MEDIACITYUK `COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT': Part 1
Last Monday, at 9am, there was due to be a meeting of Salford Council's `Customer and Support Services' where the Lead Member was due to ratify the handing out of £161,000 for pilot projects as part of the MediaCityUK Community Engagement Plan.
There were six projects in line to get the money but the work had never gone out to public tender. The £161,000 is part of a huge pot of almost £1.5million from the NWDA `Public Sector Partners Programme' which was set up so that "people of Salford are informed and engaged by MediaCityUK and what it can offer them and their families".
This latest batch of money just seemed to have been handed out without many of the key community media groups that are working with Salford's communities knowing anything about it.
The Council report stated that the projects were exempt from going out to public tender because "The organisations themselves, in consultation with the community, Steering Group and CRIIS, created these ideas and so the concepts are intellectually with the lead organisations."
Yet few groups were asked to apply for the funding in the first place, and never got the opportunity to `create ideas'. Indeed, when the Salford Star sent out a questionnaire to over forty of Salford's community groups, the vast majority had never heard of the funding and were furious.
We asked `Were you or your organisation approached to submit ideas for projects for the `MediaCityUK Community Engagement Plan?' and `Would you or your organisation liked to have submitted some ideas if you'd known about it?'
The responses were typified by this from the Ordsall Trust and Salford LIDS which work with the community literally across the road from MediaCityUK…
"Nobody from Ordsall Trust or Salford LIDS has been approached. We certainly do have ideas. Worse, we're actually doing stuff (without any funding or support from these guys) and no doubt will be expected to carry on working for nothing, while these fat cats share out the cream between themselves."
Within a mile of MediaCityUK, Salford Arts Theatre - where some of Salford's greatest actors began their careers – now has holes in its roof and buckets on the floor to catch the rain. The Theatre's Roni Ellis replied that, while she had been involved in the `community engagement' consultation, "If my memory serves me right it didn't mention funding. If I was asked to put forward ideas for community engagement projects I would have been there with the ideas."
The Salford Community Media Partnership (SCMP), which incorporates a large number of Salford's community media groups (including the Salford Star) was never informed either…
"I knew nothing about this community engagement money going out until I was contacted by the Salford Star, and I'm pretty annoyed that we didn't at the very least get the chance to put in a proposal" says John Phillips, joint SCMP organiser and Chief Officer at Langworthy Cornerstone Association
"I'm not saying that we should get any special treatment or anything, but not even being considered is very disappointing to say the least" he adds "I wonder what the process was for selecting the pilot projects? I've not actually heard of most of them; I spoke to Chris Brophy, Manager of Salford City Radio, and he knew nothing about it either, even though they are down as working with one of the pilots. SCMP is included in the Community Engagement Strategy for Media City mentioned in the report, and they definitely know about us and what our members can do, so I don't understand why we weren't even considered."
Representatives from the city's community groups were about to go to the Salford Council meeting last Monday to make their feelings known when the agenda item on the funding was suddenly `deferred' due to a `technicality'. Apparently, John Merry, Leader of Salford Council, had to ratify the funding before it went to the Lead Member of Customer and Support Services. No-one at the moment knows when the John Merry meeting will be held and whether it will be held behind closed doors.
We asked Salford Council…
* Why was no-one asked to submit ideas as part of the consultation?
* Were these projects ever advertised to community arts groups in the city and, if not, why not?
*How were the companies receiving funding chosen - by someone at Media City or the Council or the University?
*Does the Council think that acting like this will endear the community and media artists working in the community to MediaCityUK?
* Whether the MediaCityUK `community engagement' projects will now be put out for public tender?
John Merry said: "I understand a proposal has been drafted and submitted for my consideration but no decision has been made yet. At the beginning of 2010, following a formal tender process, a company called Creative Industries in Salford was appointed to work with community groups, the media and the public to create a community engagement strategy for MediaCityUK.
"Creative Industries used the information from these consultations to put together a plan of proposed pilot projects to engage the community" he added "This is the plan I will be reviewing as part of my role as lead member of regeneration."
The Salford Star has seen a copy of the original consultation with Salford's community media groups which included recommendations for a Community Media Programme – and only one of the groups which are due to get funding from the MediaCityUK `engagement programme' is even mentioned.
The organisations due to get a share of the £161,000 are:
INNER CITY VISION: £47,600 (max)
This money is for two projects. The first is the Muslim Community Radio Initiative "To build on creative work already taken place over the last three years by Inner City Vision in the Muslim community" (£17,600). And the second project is to work in Little Hulton "on digital skills, music technology with intergenerational groups, and young parents on IT skills" (£30,000). Incredibly, considering the `focus' on IT skills, we can't find a website for `Inner City Vision' anywhere.
The Council report also states that "Inner City Vision have previously worked on the successful Lowry Walkabout programme in this area". When we contacted The Lowry asking for contact details for Inner City Vision their press officer told us "Unfortunately I can't find any information about us working with a company called Inner City Vision so can't help you on this one I'm afraid." The Council report states that `Inner City Vision' was `previously Ulwin & Charles'. Again, there's nothing on the world wide web about such a company. Although there is a person called Chris Charles, who is a former Lowry employee.
SCHOOLS PRODUCTION HOUSE: £50,000 (max)
This appears to be a salary of £50,000 `until the end of the academic year' – "The post-holder would work with existing groups and organisations to ensure schools are linked to the best industry media practice."
PEOPLE'S VOICE MEDIA: £18,000
This project is "to train a group of Community reporters in Irlam and Cadishead and East Salford so they are equipped to gather local stories of relevance to local people".
£8000 of the money is coming from the NDC (New Deal for Communities) in East Salford. People's Voice accounts show that for the last three years until March 2010 the company has already had £194,493 in contracts and grants from the NDC for doing, presumably, the same work in East Salford. People's Voice also had £42,362 from Salford University's `Transformation Fund' in 2010, plus £3,375 from Talk Broughton. The company turns over in excess of £500,000 a year and lists its `volunteer expenses' at £491 for 2010, and just £137 for 2009. People's Voice Media is based in Manchester.
This project would "bring 5 weeks film production training delivery in Salford for 5 groups of young people". CTVC is based in London.
FUTURE ARTISTS: £20,800 (max)
This project is to work with between 20 and 30 young people from East Salford "to create their own project and distribute it via social and traditional media to showcase their talents through a high quality piece of work". Future Artists are based at Islington Mill in Salford.
COMMUNITY GROUPS IN ORDSAL AND LANGWORTHY: £10,000
This appears to be the crumbs thrown to the community, as groups from Ordsall and Langworthy compete for funding by application to "engage and inform local people about MediaCityUK".
Part 2 – WHAT HAPPENED TO ALMOST £6 MILLION OF `COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT' MONEY FOR MEDIACITYUK see here.
The Salford Council report (above) that was due to go to the meeting last Monday stated that "The strategy was approved and the project plan noted by Lead Member for Community Health and Social Care on 24th November 2010". But there was no meeting on 24th November and there are no Lead Member for Community Health and Social Care meetings listed on the Council's website. We were told that this was another `error' and that it was, in fact, approved by the Lead Member for Neighbourhoods. Again, we couldn't find any `Lead Member for Neighbourhoods' meetings or any Council decision notices about it. The reason given was that `this is not an official approval because the power to give overall approval to this decision lies with the Lead Member for Regeneration (Councillor Merry)'. You what?
Photo of MediaCityUK by Jemma Cooper