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Leadership Spotlight: Forever Manchester’s Nick Massey and Helen Capiter

Since 1989, Forever Manchester has raised over £36m for community projects in the Greater Manchester area. Their CEO Nick Massey and community builder co-ordinator Helen Capiter spoke to Thomas Barrett at their offices about how to play to the strengths of a community and not asking for permission.

 

How has Forever Manchester changed with the times?

Nick: We reinvented ourselves six or seven years ago. Like many, we were involved with managing a lot of contracts for statutory organisations, government and local authorities. We would deliver grant programmes on behalf of them. It was a successful period from 2000 to 2009/2010. There was lots of money flowing through and we were involved with exciting programmes. We were in a good position as a grantmaker.

We had good networks, knew people and did a good job of it. But after the recession started biting hard, and there was a change in government, it was clear the times were changing. Austerity kicked in and we took a look at our books and realised we had a lot of eggs in one basket. We needed to drastically change what we did and how we did it.

We looked at our finances and thought how do we survive the next 10 years and beyond without chasing contracts?

Our former name was the Community Foundation for Greater Manchester, which was possibly the least sexy name of any organisation in the world! Not a bit of it resonated with the general public. After a lot of hair-tearing, we came up with the name Forever Manchester.

‘Charity the Mancunian way’ is our slogan, it has energy and excitement but we hadn’t a clue what it meant. We had vague notions of Tony Wilson-esque “this is Manchester we do things differently here”, but what does that look like as a grantmaker?

You have adopted Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD), which was pioneered in Canada and uses the community’s own assets, skills and resources as the basis for development. How has this changed what you do?

Nick: It really resonated with us. We fell into the trap of labelling people as inadequate, inefficient and incapable. It was the “Broken Britain” concept.

Although we know we did a lot of good work through the 2000s we felt we were directed by the public sector. So we embraced this new way of working. We love the idea of taking a step back and saying everybody has skills, talents and assets.

We heard lots of stories of success in Canada but there was no evidence in the UK.

We funded the UK’s first community building team, it was risky but by embracing an asset-based approach gave us depth and meaning. We took the plunge.

Helen: We deliver ABCD with a team of community builders, it is strength-based and resident-led, with small pots of funding such as our £250 Cash 4 Graft for four or more neighbours that have ideas for community events. It’s to help them get something that they think would be great in their community up and running. We’ve given out over 200 of these so far.

We don’t like to focus on what’s wrong. It’s nice to ask people what they’re good at, rather than the same old “tell me whats wrong and let’s see if we can fix it for you.”

Do you have to be an optimist to work in your sector?

Nick – It’s changed. The traditional voluntary sector journey was “identify the disadvantage and throw a pot of money at it.”

You’d see some improvement whilst the program lasted but it would have a relatively short lifespan. A lot of good projects collapsed after that because there was no money to support what they were doing.

It’s not about throwing chunks of money around anymore.

The problem with community building is you need professionals to deliver it and to train people to do it. We want to show people that you don’t have to have permission to do stuff and that’s very liberating. You’ve had decades of people expecting to be told what to do. To change that around feels almost anarchic, but it’s not. In many ways, it’s a return to traditional values.

How is Forever Manchester funded?

Nick: We do this free of statuary funding and government contracts. It’s liberating and allows us to make our own decisions. We’re not driven by a tickbox culture.

We’ve been supported by over 100 Greater Manchester-based businesses. People are recognising place-based charities can offer a bang for your buck when you put them up against cause-related charities.

We tell them where their money has gone. The more enlightened businesses recognise keeping hold of staff is very important. Part of our sell is we are delivering grassroots community benefit in areas where your employees live and work, and that has resonance. It’s the old adage of charity start at home.

Is community spirit dying?

Helen: I wouldn’t say community spirit is dying but what’s growing is a fear of embarrassment. That’s a very British thing. People ask “am I allowed to do that?”

But once you unlock the innate feeling of wanting to do stuff, and instilling pride in what you do and where you live, places can blossom. It sometimes just needs teasing out.

Nick: Communities are disconnected and that’s due to several things like social mobility and social isolation. It’s also because of people doing things to them, and local authorities doing stuff to people.

That takes away peoples desire to do things themselves and increases the expectancy that it will be done for you. People’s spirit is alive and well but you need catalysts and once that’s unlocked it’s like an avalanche.

What success stories stand out?

Nick: We’re always astonished at the amount of under the radar community activity that’s going on. There’s always far more than we know about. It’s real grassroots and real volunteer-led.

Helen:  For me, it’s a great thing to see people who thought they couldn’t do anything, to be running their own groups and encouraging the community. I get choked up. Yes, it takes more time, but for us, it’s making a real sustainable difference. These things have to continue.

Nick: It puts pride back into their communities. People are wrestling ownership of their area back. We’ve seen great intergenerational projects where kids who have been responsible for petty crime have been brought into groups to participate and are now active members of communities.

One lady said that once if we saw hoodies we would cross the road, now they are part of what we do here.

 

 

 

 

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