Keeping the options open for local young people

“We’ve got lots going on at the moment,” Pamela says as she leads me upstairs for our chat. “We’re preparing for a local parade just now.”

The Chill Out Room at The Factory Youth Zone has comfy chairs and sofas; books about anger management and sexual health, and lots of motivational posters.

I start at the beginning. “When did this place open? How long have you been here?”

“We opened in February 2012,” says Pamela Mason, “and I’ve been here from the start.”

A large colourful box of a building right in the centre of Harpurhey, The Factory Youth Zone is unusual for a youth centre. Pamela explains that it’s run by a charity and the building was paid for in part by local businesses and patrons.

“We got funding from people and organisations who wanted to invest in young people,” she says. “And there are more centres like this now open in Oldham, Wigan, Preston, all over.

“The traditional youth service provided by local authorities doesn’t exist any more. We’re the new path for that work. Our job is to keep the options open for young people.”

Pamela’s career in youth work started as a work placement at a youth club as part of a social care qualification. In her first paid role in Wythenshawe she and her colleagues toured the estate with their transit van.

“We’d park in hotspots where young people would congregate,” she recalls, “and we’d throw open the side of van where there’d be some seating, a kettle and even an X-box. It was up to us to discourage otherwise antisocial behaviour.”

Her first role at The Factory Youth Zone was as an outreach worker but has since moved through the ranks and is now Head of Youth managing a team of full and part-time staff.

“What sort of challenges do young people face in this area?” I ask.

“Well, as you know, the statistics show that Harpurhey and Moston are near the top – or the bottom, depending on which way you look at it – for things like domestic violence, child sexual exploitation, poor school attendance, poor health, drug and alcohol abuse. These all affect young people directly or indirectly.”

“And The Factory Youth Zone is making a difference?”

“Absolutely,” says Pamela. “We have up to 150 young people attending our senior sessions each week and about 140 coming to the junior sessions. And they keep coming back, so we must be doing our job well.”

But Pamela and her colleagues can’t do everything. “We often need to refer young people to other services – mental health, debt advice, housing or employment – and all these are under-resourced. It can take time before our young people get the extra help and support they need.”

The Fourteen programme has helped. The Factory Youth Zone has been awarded funding to run an 18-month project that encourages 14-19-year-olds to train as young leaders.

“We’ve been able to employ an extra member of staff who’s written the Learn2Lead programme which includes safeguarding training, a social action campaign and voluntary work placements,” says Pamela.

“It’s great to see the older ones with Young Leader printed on the back of their T-shirts, acting as role models for our junior members.”

“And what about being part of the Local Reference Group for the Fourteen programme?” I ask, “Has that been useful?”

“It’s like having a whole new group of colleagues,” enthuses Pamela, “with lots of new resources and contacts. You get to know much more about what’s happening in the area and learn new ways of working.

“It’s been great to get to know all the other community groups in our Big Meets, and we’re hoping, as part of the Learn2Lead project, to place some young volunteers with those groups.”

To find out what’s available for young people at The Factory Youth Zone, check their website or call into the reception.

“We’re teaching these kids a way of life.”

Continued from “The best feeling ever.”

We’re at Collyhurst and Moston boxing gym and I’m in the middle of interviewing 15-year-old boxer, Ellie O’Brien. She’s been telling me about winning her first boxing bout.

“What do you think this place does for local young people?” I ask.

“It keeps you off the street,” Ellie says, emphatically. “You’re here making something with your life rather than out doing nothing. You’re making your future aren’t you?”

“And how does affect other parts of your life?”

“It’s made me a different person. I feel more committed. You can’t only be a boxer in the ring, you’ve got to be a boxer outside the gym as well. You’ve got to be eating right, sleeping right. On the nights I’m not here I run for six miles. You’ve got to have the right attitude.”

Ellie’s dad is here to pick up her brother. “It’s really improved her confidence,” Lee says. “She’s a totally different person. It’s all she talks about.”

“So this club has a big impact?”

“Massive. Not just on Ellie but on the whole community. It’s so important what Tommy, Pat and the other trainers do for them. If it wasn’t for this, all these kids would be messing about on the street with the rest of them. It keeps them on the straight and narrow.

“Ellie’s disciplined now. She goes home after her training and gets on with her school work. It’s massively changed her life.”

The older kids are warming up now, shadow boxing, hitting punch bags. I catch up with Tommy again.

