‘We began in 2006 with a small grant of just £5,000. We were able to get a van and employ six young people – that’s how it all started,’ reflects youth worker Sylvia McDowell on the early days of the community social enterprise Positive Moves based in Salford, Greater Manchester.
‘A lot of elderly people in the community needed help with household jobs. There were also a lot of young people who had little to keep them occupied, few employment opportunities and were getting involved in anti-social behaviour.’ In response McDowell started up her social enterprise and used her expertise to target certain hard-to-reach young people, motivating them into community work for the benefit of the elderly.
‘After starting Positive Moves I also got a job managing the Irlam and Cadishead youth project that was initially run by the charity Spurgeons. Due to the size of Spurgeons – a large organisation with international outreach – the charity prioritises larger bids and decided eventually to drop the youth project as it did not fit into their business model. I wasn’t going to let the work we had done simply disappear, so I decided to take the project on along with the Positive Moves service.’
Sylvia McDowell’s own experience fires her determination. She was expelled from school at 13 and sent to a ‘disruptive children’s unit’. ‘I had met some really inspirational people who had a positive impact on me and this is one of the key reasons why I want to make a difference and understand the issues that affect young people today brought up in poor working class communities.’ It was this sense of a vocation that led her to spend one of her most challenging years, working 9am to 9pm most days, applying to various public funds at the same time as managing the project.
Positive Moves has thus evolved into a diverse front-line service employing 15 staff and volunteers and providing a plethora of skills programmes and activities for hundreds of young people and children in the area.
This is the ‘Big Society’ in operation – McDowell saw an unmet need in her community that the state did not provide for and was able to help meet it. The coalition has said that it will reward such behaviour, yet for Positive Moves and many other small community groups the future looks tougher than ever.
‘There are huge threats on the horizon,’ says McDowell. ‘First and foremost, cuts to local authority budgets will mean cuts for the voluntary sector. Many public pots of money, money that we rely on, will simply vanish.’
Her experience doesn’t fit with David Cameron’s caricature of local government. ‘Salford’s (council) neighbourhood team recognises the importance of what we do. They’d like to continue supporting us,’ she says.
The neighbourhood manager, Ushi Sossla-Iredale, confirms this: ‘We’ve long supported the voluntary sector to meet the gap between the general youth service and the needs of young people who cause us concern in terms of anti-social behaviour. Elected members from all parties share this view. If it wasn’t for Positive Moves the young people in Irlam and Cadishead would have to travel 10 miles for support. So we’ve been working on the project together. We are on their management committee. Now the pressures on our devolved budget are becoming impossible to bear.’ A civic-public partnership then. But one that cuts in government spending are in danger of undermining.
‘How will small and relatively new community groups like ours compete for contracts with large national charities and with the private sector?’ McDowell asks. ‘Recently a large public fund was made available to provide holiday provision for children in the area. We had to compete against large charities with better resources and personnel, yet who had little working knowledge of the area. Unfortunately, we lost the bid. The charity that won then had to come and ask us to put them in contact with the young people they hoped to target.’
Indeed, as a small enterprise Positive Moves has significantly lower overheads, money remains in the community and the group has built up an intimate knowledge and trust with the locals it works with. This work has helped to solve wider social problems such as youth crime.
‘Unfortunately, two young people who we had worked with for over a year and had built a sound relationship with were arrested over that holiday period. Many children were simply confused as to why we were not running the holiday activities and were uncomfortable going off with strangers.’ With continued funding cuts small community groups will struggle to survive and their unique contributions, valued by the community and by the local council alike, may well be lost.
Sylvia McDowell won’t give up. But, she says, ‘I’ll be spending all my time in the office on bids rather than working with young people, which is what I’m good at.’
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
We need a society built on openness, community and equality to truly defeat everything that trump stands for, writes Nick Dearden.
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry