“It’s run by the community for the community and they really value it”

A few weeks ago this noticeboard caught my eye at the Wellbeing Centre on Church Lane, Moston…

I’ve come back to meet Joan Tipping and find out more.

She waves to me from the cafe, a phone in one hand, trying to eat her lunch with the other. It’s clear that running the Wellbeing Centre keeps her busy.

“Oh I don’t run it.” she says. “The community run it. They value it so much. I just support them. I’m here if they need me but I’ve been here since the beginning.”

“So how did it all start?” I ask.

“The national health campaigns of the late 90’s weren’t really effective at a local level so we held open meetings and invited local people to tell us their concerns about their health. We then tried to find practical solutions to those concerns.

The first big issue to come up was just having a safe place to walk. They put the word out and started Strollers in Boggart Hole Clough. At the first one I got chatting with the lady beside me. It was the first time she’d ventured out of the house in 8 years. It really lifted her spirits and I could see the benefits went beyond just a bit of physical exercise. The walks continue today led now by the park wardens.”

Joan explains that after the success of Strollers the next burning issue was about people coming out of hospital after a heart attack. They’d been told to exercise more.

“It’s not so easy on your own at home. You need other people to motivate you and somewhere to do the exercises. That’s where this place came in. It was called the Day Centre then. They had a small gym so we asked if they would let us use it. The sessions were called Heartbeat.”

Gradually, more rooms became available as the previous occupants moved out. The group moved on to tackle stress and depression. They put on other sessions, brought people together to have a chat and try their hand a range of crafts. They even created their own sign in mosaic and adopted the name North Manchester Wellbeing Centre.“We found that bringing people together to do activities really benefits them. They learn new skills, make new friends, share stories, advise and help each other. It can even reduce dependence on medication. It’s a miracle and we facilitate it happening.”

We go on a quick tour of the building. Through the craft room, where the Knit and Natter and craft sessions are held, into the gym area with its exercise equipment, then back along the corridor overlooking a courtyard.

I comment on how much natural light there is and how, with a bit of work, the courtyard would be a great outdoor area in the summer. She has a better idea…

“…a conservatory would be nice, and then we could use it all year round. The gardens outside would be another project.” She adds.

We finish the tour in the cafe. There’s a pool game going on at the far end, they organise regular tournaments.

The players give Joan a friendly wave and, as I take my leave and thank Joan for her time, a lady comes across to show off a cake she’s just made at a ‘cook and taste’ session. What a wonderful place this is.

 

 

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Knit and Natter

What a super name. People smile as I walk in and make a space at a large table as if they’ve known me for years. Over the next hour or so, more arrive and are treated to the same welcoming response. It’s Tuesday and the group gathers every week at the Wellbeing Centre on Church Lane Harpurhey.

Everyone settles down, the hum of chatter gets louder against the sound of clicking needles and it makes me smile. It’s oddly relaxing.

Quietly, I admit I can’t knit.

“Don’t be put off. Christine couldn’t so we showed her and she’s brilliant. Hazel’s made her own blanket. You should see it. It’s fabulous.” I notice that not everyone is knitting anyway, so I don’t feel like the odd one out.

“Where do you get all the wool from? It’s expensive isn’t it?”

“Local people or friends and family donate it so there’s plenty to go at” explains Brenda who’s stepped in to run the group today. “The centre makes use of anything it can. As well as ‘Knit and Natter’ there are several craft groups during the week who can turn quite ordinary things into something really special.”

Around us there’s a constant buzz and lots of conversations going on all at the same time.

You can join in any discussion if you have the urge or just sit and listen.

Last weekend’s craft fayre is a hot topic today. It was an opportunity for the various groups to showcase their efforts to the public and offer them for sale. The tombola stall made the most money and they discuss how to advertise it better next time. The lady next to me, Hazel, had taken photos of the day and scrolls through pictures on her iPad of knitted clothes, home-made cards, candle holders, painted bottles, all sorts. They are proud of their work and rightly so.

