A winner amongst winners

They’ve only gone and done it again!

Louis Beckett and his volunteer team at The Miners Arts and Music Centre in Moston has not only won the Community Project of the Year Award at Manchester’s Be Proud Awards but also scooped the Pride of Manchester Award 2017 too, presented to the winner of winners.

“On the night it didn’t really hit me,” Louis tells me. “But a few days later I’m thinking, this is big.”

“It is big,” I say, “and congratulations.”

Earlier this year I wrote about the amazing work Louis and his team have done bringing this old miners’ washrooms back into life for the community. In an area where facilities are sparse, The Miners has provided a venue for community groups to flourish.

“We’ve done it from nothing, haven’t we?” reflects Louis. “We’re bringing people together, I can see that now.”

“It’s not as if you’re motivated by profit, are you?” I suggest. “You’re motivated by other things.”

Those other things, for Louis, include his belief in social justice. Only last week I attended a sell-out fundraising event featuring Ken Loach, the acclaimed film director of social documentary films like the recent I, Daniel Blake that was screened in the Centre’s own cinema on the night. All the profits from that event went to the critical work of the Salford Unemployed & Community Resource Centre.

“I’m keen to bring people together,” says Louis. “Rather than being sat at home watching the telly, I’d like people to come here, have a cheap beer or brew and have a chat with someone. I think we do that well.”

When The Miners first opened they hosted Barbara Shaw’s Creative Community, and still do. “And we’ve got a dance group that started small and now has 30-odd kids coming on two nights a week.”

The events they’ve hosted range from cooking sessions to Zumba classes. They’ve been home to Contact Theatre’s cultural entrepreneur programme and followed that with a sewing academy and fashion show. There’s a kids’ drama group, a new fine arts group, all on top of a popular series of gigs and social events.

“You must be feeling pretty good about this,” I suggest.

“I am now,” says Louis.

This isn’t the first time the great work of The Miners as been recognised. Last year Louis lifted the Forever Manchester gong for Most Inspirational Project. No doubt the two new trophies will join this one alongside the homemade meat pies in the café’s display cabinet.

Well done Louis and all at The Miners.

Check out The Miners Facebook page for events and updates.

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From fabrication engineer to community hub hero

“This one’s got bits of chorizo and smoked cheese,” says Louis showing me one of his pies in the community café. “It’s a bit misshaped, but it’s all there. Very rustic.”

Louis Beckett has been running The Miners Community Arts and Music Centre for nearly seven years.

Back in the day this single-story building off St Mary’s Road was a washroom for the local pit. Then it became a working men’s club until it closed in the early 90s.

Louis has in fingers in so many pies, I’m finding it difficult to pin him down. “As well as running this place, you’re also an artist, aren’t you?”

“I like being creative in whatever I do,” he says, pulling the pie-heater away from the kitchen wall so he can clean it. “Even with my cooking. But I have to do all sorts running this place. One minute I’m the cellar man, the next I’m taking bookings for gigs.

“But I do like to think of myself as an artist, although by trade I’m a welder, a fabrication engineer.” I must have pulled a puzzled face. “I know, it’s a bit weird.”

“I loved art as a kid. I started off at St Thomas More School in Miles Platting before I moved to the High School of Art in Cheetham Hill. That was great. It was much more creative than it was academic.

“When I was 12 or 13 I had a job as a butcher’s boy for Yates’s Butchers on Tib Street, next to the Wine Lodge. When I turned 16, the butcher – Norman Dixon – offered me a full time job.

“Really I wanted to be an architect but my dad said no, I had to get a ‘proper job’ rather than go on to college and university. I didn’t want to be a butcher so I went looking for another job. Bolton Brady Industrial Doors and Shutters in Ancoats was taking on apprentices and I went there and learnt the bench. Engineering was a semi-skilled job and I loved fabricating with metal.”

“Were you annoyed with your dad for not letting you follow your passion?”

“I suppose so, but that’s parents, isn’t it?”

“When Bolton Bradys shut down I got a series of jobs in small fabrication workshops, a few years at a time, until they shut down and I was laid off.

“In my 30s I went back to college and did A-levels in Fine Art and Design. And then I applied to Huddersfield University to do a BA Honours degree in Fine Art.

I took just three paintings to the interview and sat and talked to the people on the panel. They listened to what I had to say, looked at my work and said, right, you’re in. “But I couldn’t afford to go. It was full time for three years. So I went back into fabrication for another five years.”

continued in: The Miners: an oasis in a desert of closed venues and dwindling resources

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The Miners: an oasis in a desert of closed venues and dwindling resources

continued from: From fabrication engineer to community hub hero

“At 43 I got fed up with being laid off. So, I saw this place and thought I’d give it a go.” The phone rings. Louis excuses himself. “Hello. Miners.”

After the closure of the working men’s club, a private landlord had bought the building and turned part of it into a pub. When that failed it fell derelict and became a target for vandals. The landlord was more than happy to let Louis try his luck.

With support from his parents and lots of help from friends and neighbours he started to renovate the building.

“It was tough going but within six months we’d opened up a café and a community room,” he says, back from his phone call.

Nearly six years on he’s added a 70-seat ‘surround sound’ cinema (great for kids’ parties); a bar (for matchdays at nearby FC United) and is currently working on a recording studio for local bands.

The Miners now regularly hosts dance classes for kids; a children’s drama group; Zumba workouts and Barbara’s craft sessions every Wednesday. It’s used by Contact Theatre for a youth outreach project and

“We have art exhibitions and band nights, people come from as far as Scotland for our Northern Soul Nights. We have a great DJ.”

Every community needs a Louis Beckett.

On Teddington Road in Moston, he’s created an oasis in a desert of long-since-closed facilities and dwindling resources. Although Louis aims for The Miners to eventually ‘wash its own face’, his motivation is far from financial.

“I like to give people a break,” he says, “We can do a low rent for new groups to get on their feet. The dance group started with a handful of kids. Now there are 35. It’s massive.”

His commitment to the local community has been recognised by Forever Manchester. A glass star declaring ‘Inspirational Community Group Award’ sits proudly on the counter above the meat and potato pies.

“Do you still get time to paint?”

“Not really. Months will go by without me doing anything. Sometimes I might sketch some ideas onto a canvas but it never goes further than that. It’s frustrating but it’s one of those things, isn’t it?”

“Louis, we hope this blog will be read by others working for their own communities. You know, as inspiration. Now you are six years in, what advice would you give other groups?”

“Just get your head down and get on with it first,” he says, “no one will give you anything until they can see you’re established and with the right intentions.”

“You mean, funders?”

“Yeah. You have to prove yourself. The first two years are the most challenging. But don’t expect to make any money out of it because it doesn’t happen.”

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