Big Society

Photo by @technicalfault:

‘But this is Manchester. We do things differently here.’ On the eve of the anniversary of his death, Tony Wilson’s timeless words resonated around social network sites like a shield, deflecting any suggestions that that the riots that had devastated London the night before would spread to our city.

Manchester was in denial. We had too much faith in our city, pride in our communities and belief in our young people to believe that what had unfolded in London and other cities around the UK could really affect us here.

Of course, Manchester was no stranger to conflict. From the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 to the IRA bomb of 1996 and the football riots ten years later, the city centre has had its fair share of trouble.

But one thing that these incidents all have in common is the positive way in which the city responded to them. Out of the devastation and fatalities of The Peterloo Massacre rose The Manchester Guardian. And in 1996, when the city was devastated by an IRA bomb that saw huge parts of the city centre obliterated, Manchester responded by rebuilding itself into a city worthy of standing on a global stage. The football riots of 2007, which saw thousands of Rangers fans rampage around the city centre in angry reaction to a big screen failing in Piccadilly Gardens, was also swiftly recovered from.

We are a city of industry, of creativity, and above all, of community. So when thousands of people descended on Manchester city centre last night to loot and riot, leaving parts of our city in tatters, we responded with similar robustness and community spirit.

From the calm, considered and professional approach of our police force, to the heartfelt and intelligent pleas by our councillors and Assistant Chief Constable Gary Shewan on TV, to the council street cleaners who worked tirelessly throughout the early hours of this morning, Manchester has shown itself at every level as a force to be reckoned with.

And above all, there was the incredible reaction of Manchester’s residents – many of them ‘youths’ – who turned out in their thousands this morning with brooms and binbags to assist in the clean up of our city, fuelled by donations of food, drink and cleaning supplies by nearby businesses

@SR4Longsight The true face of Manchester's young people helping out with the #ManchesterCleanUp

This isn’t a political blog. There are other places you can go to for the hows and whys. But it’s really important that everyone understands that the majority of young people in Greater Manchester will be horrified by the incidents of last night. Most young people, whether disaffected with society or not, would not turn to crime to vent their woes.

A facebook status of a friend this morning read:

“My mate does community projects with disadvantaged teenagers in Salford. She was with a group this morning who said the rioting was pathetic. These are kids who in the past may well have joined in. Instead they are worried their award ceremony at media city will be cancelled tomorrow. Hurray for the power of engaging young people in creative projects & giving them a different focus & means of expressing themselves. And shame on this govt for cutting all the YSDF funding.”

Kids in Manchester want their city to be great. They don’t want to see it destroyed by a minority.

@AdamMcCleanITV: Young people helping to reverse the damage caused by last night's violence

One young male interviewed on Sky News last night claimed that he was stealing in order to claim something back from the society that he felt had given him nothing. Whether he believed in his words or not, it seems clear that appeasing dissatisfaction with short term material gain isn’t the answer. What these young people need from society isn’t iphones and trainers. What they need from us is attention, guidance and education.

The city is now clean and fully functioning. Not licking its wounds, but healing robustly from them with the spirit and vigour that our city is known for.

A tweet from @gmpolice today reads “There is no disorder in Manchester today, it’s business as usual, and we are determined to keep it that way.”

Let’s hope that’s the case. Because whatever happens, this is Manchester. And we do things differently here.

Forever Manchester manages the Manchester Disaster Relief Fund which has money available for people suffering genuine hardship as the result of incidents like last night. Anyone in genuine need should contact our office on 0161 214 0940 to see if we might be able to help.

Also if anyone feels they would like to donate to this fund to provide ongoing support for Manchester communities they can send money to Forever Manchester at 5th Floor, Speakers House, 39 Deansgate, Manchester M3 2BA  or text ‘GMDR11 £5’ to 70070 to donate to the fund to help genuine victims of the riots.

