“Tell me some of the highlights.”

continued from The Forever Manchester team reflect on Fourteen’s legacy

The three year programme officially came to an end in December but a part-time administrator – Jane Ellis – has been recruited for a few months to help make all the new connections sustainable. And soon everyone involved will come together for an evening of celebration at The Miners in Moston.

“I have to say I’m missing the place already,” says Graeme.

“What was your highlight in your time as the man on the ground, the community builder?” I ask.

“Oh, I have loads of highlights,” says Graeme, “but I’m especially pleased with the work we did on the Shiredale Estate. It was a particularly difficult area to get on, no one would even answer their doors to begin with.”

Graeme tells of supporting a young mum, who’d lived on the estate all her life and wasn’t happy with the lack of facilities for young children. Not knowing where to start, she accepted Graeme’s help and eventually set up a family and children’s project.

“That was one of the strongest outcomes for me,” he says, “because I know I’ve helped get something off the ground that will run and run. She is now on the management committee of the local community centre and is a real role model for others.”

“And she’s grown so much in self-confidence, hasn’t she?” adds Helen. “She’s one step closer to finding a job when the timing is right for her.”

“Absolutely,” agrees Graeme. “A few weeks ago, someone from that estate said to me, I was one of them, which is the biggest compliment anyone could give me in this job.”

“What lessons would you say that you, as the professionals, have learnt from the Fourteen programme?” I ask.

“We’ve never done the two things – the community building and the funding programme – together before. So that’s been new for us,” says Rachel. “And now, looking back, we can see that you don’t necessarily need a huge pot of money to be successful.”

“How’s that?”

“The funding was good to have, no doubt,” says Rachel. “Without it we would probably not have made the initial successes and relationships so quickly and positively.

“But the biggest, and most sustainable, successes have come from the connections we’ve made happen. So that would be the learning: you don’t need that level of money to have the same success.”

I must have looked unconvinced because Graeme offers an example. “Last month the older ladies at The Wellbeing Centre were complaining they didn’t understand how to use their tablets and smart phones.

“So I arranged for some young people from the Factory Youth Zone to come down one afternoon – it’s only the other side of the precinct, isn’t it? – to give them a lesson. So we had these 14-year-olds teaching the 80-year-olds all about new technology. Everyone had a great afternoon. And it only cost a tenner for some mince pies and cakes.”

“Brilliant,” I say.

“For me,” says Helen, “I’m moved by the stories from individuals who’ve told us that their lives have changed for the better because of our programme. I’d be happy to know we’ve changed just one life but we hear those stories again and again. I love all that.”

“And for each one there are positive ripples that affect their family and friends,” adds Rachel. “Overall, I’d say Fourteen in Harpurhey and Moston has been a wonderful opportunity for us to learn how we can best work with local communities.”

“That’ll do,” I say. “That’s a good place to stop.”

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The Forever Manchester team reflect on Fourteen’s legacy

“Remind me what this Fourteen programme is all about,” I ask once we’re all settled in the Forever Manchester meeting room with our brews.

For the last three years Forever Manchester has worked with local people to give out £200,000 of lottery money in the Harpurhey and Moston areas of north Manchester.

This blog – Another Music – has been part of that programme and, now the money is spent, it seems a good time for a review. From the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

“It goes back to the 2012 Olympics,” explains Rachel Hirst, Head of Communities, “when a vast number of people came together to volunteer in sport and the arts. A lottery fund was set up called Spirit of 2012 that was inspired by all that positivity.”

“And Fourteen is a Spirit of 2012 programme, isn’t it? But why did you decide on Harpurhey and Moston?”

Helen Capiter, Community Building Co-ordinator, chips in. “Geographically it was the right size but we were aware that north Manchester hadn’t had the same sort of investment that others parts of the city had seen. And there was lots of opportunity to connect groups together.”

As well as giving out grants to community groups in Greater Manchester, Forever Manchester works towards making local communities more resilient, more able to cope.

Over the last few years they’ve adopted a fresh approach which involves connecting people together and building on local strengths.

Graeme Urlwin has been the community builder for the programme: “My first impression? Probably like everyone else’s who has never been there. I thought it would be dreadful. But that’s down to the negative news headlines and the awful TV programmes that local people have had to suffer.

