It was around a year ago since we met with Damian and Paul from MancSpirit and we’ve got them back to find out what’s happened in the last year.
Hi, thanks for the opportunity to come and speak again, it’s been a real mix of ups and downs and we’ve learnt a lot over the last 12 months, most of it good.
Since the last the time we spoke we’ve grown in reach and focus and we’ve had a lot of support in what we are trying to achieve for Greater Manchester. And we mean the whole of Greater Manchester as we know first hand that a lot of resource is focused in the City Centre and many of the areas outside feel forgotten and aren’t valued.
Since we set up we’ve wanted to make sure that our offer is accessible to every borough but that’s one of the most frustrating ambitions as it’s really difficult to get the local authorities onboard, local groups are naturally defensive and the organisations that are in place to provide introductions are overly bureaucratic. Soto actually get things in place is made much harder than it should be and most people give up trying.
But we’ve stayed true to our Mancunian roots and the more barriers we’re faced with, the more determined we’ve become. That’s meant a lot of unnecessary time and energy being put in to get things moving but we’re seeing breakthroughs and people are taking notice of what we are trying to do.
So what is it you are trying to do. What is MancSpirit all about?
MancSpirit is Greater Manchester’s Mental Wellbeing Charity – we are committed to improve the mental health of those people who choose Greater Manchester as a home, for a career, for leisure or for learning.
Haha, Can you tell we’re well practiced at saying that? We know it’s a big statement, but we’ve gone through a lot of learning and it’s what we we’ve become. There’s no point going out there with a vague or limited vision, it’s simply not who we are.
We see how small local groups struggle to survive and are caught in a constant feud with other groups when they should be collaborating and creating greater impact. It’s not there fault, the system makes it that way – the ongoing competition for funding, rivalry over awards, criticising other services, clamouring for media or political attention – it’s no wonder that a lot of ‘grassroots’ organisations close down or fail to deliver services.
The amount of groups we’ve met that are desperate for us to help them when we’ve been trying to establish ourselves is frustrating and often overwhelming. We’ve felt at times that we we’re becoming an emergency service for community groups and we’ve had to be resilient in staying positive. We have slipped into direct criticism of individuals and organisations that promote themselves as there to support and develop community organisations, but we reign ourselves in, refocus on what’s important and show that it can be done without them. Many people throw around the phrase “we do things differently here”, but MancSpirit lives and breathes it. We’re unashamedly Mancunian in design and delivery.
What are you delivering? Is there anything you are currently working on?
Sure, we have recently launched a fundraiser to deliver a project that gives people struggling with all forms of Homelessness the chance to access creativity, have choice, a voice and an opportunity to make friends and move on in a positive lifestyle.
Our ‘Creative Change’ project will listen to the needs of people struggling with Hoelessnessand offers an opportunity to share, learn and create together. This helps them build strong & positive relationships with others and gives people a chance to ‘move on’, make friends and occupy themselves with something creative and positive..
What we are offering homeless people is an invite back to Society and a variety of opportunities to improve their mental wellbeing through creative activity. We know that this will lead to positive changes that will help people in tons of ways.
It’ll provide are a sense of belonging, build confidence, develop skills, develop friendships, involve people in the Arts, increase independence and a move towards a more positive life. We also want people to have a laugh and to feel acknowledged. To feel that they exist and matter. To be able to join in and to have some fun. Eventually we hope that people can develop their creative skills further and turn them into careers or self employment but we know that’s a lot further down the line.
We fully understand that people experiencing Homelessness are more frustrated and feel let down by Society in general and they tell us that they crave a creative outlet to have their voices heard and understood. This in turn will ‘free up’ valuable accommodation as people develop support networks and build in confidence, hopefully rebuilding family relationships, into employment and their own homes.
We know that there isn’t a one size fits all approach and each area has its own challenges and benefits regarding the make-up of the local communities and the facilities on offer in each. We need whatever Arts groups there are in each Borough to work with us to provide access, but if they don’t exist then we’re prepared to work with people to set things up and get them going.
But there are already so many Homeless services getting people into accommodation, giving them food but it seems that the streets are still full of people needing help and support.
Go and speak to anyone begging on the streets and they’ll tell you how services have let them down, they’ll tell you how they’ve never been given a chance and they’ll tell you a variety of stories of trauma, relationship breakdown, bad families, violence and dreams of what they would like to do – but that’s all they are, they are stories. Stories refined to gain your sympathy, to make you feel guilty, but most of all stories to get you to hand over your cash.
But that’s understandable, we all do this, it’s human nature. How many times have you modified your own story to fill out a job application, get through an interview or get a bank loan? None of us want to share our mistakes, lay bare our own failures or admit to people that are ‘gatekeepers’ to our financial benefit that we’ve made some terrible choices.
But this is much more serious when someone is struggling with addictions, poor mental health and living on the streets – it’s a matter of survival. Your story is all you have and your sales pitch better be damn good.
We understand this and it’s important that we avoid judging anyone for wanting to survive, it’s important that we find ways to get beyond the story to the person behind it.
So what makes your project different from all the others that are trying to tackle Homelessness?
Our project isn’t trying to replace what’s already being done, we’re offering a service that compliments the other projects. What I saw when I was working on the streets was a system that is focused on outcomes, not on needs. The system is set up that way, the funding is distributed that way and the how the statistics are collected is also geared up that way. But that’s why in many cases it doesn’t deliver long-term solutions.
Go back to the ‘beggars story’ I explained earlier. If we don’t take the time to find out what someone really needs to ‘move on’ and improve their lives, over what someone includes in their story to improve their earnings, then how can services be delivering an effective solution?
I’ve seen this so many times when I’ve supported homeless people when they attend interviews with healthcare, Probation, homeless organisations and the Council. Most people have been sharing their story for so long that they’ve drifted far away from explaining the true situation, they are also fearful of telling the truth or embarrassed. But the person employed by the service isn’t trained, doesn’t have the time or simply isn’t motivated to gently challenge and test the story either. So here we are with a situation where the needs and support don’t align and anything put in place is a complete waste of time and money.
I’m not saying this is the case with everyone, but the larger and more bureaucratic the organisation, the more chance the ‘helper’ is looking for quick outcomes, more probably ‘hardened’ or near to burn out and the less interested in the person looking for help. When you speak to both parties away from the interview, neither feels that they are valued in the process and it’s ‘just a job’.
How can people help you with this project? How can they get involved?
The first thing they can do is Donate – we know it’s near Christmas and everyone is skint but we’ve already raised over £1200. One less bottle of Prosecco or two less pints and that’s £10 that will help us get out and start talking to people. If 80 people read this and do just that, then that’s us reaching the £2000 mark and we can be out and about in Bolton, Wigan or Trafford. If people can speak to the business they work for and get them to donate £1000, then we’d only need 9 people to do that and we’d be able to work in all 10 boroughs and we’d be well on our way to proving it works.
Thank you for hearing us out and have a great Christmas x