“We help develop the ideas they feel passionate about.”

Another Music writers Len Grant and Trish Beddow visit The Agency where young dreams really do come true.

He’s been running this project for five years now but Steve’s enthusiasm is still infectious. He’s seen how The Agency makes a difference to young lives.

Tonight is one of their regular Wednesday evening sessions at the Factory Youth Zone in Harpurhey and, before it all starts, I ask, “Can you describe what The Agency is?”

“We’re a youth entrepreneurial scheme,” explains Steve, “working with young people in Harpurhey and Moston to develop businesses, social enterprises, community projects: anything they’re passionate about and feel their community needs.”

Steve Vickers works for Contact Theatre in Manchester and The Agency is a concept developed in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro by a theatre maker and journalist. In Brazil the scheme is supported by Ford Motors in the US and works with hundreds of young people.

“In the UK, the Battersea Arts Centre runs projects in two London boroughs and next year we’re expanding to Cardiff and Belfast,” says Steve.

“There are other low income communities in Manchester, why did you pick Harpurhey and Moston to work in?” I ask.

“We have some history of working in this area. We took over the old Co-op in Moston for a week in 2011 for an arts workshop. And when we started there were lots of negative headlines – that horrible TV documentary was out – so we thought we could make a difference.”

Each autumn since then The Agency has recruited 20 young people to take part in a competitive process that ends up with three of them being given intensive mentoring – and £2,000 each – to realise their project.

“We work through an artistic methodology in the first three months,” explains Steve, “where they develop their ideas in preparation for a pitch to a panel of community leaders and industry experts.”

“How do you find the young people in the first place?” asks Trish.

“A lot of hanging out, at first,” says Steve, “and going into schools, lots of outreach. Now I employ some of the young people who’ve been through the process to help me recruit. They’ll have better networks than me.”

“What happens to those who don’t make it through the panel process?” I ask.

“That’s the hardest part,” admits Steve. “But there are options. They can join one of the funded projects and help with say, marketing; they can continue with their idea and we’ll signpost them other support; or they can try again next year and some have been successful with that.”

Over the past five years The Agency must have produced some amazing success stories. Steve falters when I ask him to choose just one to tell us about.

“Oh, there are many,” he says. “I can tell you about Aaron. He was passionate about computer coding. He set up and delivered a series of 12 workshops for other young people – each one packed – and went on to get a job at The Co-op’s head office. He’s now been funded by the Council to run more workshops and has a place at Oxford University.”

“So tonight, at this part of the process, you’re working with the three winners? Perhaps we can interview each of them?”

“Sure,” says Steve. “These young entrepreneurs are just about to start their delivery phases and we’ve been pairing them with experts in marketing, finance and branding. It’s their own journey but we help facilitate it.”

In a upstairs meeting room we’re introduced to Aneka, Dapo and Faidat. We tear each away from their laptops and discussions with tonight’s mentors to find out about their projects.

Read about their amazing ideas in “So, what’s your idea?”

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Boggart Hole Clough and the Suffragists

How many Blackley residents now know of the role once played by this well-loved park in the history of womens’ suffrage?

On Sunday, 5 July 1896, some 40,000 people gathered at an open-air meeting in the park to hear an address by James Kier Hardie, one of the founders of the Independent Labour Party, along with Richard and Emmeline Pankhurst, and others. The party had been formed following disillusionment with the Liberals, who had repeatedly failed to deliver on many social improvement policies, including extending the right to vote to ordinary workers – and women.

A number of ILP meetings had been held in the Clough when it was a private estate but, after purchase by Manchester Corporation in 1895, the Parks Committee decided to suppress them. In May and June 1896, a number of arrests were made and some speakers were fined, but chose to serve a month’s imprisonment rather than pay. The dispute now centred around free speech in public spaces.

During the 5 July meeting, Keir Hardie, the Pankhursts and others were arrested for supposedly “causing an annoyance”. Magistrates heard the testimony of local residents, none of whom seemed remotely annoyed, and Richard Pankhurst pointed out that there was no such offence as “causing annoyance” anyway.Short article in the Manchester Courier, 9 July 1896

Meanwhile, further meetings were held and at one of these a defiant Ben Tillett addressed 30,000 maintaining that, as the park had been purchased with public money, the public had every right to hold meetings there if they wished. It was the same in many other towns and cities. Eventually, the Parks Committee, urged by the Home Secretary, decided that such meetings were lawful and most of the charges were dropped.

One bright Sunday afternoon ten years later on 15 July 1906, another meeting in favour of Votes for Women was addressed by Keir Hardie and Emmeline Pankhurst’s daughter Adela. The site was described as “north of the main road through the park, where three hills form a natural amphitheatre”.

No estimate of the number attending was given, but the speakers were hemmed in on all sides when 100 or so organised protestors surged down the hill at them. They were almost crushed. Their escape was hampered by the sheer number of ordinary listeners, who were mostly sympathetic, but packed closely together. Several of the speakers suffered blows and torn clothing but managed to slip away in the ensuing confusion.Location of the former drinking fountain and refreshment rooms in Boggart Hole Clough, possibly the site referred to for the 1906 meeting

Keir Hardie, who had recently courted bad publicity criticising the government’s brutality towards the Zulus, and Adela were particularly targeted. The most easily recognised, they were chased up one of the other hills and round an adjacent field by the mob, causing great damage to the trees and shrubs. Adela was shielded by three or four local men and almost made it out of the Clough, but was pursued again after a shout of “Here she is!” brought the mob nearer.

By sheer luck, Keir Hardie and Adela found themselves together again, both exhausted. By slipping away down the wooded valley side, they managed to climb over iron railings leading to Charlestown Road. The mob attempted to follow, but the fugitives by now had a good start and slipped away into a nearby cottage.

Suffragists had become used to jeers and heckling over many years, but the wanton violence displayed at Boggart Hole Clough and other places, simply hardened attitudes on both sides. It was hardly surprising that some protestors, labelled Suffragettes, became increasingly militant.

“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.

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