Tina Cribbin and Gill Edwards from Aquarius Community Savers reflect together on the rollercoaster ride of developing a pilot Naturally Occurring Retirement Community at Hopton Court tower block in Hulme, a video clip of Roy Bennett sharing achievements to date in April 2023 is also included.

Tina Cribbin:

“Cycles of HOPE, confusion, frustration, and anger, HOPE. Repeat. That’s been my experience of developing the Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC) model in Hulme. Never in my life have I ever heard so many professionals play dumb, “I don’t know! “I will take that away”, “I was never made aware of that”. Or just tell lies: “there was never any agreement on that”, “we had to turn it around quickly so there was no time to consult”.

The NORC model improves the quality of life and wellbeing of older people in tower blocks reducing the need for older people to be moved into different accommodation in later life. This has been an issue I have campaigned on for years but got no joy. It originated in New York and has also been done in other parts of the US and Canada. New York has undergone gentrification on a huge scale for many years and the NORC model has proved successful in older people maintaining their homes and ageing well in place. This is the first time anyone has adapted it in the UK.  

In 2019, we joined Community Savers and started working with CLASS. CLASS is a small charity which supports groups affiliated to the Community Savers network. CLASS is led by, for and with women leaders of the network. They worked with us to recognise how important our voices are and what we contribute to our community. They supported us in ensuring local people were not only privy to information but also that we were instrumental in decision making.  CLASS is our ally and we have learned that it is near impossible to make change without working collectively. No matter how hard it is. It’s the only way forward.

We established a partnership called Ageing Well in Place in Hulme looking at the needs of older tower block tenants in our neighbourhood. We have undertaken community research, door knocking, BBQs, drop ins, workshops, taught at universities. We have undertaken community exchanges and some of us have been lucky enough to travel to Africa! Endless meetings, meetings, and more meetings…!

Tenant leaders at Hopton Court - the survey team and Block the Block campaigners.
The tenant survey team at Hopton Court in 2021

In March 2021, One Manchester agreed to work with us to adapt the NORC model for our tower block, Hopton Court. Think of the “batteries not included” film. Hopton is a bit like that.

My understanding of NORC is a way of working with older tenants living in tower blocks. Tower block living is quite isolating and tenants have a set of very unique issues which needs a flexible and responsive approach which is inclusive towards the community it sits in.

Bringing this concept to us and other professionals is difficult. Many were unsure exactly what the NORC is. Rightly so, it is complex because it is about co-production and not always pre-determining the outcomes – letting them come out of the partnership work. The NORC model is adaptable, flexible, with constantly shifting priorities that ebb and flow depending on need. Its messy but that reflects the real lives of the people and the community.

Working with partners at the two universities, One Manchester, CLASS, and tenants, the first urgent need that was agreed was for an Independent Living Advisor. Manchester Local Care Organisation and One Manchester provided the funding for her role as a pilot for a year. Katie had a huge impact on the Hopton community people were getting the right benefits (pension credits is one of the most underclaimed), aids and adaptations, repairs in the block were now being delivered promptly, health and care workers were able to access their patients. Older people’s lives were being transformed. Unfortunately, a major restructure at One Manchester meant there was no-one leading on the project for six months and they missed the opportunity to apply for further funding for her role. She had her contract terminated after a year. What a bitter blow – the tenants were devastated.

We are still negotiating for One Manchester to fundraise through our partnership to finance a new Independent Living Adviser role but we have lost Katie now and all the relationships of trust she built up over a whole year of working with the tenants.

We have learned that no matter what they throw at us WE FIGHT BACK. We are a community under siege (on the edge of Manchester city centre and two constantly expanding universities) and understand how difficult it is to live with constant pressure. We’ve learned that pressure works both ways.

We now have a NORC development worker and community researcher who work at the block ensuring that the project is rolled out in partnership with tenants and ensuring decisions are informed by tenants. They have already undertaken research with tenants to determine the design and uses of our new community space. They are improving the lives of older people by holding weekly activities and providing support. Since they became employed, there is definitely a renewed energy about the place.

