What is Moston Brook?

The boring answer: it’s a fast-flowing stream, running from the confluence of the Bower and Holebottom Brooks, in Chadderton and Hollinwood, down through Failsworth and Moston. Then, close to Newton Heath, it is swelled by the Dean Brook and flows on south-westward, along the Harpurhey border, to join the River Irk at Collyhurst. There, now you know.

But, to a ten-year-old growing up in New Moston in the early 1960s, the brook and its surroundings was a land of adventure. A place to meet friends and exercise the imagination, in deserts of sand near the old brickworks, jungles of knotweed, alien landscapes of the ‘white hills’ and rugged, cratered flatlands and hillocks beside the stream.

Moston Brook and the White Hills, east of Belgrave Road, in November 1970

We would make dens among the rowan and hawthorn (ouch), search for newts and frog-spawn, explode the Himalayan balsam seed-pods, or build dams of clay, stones and broken bricks, to be washed away by the next rain.

Heavy rain saw the brook in furious spate, swelling to river-size, flattening grass either side and sometimes sweeping fallen tree-trunks and other debris downstream. And the steep valley sides, with grassy flats below, were perfect for sledging, in winter snow.

Nearby was the Rochdale Canal, then disused but remarkably weed-free and still capable of floating the odd home-made raft, or supplying tiddlers caught with a net or (for the more dextrous) a bent pin strung from a piece of bamboo. Close to Wrigley Head canal bridge, sports fans could watch the occasional inter-works match on Ferranti’s football field, or peep over the fence on the opposite side of the path, where the same firm had bowling greens and a tennis court, between the canal and the railway.

Wrigley Head canal bridge, facing north, from the path between the canal and the brook, September 1982

Ever in the background, off-setting the meanderings of the brook, the railway ran atop its almost straight embankment between Failsworth and Hollinwood, crossing the canal near the bowling club.

Steam engines had given way to diesel, for the local passenger services from Manchester to Oldham, Royton and Rochdale, but there were still frequent goods trains to interrupt play from time to time. Often of thirty or forty wagons, these carried coal to Ferranti’s and mills in Chadderton and Shaw, as well as Higginshaw Gas Works. There was also steel stock to engineering works in Hollinwood and Werneth, and a seemingly endless procession of parcels trains to and from Oldham’s Clegg Street depot.

Then on summer Saturdays, of course, came the lengthy holiday excursion trains and Wakes specials, each invariably headed by an express steamer.

The railway was a reminder that industry, with its attendant waste and pollution, was never far away. The brook would occasionally display one of a rainbow of colours, from dye-works upstream in Hollinwood.Moston Brook with Belgrave Road in the background, May 1974. The valley here was known as ‘Morris Clough’ up to the nineteenth century.

Wrigley Head and Ivy mills were in use as a plumbers’ merchant and mail-order warehouse. The Springfield Laundry belched steam near the canal lock and the remains of Hardman Fold brickworks stuck through the grass on the west side of Hale Lane, its huge and deep clay-pits still lurking behind, partly filled with muddy water (a potential trap for the unwary).

Close to these, the pig farm vitiated the summer air with its unmistakeable perfume. The district had long been a curious mixture of the rural, industrial and suburban, all cheek-by-jowl. Despite patches of tipping and strange sticky substances leaching down the hillsides (some themselves formed from industrial waste), the brook valley and adjoining area was still a haven for wildlife, dog-walkers, anglers – and, of course, children.

No computers, no smartphones, but how could anyone be bored, with all that on offer?

 

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“Let’s get together and feel alright”

“Sopranos, on the count of three. One, two, three….Every little thing is going to be alright….

Altos get ready…and three…Every little thing is going…

Tenors, two, three…Every little thing….”

Tosin, the choir’s Director, clicks the rhythm with her fingers and they all follow her lead. When she’s happy it’s time to stand up and give it their best.

“One love, one heart, let’s get together and feel alright”

“Louder, sopranos, and…” The air vibrates with the volume. I feel privileged to be there.

It’s Monday evening and I’m at a workshop for Amani Creatives Community Choir.  They line the edges of the practise room. They’d started with breathing exercises and musical scales followed by an African song. It sounded rich and rhythmical.

