‘Do you own the dancefloor’ is a film about Manchester’s legendary Hacienda nightclub and what happened to the pieces of it that were auctioned for charity once it was demolished. It was made by a chap called Chris Hughes, who I met recently at a screening.
Chris isn’t a film maker. He’s a change manager for Warburtons, the bakers. But challenged — drunkenly — to make a film by friend, he found a way. And he did a bloody good job.
There’s something of the punk spirit about this achievement. No training. No equipment. No time. No industry knowledge. Yet Chris made a hugely compelling piece of cinema.
It seems rather appropriate that a film about a club that emerged from the post-punk movement, and which itself broke entirely new ground based on no real experience from its owners, should be made in such a way.
On a Saturday morning, not long after, 40 or so volunteers gathered at a market stall in Levenshulme, Manchester, where I live. There, we were issued with bin bags, gloves and those grabby-hand litter pickers, and divided into teams before setting out to clean our streets. We weren’t alone — similar groups were setting out across the country.
Though supported by the council, this wasn’t a council initiative. It was citizen-led. People who wanted cleaner streets went out and cleaned the streets.
It’s a big leap from nightclubs, to film-making, to street cleaning. But I think there are parallels here. When it comes to public services, I think we’re going to see more ‘punk government’.
I try not to get into ‘big P’ politics on this blog, in part because it sparks arguments that I’m not interested in having, and in part because I think it has declining relevance. Things increasingly happen in spite of governments, not because of them.
For now though, state governments are still responsible for much of our public services and on both sides of the Atlantic, those services are being run down. There are people whom this does not affect, already insulated from the effects by a host of private services. And there are those too badly affected to be able to do much about their loss except protest, with little effect to date.
But there is a group of people with the wherewithal to create and operate alternatives. People who are probably not wealthy in the traditional sense, but who have enough financial security to contribute time and skills to re-establishing a community and the services that support it.
It seems, at least anecdotally, like they are. Giant street-cleaning exercises, community-run parks, libraries, markets, and gardens. These are the softer services, but I’d like to believe there’s a growing understanding that we have to engage with the harder challenges of health and social care.
Anarchy in the UK
The punk era is perhaps most famous for calls to anarchy, and breaking the social order. But it was about building as much as it was about breaking — just like the major cultural phenomena that followed, some of which found a home in the Hacienda.
As government retreats from our neighbourhoods, I think we’ll see more and more of this punk alternative, taking up the brooms and the bookshelves, digging the parks and supporting our neighbours. Because we are at a most basic level, a species evolved for collaboration.
The decline of public services may not be something any of us wanted to see. But as more and more jobs get swallowed up by automation, a role in the community may be vitally important in helping us to keep our sense of place, and to understand our own value.