Something’s going on in Failsworth

I’d hoped my local Tesco would be quiet on Saturday but the car park was rammed – how dare all these people shop when I want to!

There were droves of them – as in families with children. Children! Outside on a sunny Saturday! Milling about in all directions and curiously jolly, carrying bright balloons, multi coloured ice-creams and bags of stuff. And there was music in the distance.

“Something going on” I thought “and I’m missing it.”

Shopping plans on hold, I followed my nose around the corner to Lord Lane Playing Fields. Banners announced the event as ‘Failsworth Carnival’. It was only a quid to get in, so in I went. Can’t resist an ice-cream you see.

The ‘fields’ are quite big. There was a fun fair at the far end, an open space in the centre and scattered about were a mishmash of stalls, fast food vans, bouncy castles, a large stage and areas marked out with ticker tape.I wandered about amongst the crowd for a while. Felt like a wally on my own but once I had a ’99’ with strawberry goo in my hand I didn’t care.

There were singers and musicians on the stage, dancers rehearsing for a dance competition, keep fit ladies keeping fit, karate kids doing, wait for it, karate and not just one but several Carnival Queens. Carnival Queens aren’t something you see every day and they were just delightful.When I left about an hour later the lady at the gate said “Did you enjoy the parade?”

“Nope. Missed it.” She looked disappointed and I felt bad, like I’d let her down. “Come back again tomorrow.” She suggested. “There’s lots more going on.” So I did and there was.

Another ’99’ in hand and I settled myself by the stage on the grass. There was a Zumba display and routines by Diva Dance. Then  a group of youngsters performed Ed Sheeran tracks and hits from The Greatest Showman and Annie. The soloists were fabulous and one even sang her own composition. Such talent! Called Footlights if you want to find out more.  It was an absolute joy and all for the grand entrance fee of £1!Before I left I took another walk around the field and checked out displays by New Moston Scouts, Fostering Solutions, Love Food Hate Waste,  Failsworth Community Choir, Army Recruitment and Girlguiding (who are after volunteers), Blood Bikes and more.The start of the Bouncing Baby Competition was announced when I got to the gate but Tesco beckoned and I’d have ended up with no Sunday lunch. I’ll come back next year.

”Manchester’s silent army?”

I look after my Dad. He’s 87 and calls me his PA! He has limited vision and his hearing isn’t great. Easy to be with, he likes music, laughing and trips to seaside. He’s very independent but can’t do everything without some help and when he’s ill or bored it isn’t easy.About a year ago I was asked to say something about myself. Without thinking “I’m a member of Manchester’s silent army” popped out of my mouth. I think I meant to say “I’m a carer, one of many and we just quietly get on with it”.

Since then I’ve joined the Manchester Carers Forum.

The forum facilitates group meetings, day trips, provides information, runs a dementia support service, training workshops, even has a weekly local radio slot. There are several groups across Manchester. The North group is organised by Miriam and Christine and meets monthly at Cheetham Hill Medical Centre.

“We’re not saying that we can change someone’s circumstances” Miriam tells me “but we can bring carers together so that they can share their experiences with each other. Those that attend hold a wealth of knowledge and lived experience which is so valuable.  People leave the group feeling they’ve had a break for a couple of hours. They’ve relaxed, let off some steam or maybe come away with some tips, and are better able to cope with life’s challenges until the next meeting.”

Today we’re helping carer George celebrate his 80th birthday by tucking into a box of wonderful cupcakes. While they’re chomping away I ask the group what they thought about the forum.“Tell me a bit about yourselves and why you come here?”

I thought they might be shy – boy was I wrong! Here’s some of what they said:

Just love meeting here. I get a sense of relief. Would be quite happy if it was once a week never mind once a month”

It recharges your batteries and I go home feeling energised”

Everyone’s in exactly the same position as you and it’s a break from the pressure of looking after someone for a few hours”

Discussing issues with the group gives me confidence to challenge the authorities rather than just accept something”

It’s the information that others share and knowing you’re not alone”

While I’m here, for a brief period someone looks after me – even being served a cup of tea and a cake or biscuit is a welcome feeling”

It makes me feel good and I’ve made some great friends”

If something can be changed we have more chance when we come together in a larger group than we would have as individuals”

“I  come here because I like cakes! They’re my commission for sharing what I know”Birthday boy George the ‘cup-cake king’

They talked about caring for wives, husbands, partners, children and siblings, about how important it was that their ‘cared for’ had quality of life. They raised issues about local council services, housing, disjointed health care, benefits etc. Told astonishing, even shocking stories. Some had fought fierce battles and not always won.

Thinking back to my statement a year ago made me smile – a small army they might be but they’re far from silent!

They were clear about role played by the Manchester Carers Forum and the invaluable support they receive.  If you want to find out more about the work they do in your area visit, their website.  You can follow them on Facebook or e-mail them at info@manchestercarersforum.org.

“It’s about empowerment and promoting social inclusion”

The Widows Empowerment Trust (WET) were in my local Morrisons a week or two ago offering to pack my bag in exchange for a small donation. WET, I discovered, is a newly formed charity offering support primarily to widows and widowers.

Their founder, Oyovwe Kigho, was ‘hands on’ so I arranged to meet her and find out more. “It’s about empowerment and promoting social inclusion” she tells me.“What does that mean and what led you to set up the charity?” I ask.

“I have a few friends and family that are bereaved and I was aware of the isolation, the loneliness in them. They didn’t want to mix with other people or get engaged in the community. After a loss fewer people would visit, or phone them and they struggled, became depressed.

I felt real empathy and compassion for them. So I set the charity up to support widows in that situation who were in need.”

The support is provided in a number of ways. Sometimes it’s out in the community as part of a befriending service, a couple of hours chatting, walking, shopping. They arrange trips and meals out to encourage widows to socialise and run a couple of support sessions locally.“On Tuesday’s we run a craft based workshop with activities such as sewing, knitting or crocheting. It’s an opportunity to meet other widows and socialise.

Also, on Thursdays we organise a workshop for people who are suffering from dementia. We do arts and crafts like painting alongside dancing, playing music, singing. It’s held at the Each Step Care Home and around 10 to 20 people attend, some are residents and others live nearby. It’s a lovely group and really enjoyable.”

I decided to go along and see for myself. Each Step Care Home is a modern, bright, well lit building in Blackley, cheerful and clean with a garden and cafe.

I’m taken through to a lounge area to see a small group sat around a long table doing crafts. Gradually more people arrive. There’s music and karaoke compliments of Richard who, along with Oyovwe, encourages everyone along and there are plenty of volunteers to join in the singing and dancing.As promised the group were lovely and thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

Running the charity is not without its challenges. Raising funds is a time consuming necessity and committed volunteers are much needed for roles such as office admin, befriending, PR, fundraising and more. Oyovwe also has her own young family to look after and I truly admire her.

“You don’t have to be a widow to see the pain that bereavement causes. I put myself in their shoes, understand how they feel. It’s what gives me that push, that drive.

I can see the impact of what we are doing. Some have really improved in their confidence.

It’s helped them to meet other widows and I hope it’s raised awareness amongst the community and families too.”

If someone offers to pack your bag at the supermarket please let them and, if you can, make a donation to whichever cause they are collecting for. It’s a fair exchange.

More about the trust and full details of the volunteer opportunities can be found on the Widows Empowerment Trust website and Facebook page.

Or contact Oyovwe on 07472 064322  /  email: info@widowsempowment.com