Greater Manchester Savers is a network of women-led and resident-led savings groups which aims to link up residents from across Greater Manchester to share ideas, experiences and strategies for reducing poverty in our neighbourhoods, towns and cities. We are also focused on exchanging knowledge and experience with groups across the UK and internationally. We have been learning from the approaches of a social movement called Shack/Slum Dwellers International.
Each of the member groups in our network is its own independent organisation. Members from all the groups meet together as a network quarterly, but we also do learning exchanges with each other and with other groups in between times. We work in partnership with a range of professional organisations whom we need to work together with to advance the interests of low income residents from the neighbourhood level to the city-regional level. Our primary professional partner organisation is Community-Led Action and Savings Support (CLASS). We are resident-led: our groups and our network plan and make decisions independently of supporters or partners.
Savings is about trust and creates a glue that keeps people coming together. It is an approach that helps us bring women and other residents together to support each other. When a savings scheme begins, it is usually among either an existing group or an informally connected group of people who already know each other and want to try it out. They begin holding savings meetings. By saving small amounts together at the same time they build trust and a culture of savings. When they meet they share their problems which promotes health and well being. If someone is missing we get in touch to make sure they are okay. Over time, members recognise that many people have the same problems and some of these are linked to gaps in services or community assets. Members also share ideas for positive action and making money work for them collectively. Examples from existing groups include markets, food cooperatives, co-financing community space renovations, trips away for families or children, and fundraising or consultation events.
Savings is open to anyone of any gender but the approach often appeals the most to women who are often the ones managing household finances and also most often the ones involved in community activity. These ideas first began circulating in Greater Manchester after a series of exchanges between women’s groups and South African and Kenyan activists associated with the international social movement Shack/Slum Dwellers International whose membership is 85% women. Savings-based organising is about ensuring that low income women who are often the most active at a community level but have limited influence over local decision-making, are able to come together to advance their own interests and those of their households and wider community. In some savings movements, members also believe that women are more reliable when handling money!
Learning exchanges and collective voice
Savings groups work together to think about what is available and what is missing in their area. They look for what is already there and seek to work with and build on those strengths, and to network initiatives together for a stronger local and united voice. Savings groups also build up an awareness about common experiences and challenges between people living in low income areas through learning exchanges with groups in their own and other similar neighbourhoods. New savings groups also emerge after learning exchanges with existing savings groups. Savings-based organising is strongly rooted in communities teaching and learning from each other on the basis of their own experiences. Savings groups continue to network with each other, eventually neighbourhood-wide and city-wide networks of groups emerge and groups begin to form alliances with key agencies and professionals who can work with them to advance their interests. Capacity emerges for resident-led (and particularly women-led) neighbourhood planning and developments which have local ownership and are more relevant to local priorities. These developments contribute to poverty reduction.