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Community spirit in times of adversity: 10 questions with….Mike Wild, CEO of Macc

Mike Wild is the CEO of Macc, a support organisation who have supported the community and voluntary sector in Manchester for over 35 years. New Start went to their office to talk about community spirit in times of adversity.

 

 

 

 

How did the 2008 crash affect the work that Macc does?

When it hit, we started to think about what Manchester needed us to do. We remoulded the organisation over the following four or five years to rebuild the community and voluntary services that Manchester no longer had.

We decided we had to be part of the solution so we started with a blank piece of paper. We still have our health and wellbeing projects, and we built everything around that. We started to think about what we needed to say to the city.

We had to think about what’s socially useful because we knew profit would be unstable for a while. We’re built around doing a lot with very little so we asked how could we make more of that happen in the community?

How do you see the sector changing in the next five years?

The problem in the sector is a lot of the forces are difficult to marshal. It’s hard to build a sector strategy, so we ask, what does the economy need and how do you build on the best of what the sector can do? We use that as a message to funders and commissioners.

Last year we did a state of the sector survey and the number of groups had stayed the same.

We’d lost some large and medium-sized ones, but the number of small groups had gone up. There’s been a massive increase the in a number of people volunteering but a reduction in hours given. More people want to do stuff but it’s getting harder for people to give away time altruistically.

How has devolution and the introduction of a metro mayor to Manchester changed things?

Devolution at its best unleashes that sense of social experiment and the 21st-century city.

The Mayor can act as a catalyst for conversation. More people are talking about and acting on homelessness issues that our sector has been banging away at for years. He’s been able to direct the media and public spotlight in a positive way.

The devolution issue has changed the dynamic in relationships. Previously most of my relationships have been with Manchester City Council, the university or the NHS, but now, the GM lead for that topic might be in Oldham, and that’s the person you need to influence. It requires a lot more time to navigate.

We’ve been hit hard but were a fairly wealthy city in the scheme of things. There must be ways we can be smarter and creative but we have to get people around the table talking to each other in a different kind of space that isn’t hierarchal.

What is Macc doing in 2018 that you are excited about?

The exciting bits are every year we have a spirit of Manchester programme. It’s the celebratory bit. We can give everybody the evidence but you have to get the story out there as well.

We’ve grown it every year since we started five years ago. There are awards, outreach programme to business, mini-grants and a fund and we have a festival.

Is community spirit dying?

It’s increased in the sense that it was always there, just it wasn’t always visible.

Community spirit is close to the ground unless you are somewhere like London which has almost an industry based around philanthropy and charity.

When news can feel depressing and oppressive people eventually want to get out and do something. It might be small acts of kindness or organising a community event. There’s always loads going on but you can avoid it quite easily and you’ve probably noticed it without realising it. When times get hard, those people put even more into it.

We say don’t wait for permission, try something. That’s what Manchester likes to believe about itself so that’s what we should be doing more of and not asking government for permission.

Almost a year on from the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing, what are your feelings?

We saw it, there was an immediate response from people who said we are not backing down on this.

The amount of effort that’s gone in in the last year has been phenomenal. People always want to do more and there was a massive fundraising response for families who have been through the most horrendous experiences. They said, “We’re not going to forget you and were not going to let you go.” That was really inspiring and powerful.

The bee thing is also interesting. It wasn’t a corporate decision it was a community decision. Different parts of the community have picked up on this symbol and are reaching out to each other through it.

We had the investigation following the immediate response. But what happened in communities were people were traumatised and scared. There were controlled explosions going on for a week and the world press descended on Manchester sticking a microphone under anybody’s nose who might look upset, which really aggravated me.

You got a sense that the trauma wasn’t only the attack, it was what happened after. There was some uncomfortable, difficult stuff raised with community tensions and divisions. It’s still going on now.

It’s the year after with the groups who are providing counselling or bringing the community together. We’re trying to celebrate and recognise community cohesion.

Are some communities harder to reach than others?

Manchester has a large Libyan community and you can imagine after the bombing the position they were in, wanting to reach out but being scared to. That’s difficult.

Volunteering isn’t a particular thing to one community. There’s a perception that volunteering is a white middle-class thing but I don’t think that’s true at all. There’s an echo saying “oh you can afford it, you have time for it,” but I don’t care about the label I just want more people doing more great things.

How is Manchester tackling homelessness in the city centre?

Some people will fall through the net and our job is to catch them. It’s not always about housing and roofs, it’s about mental health and other causes.

What wasn’t happening enough is the homeless organisations weren’t talking to each other or being listened to enough. I think it’s getting better but you cant see it yet. The visibility that the mayor’s campaign has led has provided a lightning rod for people to form collective action.

Manchester now has a social A & E, but the thing we need to do more of is tackle the root causes. What happens when you get into this situation but what happens next? We still have a public sector which doesn’t know how to cope with chaos.

If the public sector is not investing in mental health support, can the root causes ever be addressed?

It’s a national policy decision about what’s important.

As far as I’m concerned. This is a consequence of austerity. That’s not to say the money couldn’t be spent better but the bottom line is it’s just not enough for a city this complex. Mental health has never been valued politically or socially.

Is social media a good or bad thing for civil society?

It’s a good thing. Personally its one of the single most effective tools I have. I can communicate with a whole set of people and be introduced to new ideas. That space is good. It’s a great way of connecting people to do stuff. There’s the downside as sometimes it connects people to have a go at each other.

You can draw a very specific impression if you only look at social media and get the sense that all anybody is doing is talking about what colour passports we are having or who spoke to who and what hat they were wearing.

That’s the characterisation of our national debate, and all the things we’re not talking about because of that is dispiriting. We’re not talking about mental health, for example, because we’re too busy arguing over the latest political bunfight.

The media has done nothing to stop it from being polarising. It’s the toxicity in the debate that the media is most culpable for.

But on the whole, social media is a force for good. Technology is as good as bad as we make it.

Read more about Macc’s work here and follow Mike on Twitter here

 

 

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