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How about a warmer, kinder, more fun and inclusive Northern Powerhouse?

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We’re in danger of creating a very Victorian, industrial, top hat, moustache and breeches notion of the Northern Powerhouse if we’re not careful.

The recent criticism of the Northern Powerhouse Conference for selecting an all-male speaker list is one aspect of this, but it isn’t the whole story.

In terms of branding, speakers and themes the Northern Powerhouse conference depicts a very masculine idea of what success for the North of England will look like. As Eddy Rhead from Manchester Modernist Society commented on Twitter: “Call me an old leftie but.. no reps for health, welfare, social inequality?”

The Northern Powerhouse isn’t and shouldn’t be depicted as all HS2, airports and shiny new towerblocks imagined by footballers. Of course these are important, but if we’re going to measure success in terms of residents’ wellbeing as well as wealth then there also needs to be equal room at the table for creativity, for artists, for charities and the voluntary sector – and not just as an afterthought or token add-on. We need to create a warmer, more inclusive notion of what ‘powerhouse’ means – something that residents can relate to and which they feel will make them happier and healthier, as well as richer.

Hope Mill Theatre in Ancoats is one alternative ‘Northern Powerhouse’ success story. Set up by couple Joseph Houston and Will Whelton just a year ago, it was announced today that its production of HAIR, co-produced with Aria Entertainment, is transferring to London. They have even launched Powerhouse Plays to encourage Northern writers or plays with strong Northern Themes.

For another alternative take on what makes the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ check out the Wonder Women 2017 festival taking place next month. Its programme looks fantastic – and a lot more entertaining than the very corporate line-up for the Northern Powerhouse event.

Here’s hoping that the agenda for the alternative ‘People’s Powerhouse’ event set up by Chief Executives Jo Miller and Donna Hall of Doncaster and Wigan Councils is equally inspired. Because that’s the sort of Northern Powerhouse I want to be a part of.

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