“It’s about empowerment and promoting social inclusion”

The Widows Empowerment Trust (WET) were in my local Morrisons a week or two ago offering to pack my bag in exchange for a small donation. WET, I discovered, is a newly formed charity offering support primarily to widows and widowers.

Their founder, Oyovwe Kigho, was ‘hands on’ so I arranged to meet her and find out more. “It’s about empowerment and promoting social inclusion” she tells me.“What does that mean and what led you to set up the charity?” I ask.

“I have a few friends and family that are bereaved and I was aware of the isolation, the loneliness in them. They didn’t want to mix with other people or get engaged in the community. After a loss fewer people would visit, or phone them and they struggled, became depressed.

I felt real empathy and compassion for them. So I set the charity up to support widows in that situation who were in need.”

The support is provided in a number of ways. Sometimes it’s out in the community as part of a befriending service, a couple of hours chatting, walking, shopping. They arrange trips and meals out to encourage widows to socialise and run a couple of support sessions locally.“On Tuesday’s we run a craft based workshop with activities such as sewing, knitting or crocheting. It’s an opportunity to meet other widows and socialise.

Also, on Thursdays we organise a workshop for people who are suffering from dementia. We do arts and crafts like painting alongside dancing, playing music, singing. It’s held at the Each Step Care Home and around 10 to 20 people attend, some are residents and others live nearby. It’s a lovely group and really enjoyable.”

I decided to go along and see for myself. Each Step Care Home is a modern, bright, well lit building in Blackley, cheerful and clean with a garden and cafe.

I’m taken through to a lounge area to see a small group sat around a long table doing crafts. Gradually more people arrive. There’s music and karaoke compliments of Richard who, along with Oyovwe, encourages everyone along and there are plenty of volunteers to join in the singing and dancing.As promised the group were lovely and thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

Running the charity is not without its challenges. Raising funds is a time consuming necessity and committed volunteers are much needed for roles such as office admin, befriending, PR, fundraising and more. Oyovwe also has her own young family to look after and I truly admire her.

“You don’t have to be a widow to see the pain that bereavement causes. I put myself in their shoes, understand how they feel. It’s what gives me that push, that drive.

I can see the impact of what we are doing. Some have really improved in their confidence.

It’s helped them to meet other widows and I hope it’s raised awareness amongst the community and families too.”

If someone offers to pack your bag at the supermarket please let them and, if you can, make a donation to whichever cause they are collecting for. It’s a fair exchange.

More about the trust and full details of the volunteer opportunities can be found on the Widows Empowerment Trust website and Facebook page.

Or contact Oyovwe on 07472 064322  /  email: info@widowsempowment.com

Mrs Mazza

Visits to the Lightbowne area of Moston in the late 1950s were a delight. My maternal grandad, a retired railway goods guard, lived on Hanson Road and one of his brothers on Hugo Street. Two more brothers were in Blackley and Collyhurst, with a sister in Harpurhey, but another brother lived on Attleboro Road, before moving to Eccles, and my mum’s sister was at Adrian Street: quite a little clan!The author, aged about four, in the back yard of 5 Hanson Road, Moston.

Every couple of weeks or so, we would stroll down Nuthurst Road, St Marys Road and Jackson Street (now Joyce Street) to perform our family “state visit” to Hanson Road, often spending an hour or two at other addresses, depending who was in.

My grandparents were the sort of people who always had time for the kids, and their house, though a humble two-up, two-down terrace, with donkey-stoned front step and a small back yard, was always spotless and full of interesting bits and bobs. First World War brass shell-cases, polished up as bright as gold, small but colourful flower-beds and hanging baskets, home-made rag rugs in front of the coal-fired iron range, and a lean-to kitchen that always smelled of Fairy household soap.

There was also a harmonium in the parlour but, as was still common in those days, we rarely went in there – that was for special occasions, like weddings and funerals! And, of course, children never went upstairs without being invited: Edwardian protocol was still very much in vogue.

The loo, if you needed it, was in a brick lean-to in the yard, kept brightly whitewashed. Once, my grandad took me upstairs for the view out of the front bedroom window, which overlooked Lightbowne carriage sidings and the engine sheds at Newton Heath.