“I’m a digital champion when I’m not here” Hazel says. “I show people in the community, the older generation in particular, how to use technology, such as iPads and laptops. Basics, like how to use search engines, buy things online, listen to music, download books, that sort of thing.” My jaw drops a little. I’d no idea what a ‘digital champion’ was but how brilliant.

“Why did you join the group?” I ask Rachel who’s sitting further along.

“This is what I call ‘me time’. It’s for no-one else just me. I’m a carer for two family members and also work in the evenings.” she explains. “I just love the place and everyone treats you as if you’ve been coming for years. I’ve knitted all sorts too. I’m not used to socialising and was nervous at first so my niece, Sarah, came with me.”

Sarah’s a busy mum. “Bringing my aunt here has made me realise that I wasn’t taking time out for myself either. It’s important, otherwise you just eat, sleep and repeat. I like it here so much I’ve decided to start a cookery class. I used to run a cafe and cooking’s my thing. Can’t wait to get going”.

They both manage to carry on knitting without looking and smile throughout.

What an excellent couple of hours. I learnt something new. Didn’t knit a stitch. No-one was bothered. It was a chance to relax, have a natter and put the daily routine to one side for a while.

 

“I want everyone to take part and be proud of the end result.”

I’m going to a cooking session at The Miners Community Arts and Music Centre, on Teddington Road in Moston.

I’m early so owner Louis shows me around. There’s a cafe, indoor and outdoor seating areas, function room with stage, a cinema – with proper cinema seats – spacious art room and now he’s creating a recording studio. It’s amazing.

The session has already started as I’m welcomed and offered a seat. Cracking Good Food chef Maz Linford sweeps in and everyone else sweeps into action. Table cloths, cutting boards, knives, pans, aprons, bowls, graters and more seem to appear from nowhere. I’m in a scene from a Disney film!

We’re learning to make a sauce from scratch. We get chopping, grating and slicing and two hours fly before our dishes of cauliflower cheese and stuffed mushrooms are popped into the oven.

As it’s cooking everyone sets about scooping up dishes, bowls, pans, knives and utensils which are washed, dried and stored away in flash.

The whole session has been relaxed and informal. Maz is cheerful and upbeat and effortlessly includes everyone while teaching new skills.

The food is lovely and, as it’s quickly polished off, I’m struck by the smiling faces of young and not so young, all sharing an experience.

“There are two sides to Cracking Good Food,” Maz explains as everyone drifts off and I help with the last of the tidying. “Part of the time we run paid-for cookery classes for the general public – I teach Sushi, Thai and Vietnamese – and the rest of the time, when we can get funding, we teach community cookery lessons, like the one we’ve just done.”

The Fourteen Programme, I know, has funded these sessions at The Miners.

“We’ve had longer projects with housing associations, food banks, and charities that support homeless people,” continues Maz. “For instance, young homeless people often have a lot of issues around eating. It’s a challenge but that’s what makes it interesting.

“Essentially, we want people to eat better food, cook vegetables, cook from scratch and actually enjoy it, realise it’s a part of their wellbeing. Food is here to look after us and nurture us but it can also be fun and sociable.”

I’ve seen that Maz is very comfortable in front of a class of eager learners. “Where does all this knowledge and experience comes from?” I ask.

“I’ve worked for big restaurant chains and trained teams who will be running restaurants. When I’m teaching in communities it’s really important for me that everyone has a voice, everyone has some input. We all have some relationship to food. So it’s okay not to like, say, mushrooms, the important thing is being able to express your likes and dislikes.

“I tend not to follow recipes as it puts people off and I avoid things like, ‘now lets learn how to chop really safely’. I try to bring a mixture of skills like mashing, grating and chopping so that everyone can join in. I want everyone to be included, take part and be proud of the end result.”

“What I love about coming here is it’s totally intergenerational. The young people get to spend time with the older people and they are all as capable as each other. I recently learned from some older ladies how to peel with a spoon – they found it easier to manage than a knife. It works and I love it!”

Maz is one of a team of like-minded cooks and chefs from Cracking Good Food. Her passion for sharing her skills and beliefs about food was infectious. Here’s their website.