Living Rent in Manchester

Living Rent made a wee trip down to share ideas with ACORN Manchester

On Wednesday 30th January, two of our Living Rent Glasgow members, Anna & Hannah, journeyed through the snow & ice to speak at ACORN Manchester’s Quarterly General Meeting (QGM). Here is their report from ACORN Manchester’s first QGM, which had been inspired by our own AGM last October:

ACORN called the meeting to engage members, current & prospective, and to help share lessons across different organisations working on similar issues. Alongside our talks, the room also heard from Beth Redmond from Momentum Manchester and Judy Duncan & Marva Burnett from ACORN International Canada. Beth spoke about how to socialise the political. Momentum have been organising regular events such as football nights, film clubs, a Northern Soul night, a walk on Kinder Scout celebrating the Mass Trespass, and educational workshops including reading groups. Beth highlighted the importance of letting people organise things they are passionate about, allowing new people to propose activities and helping them take the lead on that. Judy talked about a massive campaign for affordable internet, which has won $80m in reduced internet costs for working class people. ACORN Canada has grown to 130,000 members using a combination of local campaigns for members and bigger campaigns to make more structural change. Marva kindly made and shared this video on building power in a Union.

From Living Rent Glasgow, we brought lessons we’ve learnt from our last year of organising. We spoke about the importance of being reactive as well as proactive - a great lesson we learnt during the launch of the SERCO campaign against evictions of Asylum Seekers. We highlighted how important it is to ensure our activities are accessible by providing childcare, food, and travel money. We shared tips & asked questions on how to encourage newcomers to come & stay involved in the union - something we’re still working on! ACORN’s advice to us was making everything more sociable - organising drinks after meetings, getting live music in meetings! Offering to meet new & prospective members for coffees rather than always insisting on meetings. We also shared our experience of having a combination of long-term slow campaigns as well as more tangible win-able campaigns. Our Seize the Fees campaign has regular clear wins, this keeps morale up and keeps us energised to fight the longer slower battle of totally upturning the housing system!  

The Q&A session was lively. A great tactic used by the facilitators was to get the crowd to talk with their neighbour before launching into questions, this allowed people to reflect in a less intimidating setting and develop great questions. A common question and frustration in the room was how to encourage people to see Tenant’s Unions as empowering vehicles of change and not a service provider. At Living Rent Glasgow we try to invite people to present their cases at our branch meetings or organising meetings, this gives them a chance to see the other work going on in the Union and prevents it from being a standalone case where they don’t interact with the rest of the Union. However this doesn’t always prove fruitful and we are still looking for ways to keep people engaged in the Union once their case has been won. An audience member asked what our approach to diversifying the Union was. We talked of our collaborations with migrant-led organisations, where we followed their lead on organising. As we take on more staff, we will be building neighbourhood Living Rent teams, this will naturally diversify our Union.

We were treated to a song led by Roo from Three Acres & a Cow, Roo got us all singing Mary Barbour’s Army, a nice reminder of our housing history back home. After tasty snacks and interesting chats during the break, ACORN Manchester proposed & voted on 3 options for their next campaign. Members decided on a new Landlord Licensing campaign to bring an end to rogue landlords in their city. The event finished with coordinators from each action team inviting people for an informal chat on the work they do and how people can get involved - this managed to draw in some new recruits. This is a great idea that we hope to bring to Living Rent Glasgow branch meetings.

After the event it was off to the pub to make more connections across our sister organisations. We’re really pleased to have been invited and have been able to go and share our lessons & struggles. It’s important to keep these links across our networks to ensure we’re supporting each other and all working towards a just housing system for all. We look forward to hosting ACORN Manchester in Glasgow sometime soon!