“… a proven stimulus of innovation —  the meeting of unlike minds.”
Thomas Stewart, 2001

The Monastery, Manchester.

The Monastery Manchester is a deconsecrated, Victorian Gothic, Franciscan Friary, designed by EW Pugin in the mid 19th Century. Up until the Covid19 pandemic, The Monastery paid its keep as a multi-award winning conferencing and banqueting venue, though there were always plans to find an alternative life for this remarkable building. 25 years ago, when the directors, husband and wife team Elaine and Paul Griffiths, took on this hugely ambitious project, the building was adjudged to be no more than a year from total collapse. After 25 years of exceptionally hard work, The Monastery Manchester is an outstanding venue with newly built learning rooms, film and audio production modern professional kitchens. During this time, Elaine and Paul worked closely with the community, providing facilities such as a pre-school class, open days and a full involvement in the development of the community. For a detailed history see www.themonastery.co.uk

In a Monastery Garden

Our "sanctuary for thinking differently."

From its establishment in 2007, Unlike Minds had taken space, firstly at Manchester University and then at Manchester Metropolitan University within the Education department. In the summer of 2010 David D had a chance meeting with Elaine and so began a remarkable journey.

One of the topics of conversation in that first meeting with Elaine and her colleagues was the frustration of trying to innovate in academia (typically driven by professorial interests and available funding) the private Sector (always driven by immediate sales return) and indeed the public sector (frequently driven by established policy and its dominant logic). If it was to achieve our vision, Unlike Minds needed to have the freedom to create and the flexibility to work differently. We each recognised that The Monastery was the perfect place to enable fundamental innovation and a whole new approach to establishing a capability network. So that same day Elaine invited the Founding Directors of Unlike Minds to take office space there and shortly afterwards, to join the Board of Trustees. Over time, David Oliver took responsibility for managing the learning programmes and David Dickinson for the health and wellbeing ones. 

A final programme of preservation and building work significantly changed the functionality of the building for our vision for its future.

Health and Wellbeing at The Monastery

Since the establishment of the Trust over 20 years ago, The Monastery team has encouraged a focus on health and wellbeing. Community healthy eating programmes, QiGong courses, meditation and a range of healing modalities have all been encouraged within the stillness and splendour of the Great Nave. Further, as pioneers in community healthcare innovation and encouraging volunteering champions respectively, Elaine and Paul have high level involvements with traditional healthcare providers in the city and nationally. Much of her pioneering work in the community was invention through necessity. For Example, Elaine suggested the local medical practice write prescriptions to sing with the choir, to help in the Monastery garden, rather than a course of antidepressants, ten or more years before social prescribing was in vogue. Elaine also worked with the Probation Service to facilitate opportunities for young people to learn to carve some of the surplus limestone. She recollects that one lad began the programme carving swastikas and finished sculpting angels. 

Elaine Griffiths OBE DL and Paul Griffiths DL, in his uniform as High Sheriff of Greater Manchester

Well North and Professor Aidan Halligan

Unsurprisingly then, when Professor Aidan Halligan began his ambitious Well North programme, to understand and address the inequities of the North/South health divide, he became a frequent visitor to The Monastery, sharing ideas and conspiring over coffee. One our our more audacious plans was for The Monastery to house a new and wholly autonomous department of the University of Manchester. It would function as a ‘skunkworks’ free to innovate in the manner of the Manchester Method, a virtuous spiral of community action learning and focused action research driving constant iterative change within the community. We envisaged this as being supported by an academic programme based upon the Manchester Method and offering M.Prof. and D.Prof. degrees. The inaugural conference for Well North was hosted in the Great Nave of the Monastery in 2016. Tragically Aidan passed away before the Well North programme could be realised, it was handed to someone else who took it in a different direction. Some of those previously involved with Aidan took this opportunity to establish the Shared Health Foundation, on whose board Elaine sits. If all goes according to plan, we have ambitions to recognise Aidan’s contribution.

WHIS at The Monastery

People who have experienced working at The Monastery for some time becomes aware of having more than their fair share of helpful coincidences and useful serendipities. It’s a synchronicity Elaine refers to as “Monastery magic.” Unlike Minds” association with The World Health Innovation Summit (WHIS) began that way in 2014.

When David D relocated to a different part of the city, he was looking for a medical practice to join. Just up the hill from his home was the practice of Dr Amir Hannan, as luck would have, the Chair of WHIS. Over time David became involved with the thriving (and award winning) Patient Participation Group and began to represent Amir and the Practice at patient advocacy and information strategy conferences. Following a conversation about WHIS, Amir invited David to join him at an event. Under a tent in a rain-soaked Cheshire field, they met with Gareth Presch, Founder and Chief Executive of WHIS – and so it began. Both Amir and Gareth later became Unlike Minds associates.


David speaking on the expert panel at NHS Digital's National Clinical Informatics Conference


“Together WHIS and Unlike Minds organised two significant events at The Monastery, one a launch event for WHIS Manchester, the other was in 2017 when the Monastery and Unlike Minds / WHIS hosted an international online conference for World Heutagogy Day with the theme: ‘Wellbeing, Information and Meaning-making’ involving academics from around the world. With the phenomenal workload of Gareth, WHIS continued to grow steadily and to punch well above its weight. 

In 2018 Gareth’s ambitions took another leap forward when was invited to be adviser to the UN Global Sustainability Index Institute (UNGSII) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Cities programme and in 2019 The Monastery, together with Greater Manchester was invited by UNGSII to become hub for SDG3 and 4. Despite the affects of the Covid19 pandemic, it is anticipated that this programme will begin in earnest towards the end of 2020. 

Unlike Minds is proud to be recognised as an official partner of WHIS.