A few tweets from Manchester:

@jonridge: A thousand volunteers at Picc Gardens. That’s not even hyperbole. A thousand turned up. #manchestercleanup

@Chris_Grimes Proud too be a Manc this AM, we have responded the only way we know!! This idiots won’t ruin our city #manchestercleanup

@RiotCleanUpManc I think rain has finally stopped play! Manchester, you’ve blown my mind. The best people in the best city in the world. Thank you!


As a musician whose ideas are sparked by what I see in my surroundings, I’d be lying if I said that Manchester hasn’t had a huge influence on me.

One of the biggest influences in my life, as I think must be true of the majority of people, is where I grew up. And that, for me, was Moss Side, Mersey Bank and Withington. They’re three of the more deprived areas of the city. They’re not the the worst areas in the world, but they’re certainly not on the Top Ten Places to Live list!

Growing up in areas like these, I was obviously aware of some of the trouble and the goings on, but this was limited to a small number of people from the communities. For me on the whole, the people I lived amongst were proud, welcoming and decent people.

Even though they weren’t the best places to grow up, there was still a strong community spirit; an open arms, ‘everybody’s welcome’ feel. Because of this I’ve learned to turn the negative things around me into positive little stories within my music.

The things I experienced growing up here were what made me and my mates want to create music. We saw it as an outlet for our stories. Growing up here helped us go from strength to strength, which in time lead us to form KiD BRiTiSH – a collective of musicians of different ages and cutural backgrounds.

See, Manchester is a lot more than just the baggy T-Shirt, Parka jacket wearing, Gallagher talking city the media has painted it to be. It is home to so many people from different heritages and backgrounds, which adds to the city’s beauty.

There is a large Asian community where many people from all over the world travel just to eat from the ‘Curry Mile’; a nickname for the part of Wilmslow Road running through the centre of Rusholme in south Manchester. The name is earned from the large number of restaurants and take-aways specialising in the cuisines of South Asia and the Middle- East, thought to be the largest concentration of South Asian restaurants outside the Indian subcontinent – and my friends and I can often be found there having late night drunken food binges.

For me, the thing that seperates Manchester from a lot of other major cities – apart from being the home of the biggest football club in the world (Manchester United) ha ha! – is that you are never made to feel like a stranger, or that it’s you versus the world here. Which is why it is home to such a large student population.

I am proud to say that this is the city I was raised in, and wherever my career takes me Manchester will always have a place in my heart, and be the place I call home.

Simeon McLean, KiD BRiTiSH

The second extract from Julian Dunham-Massey’s Diaries:

Volunteering at the Library

Whenever I feel enlightened I like to put Montblanc to copper engraved writing paper and share with you  my thoughts in the hope that we can all benefit from accumulated wisdom drawn on the routine experiences of everyday life.

Rather amusingly, the event to which I now refer occurred in my own grounds!  In fact in the grand foyer of the outer vestibule to be precise and involved a local, so called trades person who had arrived at the house, I thought, ostensibly to service the ¾ Cock Double Trap Clay Pigeon Launcher.

I should come clean and, without delay admit that I had forgotten that it was Marlon, our house boy’s morning off and that it did take me rather a long time to answer the door and thus, said Trades person was mildly agitated when I arrived at the door some 45 minutes after he had first telephoned to say he’d been ringing the bell for 10 minutes and could somebody kindly let him in.

Nonetheless, I am standing in the warmth of my own residence attempting to direct him around the side of the East Wing and into the Paddock where we keep the sports equipment whereupon he begins to berate me…’I’m here to talk about volunteering at the Library’ he bleats – ‘ My Library is not open to the public’ I tell him, ‘ Nor shall it ever be!’ …although I must admit the idea of having  someone volunteer to catalogue my Trollops  is appealing.

After further confusion it appears that there is a so called ‘Public’ Library in the village of Cranberry La Zouch and it appears that without volunteers and funding the place will close leaving an enormous cultural and community void.

Once I had got over the shock that there was such a thing as a Public Library and worse that Librarians were traditionally paid for their work I naturally questioned the need for such a place and indeed why this chap would be campaigning with such zealous fervour.  ‘It’s the Big Society isn’t it?’  he responded.