At times I got so lost in meetings, workshops, partnership agreements, I lost sight of why I was doing it.

I returned to Hopton every day and seeing the changes big and small keeps me grounded.

For anyone thinking about working in tower blocks: Just do it! All of this sounds so huge. But we started with a cup of tea. And that still remains one of the most important things we do. Being beside people combating isolation a brew at a time.

People think that you have to start at the top getting written agreements and permission: you don’t! Its why it’s worked in Hopton – as it comes from the ground up. We didn’t ask permission to start. We just did. The biggest thing I have learned is that PEOPLE DON’T GIVE YOU POWER, YOU TAKE IT.

My amazing sister Activist Gillian Edwards will share her thoughts on the community space.”

Gill Edwards:

“Yay we got the community space!”

“We have been through so many ups and downs with regards to the community space. We started out doing some research looking at what was happening to tenants at the block. There was so much isolation and people falling through the gaps in services. A new community building was one of our first priorities when CLASS supported us to get a ta dialogue going with our housing provider One Manchester.

Over the last three years there have been many obstacles to overcome. The first being to come to the agreement for the need for a community space and what form it should take. In 2021, we agreed to co-design a new purpose-built community building which would be installed in a corner of our shared gardens at Hopton Court. We agreed that tenants and the Ageing Well partnership would use the designs to raise money for the construction as long as there were no problems with feasibility.

We worked together with Manchester School of Architecture to get some ideas about what the community space could look like and we also undertook a survey of Hopton Court to find out what the residents wanted. We  had over 50% of tenants complete the survey which was presented to One Manchester.

They agreed for us to go ahead and contract an architectural practice to work with us to get the design phase through to planning permission or “ready to construct” stage – we invested £16,000 of our own Lottery resources that we had through Community Savers to do this. The architects worked with all the tenants to co-design the new building and get all the ground surveys done ready to submit proposals to planning.

Co-design workshop at Hopton Court with Loop Systems with the former Gamecock pub in the background.
Co-design workshop with Loop Systems architects in Sept 2022 with the Gamecock pub in the background.

Everyone was so excited. Then a bombshell dropped when some of the staff we were working with left through a big restructure and One Manchester suddenly said they would not support the new building!

The heart had been ripped out of the residents of Hopton Court, but we kept up the fight and they have agreed to renovate a 3-bedroom ground floor flat into an alternative community space.

We have had to do all the surveys and consultations over again to get tenants views on what they would like to see in the space, but it is finally due to open in November of this year.

We have achieved a great deal but we have won the battle not won the war: the future is still uncertain. We have many obstacles to overcome as One Manchester have still not agreed a clear investment plan or project plan for the NORC pilot and our Community Development Worker started in post nearly a year ago. But we will keep up the fight because are a community that has a right to be here, a right to services, and a right to be heard. Our community has lost so much due to university expansion and ‘regeneration’ but we are not going to be forgotten or swallowed up. We will not give in or give up! We are Hulme!

Watch Roy Bennett sharing some of Hopton’s achievements in April 2023:

“Our achievements include:

  • Hopton Court being designated an Over-50s block.
  • An Independent Living Adviser supporting elderly and vulnerable tenants through one-to-one case work for 12 months.
  • Replacement of our lifts and ensuring lifts stop on every floor (work to commence this year).
  • A new ground floor tenant-managed community space.
  • A new Community Development Worker in post who is working in partnership with us to make Ageing Well in Place at Hopton Court a reality including social events, gardening, and developing connections and partnerships with local services.
  • Successfully opposing proposals for an 11-storey purpose built student accommodation block that a developer wants to construct right opposite our gardens which would block all our sunlight and put huge pressure on our local services which are already on their knees.

That struggle is not over but by working together through the Block the Block campaign and with all our supporters we will keep up the fight. We are still here with the strength of will and courage of a unified voice to stand up and say no. Our community is what has made us and what we will stand up for. We will not be beaten into submission by big corporations.

Do not underestimate the power of your communities and the voice you have as a collective. Anyone can achieve great things as a community so use what was given to you to improve yours!”

You have the power!