Where it all began
The history of North Manchester Community Partnership starts in April 2011, as a response to funding cuts in Manchester which posed a significant threat to communities of unemployed people and people in low employment. As part of efforts to tackle unemployment in some of the most deprived areas of Manchester, a Steering Group was set up and given the incredible task of tackling the problems the City was facing, especially in the North Manchester wards. Members of the Steering Group were local to the North Manchester area and had lived and worked in the area for many years. They represented a broad cross-section of the diverse communities that can be found in North Manchester – and Manchester as a whole.
As part of the plan from the Group, four of the most affected wards were chosen to receive support through Work Clubs, which would provide urgently needed services where it was needed most. Through this, North Manchester Work Clubs was born.
In 2013, the Steering Group helped to establish North Manchester Work Clubs as a Community Organisation, but the work the Group was facing grew, and the services being provided started to push against the boundary of employment and employability. In addition, service requirements and gaps in delivery were being seen across North Manchester as a whole. Some people were forced to travel across the city for services that had originally been provided on their doorstep, but austerity measures were tightening the purse strings of non-profit organisations, and local councils were facing the pinch from central government. Charities were facing hard times, some even succumbing to closures and redundancies. Larger, more sustainable charities were able to step in for basic relief through outreach work, but quite often service users were not able to access the services that were dying out.
Despite this backdrop, North Manchester Work Clubs was growing strong, and more and more outreach services were provided, with Work Clubs popping up across North Manchester in Moston, Harpurhey, Cheetham Hill, and Crumpsall. Partnerships were built with local and central government officials, as well as local businesses. Regional charities came to the fold to support the work of North Manchester Work Clubs. The working model of the partnership proved successful, as in 2015 North Manchester Work Clubs merged with its East Manchester counterpart, forming a much larger project with a significantly larger catchment area. The new North and East Manchester Work Clubs gained the attention of the Big Lottery Fund, successfully winning a contract from the Fund to continue the work of its services for the next three years.
Still, the requirements of our users became greater, their needs became many, and the services that could aid them became fewer. Week-on-week, more and more users came forward requiring assistance, and as more users came forward, cases became more complicated.
The merger between North Manchester and East Manchester Work Clubs allowed the partnership to prepare for these changes, and the successful bid to the Big Lottery Fund allowed the Steering Group to evaluate our work and rethink our overarching strategy. The prolonged period of austerity from central government meant a change in tact was needed. We consulted over 200 people across the area to set our path for the next three years. We saw the variety of services that were needed and sought to rectify that.
The problem we found was that a great many services were available, in some capacity, and provided by partners or associates of North and East Manchester Work Clubs. Whilst we could show the need for the services, barriers often arose which prevented access to them. Sometimes, these barriers were demographic – funding bodies required only users who fit certain criteria to be eligible. Sometimes, these barriers were geographical – funding bodies limited the catchment area to a specific part of Manchester, or reaching the delivery location proved difficult for the service user. Other times, these barriers were linguistic or cultural – services were delivered by British natives, who could not speak the language of immigrants that were otherwise eligible. These were problems that needed to be overcome, and we knew we were up to the task.
In 2011, a small community partnership was formed to help those who were unemployed. Now, through hard work, dedication, and perseverance, that seed work blossomed and formed the North Manchester Community Partnership.
Who is North Manchester Community Partnership?
The North Manchester Community Partnership is a unique collaboration of grassroots and larger third sector groups, housing associations, health services and family services. Our approach is community-led and has shown many benefits to the communities we serve. You can find out more about our service partners in our Partners section.
In 2017, we were awarded Accredited Status with Open Awards, which allows us to deliver our own flexible courses. In the same year, we partnered with the Department of Work and Pensions to deliver contracts on their behalf. Our work has also allowed us to be held as an example of “good practice” by the Good Things Foundation, who selected us as a Pathfinder Project for their Integrated Communities Innovation Fund application from the National Lottery.
