Collectively we must throw off Greater Manchester’s grey overcoat so we can pay attention to and nurture the thriving eco-system within.
In a recent ‘check-in’ with colleagues Nicola shared her feeling of wanting to shed her ‘grey overcoat’ it left me thinking …
You can’t spend long in Greater Manchester without becoming aware of the grey blanket of cloud that regularly hangs over it. I’ve lived most of my life under Manchester skies and am acutely aware of both the comfort it can bring on a good day and it’s oppressive and stifling heaviness on others. Lowry’s pictures of grey hunched figures spring to mind and a sense of being done to. Like a big grey overcoat, it cloaks the system within, symbolic perhaps of the way business has been done here, of an attempt to conform, to stand in line, to cover up?
Buried under it’s overcoat, Greater Manchester houses a long history of radical change, innovation, human growth, activism and flourishing. Whilst egos, competition, fragmentation, siloed working, financial cuts and structural inequality have smothered and starved elements of the system, preventing it from thriving as a whole, patches of brilliant flourishing are apparent - like trees rising up from fallow ground, their fresh green branches breaking through the holes in the overcoat. The Greater Manchester I see beneath the overcoat is resilient; the roots go deep and spread wide. With the right attention it will flourish, vibrant and strong.
To thrive, eco-systems rely upon the interconnection between all the system elements and their positive interaction with their environment. Greater Manchester has all the potential of a beautiful eco-system, for it to flourish we need to ensure that all the elements are visible, paid attention to, connected up and work interdependently with their surroundings.
This means as the people of Greater Manchester, GM citizens, key elements in the system, we all need to have a place to live and grow; a part to play; the freedom to navigate and connect; and the space to care and be cared for. Each of us must be seen, be heard, be active and our commonalities, differences and contributions be seen, harnessed, valued and celebrated equally. There needs to be space for exploration, experimentation, expression and fluidity. Space to celebrate humanity and our humanness.
The overcoat is shifting and devolution provides a timely opportunity to look not to London and Westminster but to what we have in Greater Manchester. It is time to peel back the overcoat and reveal all that lies beneath as a whole-self city region. It ain’t all pretty, oxygen-starved in patches and bruised in others, but the heart is pumping and the strong Northern spirit remains. Devolution may provide a catalyst for change but whether or not it achieves the change we need, depends firstly on the success of our GM leaders in bringing us together, inspiring trust and hope; and secondly, most importantly, on us.
It is time to re-evaluate what we, as the people of Greater Manchester really need to be best supported to live full and well lives. And it is time to reconsider what we have to offer. We must pay attention to all our resources and, fully oxygenated, we must reach out to all parts of the GM anatomy. Each person, community, business, organisation, borough has a role to play and each must proudly share their strengths and vulnerabilities.
There is much to learn from and to work with, from GMCA’s ‘stronger together’ strategy, to the micro community projects scattered across the region; from the ‘Wigan deal’ to the housing projects of Salford; the co-operatives of Oldham, to the ‘Our Manchester’ training taking place now, in Manchester Central Library, where I currently sit. The system houses all the creativity, intelligence and solutions we need and a shared care for our place. Now we must examine and what works, then nurture, amplify, accelerate and applaud.
At the centre of it all must be the people of Greater Manchester. Human growth is the mission. And GM citizens (the all too often missing link in public, private, voluntary triads) must have their place at the table in designing the solutions. With authenticity, passion and lightness of touch, together lets design and shape a system that works for us, for Our GM, a ‘whole-self’ city region!
‘Cut your coat according to your cloth’, the saying goes. Well we are the home of the textile industry, and our cloth is a beautiful and complex tapestry, vibrant and multi-coloured. The grey overcoat has had its day.
Note: This landscape has developed over recent months through conversations I've been having with collaborators in M4. Each of us has taken it in turn to facilitate our sessions as we've been developing our shared mission and values as a new collective seeking to facilitate change in Greater Manchester. My training in Clean Language and symbolic modelling has shown me the power of metaphors in helping both individuals and groups map out and explore their stuff, identify and align on goals and take positive action.