Reading a list of speakers scheduled to speak at a Northern Powerhouse conference in Manchester, Tracy Fishwick found herself feeling disbelief and indignation.
“There were about 80 speakers and only about one in seven of them were women,” Fishwick, managing director of social enterprise Transform Lives Company, told HuffPost UK.
“They were not talking about people: they were talking about trains, investment and businesses.”
The cost of the event, at £450 a head, also felt exclusionary to her.
“The exclusivity was wrong on so many levels. I thought: ‘I’m interested in the North and passionate about being a Northerner - why can’t people like me have a voice?’
“I run a social enterprise and was a public servant and I know lots of female chief executives and leaders in the North and couldn’t understand why their names weren’t there.”
After other women expressed their annoyance on social media, Fishwick decided to set up an alternative event, with Jo Miller, chief executive at Doncaster Council.
Miller told HuffPost: “I make a point of not attending events with such gender imbalance. In this day and age it’s simply not acceptable and I discovered I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
“A group of us came together and said ‘enough is enough’.
“We decided to arrange an alternative event with the aim of re-focussing conversations, giving Northern people with a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences a meaningful voice about decisions that affect their lives and their communities.”
They decided to call their event a ‘People’s Powerhouse’, in recognition of their belief that regeneration has to be about the people in the North as well as infrastructure.
They were, they said, “completely stunned and overwhelmed by the reaction.”
Miller, the outgoing president of Solace (Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers), secured Doncaster Rovers football grounds for the first People’s Powerhouse event held in July last year. As well as having a diverse range of speakers, there were workshops discussing issues people wanted to talk about.
Fishwick said: “It was a hugely inspirational day and there was a lot of energy and agreement that we needed to change the conversation about the North.”
The success of the event led to the People’s Powerhouse movement which aims to widen decision-making across the North to include a more diverse range of people and experiences. They are holding their next convention in Bradford at the end of November.
Miller said: “The level of engagement for that first People’s Powerhouse Convention in Doncaster was overwhelming.
“Over 250 people from across the North came along to share their experiences - local and combined authorities, business networks, corporates and private sector businesses, central government, housing associations, charities, social enterprises, individuals, think tanks and universities.
“Our next convention in Bradford is all about sharing together, understanding the issues, finding solutions and celebrating the great things that are already happening, creating better lives for all of us in the North.”
Fisher added: “We want more inclusivity and diversity across the North and for people’s authentic voices to be louder.”
Speakers at the People’s Powerhouse convention will include Tony Walsh, a performance poet also known as Longfella, Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, Susan Hinchcliffe, leader of Bradford Council and chair of West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Syima Asiam, director of Bradford Literature Festival.
The idea is to create a People’s Powerhouse charter that will look to address challenges faced by the North such as a low wage economy, mental health and skills gaps, and with a diverse range of local voices are included in local decision-making.
Speaking about the wider context of the movement and its aspirations, Fishwick added: “Our aim is to give everyone in the North a voice and to feel their opinions are heard and respected and to help bring about a long term movement for change.
″In terms of giving people a voice and increasing diversity, the movement has already been successful. Now it is about working together to drive positive changes.”
- For more information on the event or to attend, visit: www.peoplespowerhouse.org.uk