“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.

Celebration time for Fourteen

It wasn’t meant to be like this. Jane said I only had to say a few words about this blog but now I’m up on stage compèring the whole event.

She’s prepared a script so I start with that. It’s the last time I stick to it all evening. “Welcome and thanks for coming. Tonight is all about celebrating the amazing achievements made by local people, helped along by funding from the Fourteen programme through Spirit of 2012.”

We’re at The Miners in Moston and the place is buzzing with people from different groups across Harpurhey and Moston. Community co-ordinator Jane Ellis is up on stage too – a first, she says as she invites Helen and Graeme of Forever Manchester to the microphone.

“What I love about Harpurhey and Moston are the people who have the passion for this community and who want to get involved to make a difference,” says Helen. “So thank you for your involvement and thank you for coming along tonight.”

Graeme tells us how his role as Community Builder has been a real pleasure. “I’m not going to mention all the 60-odd projects we’ve funded,” he says, “but they range from a youth leadership programme to using hanging baskets to bring people together on a local estate and much more.”

We’ve got a packed programme for the night and young filmmakers Josh and David from Modify Productions come and tell us about the film they’ve produced about all the positive goings-on in north Manchester. They’re back here on Tuesday night with the premiere.

“I’d like to officially present Trish with the Another Music blog,” I say once I’ve explained how this blog will now be written totally by the local community, another of many legacies of the Fourteen programme. “Has anyone got a camera?” I ask as Barbara jumps up to snap us with an oversized computer screen. Thanks Barbara.

Local singer-songwriter Tyler J Bolton provides the first of our musical interludes followed by the Amani Choir whose 20-odd singers just about fit on stage.

“This is about bringing different communities together,” says Emmanuela by way of introduction. “At Amani Creatives we use art to create social change by providing opportunities like this choir.”

Following the wonderful performances including exquisite solos I encourage Barbara from Creative Community up on her feet. She’s keen to explain how Fourteen funding helped her weekly art group.

“Everyone knows that fundraising these days is difficult, so being awarded a grant for equipment and materials lightened, quite frankly, a heavy load,” she says.

Jane’s next up, telling us about the literally life-saving work of the Frank Cohen Centre on Moston Lane. She’s been instrumental in supporting this alcohol addiction service which is close to her heart. “I can barely find the words to explain their impact on people’s lives,” she says.

After the Tai Chi demonstration by 75-year-old David who gets everyone on their feet for a warm-up – this is no ordinary evening out – I encourage our host to the stage.

“I call you the Modest Man of Moston Louis because you get on and do all this stuff and you don’t shout about it,” I say. “You’ve won some awards haven’t you?”

“The first one we won was the Forever Manchester Most Inspirational Project, that was the best one, wasn’t it Paula?” We encourage Louis’ partner on stage. “Before that we’d never had any praise for anything. Then we won the Manchester Proud Awards for Best Community Project and the Best of the Best.” Whoops and cheers all round.

Jane finally thanks everyone for coming and announces Louis’ famous pies are being served. Phew.

I leave Moston full of meat pie and pleased I didn’t make a total fool of myself on stage, with a twinge or two of sadness as my time with the Fourteen programme and the Another Music blog is now over.

Over the last 15 months I have met, and written about, some amazing local people selflessly working hard, with dwindling resources, for the benefit of others.

It makes me cross to read negative stories in the local news about an area which is so rich in positivity and pride. Can those journalists not get from behind their computer screens and come and see what’s really going on here? Or at least read Another Music for some inspiration!

“So, what’s your idea?”

Continued from “We help develop the ideas they feel passionate about.”

There’s an energy in the upstairs meeting room. An energy of three teenagers working away on their winning projects, bouncing ideas off their mentors and each other. Trish and I chat to each of them in turn.

For the youth, by the youth
“My business partner, Dublin and I were meant to be revising at home but instead we went into town. On the way we agreed that revising was no fun but if we didn’t get down to it we were going to fail. That’s when we decided to make a revision web app.”

Dapo and Dublin, already fluent in a number of computer programming languages, are taking their GSCEs in a few months time as well as launching their GSCE Maths Cloud App.

“Aren’t the big corporations doing this sort of thing already,” we ask, “why would two 15-year-olds from north Manchester be ahead of the game?”

“It’s for the youth, by the youth. We understand how young people want to learn.” says Dapo confidently before telling us how their videos and podcasts will cater for different learning styles. “You’ll earn points as you revise and they’ll be incentives, like gift cards and books.”

A beta version of the app has already been tested with 2,000 student visits each day. “We’ve had ideas before but we haven’t been able to see things through. The Agency has given us the proper training we’ve needed, we couldn’t have done this ourselves.”

Dynamic Beginnings
“It took a while to develop my idea but I knew I wanted to do something around music because I love it so much,” says Aneka. “I know it really helps people to write down or release feelings through music.”

“So, what’s your idea?” we ask.

“It’s a project consisting of 10 workshops ending with a showcase. It’s aimed at young people to build their singing and songwriting skills. They’ll do both group and individual work so that they get an all-round experience.

“The final showcase will be a chance to show what they’ve learned and what they achieved and they can choose to perform as a group or individually. The aim is to build up their confidence, prove what they can do and hopefully pursue music in the future.”

Aneka’s been busy organising the workshops so, had she enjoyed it and what were her plans?

“Oh yes, and, once I’ve finished my GCSE’s, I hope to continue with the idea and do another series of workshops in the summer. I’ll have more time to plan, a better idea of how much funding I’ll need and how to promote it better. I’ll know much more about what’s involved.”

Workshops are continuing at The Miners in Moston until April. Contact dynamicbeginningsmcr@gmail.com for more information.

Empowering young sportswomen
“My dream would be to get into Team GB as a pro boxer, says Faidat. “I box down at the Collyhurst gym – it’s a great place – but it’s made me realise how difficult it is for young women to get into elite sport.

“Boys have it easier. In pretty much every sport, there are scouts looking out for new male talent, but it’s not the same for girls. So my campaign is called EmpowHerr. I’ll be encouraging more girls into sport and, at the same time, encouraging scouts and elite players to support them.”

“So what will you do exactly?”

“I’ll be visiting schools, speaking to girls interested in sport and signpost them to different clubs. At the moment the aspiration amongst girls to get into sport is quite low. In areas like ours young people don’t often make it in elite sport, unless it’s football.”

Faidat tells us she’s planning a sports day for young women. “It’s called Powerherr Day and I’ll bring girls together from different areas to compete against each other – athletics, football, basketball – watched by scouts and supported by elite players from each sport.

“I’m trying to break down barriers. If I can get two girls into Team GB my job is done. That’s what I’m aiming for.”

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