In 2019, members of Miles Platting Savers travelled to Nairobi, Kenya, for a five-day learning exchange with leaders of Muungano Wa Wanavijiji. Together with delegates from Sharston and Brinnington, they were inspired by the way that housing activists had brought their communities together to gather data, map their settlement and set priorities. From there, they worked with local government to ensure people’s needs were recognised and local services and infrastructure were improved. The Manchester groups visited community-led housing projects and community build schemes and saw how co-financing could achieve local ownership over community facilities, protecting and maintaining community assets.
On their return, Miles Platting Savers began to create a map of their neighbourhood tracing the history of their area and the positive and more challenging impacts of ongoing regeneration. This was undertaken with other local residents and members of Community Grocers, working with researchers from the University of Sheffield.
Community conversations revealed that there was widespread anxiety among residents about the rapid changes taking place around them. In response, in November 2019, Miles Platting Savers called a meeting of local community groups to explore how to work more effectively together and ensure local residents had regular access to information about the neighbourhood.
At this meeting, Miles Platting Community Network was born – strengthened in 2021 by a merger with Miles Platting Age-friendly Neighbourhoods Board to become:
Miles Platting Community & Age-friendly Network: MP-CAN!
In just three years, and in the midst of multiple crises, this collective of local community leaders has achieved amazing things together. Here’s a snapshot of their brilliant community action…
Miles Platting PFI: a brief history
To understand how and why MPCAN have become such a force for good in their neighbourhood, a brief history of the regeneration that residents have been living through is needed.
In March 2007, Manchester City Council (MCC) handed over the maintenance and management of nearly 3,000 homes in Miles Platting to the Renaissance Miles Platting consortium on a 30-year contract. Costing £160m in government funding, plus a comparable amount invested by the private sector (to be paid back to private investors over the 30-year contract period), the plan was to refurbish up to 1,500 council homes in the area and build an additional 1,000 homes for direct sale on the market, while demolishing 300 more as part of the redesign of the estate. Importantly – alongside the PFI contract – the council also developed a funding partnership for a Joint Services Centre including partners such as the NHS and Adactus Housing Association (now Jigsaw Homes). The centre was to include a range of NHS services, including three GP practices and a pharmacy, as well as a community hub incorporating: a new library, new sports facilities, advice and information services, services for young people, and spaces for community, recreation and leisure use.
The area at the intersection of Oldham Street and Varley Street was also intended to host retail facilities and a replacement swimming pool. The original swimming pool and library were demolished under the PFI regeneration.
Unfortunately, the 2008 financial crisis led to funding for the replacement community facilities being cut. The community were left with none of the community facilities that were supposed to be introduced and have to date experienced the demolition of 240 homes for social rent with only 22 replaced.
Happily, the council have retained ownership of the land where the joint services centre and community hub were supposed to be located. MPCAN are now advocating for the development of community facilities or housing for social rent on this site.
MPCAN in action 1: Data gathering, mapping and visioning
Within this context, the first stages of MPCAN’s work were to gather information about neighbourhood change over time and map out losses and new developments across the neighbourhood.
MPCAN were supported by URBED and CLASS to carry out a consultation with local residents about priorities for the area alongside existing plans under the PFI. This built on all the fantastic consultation and prioritising work carried out by the Age-Friendly Neighbourhoods board from 2016-2018.
URBED then supported leaders with mapping and land registry searches to identify which areas of Miles Platting were managed under the PFI contract and to understand land ownership and development plans on remaining sites.
This highlights residents’ priorities for the future of the neighbourhood and potential sites where new community facilities could be developed or community-led improvements could be made in partnership with local agencies and authorities.
MPCAN in action 2: Climate Action
From 2020, the momentum shifted to action and one of the first achievements of MPCAN was to successfully register Shetland Road Green as an Asset of Community Value with the City Council with support from local councillors.
