Between 11th and 12th June 2019, Jordan Morgan, UK Programme Manager, and Maisie Cook, UK Programme Intern, travelled to Manchester and Stockport to discuss the contemporary challenges facing local grassroots British Muslim organisations and the opportunities to overcome them. Bilateral meetings were held with a diverse group of individuals from a range of cultural, ethnic and theological backgrounds including: mosque representatives, lawyers, youth workers, and local councillors from Libyan, Somalian and South Asian communities.
Manchester ranks 5 out of 326 local authorities in England, where 1 is the most deprived. Many of the challenges facing those we met coalesce around socio-economic deprivation including: unaffordable increases in house prices, rents and fuel; a lack of opportunities, in addition to low aspirations, pay and skill levels, which limit life chances.
Manchester’s skyline has seen a marked increase in skyscrapers which house luxury apartments and office complexes. However, communities from deprived wards highlighted that they have received very little social payback from these developments. Between 2016 and 2017, The Financial Times reported that of the 61 residential projects – which include almost 15,000 flats – granted planning permission by the local authority none were offered for social rate or at 80 per cent of the market rate. It was said that not enough has been done to consider the local impact on communities, travel infrastructure and need for affordable housing. It was perceived that development in the area was widening the gap between more and less wealthy communities.
Despite this challenging backdrop, Islamic faith and community organisations play a key role in building the confidence and capacity of local communities. They engage young people to prevent them from becoming involved in gangs and to help them find ways out if they do. They provide mentoring programmes, guidance and skills to develop young people’s abilities.
Many organisations feel under-valued, over-stretched and without enough resources to meet the challenges faced. The positive contributions Muslim communities have made to Manchester are often not heard and therefore, a much more nuanced understanding is needed. For example, in the 1990s, areas such as Rusholme were badly impacted by crime and earned Manchester the name ‘Gunchester’. However, thanks to the contribution of Manchester’s Somalian community the area has been revitalised. Many of today’s residents migrated to Manchester in the 1990s as refugees following the Somali civil war.
The importance of providing more opportunities to develop the next generation of leaders within the most economically deprived communities of the North West was underlined. Greater efforts must be made to tackle the misunderstandings about British Muslims perpetuated in the media and to tackle Islamophobia. Programmes which facilitate impactful political engagement with regional and national decision makers is also needed to enact policy and legislative changes which can improve local outcomes.