Andy is a confident, cheeky Mancunian kid in his last year at primary school. He’s the sort of lad you’ll find organising playground games or playing practical jokes in class.
Archaeology, I’d guess, might be the last thing you’d expect to find on his list of interests. Yet Andy was a leading light in a community archaeology project in Wythenshawe, south Manchester, last year.
His school took part in Dig Manchester, an excavation of a former mill organised by the city council, local regeneration agencies and Manchester University. ‘I went back at the weekend with my family to do more research,’ Andy said. ‘I exposed a millstone. It was brilliant.’
Dig Manchester wasn’t a typical regeneration project. Funding agencies struggled to see its relevance at first. Yet it’s helped bring a sense of pride and connectedness to a community that has a reputation for all the wrong reasons.
Dig Manchester tapped into local people’s creativity and sense of place, and helped them feel good about themselves and their home. If you’re looking for output boxes to tick - jobs created, investment generated, qualifications achieved - projects like this aren’t terribly helpful. But if you want change, they can make all the difference.
Projects like Dig Manchester generate a buzz and a belief that’s impossible to impose through target-driven programmes. Of course, buzz and belief can easily evaporate. But without them it’s hard to see how regeneration can rise above the daily grind.
The lifeblood of regeneration is hope. Not the wishful thinking and worn-out rhetoric of political manifestos, but hope of real changes in people’s everyday lives.
Over the years I’ve noticed that the further up the professional scale you travel, the less excitement there appears to be about our common purpose. There’s skill, an abundance of contacts, a razor-sharp awareness of policy: but energy, enthusiasm, buzz and belief don’t always sit comfortably in a tailored suit and are difficult to communicate through your Blackberry.
It doesn’t have to be that way. So for the enthusiasts, our message for 2007 is don’t let the dullards grind you down. And if you’re afraid you’re turning into a dullard, make it your mission this year to meet an enthusiast or two.
Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine