Women stand up for peace in Manchester
March 10, 2016 | Nick Taylor
Manchester Moss Side March 2016 – it is a cold but bright end of the winter day and I am at a ‘world cafe’ lunch sat with a table of women answering the question – as an individual how can you contribute towards peace in your community? At the far end of the table is a woman who shares my second name and describes herself as an elder of the local church – she tells me peace is about getting involved in your local community and smiling at each other.
A few hours before I am near my home in Warrington, Cheshire, walking the dog on the local recreation field when a car turns up and out step three women who put on gloves and pick up bin bags and proceed to start collecting litter. It isn’t long before I am talking to them. I think at first this is part of an initiative being undertaken for the Queen’s 90th birthday, but I learn quickly that actually the women are Parish Councillors and twice a week they go out and help clean up the ‘village’ – I cannot help telling them how impressed I am and thank them for what they are doing We are all smiles.
Peace isn’t always about national security or violence and extremism. Sometimes, peace starts with yourself and a search for inner harmony through compassion, courage and wisdom. It progresses to conversation and dialogue with others and then through people taking action – however small. Many of the courses offered by the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace lead to minor changes such as coming together to undertake a project like a community clean-up or like today to organise a lunch for women (and men) to gather as a community and consider what peace means to each of us, what makes us happy, motivates us and puts a smile on our face. But more than that, the women today also looked at what they loved about Manchester, how the city has changed in their lifetime, how they would describe it to a visitor or how they would make someone welcome. And their minor actions suddenly seem major.
Today, I felt that welcome in Moss Side, as I joined the women for peace course and their guests at the Amani Centre – a word that means peace in Swahili. It was yet another moving occasion when human beings of all shapes, sizes, ages, colours, creeds, communities – mixed together freely, openly and happily. The Women for Peace course that the Foundation operates in two cities Liverpool and Manchester aims to train women to become active citizens and the event today has been arranged by the course participants. The Amanai Centre looks amazing and the whole operation is slick and uplifting. Throughout the discussions, we move table to table meeting many people – everyone is listening to everyone else. There is laughter, joy and some great ideas being exchanged. Food has been prepared and platter after platter arrives.
All of the women on the course are fully involved and everyone is busy in their role. It is inspirational and the event culminates in a peace poem that the whole room has contributed to.
The Women for Peace project is coming to an end after 12 weeks of work and all the women I speak to tell me how it has changed them and had such a positive impact. They all want to do more and in some ways, this is an end of a beginning. Driving home the radio is full of the usual news and voices of politicians – not a positive note is sounded and I turn it off preferring to reflect on what I have just experienced. I remember that at the end a woman walked in and stood quietly at the back watching, smiling as she listened to the peace poem – her face seemed familiar and I started to search the internet when I got home.
And then it dawned on me. This was Patsy McKie – her son Dorrie, was killed in a Hulme gang shooting in 1999, aged just 20. Dorrie’s death was one of seven in 1999. That year, 270 shots were fired and there were 43 gun-related injuries in his one small community. Manchester lived up to a grim ‘Gunchester’ cliche.
The report I read (Manchester Evening News) said that the guns did eventually begin to fall silent. By 2013, the number of shootings had dropped by three-quarters compared to what had been their peak in 2007/08.
And much of that transformation was down to mums and women like Patsy.
Patsy co-founded Mothers Against Violence. Her grief became a driving force for change, assembling a group of 15 mothers who feared for the lives of their children.
Women for Peace is a project that gives a voice to many women in promoting peace whether it be the courage shown by the likes of Patsy against the grief she feels or whether it be those who want to clean up the litter off the streets or even give each other a smile. Peace is made of this and the Women for Peace who gathered today are leading the way – here is to the Women for Peace.
This blog reflects the personal thoughts of Nick Taylor, Chief Executive of the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace. Some words sourced from the Manchester Evening News. Women for Peace is a project of the Foundation and has been delivered in Manchester by Kate Goodrich and Shelly Waggon supported by Christine Cox. The project is funded by Manchester City Council and has been made possible by the kind support of the Amani Centre, Moss Side and all of those who participated from across the city.
This belief forms the basis of the Women for Peace project, which trains and supports women to become more active citizens, who lead the way in preventing and resolving violent conflict through intercultural dialogue and challenging narratives.
Women for Peace is a fun, informative, accredited and interactive leadership project for women, the aim is to build skills, confidence and capacity to communicate effectively and actively tackle conflict and build peace in their lives, homes and communities.
The project provides weekly workshops that examine the impact of conflict on women, the families and communities. They develop skills in resolving conflict, facilitating community dialogue, strengthening community participation and building peace especially in the face of intercultural tensions.