The digital millennial apprentices at The Sharp Project in Manchester have a vision for meritocracy in Manchester 2020. On a huge board, in big letters in the main hub of a 250 sq. ft. digital warehouse, a banner saying ‘Manchester 2020: Your vision’ had been erected by Manchester City Council, with our SharpFutures apprentices tasked to collect respondents’ ideas about our city of the future.
So imagine my elation when I heard the news – ‘somebody’s worked it out’ – we’ve got the answer to what the Manchester of tomorrow will look like. ‘What is it?’ I enquired. ‘It’s a Plutonic Cat to help with the population! That’s what some kid’s written’. My mind raced – what is this creature? How was this phenomenon going to create a super-happy Manchester community? The mystery-shrouded solution sounded so brilliantly off-the wall, unconventional and imaginative, could it be that the unfettered insight of a child had cracked it?
Unfortunately, the bubble of excitement burst with a closer examination of the note, which in an eight-year old’s handwriting actually said, ‘an electronic car – to help with the pollution’. But by that point it almost didn’t matter, such was the compelling appeal of the Plutonic Cat, I couldn’t stop thinking about it and was already inspired to find it.
The Plutonic Cat could mean anything right now, but if it’s a metaphor or symbol for a sense of community focussed innovation and momentum, come 2020 when Manchester will be in the full swing of the Northern Powerhouse initiative, social enterprise could well be poised to play an important part in its evolution – if we get our act together.
So on a breezy Mancunian day on my way to chair the GMCVO day ‘Evolution, Devolution, Our Solution’ – with guest speakers including Rt. Hon Hazel Blears, SEUK’s Peter Holbrook, community investment advisor of The Wates Group Liam Manton as well as Alison Page, chief executive of the Salford-based CVS – I decided to introduce the Plutonic Cat to the audience and panel participants to see what they would make of it.
The event was held at our close neighbours and ground-breaking social enterprise FC United. We opened the morning with a Northern tour de force for social enterprise – Hazel Blears. So instrumental in bringing public sector to the table through the Social Value Act, Hazel discussed how things such as ‘community policing’ to ‘5 a day’ legislation and strategy are the easy bit, it’s the implementation that causes the difficulty. ‘Central government doesn’t get social enterprise’, she stated firmly and with that Northern edge of laying down a challenge.
Chris Dabbs of Unlimited Potential made a significant contribution to these musings. He reminded us that Greater Manchester has a significant track record in leading social change, from Robert Owens and the Rochdale Pioneers through to the modern day’s Hazel Blears and Michael Young. The point being that if those with a part to play in achieving the economic goals of the Northern Powerhouse are also imbued with a commitment to social entrepreneurship, then there is real hope that present-day social reform could be realised through investment in social enterprises in and around Manchester.
And much to my delight, a large portion of the afternoon was spent examining the Plutonic Cat, what it represented for Greater Manchester and how do we bring it to life; or more specifically what are the aspirations for social enterprise and what do we need to do to achieve them?
Powerful partnerships in our sector need to be formed, but unfortunately, Social Enterprise in the North has the same problem as Social Enterprise nationally – a lack of awareness, poor profile mixed with confused communications and disparate groups.
We haven’t got our house in order yet and the fear is the Northern Powerhouse opportunity might be just a little bit too early for us to capitalise on, or could even be whisked from under our nose with bureaucracy and general lack of understanding from the public sector.
But Mancunians do things differently, and if the Plutonic Cat has anything to say about it, social enterprises and indeed anyone interested in delivering social reform, will be purring together as happy neighbours at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse in the not too distant future.