“Once I’d got to know the place, I realised it wasn’t like that at all. There are loads of positives too.”

Graeme tells us he’s been looking through the archives of the local paper. “There were about 130 stories about Harpurhey and Moston last year,” he tells us, “and only four were positive.”

“You feel demoralised if you’re always being told your area is rubbish the whole time,” says Helen. “That’s why this blog is so important, it’s getting the positive stories out there.”

The Fourteen programme requires local people to be involved in the grant-making process. Working with grass roots organisations is right up Forever Manchester’s street. They set up a ‘local reference group’ – see this link – but didn’t foresee just how successful that group would be.

“We needed the group to help us administer the funds but we had no idea how many positive connections and collaborations would spin off from that,” says Helen.

“Yes, I wrote about some of that,” I recall, “the theatre group working with the boxing club, for instance, and with the football club and then all three working together. And lots more…”

“That’s part of the legacy that I’m most proud of, definitely,” says Helen. “All of that has come from the passion that group has for the area.”

“And, to give credit to Helen and Graeme,” says Rachel, “the way that small group has been encouraged and supported has been so important. The Local Reference Group has helped us find all the assets of the community and connect them together.”

Continued in “Tell me some of the highlights.”

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They call it their passion project

“Moston and Harpurhey have had such negative headlines in the media,” says Josh, “we’re determined to give a voice to local people and show how powerful this community really is.”

I’m sitting in the back room of The Miners Community Arts and Music Centre with young filmmakers Josh Wilkinson and David Hall, aka Modify Productions. They’re telling me about the documentary they’re making about many of the community groups in this area.

“We don’t want to put our own spin on the film,” adds David. “There’s nothing about us in it. It really is a project by the community, for the community.”

As a photographer and writer, I’ve done a few passion projects myself: self-initiated pieces of work about a subject you feel strongly about. Because no one is paying you have the creative freedom to do what you like. Hopefully prospective clients like your approach and commission something themselves.

“Have you found anything that’s surprised you while you’ve been making the film?” I ask.

“I’ve grown up in Moston and hadn’t appreciated how much positivity there is about,” says Josh. “I can get the bus into town, look out on a grey day, and not realise how many little hubs of goodness there are about the place.”

Only just into their twenties, these two have known each other since they were 12. They were both in front of the camera before deciding to make a career of being behind it.

“We used to go to an acting class in Manchester together,” says Josh, “although my very first theatrical experience was with Moston’s MAD Theatre company up the road.”

David studied performing arts and was part of the National Youth Theatre in London. “It was only a couple of years ago that I started to branch out into media,” he says. “I just bought a camera and taught myself through books and videos on YouTube.”

I’m impressed. “You’ve learnt all your technical expertise from YouTube?”

“Pretty much, yes,” he says. “A few years back you’d have no alternative but to go to film school to get access to all the expensive cameras and editing suites. But now the technology is accessible and there’s a wealth of information online.

“There are still good reasons for going to university but the reasons are more to do with networking and making contacts.”

“And tell me about the name,” I ask. “Why are you called Modify Productions?”

“We came up with some obvious names for a film production company but, when we researched them, they were all taken,” says Josh. “We want to shake things up a bit, do it differently and the name came from that really.”

Josh and David are certainly clued up and I’m convinced they’re going to make a success of their production company. Already they’ve completed some promotional films for commercial clients and even won a competition for a short horror film. While they’re getting started they both still have part-time jobs but already have an eye on the future.

“In a few years time we’d like to be working on Modify full time,” says David, “maybe have an office in town and a group of creative collaborators around us. But we’d still be making our passion projects…”

“So when can we expect to see your Moston and Harpurhey film?”

“It’ll be premiered in March, just across the way,” says Josh, pointing to the Moston Small Cinema on the other side of the bar, “but we haven’t set a date yet. We’ve got a few weeks of editing yet, working out how it all fits together.”

As I switch my tape recorder off, Josh and David turn the tables. David sets up as I’m sat in front of an impressive-looking video camera, Josh fixes up some lights and within minutes I too am a subject for their documentary.

“So,” asks David, “what has struck you about Moston and Harpurhey as you’ve been writing the Another Music blog?”