The project Community-led Organising: Seeing the inner city from the South spoke to ideas in post-colonial urban theory about finding new ways to engage with contemporary urban challenges in the global North by ‘seeing from the South’. It focused on community-driven processes of organising, learning and change, and on the value of learning exchange across the Global North and South.

The action research was co-designed by Sophie King in partnership with Mums Mart and Lower Broughton Savers – two women-led community associations based in Manchester and Salford respectively. Over time a number of other womens and residents associations became involved across Manchester, Salford and Stockport.

The research built on a series of international exchanges with South African and Kenyan affiliates of the international social movement Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI) whose members follow a bottom-up resident-led approach to neighbourhood development which starts with women-led savings groups.

Our research methodology adapted core practices of SDI savings federations into a combined programme of action and knowledge production, helping us to explore:

  • What does it mean for community action to be genuinely resident-led and what is shaping the ability of neighbourhood activists to come together in inclusive, autonomous, and sustainable associations capable of effecting real change in the lives of low-income communities in the UK?
  • How might neighbourhood activists balance autonomous action with collaboration, securing investments of time, assets and resources from state and private actors where the action required to meet needs is beyond community means?
  • How can the experiences of savings-based movements in other countries offer new pathways to knowledge, action and change for neighbourhood activists in Britain’s post-industrial North?

Through local and transnational community learning exchange combined with cycles of action and reflection we hopes that participating groups would develop an increased understanding of different approaches to resident-led organising and the strengths and challenges associated with these approaches or organisational models. We hoped that groups participating in exchanges would have increased capacity and inspiration for resident-led organising in their neighbourhoods, aiming for at least eight neighbourhood-based groups in Manchester and Salford to exchange experiences, ideas and concerns and (with luck) express a longer-term interest in maintaining a peer support relationship. The research also involved qualitative interviewing and observation of community processes to assist in answering the three research questions listed above.

The action research was coordinated by Sophie King.

Ideas from the project are now being taken forward by GM Savers, supported by a new independent charity.