Three musicians support them. I cannot play an instrument or read music so, to me, what they do is nothing short of magic. Tosin communicates with them using just a few notes or hand signals and they make slight adjustments to the rhythm or pitch that to her make all the difference.

At the break I get chance to speak to the choir’s Creative Producer Emmanuela Yogolelo to find out more.

“We’ve been together since May” she tells me. “The idea came about following last year’s winter festival. We felt the community should be actively involved so we handed out fliers and talked to people to see if they were interested in singing or even listening to music.

A choir is a great way to get people out and socialising and we want it to reflect the diversity in our community regardless of age, gender, nationality or ethnicity so that everyone is represented”.

I comment on the songs I’d heard them practise so far as they’re all different.

“We sing in different languages and a range of songs including African, reggae, jazz and popular songs like Oasis. It’s a varied just like our membership. We want to appeal to as wide an audience as possible.

The musicians are professional African so there is no denying the African influence in some of the arrangements. It’s important for the development of the choir to get used to working alongside them”.

There was hardly a spare seat in the practise room so I ask what will happen if they expand.

“We’d have to use the main hall upstairs although it would cost more.

We’ve been lucky enough to receive funding from Forever Manchester. Securing funds to meet our costs is a big challenge. If successful, we aim to develop the choir to the next stage, improve performance quality, hopefully perform locally at events and build up a good reputation.”

The practise session is about to restart so we re-join the rest of the choir. I stay a while and listen to ‘Mary Did You Know’. It sounds lovely and so infectious that I join in – just can’t stop myself!

If you want to hear them too, join them at their Christmas Concert on Saturday 23 December at 4pm in the Simpson Memorial Hall, 361 Moston Lane, Moston. It’s free and everyone is welcome.

 

 

“It’s run by the community for the community and they really value it”

A few weeks ago this noticeboard caught my eye at the Wellbeing Centre on Church Lane, Moston…

I’ve come back to meet Joan Tipping and find out more.

She waves to me from the cafe, a phone in one hand, trying to eat her lunch with the other. It’s clear that running the Wellbeing Centre keeps her busy.

“Oh I don’t run it.” she says. “The community run it. They value it so much. I just support them. I’m here if they need me but I’ve been here since the beginning.”

“So how did it all start?” I ask.

“The national health campaigns of the late 90’s weren’t really effective at a local level so we held open meetings and invited local people to tell us their concerns about their health. We then tried to find practical solutions to those concerns.

The first big issue to come up was just having a safe place to walk. They put the word out and started Strollers in Boggart Hole Clough. At the first one I got chatting with the lady beside me. It was the first time she’d ventured out of the house in 8 years. It really lifted her spirits and I could see the benefits went beyond just a bit of physical exercise. The walks continue today led now by the park wardens.”

Joan explains that after the success of Strollers the next burning issue was about people coming out of hospital after a heart attack. They’d been told to exercise more.

“It’s not so easy on your own at home. You need other people to motivate you and somewhere to do the exercises. That’s where this place came in. It was called the Day Centre then. They had a small gym so we asked if they would let us use it. The sessions were called Heartbeat.”

Gradually, more rooms became available as the previous occupants moved out. The group moved on to tackle stress and depression. They put on other sessions, brought people together to have a chat and try their hand a range of crafts. They even created their own sign in mosaic and adopted the name North Manchester Wellbeing Centre.“We found that bringing people together to do activities really benefits them. They learn new skills, make new friends, share stories, advise and help each other. It can even reduce dependence on medication. It’s a miracle and we facilitate it happening.”

We go on a quick tour of the building. Through the craft room, where the Knit and Natter and craft sessions are held, into the gym area with its exercise equipment, then back along the corridor overlooking a courtyard.

I comment on how much natural light there is and how, with a bit of work, the courtyard would be a great outdoor area in the summer. She has a better idea…

“…a conservatory would be nice, and then we could use it all year round. The gardens outside would be another project.” She adds.

We finish the tour in the cafe. There’s a pool game going on at the far end, they organise regular tournaments.

The players give Joan a friendly wave and, as I take my leave and thank Joan for her time, a lady comes across to show off a cake she’s just made at a ‘cook and taste’ session. What a wonderful place this is.

 

 

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