Ah.  The penny had dropped and my foolish behaviour laid bear for all to see.

‘The Big Society you say my good man’ managing to conceal my ignorance and embarrassment.  ‘Why didn’t you say so at first?’

‘I shall be delighted to contribute!’

And so it is with great pleasure that this forthcoming Saturday I will be holding a Whist Drive at the Mayfair on Park Lane in the Capital.  All the chaps from the polo club will be driving up to town to be there.  I have laid on the most fabulous private dining facility and entertainment will be provide by the mezzo soprano Anne Sophie Van Otter who I am flying in from Venice for the evening.

In all, after expenses, I’m hoping to break even, but what publicity to support the local cause.  And… I have also offered the community the services of Marlon as a volunteer… on his morning off obviously.

To bed!

Sitting next to the dying embers of the Honduras Rosewood log fire in the Polo Club on Sunday sipping on my Camus Cognac Cuvee 3.128 and reflecting on the sumptuous luncheon of  deer fawn stuffed with fois gras that I had just enjoyed; my thoughts turned to a conversation I had recently with Major Wiffington Smythe – Smith and his good lady wife Tilly, about the state of the nation.

Whiffington Smythe-Smith was in reflective mode following the successful purchase of some hounds from a local farmer. During the transaction the farmer had mentioned that he had been forced to sell his beloved beasts as the current economic climate was starting to hit him hard.

Never one to appreciate whining  the Major had beaten the Farmer so severely with an Equistar Elan dressage whip- this altercation caused Whiffington Smythe – Smith to reflect on his life as a guardian of decency and all round philanthropist. It was with this in mind that he addressed me.

His premise seemed to me a sound one and was drawn both on personal experience growing up in Giles St.Marty’s on the Wolds and as a health and safety advisor to Saloth Sar in the late seventies.

In essence he said this – that this great country has lost its sense of place in the world order and that the idea that one should do one’s duty within one’s means and whenever possible. He described how, since his retirement from the security service, he now personally volunteered his services for a modest stipend at several Merchant Banks and that he had always allowed his Land Steward and Valet to volunteer their services at the Polo Club on their evening off.

As he got into his stride I recognized that he was describing the Big Society and perhaps for the first time I found myself gaining clarity over the ideology and a new sense of purpose.

‘Doing good’ he said, ‘ is a moral obligation, these people who want paying for volunteering should be shot in the face’ – to maim not kill he emphasized.

He eloquently lectured that true Christian values, philanthropy and solid public school discipline would lead this Marxist ridden den of inequity of a country back to greatness, a new age of discovery and ultimately the re-colonisation of important overseas territories.

His own philanthropic works are well known – he personally instigated the fund raising initiative to re-glaze the Thatcher Memorial Window in the Giles St. Marty Grammar School Lecture Theatre where he also annually presents the Whiffington Family Latin Scholarship Award.  His wife Tilly, sits as a Trustee on several local Charity Boards including the local Chamber Music Appreciation Society, the Church Restoration Fund and Help the Poor Cripples and Less Fortunate Foundation (HPCLF)  – pointing out that she has never claimed back a penny in expenses.

In a fitting conclusion to his eloquent ruminations he listed several key truths which he felt would help guide and create a climate that empowers local people and communities. He pointed to the fact that deer management through culling does work – that fox hunting wasn’t just vulgar blood letting, but also a lot of fun – that national service hadn’t harmed anyone – that dole scum didn’t need local gyms as this only breeds fitter criminals – that compulsory euthanasia for the over 70s was the answer to the health services budgetary crisis – and that Glen Hoddle’s much derided interpretation of Karma had much merit.

In the distance a horse neighs, a fox screams and a muffled shot from a  12 gauge can be heard, and, as I gently fall into a hazy slumber I feel that I now have the parameters set perchance to dream of a really Big Society.

Chin Chin