“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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“We’re here to help anyone who needs us.”

Wednesday morning is usually set aside for collecting food for their ‘Collect and Go’ food bank but the volunteer with the transport is unwell today.

“Once we’ve brought it back to this office we’ll bag it up for distribution,” explains Mary. “I’ll have to try and pick it all up first thing tomorrow morning.”

Through African Voice in Moston (AVIM) Mary Stephens and a band of volunteers have been supporting local people in North Manchester for the past six years.

From little more than two upstairs rooms on the Shiredale Estate in Harpurhey, Mary and her team help with all types of issues faced by struggling families.

“With the weekly food bank we don’t just give out food,” she says, “we try and get to the root of the problem. When someone comes for the first time we will sit and talk about their situation. If, for instance, their benefits have stopped we can work with them to get them reinstated.”

AVIM’s support ranges from job searching to language classes to homework clubs. Over the last year they’ve had support from Forever Manchester’s Fourteen programme to run training courses that help people get work.

“It all started when there were only a few African families in Moston,” recalls Mary. “There was no advice available to help people settle into the community.”

“And good information is so important,” I suggest.

“Newcomers were unable to interpret an unfamiliar system around schools, the benefit system and immigration rules,” she says. “They were making wrong judgements about the place.”

For the first three years Mary and her team had no office but would run drop-ins at the local health centre and youth club.

“What motivates you to want to help?” I ask.

Mary laughs. “Good question. I have the best of both cultures. I was born here but have African Heritage, so I can see things from both sides. I wanted to use that perspective to help people in the community.”

As a mother of five Mary moved from London to Manchester. She studied for a university degree while pregnant with her sixth child and still found time to volunteer for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.

“If you set your heart to it, anything is achievable,” she says. “And I wanted to get that message across to young mothers. I worked with a group to encourage pregnant teenagers to do things with their lives. Having a child should not tie you down, anything is possible.”

“And now you use that determination to help the whole community,” I suggest. “It must be very satisfying. But you don’t just help people of African descent, do you?”

“It’s only a name,” says Mary emphatically. “We provide a service to anyone in the community who needs what we offer. I always stress that. But yes, we also deal with cultural issues that others agencies may feel ill-equipped to help with. We’re able to bridge the gap.”

“And what of the future? I ask. “Where would you like this organisation to go?”

“We’re looking to expand,” says Mary. “We’d like to help even more people and get more volunteers on board. But we need a bigger place.”

She tells me of a building close by, owned by the Council, that has been unoccupied for a number of years. “We’d love to occupy that,” she says, “it’s on the ground floor, there are four rooms from which we could run activities. We’ve made some enquires and are waiting to hear back.”

“It sounds perfect,” I say. “Good luck.”

African Voice in Moston can be contacted on 07440775115 or 0161 312 1244, and through their website.