The 2nd May 2024 saw the re-election of Andy Burnham as Greater Manchester Mayor, providing Groundwork with the opportunity to share our expertise and the experiences of those we support with the new Mayor before plans are set in stone.

Dear Andy,

Firstly may I congratulate you on your re-election as Mayor of Greater Manchester. Groundwork Greater Manchester is proud to be a VCSE organisation operating across the city region at a time when devolution reaches a new and exciting phase.  We look forward to your on-going support over your coming term of office as we continue to strive to deliver our twin goals of a socially and environmentally just city region.

As a supporter of the GM VCSE Accord and GM VCSE Manifesto, we plan to continue our work towards a Greener, Fairer and Stronger Greater Manchester, a vision highly aligned to your own.  We know that you are keen to listen to others and share ideas so in the remainder of this letter we set out our own thoughts based on 40 years of supporting the too often untapped potential of people, communities and places in our fantastic city region. Apologies for the length of this letter – there was so much to say! 

I hope that you will consider our ideas as you take forward your manifesto plans and work towards the Single Settlement for Greater Manchester, and that we will have an opportunity to discuss them with you or a member of your team.

  1. As a key GM provider of employment services for people from marginalised groups, we are wholly supportive of your Live Well agenda and your aspiration to make Greater Manchester the test bed for an entirely different way of providing social support and social security.  Over the last 25 years we have helped thousands of people into work and training in GM, 1,200 during 2023/4.  In this context, and as a directly contracted AEB provider in GM, we would ask you to ensure that devolved Adult Education Budgets and funding models are sufficiently flexible to enable the delivery of appropriate support for those with more complex needs. 

In addition, within Live Well Centres we call for:

  • A dedicated service for young people (16-25) that operates in a safe space and utilises a person centred, trauma informed approach.  This would help address the post pandemic challenge of young people with mental health needs who are simply not ‘work ready’, and the associated disconnect between skills provision and employer requirements. There is no equivalent service and this would be a real opportunity for GM to lead the way in helping young people into work and supporting a just economic transition
  • Better connections with nature through: physical greening of the estate (think green roofs and walls, food growing and therapy gardens); connecting people with green social prescribing and volunteering opportunities; and developing green skills pathways into work.  This approach will not only deliver employment and well-being outcomes, it will also contribute to nature recovery in GM and contribute to the city’s adaptation to climate change.

  1. We work with young people both in educational and in community settings. We understand the complex challenges many of our young people face, including a surge in mental health issues, post-Covid impacts on education and wellbeing, concerns about safety and violent crime, an upturn in the number of young people out of education or work and the emergence of eco-anxiety. We recognise and nurture the potential of young people through our coaching, mentoring, skills development and social action work. In relation to young people we:
  • Welcome the MBacc as a new technical route which will play to the strengths of so many.  Aligned to this we lobby for devolution of 14-19 funding to create greater flexibility within the system, particularly for more vulnerable young people who need education in smaller settings. We also ask for green skills development to be embedded in all MBacc technical pathways, including construction. And advocate for green careers guidance to be embedded within IAG services for young people, building on the resources we have developed for Manchester City Council. 
  • Welcome your commitment to ensure every young person can access a safe space within walking distance in every part of GM.  We also call for those spaces to go beyond being a safe space to meetand to become places where young people build the capacity and skills that enable them to take positive action in their own communities.  We commit to play our part in this by utilising our own youth climate action toolkits to build capacity in the youth sector as a whole, and in young people as groups and individuals

  1. We applaud your GM Housing First mission – its focus on ending the housing crisis in GM and aligning this with our net zero target.  Alongside the commitments to improve the private rented sector and build more homes, we would urge the new GM Housing First Unit to consider the role of GM’s stock of over 25,000 empty homes (Action for Empty Homes 2023) within the housing supply.  This means that 1 in every 50 homes in GM is empty.   The carbon positives of retrofit over new build are indisputable, but over and above this, it is our vision that a GM Empty Homes programme is established, not only to contribute to addressing the housing crisis, but also to afford training opportunities in construction and retrofit skills for marginalised groups and to deliver affordable, low emissions homes for those same groups.  We commit to bringing our experience and skills from local scale programmes of this nature to a city region level to deliver this vision.

