“They start to believe in themselves.”

I’m led through the noisy main hall, out the back where the braver ones are having a kick-about, and down the ramp to the garage. Inside all is quiet and calm.

I’ve been looking forward to visiting the bike maintenance project at The Factory Youth Zone in Harpurhey for some time. It sounds like such a good idea.

In amongst the dozens of bicycles, all in different states of disrepair, three young women are working together with youth worker Heather and volunteer Mike on a couple of mountain bikes perched on maintenance stands.

“We’ve been going for about 16 months,” says Heather when I ask her how it all began. “We started from nothing, and all this place was full of junk.”

With donations of professional tools to get things going Heather explains they now have four fully-equipped workstations where young people work under supervision.

“Most of the bikes here have been donated by the police,” Heather says. “The young people sign up for a twelve week programme where they choose a bike and learn how to put it together with new components. As long as they try hard and respect the place, they get to keep the bike at the end of it.

“You’ll need new tyres for that,” she says, keeping an eye on one of the young women. “Do you remember how to do this? You put one side of the tyre on first, and then the valve…”

“But it’s more than just bike maintenance skills isn’t it?” I ask.

“This is a very able group,” says Heather, “but for others it’s about building self-confidence, communications skills and manual dexterity. Some young people think they can’t do it but once we spend time with them and they see we trust them with the tools then we get results.

“Some say they like the calm atmosphere and it’s more challenging than the activities they do in the main centre.”

Success, Suzanne and Victoria tell me they are all friends from Moston. Success has been working in the garage for three months and has already earned her bike. The others are just starting out.

“So you’re the expert?” I suggest.

She laughs. “What do you like about it?”

“I like helping my friends,” she says while adjusting a chain, “and I like making things, especially hard things. They are changing the tyres now and then we’ll start working on the gears.”

“So you look forward to your Monday evenings?” I ask.

“And I sometimes come down on Tuesdays to help my little sister in the junior session.”

At the next workstation volunteer Mark is helping Victoria with her rear tyre. “I’ve been fixing bikes at my Collyhurst house for years,” he says, “and lads would always come round. It’s a good way for kids to gain confidence.

“They think they can’t do things but, when you do it together, you can see them start to believe in themselves. There’s a connection when you’re fixing something together and it’s a good way of having conversations about other stuff.”

Once tyres and inner tubes are on and pumped up, the young women move on to the their gears. It’s starting to look complicated so I leave them to it.

Related Stories

“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.”

Related Stories

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.”

Related Stories