Janet Batsleer has been asked to write for a University ‘public engagement’ online magazine about the local findings from Partispace in the context of the recent terrorist attack in Manchester.
Diverse Young Lives in Manchester: Insights from the Mapping phase of the Partispace Project
Since 2015 a group of academics based in the Faculty of Education at MMU have been part of a Europe wide team researching young people’s participation in democratic and cultural life in eight European cities (www,partispace.eu). Manchester is one of them. Drawing on information provided for the European City of Youth Bid, we have framed our study within the following factual information concerning the position of young people in the City of Manchester, much of which was originally extrapolated from sources such as the 2011 Census, and the Greater Manchester Poverty Commission.
Manchester today has a very diverse, vibrant and increasingly active young population. As most other European cities become older, Manchester becomes younger with almost a quarter of Manchester’s residents are aged 0 – 18 with over 40% of the population aged 25 or under. With 51% of Manchester’s current school population from Black and Minority Ethnic communities there is a huge opportunity for young people to shape the future of Manchester and its cement its position as a truly global city.
Despite significant economic recovery, the city has the fourth highest child poverty rate in the UK and there are areas where nearly half of the children are living in poverty. Many young people also struggle to progress towards social and economic independence, a problem which has been greatly exacerbated by the global economic climate and its various repercussions which have disproportionately hit young people. As such the unemployment rate for people aged 16-24 in Manchester is double that of any other age group at 22.1%. Young people also voice concerns that they feel excluded from other aspects of life in Manchester, particularly its many assets and facilities located in the city centre, which can feel inaccessible or “not for them”.
The 2011 Census showed a significant growth in the population aged 20-30 coming to live in Manchester: 126,000 compared to 78,000 ten years earlier (figures rounded up). An international airport, a relocated Centre for the BBC in Salford, the Music Scene and Sport are seen by City Leaders as key factors in retaining young professionals who may arrive in Manchester as students and in preventing a ‘brain drain’ to the South of England. There are 4 Universities within the City of Manchester itself and 15 within an hour’s drive of the City Centre. At an estimated 85,000, the student population of the City of Manchester is claimed to be the largest in Europe.
There is a big difference in fact between the population of Manchester – very diverse, not overwhelmingly mainly white, with a wide range of religious affiliations and none, including significant Muslim populations and with significant experience of poverty and the demographic of the City Region which is still diverse, but much more reflective of the demographics of England as a whole. Other Boroughs in Greater Manchester also experience significantly high levels of poverty; but this is experienced differently in the centre and at the periphery of the City region. And some neighbouring areas are largely white and affluent.
The cultural life of the City- so much seen as a source of regeneration and possibility- is not yet accessible to young people living in poverty and who do not attend University. In the initial phase of our research, we undertook a mapping – with a range of experts and with school age young people and students – across the whole of Manchester, from Moston to Wythenshawe. The divisions within the City were very evident, with many school age children reluctant to move outside their own local areas and expressing a sense of danger about other areas. For some, access to city centre based projects and resources offered a welcome break from the pressures to conform in their own neighbourhoods, but on the whole – apart from the Arndale Food Court- Manchester City Centre was not seen as an accessible place for young people, and fears based in projections about ethnic or religious ‘others’ were widespread in every neighbourhood.
After the attack this week, this is likely to become more so. The tragedy of an attack on girls and their mothers should not prevent us asking hard questions about the life of the City. We have affirmed our commitment to one another in all our diversity and creativity. But what would make the City Centre a good place for Mancunians who aren’t in the money; for girls as much as boys to be safe and even to make music and create the next Manchester youth scene; for Muslims who don’t just want to live in ‘their own’ areas. I don’t think that it betrays the spirit of solidarity rhat has been expressed this week after the attacks to say that our research suggests a report card which says ‘Yes, we are great…..and we could definitely do better!’