We all hugged each other and promised to keep in touch. After an amazing two days in Sunderland at the People’s Powerhouse Convention 2019, we felt warm and happy with absolutely no idea about the challenging year to come.
Fast forward to 2020 and this year we’ll be celebrating the fourth annual Convention, which takes place on November 24 and 25, in a markedly different way. Due to social distancing measures put in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Convention will take place entirely online.
Each year, our Convention provides a platform for a range of voices and perspectives that are often sidelined in the debate about the future of the North. Our Sunderland event had reinforced how many talented and creative people want to be seated around the table when the devolution of powers and setting of priorities take place. Sunderland City Council and all of their staff were fantastic. They welcomed us and provided loads of help and support. They get it. They understand that when people feel ignored or patronised, they will insulate, get grumpy and feel disengaged from democratic processes.
Ever since we were established, we have found that local public leadership tries hard to engage people and cares deeply about the well-being of its population. But the pressure to survive on shrinking budgets and the growing pressure to commercialise has led to some disconnect. We have worked hard this year to be even more connected. Our Recovery Coalition brought people together from across the whole North. Equally, we want to respond to the importance of the Black Lives Matter protests and are developing a racial justice network for the North. We have also set up a new small business network. This work is all about providing platforms for voices that too often go unheard.
So, what do we want to achieve at the People’s Powerhouse Convention? Well, firstly, we want to ensure that everyone feels welcome and gets an opportunity to have a say, that new connections are made and people may find a broader audience for their views. We want people to grow in confidence and maybe learn from hearing what others have to say.
Secondly, we want to reassure people that we are not going anywhere. In fact, during the next 12 months, we will be watching closely to ensure that Northern people are not unfairly disadvantaged as we try to recover from COVID-19. And, if things do get tricky, we will create ways in which it can be called out.
The debate about devolution will continue. Certain places and individuals are more visibly represented. Remember, some Northern places have no Mayor and have, so far, been left out of the devolution of powers to the North. We want local people and communities across the whole of the North to have more devolved power and a bigger say over the decisions that affect their lives.
The coming year will be uncertain and challenging for many people. However, there’s also been so much positivity with communities coming together and forging a stronger identity. And yes, we will celebrate that. But we must have a wise and competent government that protects people from unnecessary harm and listens to them, especially when they say they are hurting.
We hope that the technology works. We hope people will be ambitious with what they tune into and that they hear from the families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. We hope that participants tell us the best things about their lives and, also, what they won’t tolerate in the next few months. We hope that people celebrate social value but recognise that it has to underpin hard economic decisions. We hope everyone sings along with the wonderful Nasheed Choir.
We hope there is a lot of laughter, but always accompanied by that fabulous gritty northern determination to tell it how it is.
By Edna Robinson, Chair of the People’s Powerhouse
#ThisIsTheNorth People’s Powerhouse 2020 Convention is on from Nov 24-25, 2020. To see a full programme and to book your ticket, click here.
Next year, the People’s Powerhouse hopes to be live in the Blackpool Tower Ballroom.