We also ask for support for community led retrofit models that focus on generating momentum within a geography which is recognised by a community, and which afford skills development through the creation of retrofit community mentors, representatives of the local community who champion retrofit, educate their neighbours and handhold them through the process.  Trusted VCSE organisations like Groundwork GM can play a key role in facilitating the development of such approaches, as well as providing technical retrofit services.

  1. Like you, we want to improve the quality of life for everyone, everywhere in GM.  For us this means putting nature first.  We advocate protecting and enhancing nature both for nature itself and for people.  We see first-hand every day the positive benefits that connecting with nature has for those we work with – it improves mental and physical health, builds social connections and a sense of pride and community, and provides a canvas for capacity building and skills development. That is all in addition to the fundamental economic and environmental benefits of nature.  Yet we also know that access to nature is unequal in GM – echoing national trends, people experiencing multiple inequalities in Greater Manchester tend to live in areas with less greenspace and those experiencing racial inequalities are also nearly twice as likely to live in areas with the least greenspace (GM State of Nature Report 2024).  So our asks in relation to nature are:
  • To adopt the World Health Organisation’s and Natural England’s recommendation that every person should live within 300m (around 4 mins walk) of a natural greenspace.  We are proud to work in a city region which is ambitious about nature recovery and values the connectivity between people and nature. But to increase access we need to do more by investing in “retrofit for nature” in our neighbourhoods, town centres and business and industrial parks. Programmes like our Eco Streets programme show what can be achieved.
  • To increase the funding available for the Greenspaces Fund so that we can continue to reach more groups in areas of greatest need. We welcome your commitment to retain the Fund, which has facilitated greening projects in many communities.  As the organisation managing the Greenspace Advisors, we are proud of their focus on supporting groups who otherwise would not be in a position to apply nor sustainably deliver their projects.  The fund is regularly over-subscribed and it is essential that it can continue to support projects where they are needed most.
  • To adopt a nature first approach for the built environment –The creation of Mayfield Park sets a precedent, the development of the greenspace as a leading element of regeneration. In order to maintain this high bar in GM, we would urge you to go beyond Biodiversity Net Gain to consider the introduction of an Urban

Greening Factor to evaluate the quantity and quality of urban greening provided by a development proposal.  We also ask that you consider the role of the trusted VCSE sector in facilitating community led design, so that we can truly maximise the social value of new development in GM. In order to do this procurement processes need to be adapted to allow us to be meaningfully involved, and avoid the risk of us being drafted in as ‘bid candy’ by major developers

Our work around GM  leads us to be passionate advocates for a place based approach. We see regularly the benefits of putting roots in a community, building trust with stakeholders and residents and layering services in a way which meets the community’s needs.  You are aware of our work with Brinnington Big Local that has led to the establishment of a strong community led partnership and a valued community hub. The community are brimming with more ideas and we hope to continue on our journey with them. We need more Brinningtons! But to deliver such programmes requires pooling of budgets, true partnership working in a place and long term investment, not short term grants.  This approach allows us to build the trust of the community who live there, to provide capacity building support shaped by their needs and to develop locally led, place based service models.   So our final ask is that you embed these considerations within your thinking and decision making as GM moves forward  on our exciting devolution path.

I would be very happy to meet with you or a member of your team to discuss any aspect of this letter further, and to facilitate this would be delighted to welcome you to our base at the beautiful Trafford Ecology Park, or to one of our community projects.

With very best wishes for your term of office

Deborah Murray

Executive Director on behalf of all at Groundwork Greater Manchester