Convention on 'how to make life better' is coming to Preston
and live on Freeview channel 276
“This is the North” will arrive in the city on 29th November for a two-day event which its organisers hope will inspire grassroots groups and individuals - and provide a platform for them to learn from each other about what they can achieve.
For Ruth Hannan, director of People’s Powerhouse - the organisation behind the gathering - the intention is to spark conversations between like-minded individuals who are looking to tackle similar issues.
While the schedule will be punctuated with some keynotes speeches, it will largely eschew the conventional conference format and be what she describes as a much more “energetic” experience for those who attend - not least because it will be staged at multiple venues across Preston, all within a few minutes’ walking distance of each other.
“It’s not going to be full of people having to sit in rows, silently, and be talked at,” Ruth told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
“It’s an opportunity to hear exciting things that are happening in the North, to hear new ideas…and engage with people who want things to be better.
“[We are] trying to create a collaborative conversation - it’s not easy, but that's always our ambition.”
To get people talking, the event - themed “A Radical North: The People Powered Future Starts Here” - will include a series of workshops to enable attendees to explore the issues that matter most to them.
While the focus is very much on ordinary citizens, politicians from across the North will also be there in numbers - an acknowledgement of their role in making the ideas of their residents a reality. However, Ruth says the environment will be an “equitable” one, in which people “collaborate to come up with solutions together”.
“Often, people who are working really hard at a grassroots level don't have the access to those with power [who] make the decisions.
“The communit[ies] have the knowledge, they know what works - and often there's a want for people with power to be bolder and braver.
“The North faces challenges, but it's also got a huge amount of really innovative practice and activism - and the people of the North have the answers to those problems.
“So for us, [the convention] is about how we can connect these people [who have] amazing ideas to help their communities with those who have power,” Ruth explains.
She says that Preston is the perfect backdrop for This is the North, because it “aligns with [the] values” of the People's Powerhouse.
“[The city's] mission is to be a leading example of community wealth building with the ‘Preston Model’ - and that very much sits with our focus around developing progressive models and enabling communities to have a say in the decisions that affect their lives.”
However, she stresses that the event is “apolitical” and that the common Northern identity is what underpins the convention, rather than any particular party allegiance.
Most of the attendees will come from those many parts of the North that have secured devolution deals with the government - something that has so far eluded Lancashire, but which the county is still actively pursuing.
Yet for Ruth, the lack of devolved power is not necessarily a barrier to the kind of bottom-up revolution that the convention is aiming to inspire - especially if devolution simply means swapping a centralised bureaucracy in London for another on your doorstep.
“No matter where we are in the North, we are often a long way from power and a long way from affecting decisions that are made about our lives.
“The North does have the largest number of devolution deals - but has that got us, as citizens, closer to decision making? Devolution needs to meaningfully get those decisions closer to citizens,” Ruth warns.
Meanwhile, with preparations for Preston’s staging of This is the North now in full swing, the call has gone out for the volunteers and sponsors needed to help make it the best event it can be.
For Ruth, the hallmark of its success will be if people leave feeling both fired up and empowered - whether they have travelled miles to get to Preston or they already live here.
“Even as somebody who organised the event last year, it inspired me to think, ‘How could these things happen in my community?’
“It gives you inspiration, it gives you hope.”
To get tickets and find out more about volunteering opportunities and other ways to get involved, visit: peoplespowerhouse.org.uk/this-is-the-north-convention-2023/