Creating a Culture of Inclusion

 

"Three years into my role as One Manchester’s Group Culture Lead I still see eyebrows raised when I mention my job title, and have to explain what I do and why a social housing provider has such a role."

 

Although there may be confusion from potential partners or external organisations, I am always happy and proud to explain our ethos to build better communities by supporting the people in them to improve their lives. I’m also happy to explain that my role is only part of our place based approach, alongside support to help people find work, start-up businesses, stay healthy and well and to manage their money.

Since the creation of my post in 2015, we’ve worked with a number of partners to deliver cultural opportunities for our customers, most notably the Royal Exchange Theatre, with whom we have just completed our On Top of the World project.  Over the past three years, our partnership has used art and culture to tackle isolation in high rise blocks across Gorton and Hulme, and ultimately delivered a performed play, a radio play and now a film, which was written and performed by our residents in response to the tragedy at Grenfell.

 

Can You Hear Me From Up Here?

 

Tower Blocks

The play, Can You Hear Me From Up Here? was performed at the Royal Exchange Theatre to great reviews and was shortlisted for a City Life Award for best theatre show, alongside professional productions such as Matilda and Early Doors. A project like ours finding itself on this list and receiving so much recognition is an achievement in itself.

But prizes and kudos aside, what have we achieved?  We weren’t seeking awards; we were trying to use a particular type of opportunity – art and creativity – to tackle a particular type of problem – social isolation.  Did we succeed?  In my opinion, absolutely. For those that came along for the ride, there is no doubt that they derived great benefit from the work we’ve done. Even though the project has now technically come to an end, these residents continue to benefit from their connection with each other and the opportunities being offered by One Manchester and we hope that what they take away will have a lasting effect on their personal lives.

The project wasn’t really ever about the end result; it was always about the journey.  Along the way we reached many more people who didn’t want to act in the play, but who took part in arts, who just came for tea and toast in the drop-in session at their blocks, who came out on trips and even engaged with us when the sessions were over.  These are all things that we did during the project to help reduce the isolation in each of those blocks. 

So what happens now the project has ended?  The answer is that we have to find a way to replicate what we achieved in our day-to-day delivery, so that more residents can benefit.  But how can that work?  We work in housing not theatre? How can we sustain the type of support and engagement that has received external funding to deliver it? 

Can you hear me from up here

 

These are important considerations. To have any lasting and sustainable value, we have a responsibility to make sure the solutions are still there after the project is over. That’s the next challenge for me. I’ll be producing an evaluation report, which I will be sharing with the project group set up back in 2015 to help us to review the effect this initiative has had on our residents and the wider community.     

I’ll also be applying what I personally have learned to the development of other projects and improvement of cultural opportunities, not just in the range on offer but more crucially in making sure that they target our One Manchester priorities. 

As we celebrate the success of the On Top of the World project, now is the perfect time to take stock of our approach and see how we can embed cultural and artistic opportunities further into our work to support communities – in projects like the Greater Manchester Homes Partnership (which is helping to tackle homelessness in our city), in our place strategy, or even in major redevelopments that might be planned for the future.  Couldn’t cultural opportunities play a part in these projects as well?