Levenshulme Inspire: Inspiring People and Unlocking their Potential
Inspire CIC is a multi-use community hub in Levenshulme, Manchester, comprising a community centre, a business centre and a café. It was set up in 2009 as part of the redevelopment and refurbishment of the Levenshulme United Reform Church (URC) building on Stockport Road. Today, the new, glass-fronted building houses the Inspire reception, café, suites, meeting rooms and office space, alongside the Inspire Church and beneath 14 affordable, social housing apartments.
The organisation comprises a board of governors, 11 staff - 3 of whom are part-time - and over 60 volunteers. Its vision is to “raise the aspirations of the individual and unlock the potential of the community, from the very youngest to the very oldest, through providing holistic services and opportunities to create a better future for the people of Levenshulme and South Manchester.”
The community centre encapsulates that vision, providing spaces for the local community to use as they wish. “We host peoples’ aspirations,” says Jane Graystone, the Centre Manager. “We don’t put stuff on ourselves. People come to us with ideas, skills and knowledge that they want to pass on and we provide the space and the practical support to make things happen. So we’ve got a job club that provides peer support and treats people with respect, whilst helping improve their skills. There is also an Inspired People project for the over-50s, a toddler group, compute buddies, a speak English & play group, salsa night and many other activities.”
This is a place where you are treated as a human, an individual
Jane’s main role, she says, is to manage people - volunteers and staff - but, ultimately, it’s about helping the local community. “There is more admin than I have ever done. But it’s worthwhile. I live here. So to work here, as well, and give something back, is a real privilege. Levenshulme has always felt like a place with potential and within the last few years there has been a mood shift here, for the better.”
The business centre is also helping to realise that potential by housing several local businesses and a number of hot desks. The current tenants include graphic designers, lawyers, architects, nutritionists, film directors, therapists, telecommunication and IT companies. “We have a mini economy going on upstairs,” says Matthew Duggan, the Business Centre Manager. “The tenants work together and we make use of their services, if we can, which is good for the tenants because we pay more for some of their services than we charge for a desk.”
The Inspire café is the third element. Like many community cafés, it might not be financially self-sufficient, but its kitchen, its catering – internal and external – its pop-up restaurants and its music events bring the centre to life. “I came in on Monday,” says Paul, the Services Manager. “There were older people here, a Mums and Tots Group, a BME group. It was an amazing atmosphere. It’s such a safe and secure place, with people talking to each other, relaxing, meeting someone new. It makes the community.” Paul says he’s got a fantastic job and that he loves the community aspect in particular – “you meet a massive variety of people and I’m proud of my contribution.”
Friendliness matters. “It’s a healing space,” says one volunteer, “such a positive, friendly atmosphere. This is a place where you are treated as a human, an individual. My ideas are valued.” Jane echoes those sentiments: “What I love here is you are allowed to learn and fail and take risks. It’s about participation, not perfection. You can say ‘I don’t know’. I’m not so brill at IT, for example, but other people have those skills.”
Like Inspire’s other values – accessibility, diversity, justice and community – it is rooted in the URC, but shared by many. “Lots of people want the same things, regardless of language or faith,” Jane explains. “We’ve shown that churches can be inclusive, without losing their identity. Lots of churches don’t know how to deliver services for their wider community. It’s new and different now - very dynamic.”
Levenshulme has always felt like a place with potential and within the last few years there has been a mood shift here, for the better.
The biggest challenge has been the recession. “Our finances are very tight,” explains the Chair, Ed Cox. “It’s hard to measure, exactly, the impact of the recession that started in 2010, but you can see - in the neighbourhood - that the community are not rolling in cash. So there is constant pressure on us to push back on room hire charges, because the people we serve don’t feel they can ask their punters for lots of money. But we need to charge something, because room hire is central to our model.”
The tension between realising the vision and being financially viable affects the business centre as well as the community centre. As Matthew explains, it’s difficult for the business centre to support young people, older people and people with mental health problems and be commercially viable.
As a consequence, Inspire has appointed Bethan Galliers to focus on making sure that the different parts of Inspire communicate well together and to help make it financially sustainable. “Bethan is helping to make us more professional and cost effective and overseeing the development of a marketing strategy that will make us less reliant on grants,” Jane says, adding that it has also applied for charitable status, so that its sponsors and friends can help with fundraising.
“We’re hoping to have French windows to link the café with the Inspire garden,” Jane says. “And, also, to buy one of the paintings by Akhtar Bono, which hang in the Gallery, for Inspire to keep permanently.”
For more information about Inspire, go to http://www.lev-inspire.org.uk/
This profile is a product of 'Realising the Potential of Community Hubs', a Greater Manchester Local Interaction Platform project.
Contributed by Mike Hodson
Contributed by Alex Wharton
Alex is a Researcher at the Centre for Sustainable Urban and Regional Futures (SURF). He is currently working full-time on the Greater Manchester Local Interaction Platform (GM LIP), one of 5 LIP set up by Mistra Urban Futures, an international centre for sustainable urban futures, based in Gothenburg. His main interest is in the socio-economics of sustainable urban transitions - specifically, the relationship between economic growth and social justice, and the ways in which local authorities engage with local communities.