The rusty padlock did not delay your intrepid MCFly reporters. The thick shrouds of cobwebs made us think twice, it’s true, but an expert crack of a bullwhip cleared the path. Creepy crawlies scuttled away as we pointed our torches in places where the sun hasn’t shone for quite a while. But the ancient stonework had no crevice, no fulcrum release lever… “It’s no good, Arwa,” I said. “Trying to take a short cut through Man City trophy room is not going to get us to the CN4M event on time.”
So we retreated, circled the City of Manchester stadium, and got to the East entrance in time for the standard goody bag and free pecan pastries (at taxpayers expense). Community Network for Manchester’s Annual Conference (this year entitled “Raising the Game”) wasn’t high on the Indiana Jones Excitement Scale, but we DID walk away with a small rainforest of business cards and glossy brochures.
For those of you who’ve never heard of it: Community Network for Manchester “is a collection of voluntary and community groups organised through networks, that exists to find new ways of enabling people to fully participate in Manchester’s economic, social and cultural life. ”
The ubiquitous Phil Korbel- (I swear, that man would go to the opening of an envelope) – kicked off proceedings with a brief and energetic overview of the day and a few upbeat comments about the Voluntary and Community Sector. Councillor Val Stevens (Deputy Leader of the Council) extolled the virtues of the process by which £10,000 has been dispersed to 17 projects in Chorlton.
Then Toby Blume, the CEO of Urban Forum gave a compelling an unexpected mix of bullshit bingo phrases (MCFly will be launching cards imminently) and refreshing honesty about the limits of the Third Sector, (he pointed out that it can be unaccountable and unrepresentative, parochial, serving self-interest rather than beneficiaries, moaning, and be [perceived as] Agents of the State). He outlined the risks of tick box exercises where targets are “met” but results not achieved, and finally looked at the challenges that lie ahead under a probable Tory government.
He said that “democratic renewal” is the new “empowerment”, and that there had been a shift under John Denham (the Sec of State for Communities and Local Government since Hazel Blears jumped before she was pushed), away from civic participation to “tackling political extremism”
He pointed out that for the last thirteen years the Voluntary and Community Sector had had access, but this shouldn’t be confused with influence.
He then turned his attention to the (likely) Conservative Government by this time next year. He said that David Cameron was vacuous, just wanting to get elected, but cited Ian Duncan Smith as someone “trying to atone, wanting to tackle poverty”. He felt that there was a struggle going on for the soul of the Conservatives- between the progressive wing and the thatcherites. He pointed out that while they are keen on civil society, consistent with their ‘self-help’ philosophy, the downside is that they are not interested in capacity building. His fear was that Conservative “Civic Engagemetn” would be designed to enable people to vote down public spending initiatives.
The two workshops your MCFliers went to were of variable quality. The rooms weren’t of ideal size, and there was the perennial problem of Some People (usually Men) Talking Too Much, with the facilitators insufficiently brutal to shut them up. In one, on “Duty to Involve” 3 of the 11 audience members- more than 25%- said literally not a word, which was kind of ironic. (That workshop was pretty good though, all things considered).
The second set of workshops had good information, but no better “intra-group dynamics” (we can bullshit with the best of ’em),- dominated by a few, or simply a lecture re-branded as a “workshop.” So come lunch, once we’d had our snouts in the free food trough and done a couple of circuits of the stalls, we made our excuses and left.
- wotta lotta buzzwords we heard: doesn’t anybody speak English anymore?
- wotta dearth of people not actually employed in Third Sector infrastructure there was at this “showcase event” (there we go again).
- wotta lotta electricity was being wasted by the electronic advertising hoardings around the pitch being on when there was nobody in the stadium. Climate change action? Yeah, right.
For all this, it’s a Good Thing, we guess, that things like CN4M exist, and we’re not just saying that in hope of not being blackballed for next year’s event.
For the official take on matters, see http://www.cn4m.net/node/2286