The work we have provided since 2011 has also seen our work appear in academic research. In 2013, a research paper commissioned by Manchester City Council and Sheffield Hallam University featured the Partnership as an example of community working.
Where do we work?
North Manchester Community Partnership is based at the Welcome Centre in Cheetham Hill, but serves eight wards in North Manchester: Cheetham Hill, Crumpsall, Harpurhey, Moston, Charlestown, Collyhurst, Blackley, and Newton Heath. We operate outreach services in partner centres in these areas. The work of North and East Manchester Work Clubs – of which some of the Partnership’s work is based – has helped see us already invited to expand our work into Salford. We’ve received requests from Children’s Centres to work with some of the most in-need users.
The wards we work in are not accidental. According to the Index of Deprivation 2015, all of the wards we work in appear in the top 20% of deprived wards, all scoring highly on two or more identifying markers. These wards are among the most culturally diverse wards in Manchester, with Cheetham Hill and Moston seeing approximately 52% of the population hailing from ethnic minority backgrounds. They also have a strong private rental housing market. Wards such as Harpurhey, Newton Heath, Charlestown and Blackley have a majority white working class background, with much of the housing market controlled by social housing providers. This cultural divergence is just one of the factors that we seek to work with.
Who do we work with?
The diverse collection of communities have many common challenges. There is a lack of opportunity to learn new skills, which can lock people in an atmosphere of low income, social isolation, and mental and physical health problems. Those on benefits such as Universal Credit or Jobseekers Allowance, or those in flexible working environments including those on zero-hour contracts may find that attending learning programmes with a fixed schedule difficult. Childcare issues can act as a barrier for those wanting to find work or wanting to access learning programmes. Low income levels can lead to social isolation, which can affect the whole family. This can also be a precursor to poor credit and issues with debt, and the fear of homelessness can compound and impact the mental health of those in the home. Many in the community report feeling depressed, powerless, fatigue, and pessimistic. Optimism is for the lucky people with secure jobs, good housing, and a personal car; items our users strive to achieve, but feel their current situation acts as a millstone preventing them from progressing to a reasonable quality of life.
The cuts to local government services and to community-based services in general fuels a distrust in service providers. People feel let down, that their needs are not important, that they are just numbers in order to achieve targets or earn money for the service provider. We are fortunate to be in a trusted position in the community. Our outreach work has helped us become a point of contact for many in need, and we work with them to the best of our ability instead of making empty promises. We make sure that we can achieve what we claim and we provide support for the long-term, not just until the immediate need is rectified. Some providers turn their backs on their users once they exit their programmes, but North Manchester Community Partnership has been around for many years and are still helping those who came from the day we opened our doors.
Manchester is renowned for being a strong, connected community, and North Manchester carries that ethos in its blood. Members of the community come together and volunteer their time, giving their energy to aid their neighbours in their hour of need with their knowledge of local resources and amenities. Local community centres offer a wide range of activities and support services, and have an ability to be flexible in responding to need and to test out ideas at a local level. This partnership between community groups and members is what makes Manchester work best, and it is this practice which forms the basis of the core of our work.
As part of our work, we actively encourage people to join in with local community groups and share their experiences with friends and family. This “word of mouth” promotion can be effective in encouraging more people to become involved with their local communities as well. We engage with many new migrants thanks to our links with partner organisations which put us in a strong position to integrate them into their local community, as well as aiding them navigate their new life in the UK. We are in a fortunate position in that we can share information between groups from other wards and promote services and activities to those who would most benefit.
Who are we funded by?
Much of our funding comes from Good Things Foundation, which allows us to deliver courses to help people gain essential ICT skills. We receive some funds from the Department of Work and Pensions to help people get support entering the workplace, and we also receive support from Manchester City Council and small community grants for specific pieces of work. Our partners also use the Partnership as an engagement pathway to get into the hardest to reach communities in North Manchester.