Today is the end of an era. East Manchester’s New Deal for Communities programme is now officially over. For more than ten years millions have been spent on transforming the ‘broken’ neighbourhoods of Beswick, Openshaw and Clayton, with residents at the forefront of change. Len Grant tells of his new book, Reclaiming East Manchester: Ten Years of Resident-led Regeneration which charts the successes and frustrations of the last decade.
I’ve been following east Manchester’s regeneration since about 2005 and was commissioned at the end of 2008 to produce a ‘legacy’ book to mark the completion of the New Deal programme.
Sean McGonigle, NDC’s Co-ordinator, said the book should show how New Deal had changed east Manchester socially and physically, but, more importantly, demonstrate how the regeneration effort had helped individuals improve their lives.
Some might think that was a tall order: having to recount how lives had been positively changed through regeneration. Does it really happen? Well, there are plenty of people in east Manchester who would give an emphatic ‘yes’ to that and I have included some of their stories in this book.
There is the story of Gwen and Steve who bought a house on a Beswick estate in 1995 only to find it had a 96% crime rate. Working with their neighbours, with New Deal and with the police, they turned their neighbourhood around and it now has a crime rate of less than 1%.
Then there is Shirley, stuck in a rut, who threw herself headlong into computers when the subsidised internet provider Eastserve come on stream in 2001. She started out as a volunteer and is now a full-time computer tutor at The Manchester College.
Or long-term out-of-work Carol who, with NDC support, gradually got herself back into work and now – as an Employment and Training Consultant – helps others do the same.
The book is set out in a timeline. It starts in 1731 when Ashton Old Road is first established and finishes in March 2010. Throughout the book I have sprinkled quotations from New Deal officers and residents, like this one from Clayton resident, Maggie Warburton talking about her area before New Deal: “The houses round here were an absolute bloody shambles. So in my infinite wisdom, I decided to have a go at the housing association… and the Council…and the police, and anybody else I thought needed kicking up the arse. We didn’t deserve this. All we were asking for was a decent street to live in and for them to do the job they were getting paid for.”
This is what resident Andrea Melarkey had to say about the whole ten-year process: “New Deal has made my area friendly. They’ve made it liveable, and people are happier. We chose to stay and I’m glad we did. We could have upped and left but we decided to stick it out and see it through. I feel really quite passionate now about where we live.”
I’ve interviewed dozens of people for the book and could have interviewed dozens more, there has been so much involvement in the project. But, after 186 pages, I’ve had to draw a line on this chapter of east Manchester’s recent history.
New East Manchester Ltd has planned for this moment for more than two years and so, although the New Deal funding draws to a close, the regeneration effort continues seamlessly and today will feel like any other in the area’s ongoing success story.
Congratulations to all residents and staff for their resolve and commitment to east Manchester!
Reclaiming East Manchester: Ten Years of Resident-led Regeneration is featured here on the Manchester Evening News website.
It is available to buy online at Cornerhouse Publications for £10.