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Our takeaways from this week’s People’s Powerhouse Convention

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On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, our Trainee Account Executive – Vicki – attended the virtual People’s Powerhouse 2020 Convention, #ThisIsTheNorth. 

Inspired by the conversations and interactions that took place, she decided to put pen to paper…

The People’s Powerhouse is a movement created to ensure the voices of the people and communities in the North are understood and placed at the forefront of the Powerhouse’s plans. Formed in response to the lack of variety in the Northern Powerhouse, the People’s Powerhouse holds diversity – of both opinions and experiences – at the heart of its mission.

Despite the pandemic preventing the annual convention from taking place in its originally arranged location of Blackpool, the team believed the circumstances only added to the importance of holding an event like this. So, it was moved to the platform we have all become accustomed to – Zoom. And, with over 30 sessions and 122 participants, this certainly didn’t mean we lost out on quantity of content. 

As a born-and-bred northerner, who has only recently embarked on a career in PR, the convention grasped my attention straight away. The sessions that took place throughout its two-day programme educated me on numerous topics, strengthening my understanding of the struggles and exacerbated inequalities the North faces. It’s worth adding that these issues were present prior to the pandemic but COVID-19 has exposed them in a shocking manner over the past 9 months, generating a real need for our voices to be heard. 

From a PR perspective, I particularly enjoyed learning from the panel of northern journalists in Tuesday’s early morning session. This saw Helen Nugent, editor of Northern Soul, explore whether mainstream media is biased against the North. The panel and Helen discussed significant issues around the lack of diversity in journalism, in regards to both race and location within the UK, and emphasised the importance of lived experiences. 

Fran Yeoman, a senior lecturer in journalism at Liverpool John Moores University, added that there is “power of lived experiences in telling the importance of a story.” I completely agree with this point and – with it being brought up time and time again throughout the event – so did many others! In my opinion, if you are not represented in the room, regardless of whether this is a newsroom or parliament, how can your voice truly be heard? The need to tackle this country’s prominent structural inequalities must happen on multiple fronts. Particularly in the centralised government to ensure marginalised voices are listened to, and decisions are made with them in mind. 

Another discussion, that was both interesting and emotional, was chaired by former Chief Crown prosecutor Nazir Afzal OBE and focused on the question, “Should the North take the knee?”. Raising important conversations around people of colour’s experiences in the North and what white allies can do to help, it was immensely useful to hear from a diverse range of voices. While I closely followed the events that took place earlier this year around the Black Lives Matter movement, I now realise how uninformed I was about how prevalent structural racism is in Britain today. It was fascinating to educate myself further, listen directly to the voices of northern people of colour and understand how I can help the movement.

Finally, Wednesday’s main session saw a coming together of three northern mayors – Andy Burnham (Greater Manchester), Steve Rotheram (Liverpool City Region), and Jamie Driscoll (North of Tyne). This provided me with invaluable insight into regional politics. 

Prior to now, I had dismissed the importance of local governments having a centralised view and focus on Whitehall. But the panel session, called ‘How can the North be heard?’, made me realise just how important it is to have a local spokesperson for every region. All three of the mayors came across to me as authentic politicians – this being something I struggle to see in national politics – and each of them stirred a real belief in me that there is someone out there who sees it as their duty to uphold the rights of local people and campaign for their best interests. 

My lasting takeaway from the event, and getting to know the People’s Powerhouse as an organisation, is the emphasis placed on working together. The speakers framed this as the only way to allow every voice to be heard, and this is something I wholeheartedly agree with – WE are stronger together. 

It has been an educational and necessary two days for me. I am very much looking forward to joining in again next year and learning more from this inspiring group of people. 

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