Rohan Dronsfield and Jemima Freudmann
Peterloo: Turning Manchester’s Progressive Past into Present Action
Updated: Feb 15, 2021
We’re Rohan and Jemima, Co-Founders of The Peterloo Institute, which we launched to bridge the gap between students and policymaking. We realised that there was little student representation in policy, particularly in Manchester. This deep division between students, who are developing relevant skills and want to effect positive change in society, and the people actually making policy is a real waste of enthusiasm and talent. Despite the expanse of incredible university courses, organisations and societies whereby students can learn about and simulate the policymaking process, there were no platforms where this could be applied to the real world. We change that.
The Peterloo Institute addresses policy problems through the synergistic work of various teams. Our research teams are engaging with Mancunian communities and organisations to improve our understanding of how these problems are experienced and how we can best utilise our members’ various skills to create real, implementable policy solutions. The Education Team supports this endeavour through curating mixed-methods skills workshops both for our researchers and the wider student body. Our Communications and Editorial teams help to make outputs accessible and available for a wide audience and our inclusive approach enables innovative research and policymaking that is informed by diverse opinions. Across all these teams and beyond, our commitment to the ethos of student involvement in progressive policy is front and centre.
In our current policy endeavours, we’ll be looking at two of the most pressing issues of our time, not only in Greater Manchester but across the UK: structural racism and regional inequality. Recent protests and political movements have helped to raise awareness about how people’s lives are so badly affected, further exposing the deep roots and complexities of these problems. A targeted focus on new perspectives are needed to find solutions, and that’s where we come in.
Our name and our aims are directly inspired by an enduring symbol of the struggle for democratic freedom, which took place right in the heart of Manchester: the Peterloo Massacre. In the early 1800s, with an electorate constituting less than 3% of the population, Britain was highly unrepresentative and undemocratic. Badly affected by chronic economic depression, famine and unemployment, there was an increasing desire for political reform. This led to a peaceful pro-democracy protest being held in St. Peter’s Field in Manchester, which was violently crushed by the authorities.
This event, the Peterloo Massacre, was hugely important in influencing the extension of the right to vote, increasing representation and creating our modern democracy. Our name respects this critical Mancunian event. So whilst students today may have the right to vote, we have gone even further, establishing a wholly student-led platform for encouraging progressive change through policymaking and political participation.
The Untapped Potential of Student-Led Policy
Being run entirely by student volunteers surely has its difficulties, as our members have to balance (through a pandemic!) their commitment to the Institute alongside their university studies and other obligations. On the whole however, it has been a great experience so far. Our amazing teams are excited to be applying their university knowledge to real life issues and situations, benefiting the communities of Manchester and also gaining experience that will help them in their future careers. And with your engagement, it will only get better.
Vincent Goodstadt from the UK2070 Commission - an inquiry into regional inequality in the UK - raised an encouraging point at our inaugural educational event as to the benefits of student leadership in research and policymaking. He was clear that although the issues we are attempting to tackle are long-standing, and that people have tried to contribute to solving for years and years, we as students are not burdened by established thinking: our fresh perspectives will bring new ideas to these ongoing problems. Building partnerships with established organisations will provide a strong network for advice and support, helping these fresh ideas to flourish across the Institute and Greater Manchester.
So, what next - and how can you get involved?
While our research teams are currently focusing on diagnosing issues within regional inequality and structural racism, others are working hard to produce some quality events and workshops. We will be welcoming blog posts, policy recommendations and research related to policy in general, structural racism and regional inequality very soon. Please follow our social media accounts and subscribe to our mailing list to stay updated!