They call it their passion project

“Moston and Harpurhey have had such negative headlines in the media,” says Josh, “we’re determined to give a voice to local people and show how powerful this community really is.”

I’m sitting in the back room of The Miners Community Arts and Music Centre with young filmmakers Josh Wilkinson and David Hall, aka Modify Productions. They’re telling me about the documentary they’re making about many of the community groups in this area.

“We don’t want to put our own spin on the film,” adds David. “There’s nothing about us in it. It really is a project by the community, for the community.”

As a photographer and writer, I’ve done a few passion projects myself: self-initiated pieces of work about a subject you feel strongly about. Because no one is paying you have the creative freedom to do what you like. Hopefully prospective clients like your approach and commission something themselves.

“Have you found anything that’s surprised you while you’ve been making the film?” I ask.

“I’ve grown up in Moston and hadn’t appreciated how much positivity there is about,” says Josh. “I can get the bus into town, look out on a grey day, and not realise how many little hubs of goodness there are about the place.”

Only just into their twenties, these two have known each other since they were 12. They were both in front of the camera before deciding to make a career of being behind it.

“We used to go to an acting class in Manchester together,” says Josh, “although my very first theatrical experience was with Moston’s MAD Theatre company up the road.”

David studied performing arts and was part of the National Youth Theatre in London. “It was only a couple of years ago that I started to branch out into media,” he says. “I just bought a camera and taught myself through books and videos on YouTube.”

I’m impressed. “You’ve learnt all your technical expertise from YouTube?”

“Pretty much, yes,” he says. “A few years back you’d have no alternative but to go to film school to get access to all the expensive cameras and editing suites. But now the technology is accessible and there’s a wealth of information online.

“There are still good reasons for going to university but the reasons are more to do with networking and making contacts.”

“And tell me about the name,” I ask. “Why are you called Modify Productions?”

“We came up with some obvious names for a film production company but, when we researched them, they were all taken,” says Josh. “We want to shake things up a bit, do it differently and the name came from that really.”

Josh and David are certainly clued up and I’m convinced they’re going to make a success of their production company. Already they’ve completed some promotional films for commercial clients and even won a competition for a short horror film. While they’re getting started they both still have part-time jobs but already have an eye on the future.

“In a few years time we’d like to be working on Modify full time,” says David, “maybe have an office in town and a group of creative collaborators around us. But we’d still be making our passion projects…”

“So when can we expect to see your Moston and Harpurhey film?”

“It’ll be premiered in March, just across the way,” says Josh, pointing to the Moston Small Cinema on the other side of the bar, “but we haven’t set a date yet. We’ve got a few weeks of editing yet, working out how it all fits together.”

As I switch my tape recorder off, Josh and David turn the tables. David sets up as I’m sat in front of an impressive-looking video camera, Josh fixes up some lights and within minutes I too am a subject for their documentary.

“So,” asks David, “what has struck you about Moston and Harpurhey as you’ve been writing the Another Music blog?”

Moston Lane: a community asset

I’m a little early and Stephen is finishing off a customer’s hair when I arrive. “You’re not going to get it much lighter with bleach,” he says, “you might as well leave it like that.”

Hairdresser Stephen Chandler is secretary of Moston Lane Traders Association and I’ve asked him to take me on a tour of the high street. Before we go, and while I’m finishing off my tea, I ask him to start at the beginning.

“You were born in Moston?”

“Well, Blackley really,” he says, “now they’ve changed the boundaries.”

Stephen is the oldest of three brothers and went to Lilly Lane Primary School. “Which is only just over there,” he says, arm outstretched. “And then Moston Brook where Central Park and the Police Headquarters are now.”

Back then Stephen blagged his way onto a YOP scheme (Youth Opportunities Programme) making out he’d always wanted to be a hairdresser. He ended up sweeping hair off a salon floor on Deansgate in town.

“I didn’t care because I used to make about £15 a week in tips on top of my wages,” he said. “I never looked back. I loved it.”

After learning the trade in Manchester’s Lewis’s store Stephen’s first salon was in Bredbury before setting up Chandlers Hairdressing on Moston Lane.

“The lane was absolutely buzzing then,” he recalls. “It’s still busy now, but not as busy, because we’ve lost houses and had the recession.

“I know people moan about Moston having changed but I don’t see that as a bad thing. I’m reluctant to say it’s racist because I don’t think people round here are bigoted at all – there’s always the odd one wherever you go – but generally the community are warm and accepting. I know that because I’m gay and I’ve never had a problem.”

“Tell me about your involvement with the LRG (Local Reference Group) for Forever Manchester. I guess you were approached because of your work with the local traders.”

“And, I suppose, because I’m Moston born and bred.”

“What do you make of it?”

“I enjoy it,” he says. “I enjoy being involved in making grants to local groups. Some ask for small amounts of money that you know will make a big difference – spades for a gardening project, for instance – and I just like to be able to say yes.”

“That must feel good, knowing that the money often helps the most vulnerable.”

“It does. It really does. If it improves the area, or the lives of local people, then I’m quite happy.”

Tea finished, we set off down the high street as Stephen tells me why the Traders Association was set up two years ago.

“We represent about 140 businesses – this is Dave’s print shop, he’s our chairman – and our aim is to improve Moston Lane for the traders. If anyone has a problem we will take it to, say, the Council on their behalf.”

There are tailors and nurseries, barbers and mini-markets, takeaways and beauty shops. “Look at this,” declares Stephen proudly, “what high street nowadays has two banks!”

We wander past the impressive Simpson Memorial Hall where Stephen mucks in with the NMAODs, The North Manchester Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society.

“Moston Lane is an asset to Moston just as much as the local schools, Boggart Hole Clough or Central Park,” he says.

“So you feel positive for the future of this place?” I ask.

“I’ve always been positive. This lane will always be here. It was here when I was a kid and it will be here when I’m gone. The shops will just be different.”