Last month, we held a meeting with some of our members and supporters to collectively consider the challenges facing Greater Manchester and look ahead to some of the ways Steady State Manchester can work to address those challenges. The meeting built upon a short discussion paper, and some of the key points discussed are drawn together below.
In the context of big challenges
Steady State Manchester works to influence thinking, practice, and policy in Greater Manchester. However, in the discussion with our members, it was clear our focus places limits on our scope. While there is a long way to go in building a more viable Greater Manchester, the fact is that many of the necessary shifts we discussed will require large-scale changes. A key case of this is the need for a fundamental rethinking of how national government invests tax revenue (e.g. the Green New Deal). While we agree that government investment and other wider structures need changing, this is in tension with a focus on advocating at a city-regional level. A similar tension arises when thinking through the impacts of Brexit (which have been obscured by the pandemic). Indeed, operating in the context of big challenges means understanding what we can – and what we can’t – directly influence.
Still, we will continue emphasising the many ways that a viable economy and society can improve lives and wellbeing, not least through advocating policies at the Greater Manchester scale. Equally, stories of success need celebrating, including activist mobilisation in Manchester calling for the city-region to address the climate emergency, the local wealth building of the Preston Model, twenty minute neighbourhoods being taken up in places like Melbourne, and adoption of the doughnut model in Amsterdam. These and countless other examples show ways of putting a more viable future into practice now, and our work will continue to draw inspiration from these exemplars while urging wider structural change.
Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic
A main point of discussion was, understandably, the kernels of difference that might be taking root as a result of our collective experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most obviously, and widely discussed (such as here, here, and here), is a newfound appreciation for certain industries: especially those working in healthcare and food shops. Less widely acknowledged, however, are others essential workers that operate with less immediacy to many people’s everyday life, such as rubbish collectors or those in ‘elementary processing’ industries (aka un-unionized factory workers). This redefinition of what is essential to our society points to one possibility for recognizing that certain kinds of services that characterize a prosperous society are not amenable to a productivity-obsessed, growth-fuelled logic – a point brilliantly articulated by Tim Jackson some years ago, which is closely linked to our continued calls for an embrace of new social values – from care and democracy to resilience and localisation – in a more viable economy and society.
Another lesson emerging from the pandemic that we discussed is related: the flaws and weaknesses that COVID-19 exposed in various systems, along with the innovative responses, indicate ways forshock-proofing against future unexpected events. Examples such as the community groups that activated to provide mutual aid or the way that regional food systems adapted rapidly, are positive developments that have emerged in the past year or so. They need considering as we think about a post-pandemic Greater Manchester – and we intend to account for these lessons in our work moving forward.
A last theme in the discussion with our supporters emerged when thinking ahead about the future. It was clear there is a need for unity amongadvocacy groups andto buildmomentum behind positive change. There is latent support for acting to address climate change, homelessness and so many other issues. But, at the same time, while there is potential, the limits of people’s engagement with civic life should be understood. People need an outlet for bringing them closer to decisions, which is seriously lacking in Greater Manchester – and elsewhere. A climate assembly (like the one in Blackpool) may be one possible way to encourage greater civic engagement, and we stand with Extinction Rebellion in calling for climate assemblies in other places, including Greater Manchester.
Another way we discussed for encouraging civic engagement involves drawing media attention to key issues and local events – both positive and negative – that can raise people’s awareness about what matters. Our post-growth challenge, in partnership with The Meteor and Systems Change Alliance, is one endeavour in this direction. Please do explore the entries to the challenge here and here. We plan to pursue other similar innovative ways to communicate with broader audiences in our future work.
A third route for catalysing civic engagement is our coalition work. At Steady State Manchester, partnerships and alliances are a key part of what we do. These activities are all aimed at activating a local ecosystem where people feel like they have a say in governance – despite the challenges (such as arcane ‘consultations’ and dull committee meetings). But to continue developing a groundswell of support for a more viable economy and society for Greater Manchester, we need your support. Whether that is donating, joining as a member, or remaining committed as a supporter. Our monthly emails often include several actions that we are asking you to take. And to encourage your engagement, our future mailings are going to highlight ‘Our Ask’ for a concrete action we hope that you will take each month.
Most importantly, we are keen for others to get involved in our work by joining our collective. If you might be interested, we encourage an informal chat with one of our collective, followed by no-commitment attendance at a collective meeting as an observer, to help show you what Steady State Manchester is about.If you are curious and would like to learn more, please drop us an email.
Overall, it was great to reconnect with some of our members and supporters, and we thank those who came very much for attending and participating. We are looking forward to further activities in the future involving our members – especially for a return to in-person events – including both our AGM (keep an eye on your email). In the meantime, the free and all-online Degrowth and Ecological Economics Conference, which we are co-sponsoring, is coming up in July. Hope to see you there!