Manchester is the hub of a Greater Manchester urban area of some 2.6 million people. It has a vibrant economy where, according to The Times of London, 60 international banks and 80 of the UK's top 100 companies have offices. In 2002, it hosted the 2002 Commonwealth Games, the world's second largest sporting event, and the Sportscity development created for the Games has become a valued asset.
But it is also a city of sharp contrasts. The district of East Manchester – once the hub of Britain's world-leading cotton industry – was decimated by the recessions of the 1970s and 1980s. It suffered a 60% employment loss between 1975 and 1985, when 52% of households were receiving state benefits. In 1998, two of East Manchester's electoral districts were among the top twenty on the UK government's National Index of Deprivation. As the rest of the metropolitan area has risen to the challenges of the Broadband Economy, the failure of East Manchester has become more glaring. But it has also planted the seeds of hope for regeneration.
The Eastserve Project
New East Manchester Limited is a partnership between Manchester City Council, national government agencies and the local community. It is responsible for developing and implementing a strategy to revitalize East Manchester's economy, increase employment, improve education and create more and higher-quality housing. One of its projects, Eastserve, is recognized by ICF for deploying an IT-based solution that addresses these goals while strengthening the social bonds of the community.
At first glance, Eastserve is a Web portal (www.eastserve.com), little different from government or neighborhood sites in thousands of communities. What sets it apart is the way in which it was implemented and the skills of the developers in meeting so many different goals.
Begun in 2000, the Eastserve project began by surveying residents on their needs for information and their ability to access it. Residents identified four priorities: employment and training, housing, policing and street-based services. As a result, the portal design included a virtual police station with anonymous crime reporting, a home-finder system for public housing, and online job searches and resume preparation system, among many other features.
The surveys also revealed that only 19% of residents had access to a computer. In response, Eastserve tapped a UK Government program that distributed recycled computers in deprived areas in order to launch a 2001 pilot project involving 450 households. Each household received a recycled PC or set-top box at a subsidized price, plus free dial-up Internet access for the first three months. The project also placed PCs at public access locations including police stations, housing offices and youth clubs. The pilot was successful enough to lead to a second phase that targeted 4,500 households to receive new or recycled computers, added new content to the Web portal, tied the project into IT training programs for schools funded by the e-Learning Foundation, and tackled the problems of financial exclusion.
Firing On All Cylinders
In Phase Two, Eastserve began firing on all cylinders, thanks to the down-to-earth advice offered by a Residents Panel of volunteers and volunteer Project Board. With 25% of East Manchester residents lacking any access to broadband, the project created a wireless Eastserve Broadband network that now links 1,700 households, six community centers and 14 schools and is being extended to adjoining neighborhoods. Its work with residents convinced Eastserve that they rapidly outgrew the capabilities of recycled PCs and set-top TV systems. In response, it began offering new fully-configured PCs at a higher price (£200) compared with £50 for a recycled system. Uptake was so strong that the cost of the subsidies made it necessary to scale the pilot back to 3,500 households. All residents who purchased the subsidized systems were required to attend a three-hour training course at local community centers, online centers or the local college. Eastserve also took the opportunity created by the sale of systems to involve the East Manchester Credit Union in handling all cash for the program and offering low-interest loans to residents. The loans made it possible for many more people to participate and also connected many of them for the first time to a financial institution other than loan sharks or check-cashing services.
This small-scale success is likely to set a pattern for greater progress in the future. According to Eastserve's leadership, the project has helped Manchester's City Council to understand both the potential of technology-based economic development and the need to invest in creating demand for e-government programs. With strong support from governmental leaders, the future of East Manchester looks brighter than it has in years.
Smart21 2006 | 2009