From humble beginnings come great things...

I’m walking round with a sheaf of photocopied posters inviting women to our first DivaManc meeting this Thursday. It feels old skool – but in a good way – finding space alongside the Missing Cat, Grime Night, School Fair, Hajj travel offers, to invite local women to “be part of the debate to shape devolution in Greater Manchester”. Because although this devolution debate feels like something happening somewhere else, in rooms packed with suits, in photo calls with hard hats and hi-viz vests pointing in to the far distance, it is coming to us, this place where we live, and in some cases (like the devolution of the Health and Social Care budget) it’s already happened.

First stop along Withington Road is the Post Office – now located in Bargain World, and absent of the usual accumulation of hand written ads and notices. The smart young headscarved woman scans it and not only offers to put it up, but says she’ll share it on facebook. She’s got friends who’d be interested. After a few takeaways and newsagents it’s the Internet cafe – bedecked with bright Sudanese fashions hanging along the walls. There’s a bit of confusion about whether I need to pay but the proprietor agrees – “it’s for the community then it’s okay” she says, but I must only use blutack. I’ve brought my own, so it’s all fine.

I bump into a friend – a brilliant youth worker who’s despairing at the decimation of youth services and lack of funding for women and girls. She scans the poster I’m holding; “Yeah looks good that– yeah, I’ll come to that”. The laundrette is empty apart from a small boy, but through the back a slightly harassed woman agrees with a wave of her hand to a zone crowded with a mass of leaflets. I try to find a good spot.

After the Mediterranean Cafe it’s Pamela Jean’s Hairdressers, where local radio and an air of calm descend. A customer and friend asks for a leaflet and wants more detail. “We didn’t want a Mayor – everyone voted No to one, but looks like we’re getting one anyway”, says the woman getting her streaks redone. “You coming?” “ Yeah, I’ll come, I will, because I’m sick of finding out things after they’ve happened.”

This is not twitter. This is the street where we live. We hear a lot about the mythical “doorstep” behind which apparently live the closet racists and the naysayers, the common sense purveyors and the merely apathetic, who seem to be portrayed as both a forgotten majority, and somehow the backbone of England. But perhaps there’s another sort of conversation to have, about what’s missing, what’s not being asked, what’s your lived experience of living, working, caring, studying in this place like, what’s at stake for you and how we can do things differently? That’s a conversation we hope DivaManc will start.

We’re not suggesting that some women at one meeting will speak for all women at all times- Helen Pidd’s article on DivaManc in the Guardian rightly cautions against the dangers of narrow representations of women’s interests - and we have all had a bellyful of that intractable argument. I don’t know if anyone is going to come because they saw an old skool poster in a newsagent’s window, but I do know our meeting was booked out within 48 hours of being advertised. If each of the women who join our first DivaManc meeting carry on the conversation, with friends, families, colleagues, facebook groups, strangers at the bus stop, and with each other, if they’re inspired find out more, set up their own group, scrutinise the plans, get involved, change the plans, then it’ll have been a great start.

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