Manchester has been struggling along without a stable radical social centre since 2007, when The Basement was ruined by flooding, but that all changed in 2017. When Partisan Collective announced they had secured space for progressive events and projects it caused quite a stir. Below, collective member Madeline FJ writes about their efforts so far.
The first public meeting for Partisan Collective took place in February 2016 in the city’s Northern Quarter venue and Gulliver’s pub. There was a large response and the first few months were spent by members figuring out what Partisan was going to be. A website and social media pages were set up almost immediately to publicise it and attract people who would want to contribute. The website made it clear that it would use Leeds’ Wharf Chambers and DIY Space For London to help model itself on.
After monthly meetings and a sustained effort to find an appropriate space, a temporary space was found. Working with an organisation called 3space, a non-profit urban agency which works with corporates, government and developers to maximise under-utilised or surplus commercial property, Partisan ran a temporary space for four months from June to September 2016. It was used for activist meetings, panel discussions, music events, art exhibitions and more. It was a great opportunity to see how Partisan came to life in a physical space and to test how it would be co-ordinated.
During this time, the collective’s internal structure was also organised. The internal structure is as democratic as possible whilst also ensuring that things get done. There is a collective and a co-op. The collective is anyone that is signed up as a (paying or non-paying) member and does regular things like attending meetings and occasional volunteering (not that that is compulsory). The co-op is made up of a handful of people who put in four hours a week of work into Partisan and have to approve decisions made by the collective for something (e.g. an event) to go ahead. They tend to deal with the day-to-day running of the space and can also approve new co-op members.
The group communicates through a tool called Slack, which can be accessed through a smartphone, tablet or computer. Different channels for different working groups are set up on this. Within the collective there are a few working groups including accountability and accessibility, bar and café, community outreach, events, finance and fundraising, media, podcasts and sound, which effectively divides the labour. Anyone can get involved in these at any time.
In July 2017, after 18 months of searching, Partisan secured a permanent space on Cheetham Hill Road in the northern part of the city centre, very close to Manchester Victoria station. Partisan occupies the first floor (as a social space) and a basement (for gigs) of a listed building.
There have been great efforts to make Partisan accessible both physically and socially. Since the space is across both a first floor and basement, it’s not yet fully accessible. However, we remain 100% committed to building a lift and a ramp as soon as possible. The space was opened before this could be built in order to generate funds to allow this to happen.
Accessibility is also maintained in that there are no rules, spoken or unspoken, about who you have to be in order to get involved. There are new people joining all the time, a testament to how welcoming an environment it is.
We’ve found that it’s essential to maintain a strong social media presence. Being in Manchester, it’s been relatively easy to reach out and find progressive people to get involved. But using the Internet definitely helped.
In summary, not only has Partisan Collective been a brilliant initiative for a collectively owned and accessible space for the arts and activism, it has created an uplifting sense of community between like-minded people who have a shared goal for progress. Let’s hope it continues well into the future and that it inspires others to take similar actions in their own communities.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Freedom Anarchist Journal