“It’s very impressive,” I tell him. “It’s not the most glamorous place but what you are doing is really important.”

“These kids need this place,” he says, passionately. “When I was a kid, I needed this place. Let me show you what we’re doing in here.”

Tommy leads me through the weaving boxers. “Don’t be hitting Len now,” he says to no one in particular. A door on the other side of the gym leads to what looks as if it was once a storeroom. Now laptops sit on a couple of tables.

“I’ve made this into a classroom,” says Tommy. “You know, there are some kids who won’t go to school but they will come here. They love it, they feel at home here. They might never be boxers but we can teach them other skills too.

“These kids feel part of something and we can help build their confidence from within. I know, as a kid, boxing saved me.”

“You’re creating a safe place,” I say. “And that’s very important.”

“Brian’s favourite quote was, ‘We don’t teach kids boxing, we teach them a way of life’. And that’s what we’re still doing. Yes, we’re boxers, but we’re respectful people and we help each other.”

“It’s really inspiring,” I say. “And what about your involvement with Forever Manchester and the Fourteen programme? How has that worked?”

“It’s been really useful not only with the funding we’ve had but also with making connections. Off the LRG (the Local Reference Group) we’ve done quite a lot of work with MaD Theatre and with FC United. They’ve all been great, we’ve a really good group.

“We’ve had some funding for video equipment and we’ve made a little video with MaD that the police are using now, so that’s been good.

“Yes, first and foremost we’re a boxing club but lots of kids want to do others things within the safety of the club, and the Fourteen programme has allowed us to do that.”

A new book about the boxing club’s 100-year history will be published later this year. We’ll be reporting on it here.

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“We’ll have a barrel of fun!”

Anthony and I arrive in the wet car park together. “Have you got a spare hand?” he asks, grappling with his audio equipment.

For the next hour and a half Anthony Bradley from Everyday People (read Anthony’s own story here) is booked to deliver another reminiscence session with the older residents of Lightbowne Hall in Moston.

“We run these sessions in sheltered schemes as well as residential homes like Lightbowne,” he explains as we wait for the lift in the smart reception area. “It’s all about connection and compassion, and having a good time. I don’t mind playing the fool for a while if it gets results.”

A couple of staff greet us as we arrive in the upstairs community lounge where Anthony says hello to the eight or nine residents, some watching a game show on TV.

“I’ve come to play a bit of music,” says Anthony cheerfully, “and today I’ve brought a friend along. This is Len.”

“Hello. I’m here to photograph Anthony do the good things that he does,” I say, vaguely.

After diplomatically asking that the TV be switched off Anthony works the room, greeting everyone individually and passing out laminated black and white photographs.

“Hello chuck,” he says to one older lady watching the rain outside. “I got some old photographs of Belle Vue here. Do you remember going on the Bobs at Belle Vue?”

“The Bobs?” she asks, staring hard at the picture. “Is it still going?”

“No, no. They’ve knocked it all down. They’ve got the dogs and the speedway now. What else have we got here?” There’s a photograph of excited children riding on the back of an elephant. “Do you remember the zoo?”

He moves on. “How y’doing, pal? Do you remember Blackpool? With your trousers rolled up?”

Within minutes all the residents and staff are smiling at photographs of schoolchildren with bottles of milk; of ‘Dig for Victory’ war posters; of homemade go-carts; and of kids playing marbles and conkers.

“We used to play hopscotch,” Elsie is telling one of the care assistants.

“So did we,” says the lady next to her. “And kick-can. Do you remember kick-can?”

“Happy days,” says John to no one in particular as he methodically examines picture after picture.

“I’m going to get this show on the road,” Anthony says as he taps on his laptop. “Let’s have some music.

“We’ve all got songs from different periods of our lives that instantly help us tap into certain emotions,” he says to me as familiar music fills the room.

… Pack up your troubles in your ol’ kit bag…

“… and smile, smile, smile,” sings Elsie.

Another care assistant bounces into the room. “Roll out the barrel! Let me hear you all,” sings Sharon, “We’ll have a barrel of fun!”

It seems Anthony’s work is infectious and he’s happy to pass on his techniques to those who spend more time with the residents. “I’ve worked in care for years,” Sharon tells me between songs, “and I love it. Being able to put a smile on people’s faces, that’s a great feeling.”

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