Why don’t we just… create a North that works for everyone?

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At Transform Lives we work to help people who are furthest away from employment back into work. For many of our clients the Northern Powerhouse is a remote concept, nothing to do with the daily struggle of making ends meet and paying the bills. Our clients certainly haven’t seen the benefit of the huge economic growth that has taken place in some of the North’s cities.

So back in July a team of like-minded people decided to take the bull by the horns and create an event that would shine a light directly on the people of the North, their communities and what they want from a revitalised and devolved North, and more. Such was the motivation and enthusiasm of our attendees this has become a movement that we have called the People’s Powerhouse.

The Doncaster event was not an end in itself but part of a new movement that we want as many people and organisations to get behind as possible. Our aim is to create a Northern Powerhouse that is focused on people, not just transport and infrastructure, and which importantly helps some of the most marginalised in our communities. To his credit, this is an issue Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham also seems to think needs tackling – which is why we were delighted he lent his support and came along, along with lots of other people working in many different sectors across the North.

Next month we will launch our report in the House of Lords, setting out what we think a People’s Powerhouse should focus on and why. This might sound very grand, but the report’s objectives are really very simple. They are all about putting people and communities firmly where they belong in the Northern Powerhouse – front and centre and not tagged on an afterthought.

And we aren’t planning to stop with the launch of the report. That’s just the start of truly starting to shift the Northern Powerhouse’s priorities to focus on people as well as economic growth. In February the People’s Powerhouse will be taking a whole theatre space at the Northern Powerhouse Conference with sessions and speakers on inclusive growth.

Our aim is to give people a hub to and from which they can take ideas, activities and experience and share them with one another and their communities across the North. We want to break away from reinventing the wheel. None of us have the time or the money to indulge in this. If we know what works we should share this quickly and efficiently. It’s a powerful concept and has wide-reaching support but we now need to give it traction so that it starts to have real impact from the grassroots up.

We now have a website –peoplespowerhouse.org.uk  – which is evolving as our ideas get more momentum. Here we want to inform, capture news, views and opinion, promote activities and events, and share resources.

None of this is about dumbing down. It’s about recognising that if the North is to be revitalised, while infrastructure and economic growth as over-arching themes are critical, there is so much else that must be discussed and addressed at community level. Issues such as health, housing, gender equality, cultural and religious tolerance, ageism, LGBT rights, education, skills and employment support, rural as well as urban opportunity – the list goes on. In short, it’s about giving the people and issues that are often overlooked a voice in the debate.

If we don’t ask people what works and what doesn’t in their local communities, what they want and what they don’t want – and reach a reasonable consensus – we can’t expect to achieve the larger ambition of sustained economic growth that works for everyone.

The more of us that get involved, the more impact we will have. Please read and share our report next month, take a look at our website or follow us on social media. We believe we can and should have a North that works for everyone – we’d love to hear your views too.

Fran Parry is managing director at Bright Sparks Consulting, and associate director at Transform Lives Company 

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