Zooming in on North Manchester Fitness

Back in March, when lockdown began how long did you think it would last? I thought 6 weeks, honestly.

I got off to a reasonable start; a good walk each day, a few exercises, that sort of thing. But, as the weeks became months, I flagged.

North Manchester Fitness, on the other hand didn’t. With regular classes on hold they’ve kept in touch with their members through two WhatsApp groups.

Normally, Lorraine Platt leads weekly walking sessions and heads up most of the Pilates classes. They’re not exclusively for the over 50’s but it’s fair to say that many of those attending are in that age-group, so lockdown has been especially restrictive for them.

From the early days, Lorraine routinely shared, on WhatsApp and email, exercises that members were familiar with and could safely do in their own homes.Towards the end of May, she began holding small classes on the meeting platform ‘Zoom’. It was challenging to get everyone tuned in but, two months on, it’s in full swing and so successful that it may continue well into the future.

Lorraine’s one amazing lady. I first met her in 2017 and produced a write-up for Another Music about one of her groups. I suffered a broken ankle the following year. Then, at a chance meeting, she encouraged me to take up Pilates believing it would help with my recovery. She was right.

Pilates concentrates on three main physical aspects – ‘balance’ ‘core’ and ‘flexibility’. The overall health benefits are wide-ranging. Here are just some of them….

  • increased muscle strength and tone, particularly of your abdominal muscles, lower back, hips and buttocks (the ‘core muscles’ of your body)
  • balanced muscular strength on both sides of your body
  • improved stabilisation of your spine
  • improved posture
  • rehabilitation or prevention of injuries related to muscle imbalances
  • improved physical coordination and balance
  • safe rehabilitation of joint and spinal injuries
  • increased lung capacity and circulation through deep breathing
  • improved concentration
  • increased body awareness
  • stress management and relaxation

NMF’s achievement in continuing to connect with their members goes way beyond maintaining good physical fitness though.

“There is a social element to the group too,” says Lorraine. “So many new friendships have been made through NMF.  It is lovely to see, especially in this time of isolation.

I am so pleased to see how the Zoom sessions have taken off.  Zoom was a word we had hardly heard of 3 months ago.  Now we’re all becoming experts.”

Sharing experiences, photographs, jokes and ideas, the members have helped each other stay positive. They’ve dropped off food supplies, swapped books, CD’s, DVD’s, even spare wool, sent good wishes and flowers to anyone with anything to celebrate and offered support to those suffering illness, bereavement or just the blues. It doesn’t stop there. They’ve knitted blankets, hats and bootees for newborns, ordered, paid for and delivered luxury hand creams to NHS hospital staff, rallied support and sponsored a local charity in desperate need… the list goes on.

Behind the scenes, the North Manchester Fitness team have been working on the best, safest way to restart the rest of their activities. Walking in Boggart Hole Clough is a likely candidate. Some of the regulars on a winter’s day, pre-lockdown

In the meantime, Pilates by Zoom suits me…and, no excuses, Lorraine can see if I’m flagging!

Information about North Manchester Fitness activities including Hiitstep, marathon training, sprints, and more can be found on their website, just click here. Or follow them on Facebook.

Ready for the off!

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Bouncers and Shakers at North West Theatre Arts Company

Intriguing title and no idea what to expect. I’m ever ready for a surprise at NWTAC so, assuming it’s a new one on you too, I’ll set the scene.

Location: A night-club in a town centre: Could be anywhere so for us, it’s Manchester. Shakers Cocktail Bar.

Era: Late 1970’s: But, as NWTAC like to put their own slant on things, some references are more recent.

Main characters: Four night-club bouncers. Four cocktail barmaids. Four lads on the lash. Four girls up for a night out.

Event: One night out on the town and the preparations leading up to it.

Maybe you’re thinking “sounds pretty straight forward”. It’s actually two plays merged together into one and the 16 plus characters are played by just 8 actors.

So, now you could be thinking “sounds pretty complicated”. Nope, just very clever and very, very funny.

As we filter in from the bar area we’re involved in the show before it even starts. Smart suited young men greet us and show us to our seats before we realise they’re actually the bouncers in the show. They inform us the performance is about to begin.

“Any filming or flash photography is not allowed and mobile phones must be turned off…”. Then sternly add “…or there’ll be trouble.”

I fumble for mine, just to check, even though I know it’s off! From there we’re transported to their ‘world’; standing in a freezing club doorway waiting for the pubs to close and the nightclub client’s to roll up, in whatever state they’re in.

Scene Two is a hairdressing salon but is this where we’re introduced to the girls? Ah no. The bouncers do a character flip and play a group of girls getting ready for a night out. Giddily gabbing away, deciding what hairstyle’s best or what colour nail varnish they want amid getting all the gossip and bitching about this or that.