If the adults had some serious chatting to do, I would occasionally be left to my own devices. My two sisters were usually there, too, but one was only a toddler and the other old enough to join in the adult conversations, so both tended to stay in the house. I would drift off, exploring the myriad back entries (no-one called them alleys, then) or kicking a ball around with local kids.

As I got a little older, I would sometimes be trusted with a message for one of the other nearby kinfolk, or sent on an errand to one of the shops that almost every street corner had.Mum crossing Egbert Street near Langworthy Road in 1940. Mrs Mazza’s was the shop on the left.

There was a cluster of shops along Egbert Street, not far away, the most memorable of which was Mrs Mazza’s ice-cream parlour, at number 33.  She would sell you a cone or wafer, of course, but her speciality was catering for parties or tea-time treats. You could take a baking-bowl and ask for, say, two dozen scoops, with or without raspberry sauce, to be dished out back at the house. It was proper iced cream, too, made on the premises and with a consistency like compacted snow, unlike some of the slithery synthetic stuff available nowadays.

Over the years, I have frequently been surprised at how many people still remember this shop – you inspired a generation, Mrs Mazza!

Sadly, my gran passed away in 1967 and, shortly afterwards, grandad elected to move to a retirement home in Eccles, close to his youngest brother. Not long afterwards, the southern end of Hanson Road, including grandad’s house, was demolished, along with part of Hugo Street and the whole of the carriage sidings site. Further house clearances continued into the 1990s (when the last shops on Egbert Street went) and only a few terraces at the northern end now remain.

The general layout and names of the streets have survived, however, with modern housing at the southernmost end. Alas, this new development incorporates no shops at all…

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“It’s the stretch zone where learning takes place”

I’m at the Simpson Memorial Hall, Moston to observe a couple of sessions of the LAB Project run by Chris Higham and Sarah Jones of the Proper Job Theatre Company. I’ve done my homework and this course would suit me down to the ground.

People start to arrive. It’s a small group of mixed nationalities and, for most of them, English is their second language. Like me they’re a bit nervous.

“Would you mind if I just join in?” I ask Chris. “Of course, stay as long as you like.” So, I do. The whole two weeks in fact.

First, the house rules, toilets, break times, etc., then Chris says “Try to take part in as much as you can. We ‘challenge by choice’ so if there’s anything you feel you can’t or don’t want to do, you don’t have to.” Then, it’s straight into an ice-breaker game.There‘s a daily workbook to fill in but otherwise there are no hand-outs, presentations, desks or lectures. Over the next few days we played various activities, listened, talked, signalled and even sang (and I don’t sing as a rule). We learned about each other, our similarities and differences, the importance of body language, feedback and learning styles. Also, about being in our comfort zone, getting into our stretch zone, avoiding panic… and, along the way, we all became friends.

Chris and Sarah were joined by a volunteer, Billie, who’d completed the course last year. They were incredibly patient and how they transformed a few shy strangers into a troupe of budding thespians in such a short time was simply impressive.As the school drama workshop loomed closer. Sarah outlined each role. “Who wants to be first to volunteer?” She glanced at us and we all glanced at each other, tight-lipped.

“Feeling nervous is normal, it’s ok.” Chris said. “It’s a natural emotional response but not a negative one. Learning how to manage nerves is what’s important. Think of that stretch zone and give it a go. If you don’t like it you can change your mind.”

“We’ll run through it without any scripts first. I’ll talk each of you through your part. Billie and I’ll do the actions, you watch and then you copy.” said Sarah. “Get the story into your head first. Learning any lines will come easier.” One by one the parts were filled.I have to skip a day and don’t join them again until we go to the school and perform the drama workshop. They told me later how nervous they’d felt beforehand but how elated they were afterwards. Their performance blew me away. The children loved it and so did the teachers.The project didn’t end with just a certificate, a gift for attending and a round of applause like most other courses. The LAB project concludes with a progression session. Various organisations are invited to meet the group and help them take the next step towards employment. They’re given information, signed up for further courses, training, work placements or voluntary work – whatever they ‘chose’ to do.What can I say? Was it the best course I’d ever been on? Yes – and I’ve been on lots. Do I still get nervous? Yes – but less often and I can deal with it. Am I more confident? Yes – and I’m so grateful.

For contact details and to find out more visit the LAB website. There’s video on there – it’s quite inspirational.