There are nine today, sitting around a square of tables, heads down, making cards.
“We usually have more,” says Barbara as I settle myself into an empty chair, “but four are poorly with chest infections.”
We’re in the community room at The Miners in Moston, the hub of all things creative in this part of town and an increasingly important venue for the local estate and beyond.
Barbara Shaw has been voluntarily running her Creative Community craft sessions for nearly five years now. I scribble everyone’s name down as she introduces me to her group.
There’s Jean and Marie. And Kath ‘with a K’ clicking her knitting needles together as the others sponge pastel colours onto their artwork. Cath ‘with a C’ is the newest member of the group, recently moved from Moss Side to be near her daughter.
And then there’s Dawn and Ann, ‘without an e’ followed by Denise and her husband Trevor. “With a T,” says Trevor.
“So what do you actually do?” I ask.
“We make handmade greeting cards,” says Barbara, “and Kath teaches knitting to those who would rather knit.”
“I haven’t got the patience for all the fiddly bits,” says Kath, still clicking, “so I knit… and talk.”
“We do a lot of talking,” laughs Marie.
In amongst the cutting and sticking, daubing and dabbing, there’s a lot of laughter and banter in this group. I’m not sure how the discussion about parking on pavements started but everyone throws in their two penneth. Next it’s Joe Pasquale.
Originally from Portsmouth Barbara trained as a psychiatric nurse but later moved into community education. She worked at the Abraham Moss Centre and spent some years driving the Cheetham community bus. “So I’ve always worked with people and the community,” she tells me.
Later she moved back into psychiatric work, this time using craft with the long-term mentally-ill. The sticking and the cutting built self-esteem amongst her clientele and Barbara encouraged many of them into further education or employment.
With cuts to mental health services, Barbara’s group was shut down. Undeterred but convinced of the value of art therapy, she set up a new group, as a volunteer, that expanded into the wider community.
“So now we have an activity group where there is an understanding of mental health. If you have a mental health problem and want to talk about it then fair enough, but you don’t have to. Do you need a sponge for that, Cath?”