For sixteen years, Manchester had a hub for disabled people’s organisations. Based in Ardwick, Aked Close was the home for a cluster of disabled people’s organisations from 1997 to 2013. The anchor organisation which had overall responsibility for Aked Close was Breakthrough UK, which had disabled people’s employment as its main focus. Other organisations working there as well included:
– Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People
– People First
– Manchester Disabled People’s Access Group,
– Manchester Young Disabled People’s Forum,
as well as
– the council’s direct payments team.
There were many advantages to this hub arrangement, including the shared use of a fully accessible main hall, generous car parking for disabled drivers, and shared costs for common services such as reception, security, and cleaning. But perhaps the key advantage was having a shared working and meeting space with like-minded people and organisations.
The cross-learning, the organisational and personal mentoring, the solidarity, and the sense of community was profoundly energising in driving forward the reputation of Manchester as a national centre of progressive thought and practices at the forefront of disabled people’s rights.
Aked Close was leased by Breakthrough UK from Manchester City Council. The building was run within the social services department, and had previously been one of their office bases, which they had called Ross Place.
The difficulties started with the change of government in 2010, a coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats which embarked on a policy of austerity by cuts in the public sector, but with a focus on local authorities, on social care, and on disabled people. This perfect storm put intense pressure on all the organisations based at Aked Close. The organisations managed to survive this storm for three years, but eventually the pressures were too great.
Unfortunately Manchester City Council wasn’t able to shelter Aked Close from that storm, and instead sought a large rent increase to, reportedly, just under a hundred thousand pounds. This was not affordable to the tenants, especially at a time when their grant income was either frozen or ending suddenly.
This meant that the tenants had to disburse to various smaller, separate, and more isolated premises. And perhaps to rub salt in the wound, when the social services department took control of the building again for their own uses, they insisted on changing the name back to Ross Place. And they found enough funds to spend almost a year refurbishing the building (Engie Regeneration Ltd, Jan – Nov 2018).
When Breakthrough UK started in the mid-1990s its initial work was to take some legacy social services projects on employment for disabled people. This involved changing the management and control of those projects, changing the governance so that disabled people’s organisations gained control from non-disabled managers within the council.
The feeling remains that some managers within the council, once austerity started, saw a chance to settle a grievance and regain control of the building if not the legacy projects they had also lost to disabled people’s organisations.
But, maybe we can draw a line on the closure of Aked Close and how it was done six years ago, and now look forward to creating a new, affordable hub in Manchester for disabled people’s organisations. I hope so.
And a word of caution.
There is a view that Manchester should have a CIL – a centre for independent living, sometimes called inclusive living or integrated living. It would be tempting to see such a new CIL as a hub, but if so:
(a) it must have the full range of characteristics and the necessary scale to be truly a hub, and
(b) any CIL must not become a cost-saving outsourcing of social care assessments and direct payments admin leading to reductions in disabled people’s independence by finding savings so that other parts of the council or government can have more to spend.
Nor in the suggestions for a Manchester CIL should we forget that not long ago the Trafford CIL nearby has had to close down after cuts in its grants.