Our caring aims are all very much the same

Barbara from Creative Community reports from the second Big Meet on Monday, 10th April.

After last month’s success at the Factory Youth Zone local community groups have again been invited for a get-to-know-you session. It’s Big Meet 2 and tonight we’re at The Miners Community Arts and Music Centre in Moston.

We’re hoping this early evening session will attract people who can’t make a daytime event.

Members of the LRG (Local Reference Group) are here to meet and greet. Anthony from Everyday People, Stephen from Moston Lane Traders, Pamela from the Factory Youth Zone, Jane from Manchester Communication Academy, Lou from The Miners and Kath and I from Creative Community. Graeme and Helen from Forever Manchester are here too.

First through the doors are ladies representing Sidney Jones Court, a local sheltered housing scheme. “We call ourselves The Inbetweeners,” Sandy explains, “because we do a bit of everything!”

Refreshments are offered as more people arrive. “I’m off cake for Lent” says Bernie. “Nothing for me ’til the weekend.” The rest of us look on sympathetically as we tuck into our chocolate Swiss roll.

The evening starts with a warm welcome from Anthony (from Everyday People) and we’re put into three groups for a warm-up quiz. On the screen we see a picture of a male singer from the 50’s, we just have to write down who it is.

“Is that a man?” someone shouts as another picture comes up. There’s lots of laughter from those of  us who know it’s a photo of a young Elvis.

At the end of the quiz – and after helpful clues from Anthony – each team has 18 points and we go to a tie break. Gary from the Frank Cohen Drop-in Centre comes up with the winning answer. The prize is a gallon of tea!!!!

Next is an introduction from Helen and Graeme. As with the last ‘meet’, Graeme has put down a map of the area in masking tape. He says it’s an improvement on the last one. With a little prompting we all stand on the map where our groups meet.

As it turns out, it’s very nearly a circle so we grab a chair and begin to introduce ourselves.

The groups are diverse, we have a lot on offer in Moston and Harpurhey. There’s a radio station, a diabetes support group, a community food bank, craft groups, a drop-in for recovering alcoholics and drug users, and music and arts.

We’re invited to link up with a group we know little about to find out more. This turns out to be very positive and good links are forged and invitations made.

Helen discusses training and we all have a think about what support our particular group needs.

Everyone is then invited to take part in ‘Heads, Hearts and Hands’. Around the room are three big sheets of paper and we write down what our groups know about, what we are good at and what we feel passionate about.

When we’re all done it’s interesting to see that – despite our diversity – our caring aims for our community are very much the same.

We end up with an informal chat, new friendships and links are made and we look forward to the next Big Meet.

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“We’re teaching these kids a way of life.”

Continued from “The best feeling ever.”

We’re at Collyhurst and Moston boxing gym and I’m in the middle of interviewing 15-year-old boxer, Ellie O’Brien. She’s been telling me about winning her first boxing bout.

“What do you think this place does for local young people?” I ask.

“It keeps you off the street,” Ellie says, emphatically. “You’re here making something with your life rather than out doing nothing. You’re making your future aren’t you?”

“And how does affect other parts of your life?”

“It’s made me a different person. I feel more committed. You can’t only be a boxer in the ring, you’ve got to be a boxer outside the gym as well. You’ve got to be eating right, sleeping right. On the nights I’m not here I run for six miles. You’ve got to have the right attitude.”

Ellie’s dad is here to pick up her brother. “It’s really improved her confidence,” Lee says. “She’s a totally different person. It’s all she talks about.”

“So this club has a big impact?”

“Massive. Not just on Ellie but on the whole community. It’s so important what Tommy, Pat and the other trainers do for them. If it wasn’t for this, all these kids would be messing about on the street with the rest of them. It keeps them on the straight and narrow.

“Ellie’s disciplined now. She goes home after her training and gets on with her school work. It’s massively changed her life.”

The older kids are warming up now, shadow boxing, hitting punch bags. I catch up with Tommy again.

“It’s very impressive,” I tell him. “It’s not the most glamorous place but what you are doing is really important.”

“These kids need this place,” he says, passionately. “When I was a kid, I needed this place. Let me show you what we’re doing in here.”

Tommy leads me through the weaving boxers. “Don’t be hitting Len now,” he says to no one in particular. A door on the other side of the gym leads to what looks as if it was once a storeroom. Now laptops sit on a couple of tables.

“I’ve made this into a classroom,” says Tommy. “You know, there are some kids who won’t go to school but they will come here. They love it, they feel at home here. They might never be boxers but we can teach them other skills too.

“These kids feel part of something and we can help build their confidence from within. I know, as a kid, boxing saved me.”

“You’re creating a safe place,” I say. “And that’s very important.”

“Brian’s favourite quote was, ‘We don’t teach kids boxing, we teach them a way of life’. And that’s what we’re still doing. Yes, we’re boxers, but we’re respectful people and we help each other.”

“It’s really inspiring,” I say. “And what about your involvement with Forever Manchester and the Fourteen programme? How has that worked?”

“It’s been really useful not only with the funding we’ve had but also with making connections. Off the LRG (the Local Reference Group) we’ve done quite a lot of work with MaD Theatre and with FC United. They’ve all been great, we’ve a really good group.

“We’ve had some funding for video equipment and we’ve made a little video with MaD that the police are using now, so that’s been good.

“Yes, first and foremost we’re a boxing club but lots of kids want to do others things within the safety of the club, and the Fourteen programme has allowed us to do that.”

A new book about the boxing club’s 100-year history will be published later this year. We’ll be reporting on it here.

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“We’ll have a barrel of fun!”

Anthony and I arrive in the wet car park together. “Have you got a spare hand?” he asks, grappling with his audio equipment.

For the next hour and a half Anthony Bradley from Everyday People (read Anthony’s own story here) is booked to deliver another reminiscence session with the older residents of Lightbowne Hall in Moston.

“We run these sessions in sheltered schemes as well as residential homes like Lightbowne,” he explains as we wait for the lift in the smart reception area. “It’s all about connection and compassion, and having a good time. I don’t mind playing the fool for a while if it gets results.”

A couple of staff greet us as we arrive in the upstairs community lounge where Anthony says hello to the eight or nine residents, some watching a game show on TV.

“I’ve come to play a bit of music,” says Anthony cheerfully, “and today I’ve brought a friend along. This is Len.”

“Hello. I’m here to photograph Anthony do the good things that he does,” I say, vaguely.

After diplomatically asking that the TV be switched off Anthony works the room, greeting everyone individually and passing out laminated black and white photographs.

“Hello chuck,” he says to one older lady watching the rain outside. “I got some old photographs of Belle Vue here. Do you remember going on the Bobs at Belle Vue?”

“The Bobs?” she asks, staring hard at the picture. “Is it still going?”

“No, no. They’ve knocked it all down. They’ve got the dogs and the speedway now. What else have we got here?” There’s a photograph of excited children riding on the back of an elephant. “Do you remember the zoo?”

He moves on. “How y’doing, pal? Do you remember Blackpool? With your trousers rolled up?”

Within minutes all the residents and staff are smiling at photographs of schoolchildren with bottles of milk; of ‘Dig for Victory’ war posters; of homemade go-carts; and of kids playing marbles and conkers.

“We used to play hopscotch,” Elsie is telling one of the care assistants.

“So did we,” says the lady next to her. “And kick-can. Do you remember kick-can?”

“Happy days,” says John to no one in particular as he methodically examines picture after picture.

“I’m going to get this show on the road,” Anthony says as he taps on his laptop. “Let’s have some music.

“We’ve all got songs from different periods of our lives that instantly help us tap into certain emotions,” he says to me as familiar music fills the room.

… Pack up your troubles in your ol’ kit bag…

“… and smile, smile, smile,” sings Elsie.

Another care assistant bounces into the room. “Roll out the barrel! Let me hear you all,” sings Sharon, “We’ll have a barrel of fun!”

It seems Anthony’s work is infectious and he’s happy to pass on his techniques to those who spend more time with the residents. “I’ve worked in care for years,” Sharon tells me between songs, “and I love it. Being able to put a smile on people’s faces, that’s a great feeling.”

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