So far through our INSPIRED blog series we have explored heritage buildings and the communities bringing them back to life, dug around in amazing garden initiatives working to regreen our cities and improve our health, taken a look at historical figures who continue to inspire us today and stepped back to appreciate multi-faceted, international projects.
This week, I am again heading up north to Manchester for my inspiration, to an initiative called Community Savers, an incredible women-led saving network that is using interconnected social and financial networks to improve their local neighbourhoods.
I first came across the wonderful work of Community Savers (previously known as GM Savers) during the first year of my Masters at the Manchester School of Architecture (MSA). I was involved in an action research project led by Sophie King which collaborated with Mums Mart, one of the six groups that currently make up the Community Savers Network. More recently, The Glass-House delivered a talk and workshop session focused on community engagement to a group of MSA students as part of their MSA Live module through which they were collaborating with another branch of Community Savers, a group of residents called Hopton Hopefuls.
A small world indeed, I have taken this as a universal prompt to focus our INSPIRED spotlight for this week onto the amazing work that Community Savers initiates, does and supports.
The Community Savers Network
Community Savers are a network of women-led savings groups based across Greater Manchester and Sheffield, who aim to bring communities together to share ideas, experiences and strategies for reducing poverty in their neighbourhoods, towns and cities. Currently they are made up of 6 groups; In Manchester are Mums Mart, Hopton Hopefuls, Hulme Writers and Savers and Miles Platting Savers, with Brinnington Savers in Stockport, and Sheffield Social Savers located across the Peaks. They work in alliance with Community Led Action and Savings Support (CLASS), a small registered charity established by the savings group leaders to act as the professional support agency to the network.
Inspired by the work of Shack/Slum Dwellers International, Community Savers at its core is based around the principle of groups of women connecting to communally save small amounts of money together, building trust, power and financial resilience within their network. The act of coming together in this way allows members to share problems, resources and knowledge with other local women, creating an informal care network which supports those going through hard times, sickness or are just in need of an ear to listen.
Through building this social network common problems emerge, often revealing gaps in local services or community assets which are then addressed through communal ideas for positive action. Another core aim of these groups is making money work for them collectively, and using their shared financial power for the good of their community. Activities of the groups across the network include hosting monthly markets, running food cooperatives which redistribute streams of waste food from supermarkets to local people, participatory design of a women’s wellbeing space, and the co-production of new solutions for older people’s social housing.
A network beyond monetary
The act of bringing local people together in this way has resulted in strong mutual aid networks which really came into their own during COVID. Even before the pandemic, savers would look out for each other and for families that they knew might be struggling financially or with bereavements or illness. Bags of food would be left on a doorstep or collections made to contribute to funeral costs. During COVID the groups have been providing essential crisis support across their communities from food parcels and basic necessities, to hot meals, to lifts to and from hospital, to regular moral support at the end of a phone for older and highly isolated people or people with pre-existing mental health struggles for whom COVID couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Saving as a placemaking activity
Although the connection between fiscal streams and place-making is clear, saving networks are not often viewed through the lens of placemaking. Yet, this is exactly what the Community Saver’s network achieves, promotes and supports through its work of joining people together around the place where they live to work towards something larger than themselves. Place brings people together around something that they hold in common, which moves people away from focusing on the things that set them apart.
Through connecting community members in a tangible way, which benefits them both individually and communally, neighbours build social connections, understanding and are able to share knowledge, problems and solutions for their local area. Having access to a savings network empowers local women through financial understanding, building confidence to work on larger events and projects. This is an inspired approach to placemaking!
You can follow the stories of each group which makes up Community Savers through their website here, or keep up to date by following their Twitter account, @CommSaversUK.
If you are interested in the MSA Live project with Hopton Hopefuls, you can follow some of their work here.
To explore more of our INSPIRED series click here, we are always on the lookout for inspiring stories and would love for you to contribute! Find out more here.