Margaret Thatcher said there was no such thing as society. After the August 2011 riots David Cameron said “he wants to mend our broken society”. But as the public sector cuts start affecting people at a grassroots level, it has spurred on individuals and groups to challenge local councils and national government in their definition of what a community is and what services are needed by people. What happened in Levenshulme in 2011 is a good example of what a group of people who get together as a community can achieve.
On 8 February 2011 Manchester City Council by announcing the closure of Levenshulme Baths and unwittingly spurred the community in that area to get together – and fight. Unlike other areas in Manchester which have benefitted from new community centres or were part of regeneration schemes, local people felt that Levenshulme had missed out and that the area had declined, and thus the threatened closure of the only community provision led to the people in the area deciding that they had to do something about it.
Local resident Bethan Marshall explains. “I use the baths and was shocked when I heard the news about the closure. I just felt I had to do something as its so important to the community.” Her response was, like other people in the area, to use Facebook and Twitter to arrange to meet up at the baths to oppose the closure. And the next evening with the press and media present over 200 people turned up.
The “Love Levey/Hate the Cuts” campaign which came out of this meeting was made up mainly of women, who quickly got to work to make the case for keeping the baths open. Says Bethan, “We consulted everyone who used the baths including schools, GPs and every type of user. We gathered evidence and looked at all the reasons why people needed the baths this included social and medical reasons.” Publicly the issue was raised by petitions, posters, a swimathon and a 500 strong demonstration through Levenshulme, as well as the lobbying of the council by local Labour Councillor Julie Reid. The Council organised a consultation process and over one-third of the community responded, which led Levenshulme to be dubbed as one of the most militant areas in Manchester.
By the end of February the Council decided to reverse its decision to close the baths. Bethan believes that “The campaign showed how all these people getting together empowered the community and how important the baths are for us as a focus for the community”. And even more important for the future of Levenshulme she says that at the celebrations they held to mark their victory the children were coming up to her and pointing out that they too were part of the campaign. Its a good sign for the future that young people understand the importance of the word community. Now they just need to educate the Con/Dem Government and Labour Councils.
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