From Wasteland to Woodland

Saddleworth? All that way just to walk the dog? Honestly, the countryside is closer than you think…

I moved into New Moston about 30 years ago, close to Moston Brook Valley. You may have heard of Moston Brook Valley before. If you drive up Broadway from Oldham Road and notice the mature trees on each side then you’ve passed right through it.

This is an invitation to take a stroll around it but really I’d prefer you to stay away. That way I could keep it all to myself!

Behind the trees the valley stretches in one direction towards Hardman Fold and onto Wrigley Head where it links to the Rochdale Canal. In the other direction it incorporates the Lower Failsworth Memorial Land and borders Moston Fairway, and beyond there’s a nature reserve.

There are pathways, a park with bowling greens and tennis courts, allotments, meadows, waterside walks and woodland. All slap bang in the middle of a city suburb! Early morning, warm afternoon or dusky evening it really is surprisingly peaceful.

It wasn’t aways like this. When my children were small we used it as a short cut to the park or nearest bus stop and occasionally I’d take them there to pick wild berries. It was wild, fairly open and bleak in parts – very grassy and boggy in others. The paths were rough, usually muddy and overgrown.

In winter it was largely inaccessible. Summer was better but the boggy areas were popular with flying bugs. The terrain was perfect for local bikers who roared around it in the evening. I regularly shook my fist at them but they didn’t stop.

Historically it truly was wasteland. Used as a dumping ground by local industry, including a brickworks, town councils freely deposited household waste there. In the early part of the 1900s it must have been a real eye-sore. Over the years the dumping ceased and the land was gradually infilled.

In the 1970s and 80s footpaths and steps were created while landscaping included the planting of trees and shrubs. For a while it even housed an urban farm! There were long periods when it was simply left to go wild.

Gradually, the trees have matured and nature has worked its magic. There is now an abundance of wildlife, birds and fauna that simply wasn’t there before. Funding has come from every direction: Manchester and Oldham Councils, DEFRA, The Environment Agency, United Utilities, Lancaster Club Trustees, local business Onefile and even Asda and Tesco.

This has enabled overgrown areas to be cut back, good quality paths laid, signposts, new toilets and several new stone wall entrances to be built. This year stone carvings and wood sculptures have been added and even more improvements are planned. The future looks good.

There are lots of opportunities to get out, take part and, if you fancy it, volunteer. Organised activities take place throughout the year including Family Fun Days, bug-hunting, den-making, bat survey training, small mammal trapping, art workshops, carol singing (at Christmas!).

Regular clean-up operations are organised by the Canal and River Trust and local residents volunteer to pick up rubbbish when they find it.

Come along, take a walk and see for yourself. There’s a Moston Brook Friends Group on Facebook (mostonbrookfriends@gmail.com) or you can contact the Moston Brook Project Officer (ann.bates@oldham.gov.uk) for more info.

… and you drive miles to enjoy the countryside? Honestly, it’s closer than you think.

Images by Tricia Beddow and courtesy of the Moston Brook project.

“What inspired you to become a youth worker?”

We had our blogging workshop for young people at The Factory Youth Zone in Harpurhey last night. Teenagers from The Factory and 4CT in East Manchester came together for a writing and photography session led by Another Music’s resident blogger, Len Grant.

After practicing some interview techniques the young people enjoyed interviewing their own youth workers, Ellie and Jenna, quizzing them about their professional and personal lives.

They then used Len’s professional camera to take portraits, thinking about composition, the background and where the light was coming from.

These are the young people’s blogs and photographs:

Ellie

Ellie started childminding and youth working when she was 17 and worked with children with English as second language when she was 18. She ran a playgroup for young refugees from Germany. She’s worked at The Factory for two years.

She was inspired by her teachers to help children and young people.

She enjoys horror movies and like dogs because they are friendly and make her happy.

Her favourite memory of The Factory is the Slip ‘n’ Slide!Jenna

When she was younger there wasn’t much for her to do but she did go to her local youth centre. As she grew older she realised the impact of the youth centre and that has inspired her to be a youth worker.

Jenna works for 4CT with young people aged 11-14 in East and North Manchester.

She likes the variety in her job, every day is different. She dislikes not having enough time to do everything she wants to do and her biggest challenge is being restricted by budgets.

One of her favourite accomplishments was helping with safety and security after a fire in a hostel she was living in.

She lives in Levenshulme and is going on holiday tomorrow.

Well done to Angel, Courtney, Nessa, Rikaya, Lewis, Jessica and Connor from 4CT (and thanks to Noreen); and to Jak, Jake, Karl and Katlyn from The Factory Youth Zone.

“We’re from North Manchester, we don’t normally get strings.”

“Can we just do it again? Big smiles. Give it 100% now. Then we’re going to get into our costumes and perform it to parents.”

Mad Theatre’s Creative Director Rob is firing encouragement at the nine young actors on the small stage in Manchester Communication Academy’s drama studio. Tomorrow is the big day. Now one final run through before tonight’s dress rehearsal.

Ten minutes later they all come off stage and I get the chance to ask Rob what it’s all about.

“We did some work with Seddons, the construction people, last year,” he explains. “We performed a piece about Manchester’s industrial past at some swanky do at the People’s History Museum in town.

“We must have done all right because they asked us to come back and do it again this year. This time to work with the Manchester Camerata and perform a piece about the city’s cultural history.

Rob tells me this year’s do is in the Whispering Room at Manchester’s Central Library. Mad Theatre will perform their tribute to ‘Madchester’ music accompanied by a string quartet, keyboard player and a percussionist.

Specially-printed T shirts, trainers and Stone Roses-inspired ‘bucket hats’ are handed out and the performers disappear to get changed.

“So I wrote a piece starting from when the Sex Pistols played at the Lower Free Trade Hall,” continues Rob, “fast-forwarding through the whole Madchester scene with a bit of Shelagh Delaney thrown in.”

I love Mad Theatre’s approach. Time and again they produce wonderful performances about real life, about things that matter. It’s very well done and a pleasure to watch.

“And what’s also been great,” says Rob, “is that, just like we do with our Forever Manchester partners in Harpurhey and Moston, we’re making a joint bid with the Camerata for a totally new project.”

Once the performers have changed and parents start to arrive for the dress rehearsal, I put my tape recorder in front of 15-year-old James. “You sing about the bomb?” I say.

“There’s a line in the Smiths’ song which goes, ‘If it’s not love, then it’s the bomb that will bring us together.’

“And, as young people, this performance been a really good way for us to express how we feel about the most recent Manchester bombing.

“It’s saying, there is nothing that’s going to stop us. We’re Mancs, we’re strong.”

“And what’s this been like?” I ask, nodding towards the string quartet.

“It’s been absolutely amazing because we’ve never worked with an orchestra before. It’s been eye-opening. Today is the first time we’ve performed live with them. Until now we’ve been working with a recording. It’s a real kick with the live performers.”

17-year-old Jake is tonight’s frontman. Apparently he fronts his own band too, at the music college he attends. Tonight he’s Johnny Rotten, Morrissey and Shaun Ryder, in quick succession. “Have you had to watch a lot of music videos to get into the roles?”

“No, not at all. I’m really passionate about Morrissey and the Manchester bands. This is the sort of music I listen to, so I know all the words.”

The parents have now arrived. Jake, James and the rest of the young people are back on stage as Rob finishes a short introduction.

With a nod to the musicians, Jake kicks them all off: “A one, a two, a one, two, three, four…”

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