“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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“It’s a great honour to have a parent’s trust.”

“Today is particularly important because it’s about safeguarding children,” says Shelley. “Volunteers are being trained in what to do if they see or hear anything that concerns them.”

I’ve come to the Turkey Lane and Monsall Centre in Harpurhey to sit in on a training course led by the family support charity Home-Start.

“Do you mind if I’m a fly on the wall?” I ask once I’ve introduced myself.

“We’re doing a quiz to establish what we already know,” says workshop leader Shelley Roberts pointing out little cards strewn in front of the participants. “Safeguarding is a really grey area and we all bring our own experiences to each situation.”

Home-Start is a national network of independent family support charities. They each recruit and train local volunteers who visit families with young children. All the volunteers have parenting experience and, with the charity’s help, they offer guidance to other parents who might be struggling to cope.

There’s a lively discussion around smacking. Is it ever acceptable? “If a child is having a tantrum then smacking isn’t going to help,” says one woman, “you have to find the reason for the tantrum.”

“There are other techniques to control your child,” says another.

“Smacking is a really contentious issue, isn’t it?” says Shelley. “There are lots of generational and cultural factors around smacking a child.”

During a tea break I ask Shelley how they get to know about families in need. “Mostly through the health visitors,” she says, “because all our families have at least one child under five and are still being seen by a health visitor. But also through GPs, nurseries and other health practitioners.”

I’m introduced to some of the volunteers. Bukky, Afi and Amna have already been working for the charity and are using the training session as a refresher.

“This training is really useful,” says Bukky, “not just for the work you do with other families but it gives you more confidence with your own. It helps you make informed decisions.”

“Before I worked with Home Start I was feeling very low,” says Afi. “But by helping someone else it really boosted my confidence. I’ve now got a job. Yes, it’s improved my life definitely.”

“What have you got out of volunteering?” I ask Amna who says she first did this training course three years ago.

“Honestly, it’s given me a lot of knowledge,” she says, “and it’s a great opportunity to gain experience.” Amna tells me something about one of the families she’s already supported. “The mother would share things with me that she hadn’t shared with anyone else and that’s a great honour to have someone’s trust.”

Before the mugs are put back in the kitchen and the session resumes, I hear from new recruit Sarah whose daughter’s autism diagnosis prompted a career change.

“She’s five now and is getting lots of help at her school but for me, as a parent, I feel as if I’ve been put through the mill,” says Sarah. “The process made me feel isolated with no emotional and practical support. I want to help other people who might be going through the same experience.”

This will be Sarah’s first volunteering role and she’s looking to switch to a caring career, maybe as a support worker. “I’m not sure what field I want to go into but I do feel this is going to be a great starting point.”

“Let’s move on,” says Shelley as she encourages everyone back to the table. “Let’s talk about how you might recognise the signs of neglect and abuse.”

The Home-Start training courses In Harpurhey and Moston have been supported by the Fourteen programme. The next training course starts in January in Moston. Contact Shelley on 0161 721 4493 for details.

A winner amongst winners

They’ve only gone and done it again!

Louis Beckett and his volunteer team at The Miners Arts and Music Centre in Moston has not only won the Community Project of the Year Award at Manchester’s Be Proud Awards but also scooped the Pride of Manchester Award 2017 too, presented to the winner of winners.

“On the night it didn’t really hit me,” Louis tells me. “But a few days later I’m thinking, this is big.”

“It is big,” I say, “and congratulations.”

Earlier this year I wrote about the amazing work Louis and his team have done bringing this old miners’ washrooms back into life for the community. In an area where facilities are sparse, The Miners has provided a venue for community groups to flourish.

“We’ve done it from nothing, haven’t we?” reflects Louis. “We’re bringing people together, I can see that now.”

“It’s not as if you’re motivated by profit, are you?” I suggest. “You’re motivated by other things.”

Those other things, for Louis, include his belief in social justice. Only last week I attended a sell-out fundraising event featuring Ken Loach, the acclaimed film director of social documentary films like the recent I, Daniel Blake that was screened in the Centre’s own cinema on the night. All the profits from that event went to the critical work of the Salford Unemployed & Community Resource Centre.

“I’m keen to bring people together,” says Louis. “Rather than being sat at home watching the telly, I’d like people to come here, have a cheap beer or brew and have a chat with someone. I think we do that well.”

When The Miners first opened they hosted Barbara Shaw’s Creative Community, and still do. “And we’ve got a dance group that started small and now has 30-odd kids coming on two nights a week.”

The events they’ve hosted range from cooking sessions to Zumba classes. They’ve been home to Contact Theatre’s cultural entrepreneur programme and followed that with a sewing academy and fashion show. There’s a kids’ drama group, a new fine arts group, all on top of a popular series of gigs and social events.

“You must be feeling pretty good about this,” I suggest.

“I am now,” says Louis.

This isn’t the first time the great work of The Miners as been recognised. Last year Louis lifted the Forever Manchester gong for Most Inspirational Project. No doubt the two new trophies will join this one alongside the homemade meat pies in the café’s display cabinet.

Well done Louis and all at The Miners.

Check out The Miners Facebook page for events and updates.

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