This created the impetus to think in more depth about how to achieve the ‘improve our green spaces’ priority from the network vision. At an URBED-facilitated ‘Green Infrastructure’ workshop in November 2021 leaders established the MPCAN Climate Action Group (CAG) which has three key objectives:
- Conservation: ecological survey and ‘citizen science’ wildlife recording, followed by habitat creation and inter-linking
- Canal upgrading: cutting back and beautification of overgrown areas to encourage more walking and cycling; planter construction and wildflower planting to develop ‘green fingers’ into and out of the canal-way
- Protection, improvement and development of green and wild spaces including tree protection and planting, wildflower meadow patches and ‘rivers of flowers’ for bees and butterflies
Supported by Jenna Ashton (Creative Climate Resilience, University of Manchester) and Ash Farrah (MCC Climate Change Officer), the CAG have created a map of 20 green or disused sites across the area for surveying and potential improvements and have action-planned around five of these sites since February 2022.
Dot Lomax, a local resident and community leader explains:
“We do ‘neighbourhood walkabouts’ – so we go and visit somewhere and door-knock the houses around that site to chat with people about how it’s used and what people would like to see. It means we can meet people and let them know who we are as well – and then we make some plans for that site and ask people what they think.”
Members are now working with the Canal and River Trust, and Lancashire Wildlife Trust on ecology surveys and citizen science activities to identify local species and develop plans for appropriate habitat creation and wildlife corridors through the neighbourhood, and with Groundwork, Creative Climate Resilience project (University of Manchester), and Jigsaw Homes on green space improvements.
Ellie Trimble a local resident and Rector shares reflections on the first of these sessions led by Russell Hedley at Lancashire Wildlife Trust:
“It was so lovely spending time in one of our remaining green spaces as Russell completed an inventory of wildlife and native plants. We all learnt such a lot and had fun at the same time, especially our young families who ran around very excited to point out many different butterflies including some that Russell was very pleased to see so close to the city.
We learnt that some of the wildflowers that we thought were weeds are the reason we have so many butterflies which is great news as we all know weeding is hard work!
The children didn’t like the wasps that were swarming around one plant in the garden until we learnt that they were honeybees which was amazing and far more welcome. What is even more amazing, is that since that event, some of the children have been visiting the garden every evening to water the plants.”
Ash Farrah, Climate Change Officer for Manchester City Council shared:
“It’s a pleasure to support the MP-CAN Climate Action Group, the commitment and enthusiasm from the group’s members is clear to see at every meeting. To my knowledge, MP-CAN CAG is the only climate-focused community group in all of North Manchester. They are leading the way.”
MPCAN in action 3: St Cuthberts Action Group
This group was established by St Cuthbert’s Parochial Church Council after a long process of assessment and reflection within the church concluded that the building was in too great a state of disrepair and needed to be redeveloped.
The PCC resolved to work in partnership with MPCAN leaders and local residents on a community-led redevelopment of the St Cuthberts site. The PCC aim to retain a space for worship while achieving their Mission Action Plan to nurture and support their parishioners and the local community, especially in matters of social justice and reducing deprivation and exclusion.
The early stages of this work are being match-funded by The National Lottery Community Fund and an invitation to tender for project management services has recently been advertised.
The first step will be an extensive neighbourhood-wide consultation on the facilities that local residents would most value and ensuring that as diverse a set of residents as possible are able to share their ideas and any anxieties or concerns.
Leaders from the action group are now going out on visits to community hubs and mixed-use social centres across Manchester to gather ideas and inspiration. Most recently, they had a fantastic visit to The Carlton Club in Whalley Range to learn about the journey of initiating and developing a community-run social venue. MPCAN are looking forward to a long and fruitful relationship with committee members at the Carlton Club and hopefully many others along the way who can offer guidance and moral support as they embark on their own exciting project!
Anne Worthington, a long-term resident and community leader said:
“I think the work MPCAN is doing with regards to the St Cuthberts site is SO important. With the support of the PCC, we hope that along with a space for worship, a valuable community social space can be created to replace the existing church building which is sadly in poor shape. Visiting other community ventures is really inspiring.”
If you would like to find out more or connect with MPCAN please email: milesplattingcommunitynetwork[at]gmail.com.