“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

Encouraging and empowering local people

I can’t believe how much is going on at Manchester Communication Academy.

This afternoon I’m chatting with Jane Ellis who has been with the school’s community department for the last four years.

“I’d worked as a dental nurse for 20 years and was looking for a career change when I applied to work at the school when it first opened in 2010. Back then there were just three staff working on the community programme.”

Now Jane is one of a team of 11 whose job it is to support and outreach in to the school’s wider community.

They hire the school’s facilities to local sports and community groups, including a visually-impaired football team and the local scout group. They put on Adult Education courses where English and maths are in high demand.

There’s a ‘Once Upon A Time’ project for older people where you can drop in for a chat and a look back at local history. Jane’s team even includes a resident archaeologist.

“Why does a school like yours get so involved with its community?” I ask.

“As you know, this area is near the top of all the deprivation statistics,” says Jane. “And there are few other resources in this area.”

“It’s as if you’re a community centre within a school,” I suggest.

“We see our job as removing the barriers that people might have to make changes in their lifestyle,” she says. “That way we can help to improve those statistics.”

“It must be very different from being a dental nurse?” I suggest.

“It’s very rewarding. When you see someone come to, say, one of the classes for the first time, they might be quiet and nervous and think they’re not capable. But then you witness a real change.

“One lady, I remember, said the hardest thing was coming though the doors – it can be daunting for some people to just walk in to the building – but now she volunteers for us and has even got back into employment.”

Jane is currently setting up a ‘time bank’ for the area where local people can share their skills, offering to do small jobs for others.

“It could be doing some shopping for an older person,” she says, “or just sitting, having a conversation. There are a million opportunities.”

I ask why people might want to get involved. “Time banking can be a great stepping stone,” Jane explains. “Some people will do it to get volunteering experience, it will give them the edge when applying for jobs. For others it’ll be a chance to build their confidence.

“And anyone will be able to join without having to give back,” she explains, “no one will be in ‘time debt’.”

Jane is one of the newest members of Forever Manchester’s Local Reference Group, overseeing the allocation of funding from the Fourteen programme. “I got to know the Forever Manchester team when I applied for funding for the Frank Cohen alcohol support centre,” she says.

“What Forever Manchester is doing is amazing. They’re bringing people together, like we’re trying to do, and making people aware of what help and support is out there.”

By spending just a short time with Jane I can tell she is a real ‘people person’. She loves to be able to help and outside of her busy job with the Academy she still finds time to support her local food bank.

To get involved with Jane’s time bank, or any of the other activities on offer, give her a call on 0161 202 0161