It’s a while before the real girls, aka cocktail shakers, take to the stage and they have a similar start. Getting ready for another night behind the bar, wiping down tables and discussing the new brazen uniform they’ve be told to wear. Before long they too do a character flip and jump scene to a fashion shop changing room. The banter has us in stitches.

These role changes are executed so well. Each character is totally believable, the script is brilliant and it’s fascinating to watch.

I’m a Manchester lass. I went to those night-clubs and bars and hairdressers and dress shops in the 1970’s. I remember the changing rooms in Chelsea Girl and the freezing mile long taxi queue at 3am in Piccadilly. God, feet like blocks of ice. I was there! And, going off their reaction, so were most of my fellow audience.

We loved every minute of this play. Thank you Bouncers: Jonny Molyneux, Gareth Maudsley, Solomon Asante-Owusu and Owen Maudsley for your wit and timing. Thank you Shakers Toyin Lawal, Jade Hamer, Kate Bannister and Melissa Grimes for your humour and sass. You were thoroughly entertaining and a joy to watch.

The line-up for Saturday’s performance was slightly different but I hear they stormed it too.

NWTAC’s theatre is on Lightbowne Road, Moston and their next project is Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Nights Dream. Click here for all the details and how to book your seats.

Writing Well… and more at No 93 Church Lane

From the outside the building on Church Lane looks pretty much the same. What was the North Manchester Wellbeing Centre is now No 93. The signage has been updated but there’s still a striking mosaic on the end wall. Inside, the layout’s slightly different; the open courtyard in the middle is still my favourite bit.

There’s plenty going on and, tonight, they’re hosting a Residents Information Market organised by the City Council Neighbourhood team for Harpurhey.I’ve already picked up some leaflets in the corridor from the ‘We Love MCR Charity’ before spotting a familiar face in the art room/gym where the main event is set up. It’s Stephen Evans from Writing Well.

“We’re looking to fill a few more places for our next course later this month.” He tells me as I off-load my stuff. “And we’re running another one in South Manchester too.”

We had a quick catch up before I wandered off to see who else was there.

Jamie, from Citizens Advice, was promoting local drop-in sessions where residents can get access to on-line support. Manchester’s Waste Management Team was represented and there was a wealth of information about NHS mental health services.

There was also a craft initiative, based at the Fire Station on Rochdale Road, Blackley, called ‘Shed 17’. It was a new one on me and I loved the photos they had on display.Donna explained, “Some are from a green woodworking course, others are from a glass etching session. We have a qualified tutor and they make some lovely things.”

Next, I had a chat with Lauren Evans, Neighbourhood Health Worker, about her work in the community before working my way back to Stephen to pick up my things. He handed me one of his leaflets too.

“Look.” He said pointing out a photo. “Two of the South Manchester writers have had their books published. What about you?”

I put my coat back on. “Oh, I’ll stick to blogs thanks.”

Stephen and his colleague Veronica Hyde run the Writing Well course together at No 93. Stephen’s a published writer/lecturer in English and Veronica’s a qualified counsellor. They combine their skills to teach the process of creative writing and, at the same time, improve your emotional wellbeing.

Late last year I was struggling, couldn’t breathe properly or sleep and felt exhausted. So I decided to give ‘Writing Well’ a try.

It wasn’t a big group. We were typically shy to start with, although it didn’t stay that way for long. Stephen and Veronica kept us busy. Over the 10 sessions we had lots to learn and plenty to think about.That’s Stephen, far right, and Veronica in the middle.

I’m calmer now, feel more confident and enjoy writing more than I used to. If you fancy giving it a try too the next Writing Well course starts on Monday 24th February and it’s free. Full details, including how to register, are on their website below.

No 93 has plenty more on offer; the original North Manchester Wellbeing Centre (NMWBC) still run the Heartbeat Exercise class, Knit and Natter, mosaics group, yoga, Tai Chi, mixed crafts, relaxation class, sewing/dressmaking and Reiki.

You can also join a gardening club, play table tennis or take part in the pool tournament. Manchester Carers Centre has regular coffee mornings and the National Lottery Funding support even have a regular slot. To find out more just click the link to No 93 below or call in.

Or, don’t do anything at all. The café’s re-opened. If you want, just pop in, take a break and have a bite to eat, it’s not expensive.

Here are some useful links (click on one and then click the back arrow <- to return)…

Writing WellNHS No 93Shed 17 (on Twitter)Self Help ServicesWe Love MCR CharityCitizens Advice digital help serviceManchester Recycling,  Buzz Community Health 

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