Explore any urban neighbourhood in Greater Manchester – seek out its craft groups, its over 50s exercise classes, its food banks, parent groups, and meal clubs – and there you will find amazing women.
We call them Women Warriors: the lynchpins of communities that have experienced decades of economic, social and political disadvantage, communities where the Greater Manchester Savers operate.
Women have always played a critical role in community action in the UK (and across the world). Since the onset of austerity policies in 2010 which has reduced spending on public services and social support, women have been at the forefront of the battle to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable in our society. Most of the time they are also struggling with challenging personal circumstances of their own.
The gendered nature of this community action usually goes unrecognised. It is almost always unpaid, and the cost of activities are frequently shouldered by communities themselves.
Women’s integral role in holding communities together against forces that impoverish and fragment them gives them astute insights into local aspirations, challenges, and motivations. Yet, such women are some of the least likely to have influence over the decisions that are made about their community. Places, in the context of Greater Manchester, where they and their families have often lived for generations.
This is a story of women-led change.
The booklet we are launching today takes stock of what Greater Manchester Savers have achieved so far, experiences of our members over time and the partnership support Savers would welcome, and why our approach matters amidst such challenging times.
Our network has emerged following a series of community exchanges between women engaged in poverty action in Greater Manchester and activists from South African and Kenyan affiliates of the international social movement Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI). It was enabled by an action research project funded under the Mistra Urban Futures’ Realising Just Cities programme (University of Sheffield) between 2017-2019. This work also draws on earlier and continuing support from the Global Development Institute (University of Manchester) and its collaboration with SDI, particularly within its teaching programme.
Most importantly, Greater Manchester Savers has been catalysed by the willingness of SDI activists in the Global South to share their histories and experiences; and by longstanding women community leaders in Greater Manchester who have brought their own experiences into this process and made it their own.
GM Savers and COVID 19
As this publication was nearing completion the world was struck by the Coronavirus pandemic. The speed with which under-resourced community groups have organised to ensure basic needs are being met in their neighbourhoods is testament to the critical role they will necessarily play in what is likely to be a turbulent future.
Together with the stark health inequalities between deprived and affluent neighbourhoods revealed by the pandemic in England and Wales, this has strengthened our belief that our work is becoming ever more important amidst mounting and multiple economic, social and environmental crises.
Throughout 2020 Savers are focused on adapting to the rapid changes facing their communities. We are currently learning from our sisters in Nairobi who have been busy setting up local COVID 19 monitoring committees.
GM Savers is supported by Community Led Action and Savings Support (CLASS), which provides professional support to affiliated savings groups. We are also grateful for the support of the Urban Institute at the University of Sheffield and the Global Development Institute at the University of Manchester.