“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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“Am I the luckiest man alive?”

My name is Anthony, I’m 40 years old and have been working in the community for just short of 20 years. For the first 14 I worked in the Youth Service and Connexions, what used to be known as the Careers Service.

I was made redundant in 2011 and, to cut a long story short, it was the best thing that ever happened to me, although it didn’t feel like that at the time!

It doesn’t matter how big or hard you are, if you care about the work you do and it is taken away from you, you wobble.

It would have been relatively easy to pick up another local authority job and, with a wife, two children and a mortgage, it would have been the safer bet.

But I knew in my heart of hearts that I could never go back. I had felt stifled for years and it had made me ill.

Instead I decided to follow my dreams.

My mother – Jaqueline – just happened to be going through a similar struggle of redundancy which was a blessing in disguise as we were able to support each other.

I have a huge respect for my mother’s professionalism and devotion to building community spirit. She’s an inspiration to me and the many others she’s supported over the years.

Our relationship is a mixture of loving solidarity tempered with brutal honest communication. It’s not an easy relationship but it’s real in every sense of the word.

Our willingness to continue to do what we loved as well as my mother’s matriarchal desire to support her eldest son with his dream gave us a fighting chance.

We picked up a bit of work, although not enough to pay my wages. But with some financial reshuffling and my modest redundancy payout, we saw it through.

Since late 2011 it’s been a hairy ride: just enough money to keep me afloat, some great projects delivered and some ‘difficult’ ones that made us take a serious look about what we set out to achieve.

Having facilitated hundreds of community projects over the years we’ve found an approach that works and is sorely needed. We use reminiscence as a mindfulness tool to improve emotional and psychological wellbeing as well as building community spirit.

Community wellbeing and togetherness seem to be in short supply in today’s world where apathy, confusion and mistrust create misery and division. For many young people this is the norm but the older generation remember how it used to be.

Despite the poverty and war that many older people experienced, they rememberer a time when people stuck together, when it was natural to leave your door open. This ‘memory’ is the foundation to our work and no amount of clinical intervention can bring it back.

Instead of focusing on what’s wrong with people and communities based upon adherence to a conjured-up definition of normality we seek to unlock creativity, share life stories and celebrate life.

We aim to develop trusting relationships within groups with the understanding that they have all the answers to their individual and collective wellbeing. In professional parlance this is called ‘Asset Based Community Development’ or ABCD.

And my work is as easy as ABCD when I am truly authentic, meaning that I don’t try and pretend to be any other than myself, ‘to thine own self be true…’

I know this sounds very cryptic, but I know from personal experience it’s extremely difficult to truly be yourself when you’re getting paid to tow the company line. There’s a parapet: don’t get shot!

I consider myself to be the luckiest man alive. It’s a privilege to do what I do, to hear the stories of old, to see people come alive in groups where previously there was great tension and anxiety.

I can now say that all those years of professional crisis – where I questioned myself and the organisations in which I worked – were all worth it. I backed myself to the hilt and it paid off!

Anthony Bradley is part of the Local Reference Group for the Fourteen programme in Harpurhey and Moston. His reminiscence company is called Everyday People.

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“It sounds like something from the Wild West.”

Barbara from Creative Community recounts a typical Wednesday arts and crafts session at The Miners.

It’s Wednesday morning and the group are getting ready to start. We are down on numbers today, there is a nasty bug going round which has hit a few of us pretty hard.

Some of the group are already knitting, the rest look at today’s project: a card of flowers that will be suitable for Mother’s Day, a birthday, or a get well soon card.

Some of us talk about Event City and how disappointed we were with the Hobby Crafts show last week. Despite this we came away with bargains and will probably go to the next one.

Ill health becomes the topic of conversation and one of the members says that she swears by ‘Pulmo Baileys’. There’s a stunned silence because no one else has heard of it.

We’re all intrigued by this weird-sounding medicine. “It sounds like something from the Wild West,” someone says. Wonder if anyone will be brave enough to go and buy some!

The nice thing about our group is the variety of conversations. No one knows where we’re going with our chatter but it certainly is diverse and invariably we will learn something new.

By now lunch is being served. We don’t go down to the cafe, our food is brought to us by our resident chef Matthew. Today’s hot pot looks particularly good, as does the meat pie and chips and the all day breakfast.

With food in front of us the conversation turns to school dinners and what our mums gave us as kids: mashed eggs with soldiers, bananas on toast or with custard.

Someone fondly remembers the weekly spoon of cod liver oil, and whilst half the group lick their lips at the memory, the rest of us grimace. That’s obviously one you either love or hate.

“Do you remember eating coal when you were pregnant?” someone asks.

“What does it taste like?”

“COAL!” shouts someone else from across the table, which makes us laugh.

The cards are nearly finished now, it’s always amazing how different each one looks and everyone is pleased with their end result. It’s nice to have time for yourself with good friends.

Creative Community was formed for local people wishing to take part and learn new skills in creative activities such as card-making, knitting, etc.

The group is open to all and also has a very good understanding of mental health issues.

Not everyone who attends takes part in an activity, some just come for a cup of tea and a chat.

Our group is friendly and welcoming and meets at The Miners Community Arts and Music Centre, Moston every Wednesday from 11am till 3pm and the cost for this session is £2.

Here’s our Facebook page.

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