area that’s sandwiched between Rusholme and Longsight, and when the council changed it they put us into Longsight. But we’re a nearly 200-years-old area – that sort of party politics shouldn’t supersede people’s heritage and identity.
“When people ask you ‘what area do you live in?’, you’re not going to say ‘well, the council, when I go to vote…is Longsight’ – it’s not. The area that I walk around in every day, if I can get out of the house, is not Longsight.”
The idea of place-based identity weaved its way through much of the conversation, as well as a sceptical view of the Manchester ‘brand’. One contribution summarised their breakout discussion:
“There seems to be a real tension between how Manchester brands itself…and then the realities and the lived experiences of people in the city and across the different boroughs of Manchester. So there feels like a little bit of a disconnect.
“On a macro level in the UK, I think we’re experiencing that anyhow, so Manchester is probably reflecting that on a micro level.”
Or, as another participant put it:
“Manchester really tries to sell itself as a great place, growing with investment, a valuable place to be and live in. But this is not the reality for everybody, and it’s not equally distributed.”
For one participant, it’s about feeling safe to navigate the streets. They explained how they felt more independent in the city physically, emotionally and psychologically when they were younger than they do now. A lack of care and attention to the human element of planning has led to them feeling less safe when travelling alone.
Points made around towns requiring investment, and neglected areas in need of regeneration, raised the question: ”how do we regenerate in a way that keeps the essence of communities, but allows them to move into the 21st century?”
“We need to remember that we’re community focused”, says a self-proclaimed “proud Hydeonian through-and-through”, who has lived in the same house in Tameside since they were one year old.
They explained how, during the trial of Harold Shipman, the church was a place people came to for solace.
“We lost so many members because of Harold Shipman. But people came to us, and we had people who were of faith, who weren’t of faith, who weren’t Christian, purely because we were saying, ‘come here, sit, be silent, talk. Have a cup of tea, do what you need to’.
“I don’t want something tragic to happen again. But something needs to remind us that when we are on our uppers, we will and can group together.”
When asked if people thought justice was a mainstream topic of conversation in Greater Manchester, one person said it’s “not something which the major corporate bodies in Greater Manchester, both in the public and private sector, are really concerned about. In fact some of them are the real culprits.”
To which, another responded: “For people in positions of power, it’s not in the interest for everyday people to be having a conversation about this. That’s why asking these questions feels important.”
We then asked about the kinds of stories and spaces needed to create a more just Greater Manchester. The answers centred around compassion and courage, with a question proposed by one participant:
“How do we [collectively] start having some of the harder conversations that we need to have, …that bring up vulnerability and feelings of shame and all of this, in safe environments?
“Because the reality is, if we really want to think about a just Greater Manchester, we have to start thinking about how we navigate through that stuff.”
What next: have your say and connect with others
This summary captures just some of the key points raised during the session, with plenty more for us to explore. The rich discussions held at this event have already sparked a number of connections, projects and story ideas, but we want to go further.
We are now extending these questions out to individuals and groups across Greater Manchester through this survey, co-produced with attendees of our online event.
Share your thoughts about Justice in Greater Manchester here, then share the link with your networks to enable us to get a broad range of perspectives. If you or anyone you know is interested in exploring these questions through a one-to-one or group discussion, please let us know.
We will be collecting responses and holding conversations between now and our event on 24 January ‘A Just Greater Manchester’.
This event is open to all, and will be a chance to reflect on what we have heard and connect around a number of creative contributions on the theme of justice/injustice in Greater Manchester (get in touch if you want to contribute something on the night!).
Register your place here for our AGM and public event ‘A Just Greater Manchester’, taking place on 24 Jan 2024. Then spread the word and encourage your friends, family members and colleagues who share your interest in this topic to join us! This will help us have a richer conversation on the day.
For members of our co-op, this will also be a chance to vote in our new Directors. If you are interested in becoming a Meteor Director, contact email@example.com. We are particularly on the lookout for a new Chair, so if this could be you or someone you know, please get in touch!
We are always on the lookout for more people to get involved in the work we do. If you are interested in writing for us, supporting our events and community outreach, helping steer the co-op through its board, or anything else, please let us know abit more about your interests here.
And if you are part of a community that meets regularly in Greater Manchester, we can deliver storytelling workshops for your group as part of our new project Pitch, Please. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
We look forward to continuing this conversation with you and those you know, to inform our work and help move towards a more just Greater Manchester.
The Meteor team x
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All images: Alice Toomer-McAlpine