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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Street Life: Your Very Good Health

1948 saw the launch of the NHS, but the concept of free medicine took a little time to get into the nation’s psyche. In the 1950s, ‘prevention’ continued to be the household watchword. Cod Liver Oil was common, but thankfully the custom of basting children in goose grease before sewing them into their vest for the winter had become obsolete.

Patent medicine manufacturers were relentless in their advertising of nostrums, which at best were little more than a placebo, and at worst contained some highly questionable ingredients. Nevertheless, they remained popular, even when prescription drugs came free.Grandad was asthmatic, so we knew all about ‘bad chests’ in our house. He accepted his NHS inhaler gratefully, but he continued to wear Thermogene next to the skin for luck. Pink in colour, Thermogene’s texture most resembled modern roof insulation, with a smell that was redolent of a chemical weapons establishment. But for those who were put off by its pong, there were always Do-do tablets. Also known as Chesteze, they contained caffeine and ephedrine to relieve breathlessness, wheezing and other symptoms of asthma.

Children have always caused alarm to parents with the onset of sudden and inexplicable symptoms. In our house, liquid Fever Cure, or Cooling Powders (both made by Fennings) were administered for a high temperature. And until a positive diagnosis was made, spots were painted with Calamine lotion. The cardboard ointment box of Fullers Earth came out for rashes, and drawing ointment (magnesium sulphate) was applied to splinters, boils or infected cuts. The preparation and application of Kaolin poultices was still being taught to St. John’s Ambulance cadets when I joined in 1959.

Back then, even the tiniest corner shop would find wall space for a display of small bottles and packets of patent remedies attached by elastic to a card. Cephos and Beechams powders or Little Liver Pills had their brand names in bold lettering, while the mysterious composition of the products was something a customer had to take on trust.Aspro were sold in a distinctive cellophane strip (the inspiration for bubble packs perhaps?). Many regarded them as superior, purely because of the brand name, but their ingredients were actually the same as generic aspirin tablets.

There were almost as many prudish euphemisms for constipation as there were for the WC. But whatever we called ‘it’, laxatives played a significant part in many people’s lives – especially those who had a dark, frosty yard to cross for a visit to the lav. The switch from brimstone and treacle or turkey rhubarb (Rheum Palmatum) to preparations freely available at corner shops began in the 19th century.

In the fifties, astute manufacturers used advertising to persuade modern mothers they should abandon the old fashioned Syrup of Figs for children’s weekly ‘dosing’. It was replaced by such products as Feen-a-mint which looked and tasted like Beech Nut chewing gum, and Ex-lax that might be passed off as chocolate to the gullible.

Some adults loyally stuck with their old-fashioned Senna pods, Cascara or Epsom salts to ensure ‘regularity’. The more susceptible to brand names transferred to Sedlitz powders, Shure Shield tablets or Beechams Pills – worth a guinea a box, according to the advert…

And then there were Bile Beans! Originally marketed as a cure for ‘biliousness’, they contained cascara, rhubarb, liquorice and menthol, rolled in powdered charcoal and coated in gelatine. Soon this apparently universal panacea was also claiming to cure headaches, piles and female weakness.Advertising drives would see men blitzing a neighbourhood with Bile Bean flyers containing testimonials from satisfied customers. One of the most extreme was from a mother who claimed she had been preparing her daughter’s grave clothes, just prior to said daughter’s recovery, due entirely to Bile beans!

The manufacturers also produced ‘give-aways’ of cookery and puzzle books, as well as sheet music for the Bile Bean March. In spite of their foul smell and questionable efficacy, Bile Beans continued to be sold until the mid-1980s.

A number of us have managed more than our allotted span of three score years and ten, despite the smearing, dosing and poulticing with medieval sounding concoctions we had to endure. Perhaps there is something to be said for the ‘old magic’ after all.

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Reflexology? What’s all that about?

My friend, Theresa Thompson, has moved to a new treatment room above hair@bespoke on Foxdenton Lane, Chadderton and I’ve booked in for a reflexology treatment.

She meets me just inside the door and leads the way upstairs. It’s the first time I’ve been here and I like it already. The room has a nice aroma, plenty of natural light and a warm cosy feeling.

Before long I’m nestled under a fleecy blanket in a comfy chair, feet wrapped in a soft towel ready for some much needed ‘me time’. I don’t often get the chance to chill out and we chat a little, while she gets organised.After cleansing, Theresa starts to work through a routine that involves applying pressure to my feet, ultimately concentrating on the areas that will bring me the most benefit.

As I settle down, my mind turns to the sounds outside and floating up from the salon below. They seem distant. There’s some background music playing; barely a whisper.

“Is it my feet that are cold or are your hands warm?” I ask her. “No” she says, “I’ve got naturally warm hands. Don’t know why, they just are.”

Before long my mind drifts off again. Now and then I can feel when she’s concentrating on a key pressure point but it’s oddly relaxing. The hour passes in a half dream and before long my feet are wrapped up again in a warm towel and I sit there while she tidies up.

As I slip my shoes on she tell me she’s done “a sweep of your lymphatic system, so drink plenty of water.” I’m baffled but promise to anyway.

So, just what is reflexology? The Association of Reflexology (AOR) define it as:

A complementary therapy based on the theory that different points of the body (not just on the feet but also hands, face and ears) correspond with different areas of the body and …working these points or areas aids relaxation and helps improve wellbeing.Since gaining her initial level 5 diploma, Theresa’s continued to attend further courses to expand her knowledge and expertise.

I’m interested in why she chose this career path. She’s ex-RAF and spent over 20 years in the aviation industry; so it’s very different from anything she’s done before.

“I just started reading about it and was completely fascinated” she tells me. “I like helping people. Getting feedback from clients and realising that I’ve been able to improve someone’s life is the best feeling ever. It makes all the hard work worthwhile.” She’s on a roll

“We concern ourselves so much with looking better on the outside that we don’t attach enough importance to how we are on the inside. Our inner wellbeing needs attention too.”

She’s clear that a good reflexologist will never diagnose or claim to cure. Reflexology is a complementary therapy that works very well alongside conventional medicine and should not be used in place of seeking medical advice. If she can help you though, she’ll try. Take it from me; you’ll be in safe hands.

That’s my foot in the photo. In recent years, she’s helped me personally to ease the symptoms of Crohn’s Disease, improve sleep quality and reduce back pain.

Theresa also volunteers at The Christie Hospital in Oldham where she treats patients and their family members to some Hand Therapy to aid relaxation and sometimes, more importantly, provide a listening ear.

To find out more visit Theresa’s website. It lists the different types of reflexology she practises, how much it costs and how to contact her. Or, you can follow her on Facebook.

And, don’t just take my word for it, click here for testimonials from past clients.