Devo stories – Kevin Ward and Sarah Butler
Kevin writes …
Francesca Gains (Politics) and I secured the ESRC IAA in early 2016. Our application was made on behalf of academic colleagues from across campus. At the time a growing number of research projects were emerging into the different aspects into what was then known colloquial as “Devo Manc”.
It was clear that some of the effects of the devolution of various budgets, powers and responsibilities across a number of areas of policy would be obvious immediately. However, it was also clear that not all possible effects were knowable at this stage. As of yet there was no single pre-existing end-game for a devolved Greater Manchester. Rather, what we would witness would be a lot of making up along the way, as within the wider devolved context there was some trying out and testing of policy reform. Some would work, others would fail. That is the nature of a policy-making experiment such as “Devo Manc”.
The thinking of Francesca and I was to accelerate and augment the impact of the individual research projects by establishing a hub. This would host the projects within a wider programme of research and impact that signalled to non-academics our collective commitment to playing a role in shaping the devolutionary futures that were up for grabs. Much of what the hub has done is to support this work in traditional ways, through animations, events, flyers and podcasts. However, we also decided we wanted to be a little more creative. To use the devolution that was underway across Greater Manchester and the researchers across campus involved in studying it as the basis for a set of outputs that had the potential to reach the audiences traditional academic work rarely does. So, we turned to Sarah. We were clear on what we did not want. However, we were much less clear on what we did want! Our brief was basic, at best. Generate some fiction on “Devo Manc”. Then it was over to her …
Sarah writes …
When I was asked to write ‘some fiction’ about “Devo Manc” my immediate response was: yes, of course, why not? My second response was: how on earth am I going to do this? “Devo Manc” is vast, technical, bureaucratic, slow, complicated – hardly the stuff of snappy, engaging fiction.
I set out to talk to people who know about Devo Manc: academics, local organisations, young people and activists. I attended mayoral hustings and events about Devo Health and Housing. I tried – as I do with any commission – to soak up as much information as I could, and to probe into the human side of the Devo Manc story.
Most of my writing could be described as social realism – stories about the intricacies of relationships; urban regeneration; everyday life. But the more I found out about Devo Manc, the more I felt I needed a different approach. I started asking the people I met: if Devo Manc was an animal, what would it be? Their answers were funny, inventive, surprising: from a mini-pig to a baby snake; a Komodo dragon to a small, snappy dog; a tiger to a whale; a baby giraffe to a starfish. Most of all, these images gave a very immediate insight into that person’s take on Devo Manc and its potential – both positive and negative – for Manchester.
So I decided to choose three of the animals and create short, fantastical fictions exploring what might happen if each creature turned up in Manchester. This structure allowed me to investigate different scenarios for Devo Manc: from the disastrous closed-door decisions in The Mini-Pig to the potential for collaboration and joint working in The Giraffe. Freeing myself from my usual social realist approach to fiction allowed me to take a playful approach to Devo Manc, laying out the potential benefits and pitfalls of such an ambitious project. I hope it also allowed me to create stories that are immediately accessible, and perhaps more fun to read than some Devo Manc reports!
Accompanying films of Sarah reading the stories on location are available on the Devo Manc hub website The stories ‘The Mini-Pig’, ‘The Giraffe’ and ‘The Whale’ are available in PDF format below: