“You can’t put a value on this group.”

It’s Wednesday morning which means it’s time for the weekly get-together hosted by the residents of Sydney Jones Court in Moston, right next door to FC United.

These sheltered scheme residents are an active bunch. They’ve formed themselves into a little group called the In-Betweeners.

“Where does the name come from?” I ask Sandy who’s one of the organisers.

“Because all our members are between 50 and whatever age. So it’s between the ages, that’s all. To tell you the truth, we couldn’t think of anything else,” she laughs.

The group was set up when a new court manager arrived. I’m told that Festus Igbinehi was determined that, although the residents in his care were older, it didn’t mean they weren’t able to get out and about and have some fun.

As a constituted group the In-Betweeners can apply for funding and have been supported by the Fourteen programme, amongst others. The residents have organised trips to the theatre and to dances; and, closer to home, they’ve enjoyed craft sessions and visits to the community cinema at The Miners across the road.

“How important is a group like this to the residents?” I ask after I’ve been introduced to Festus.

“You can’t put a value on it,” he says. “If they didn’t come here they wouldn’t see anyone from one day to the next. So it’s a good way of getting out and about.

“We go to the Home theatre in town every few weeks,” he says, “and we’ve seen some wonderful shows. There are some in our group who’d never been to the theatre before. Next month we’re off to see Uncle Vanya.”

I introduce myself to some of the group. There’s Tony organising the football fundraising card, supping from a huge mug of tea. “Kieran,” he shouts across the room, “I’ve put your name on it.”

And then there’s Megan and 90-year-old Ada sitting together on one of the settees. “It gets you out of the flat,” says Ada when I ask her what she likes about the group, “and it’s always friendly. But I haven’t been to any of the theatre trips. I can’t get about like I used to.”

“I’ve always liked the theatre,” says Megan. “We went to see a wonderful play about a woman telling her story of living through the Holocaust.”

“Do you do acting?” Ada asks me. “I trying to work out whether you should play the murderer or the lover.”

“He could play both I think,” says Megan.

“I think I’d rather play the lover,” I say, keeping up with the banter. “I couldn’t play the murderer, I haven’t got a mean streak in me.

“How many do you get on a Wednesday morning?” I ask, trying to get my interview back on track.

“Normally more than this,” says Ada. “They must of heard you were coming with your camera!”

“I want to know about the coach trips,” I say, as Mary joins us. “Is it all raucous singing on the back seat?”

“Is it ‘eck,” she says. “I normally sit near the front. Sometimes I have to guide the driver through town because,” she starts to laugh, “I’ve got all my faculties you know!”

The weekly coffee mornings are open to all and this morning Forever Manchester’s community builder for the Fourteen programme is here too and Graeme has brought along Christine and Geraldine from the long-established Creative Co-op craft group.

“Chris has been before here to run some sessions,” explains Graeme, “and we’re looking at more ways to bring the groups together. It’s about joining things up and not having to re-invent the wheel each time”

“Which is what Forever Manchester does so well,” I say. “Are you staying for the armchair aerobics?”

Fresh and fit to go

This morning, as usual, I ease myself out of bed and creak about for half an hour before I wake up properly. Surely, I should feel fresh and fit to go after a night’s sleep… maybe it’s my age… maybe that last glass of wine or piece of chocolate?

I do try to eat better, cross my heart! I could go for a walk or run, get an exercise DVD or knock the dust off the one I bought last year. It’s boring on your own though. Maybe I could join a class but then everyone else will be fitter than me.

This afternoon I’ve arranged to meet Lorraine Platt from North Manchester Fitness. She’s a fitness coach. Today she’s running a gentle exercise class for the over 50s. Perfect! I’m over 50, just about!

I’m late. “Do you know where the exercise class is?” I ask the ladies at the door.

“Follow us. Are you new? You’ll love it, we do”. Down the corridor, turn right, passed the toilets and I hear music. Somewhere Over The Rainbow by Eva Cassidy. I love it already.

They put me at the front so I can see Lorraine and follow her lead. It’s all to music. We warm up, gently stretch, bend this way, step that, do a dance routine, some strengthening work and I’m out of breath a bit so have a rest.

Nobody minds, the ladies in the group are wonderful and carry on.

I take some photos and then it’s time to meditate and relax. Before I know it I’m chatting to Lorraine.

We talk about North Manchester Fitness and what activities they offer. Running in Boggart Hole Clough is one of them. They understand not everyone likes running – me included – so she takes a walking group. We’re on the same wavelength here so in my head I promote her to genius.

Lorraine continues: “We also do fitness/aerobic classes, gym sessions, pilates, sprinting and marathon training.” Including Lorraine, there are four England Athletics qualified coaches. Getting that qualification takes effort and means they’re not just committed, they’re competent as well.

Lorraine hands me one of their information sheets. There’s something every day of the week, morning, afternoon or evening, at locations across Harpurhey, Blackley and Prestwich so they’re all local.

“Everyone is welcome whatever their level of fitness or ability including all ages. You don’t have to wear sports kit or Lycra. Just comfortable clothes and shoes and a waterproof for the outdoor sessions. If you want to, you can buy some kit and trainers later.”

“Why do you get involved with North Manchester Fitness?” I ask.

“I love being a fitness coach and North Manchester Fitness is a great group to join if you want to improve your fitness, make new friends, feel healthy and more confident. A brisk walk is a great way to start the day. We walk and chat in Boggart Hole Clough from 9 till 10 every Saturday morning, whatever the weather. It blows the cobwebs away!”.

It doesn’t stop there. They’re a very sociable group with celebrations after all the big races, an annual fitness weekend in Blackpool, even a Christmas party.

I’m impressed with Lorraine and the fitness classes. It was only one session but I feel energised somehow. I’m going to leave that last glass of wine in the bottle from now on, put the chocolate away and get some exercise. Might get up fresh and fit to go after all!

If you want to join in or find out more about North Manchester Fitness see their Facebook page or contact them at: info@northmanchesterfitness.com

From Wasteland to Woodland

Saddleworth? All that way just to walk the dog? Honestly, the countryside is closer than you think…

I moved into New Moston about 30 years ago, close to Moston Brook Valley. You may have heard of Moston Brook Valley before. If you drive up Broadway from Oldham Road and notice the mature trees on each side then you’ve passed right through it.

This is an invitation to take a stroll around it but really I’d prefer you to stay away. That way I could keep it all to myself!

Behind the trees the valley stretches in one direction towards Hardman Fold and onto Wrigley Head where it links to the Rochdale Canal. In the other direction it incorporates the Lower Failsworth Memorial Land and borders Moston Fairway, and beyond there’s a nature reserve.

There are pathways, a park with bowling greens and tennis courts, allotments, meadows, waterside walks and woodland. All slap bang in the middle of a city suburb! Early morning, warm afternoon or dusky evening it really is surprisingly peaceful.

It wasn’t aways like this. When my children were small we used it as a short cut to the park or nearest bus stop and occasionally I’d take them there to pick wild berries. It was wild, fairly open and bleak in parts – very grassy and boggy in others. The paths were rough, usually muddy and overgrown.

In winter it was largely inaccessible. Summer was better but the boggy areas were popular with flying bugs. The terrain was perfect for local bikers who roared around it in the evening. I regularly shook my fist at them but they didn’t stop.

Historically it truly was wasteland. Used as a dumping ground by local industry, including a brickworks, town councils freely deposited household waste there. In the early part of the 1900s it must have been a real eye-sore. Over the years the dumping ceased and the land was gradually infilled.

In the 1970s and 80s footpaths and steps were created while landscaping included the planting of trees and shrubs. For a while it even housed an urban farm! There were long periods when it was simply left to go wild.

Gradually, the trees have matured and nature has worked its magic. There is now an abundance of wildlife, birds and fauna that simply wasn’t there before. Funding has come from every direction: Manchester and Oldham Councils, DEFRA, The Environment Agency, United Utilities, Lancaster Club Trustees, local business Onefile and even Asda and Tesco.

This has enabled overgrown areas to be cut back, good quality paths laid, signposts, new toilets and several new stone wall entrances to be built. This year stone carvings and wood sculptures have been added and even more improvements are planned. The future looks good.

There are lots of opportunities to get out, take part and, if you fancy it, volunteer. Organised activities take place throughout the year including Family Fun Days, bug-hunting, den-making, bat survey training, small mammal trapping, art workshops, carol singing (at Christmas!).

Regular clean-up operations are organised by the Canal and River Trust and local residents volunteer to pick up rubbbish when they find it.

Come along, take a walk and see for yourself. There’s a Moston Brook Friends Group on Facebook (mostonbrookfriends@gmail.com) or you can contact the Moston Brook Project Officer (ann.bates@oldham.gov.uk) for more info.

… and you drive miles to enjoy the countryside? Honestly, it’s closer than you think.

Images by Tricia Beddow and courtesy of the Moston Brook project.