Cameras, caterpillars and cake

We met up at the Little Lavender Community Hub and kicked off the event with a brew and a slice of cake. I went for the vegetarian option. It was the best carrot cake I’d EVER tasted.

The ‘we’ is a small group of people on a Nature Photography Walk with photographer Rich Bunce. No-one’s met before but we have two things in common, we like walking and we like taking photos.Our route starts at Wrigley Head Bridge, takes us along the Rochdale canal near Failsworth, under the Metrolink bridge, over the lock and down on to Moston Brook. Then we pick up the path through the undergrowth and follow it along the edge of the brook until we’re back at Wrigley Head.

“Just before you take a shot, pause a moment and think. Would it be better from a different angle or is this the best? Does that make sense?” We nod at Rich and each other.

“Do you just delete photos that haven’t worked out as well as you’d thought? Instead take a moment to work out why and next time they might be better.” We nod at Rich and each other.

“Ever taken what you thought was the perfect scene but didn’t notice the plastic bag flapping in the tree in the background?” I nearly shouted “I know what they are. They’re witches knickers!” but nodded instead.Our cameras range from a top of the range digital SLR, to handy compacts to mobile phones. You don’t need anything fancy; it’s what you do with it that matters.

As we stroll along Rich stops now and then to explain something and the group gathers round to peer at laminated examples from his rucksack. He talks about making the most of nature’s shapes, lighting, reflections, backgrounds, colour and the impact of simplistic views. We hang on his every word. He sets us challenges along the way.

It all makes perfect sense and we get busy, clicking our cameras at everything, literally everything we see, trees, plants, spiders webs, paths, bridges, caterpillars and each other.Now and then other walkers go by in groups, nodding and exchanging a smile as they pass. I wondered who they were and wondered if they wondered what we were doing. I found out they were Co-op employees on a charity walk (the Hope Challenge). They were cheerful and made a good day even better.

Back at the Little Lavender Community Hub Cafe Rich got a well-deserved round of applause and we had a quick chat before he had to leave. I’d assumed he was one of a team.

“No it’s just me” he said. “I get about though. Do various photography sessions, walks and workshops in Yorkshire, Manchester, Leeds and even London. I held one once while I was on a family holiday. Once was enough!”

When I asked him what his biggest challenge was his answer surprised me. “Marketing” he said. “It’s so important but takes up a lot of time.” I’ve seen his website and I reckon he’s spent that time pretty well.As for time, we’d had a brilliant one, loved every minute and learnt loads. The weather was kind, we’d taken hundreds of photos…and not one with ‘witches knickers’ in the background.

A big thank you to the Moston Brook Project for organising the event and the Manchester Festival of Ageing for the grant to make it possible.

To find out about other events around Moston Brook check out their Facebook page.

Details of other activities and photo walks with Rich Bunce can be found on his website.

”Manchester’s silent army?”

I look after my Dad. He’s 87 and calls me his PA! He has limited vision and his hearing isn’t great. Easy to be with, he likes music, laughing and trips to seaside. He’s very independent but can’t do everything without some help and when he’s ill or bored it isn’t easy.About a year ago I was asked to say something about myself. Without thinking “I’m a member of Manchester’s silent army” popped out of my mouth. I think I meant to say “I’m a carer, one of many and we just quietly get on with it”.

Since then I’ve joined the Manchester Carers Forum.

The forum facilitates group meetings, day trips, provides information, runs a dementia support service, training workshops, even has a weekly local radio slot. There are several groups across Manchester. The North group is organised by Miriam and Christine and meets monthly at Cheetham Hill Medical Centre.

“We’re not saying that we can change someone’s circumstances” Miriam tells me “but we can bring carers together so that they can share their experiences with each other. Those that attend hold a wealth of knowledge and lived experience which is so valuable.  People leave the group feeling they’ve had a break for a couple of hours. They’ve relaxed, let off some steam or maybe come away with some tips, and are better able to cope with life’s challenges until the next meeting.”

Today we’re helping carer George celebrate his 80th birthday by tucking into a box of wonderful cupcakes. While they’re chomping away I ask the group what they thought about the forum.“Tell me a bit about yourselves and why you come here?”

I thought they might be shy – boy was I wrong! Here’s some of what they said:

Just love meeting here. I get a sense of relief. Would be quite happy if it was once a week never mind once a month”

It recharges your batteries and I go home feeling energised”

Everyone’s in exactly the same position as you and it’s a break from the pressure of looking after someone for a few hours”

Discussing issues with the group gives me confidence to challenge the authorities rather than just accept something”

It’s the information that others share and knowing you’re not alone”

While I’m here, for a brief period someone looks after me – even being served a cup of tea and a cake or biscuit is a welcome feeling”

It makes me feel good and I’ve made some great friends”

If something can be changed we have more chance when we come together in a larger group than we would have as individuals”

“I  come here because I like cakes! They’re my commission for sharing what I know”Birthday boy George the ‘cup-cake king’

They talked about caring for wives, husbands, partners, children and siblings, about how important it was that their ‘cared for’ had quality of life. They raised issues about local council services, housing, disjointed health care, benefits etc. Told astonishing, even shocking stories. Some had fought fierce battles and not always won.

Thinking back to my statement a year ago made me smile – a small army they might be but they’re far from silent!

They were clear about role played by the Manchester Carers Forum and the invaluable support they receive.  If you want to find out more about the work they do in your area visit, their website.  You can follow them on Facebook or e-mail them at info@manchestercarersforum.org.

“It’s about empowerment and promoting social inclusion”

The Widows Empowerment Trust (WET) were in my local Morrisons a week or two ago offering to pack my bag in exchange for a small donation. WET, I discovered, is a newly formed charity offering support primarily to widows and widowers.

Their founder, Oyovwe Kigho, was ‘hands on’ so I arranged to meet her and find out more. “It’s about empowerment and promoting social inclusion” she tells me.“What does that mean and what led you to set up the charity?” I ask.

“I have a few friends and family that are bereaved and I was aware of the isolation, the loneliness in them. They didn’t want to mix with other people or get engaged in the community. After a loss fewer people would visit, or phone them and they struggled, became depressed.

I felt real empathy and compassion for them. So I set the charity up to support widows in that situation who were in need.”

The support is provided in a number of ways. Sometimes it’s out in the community as part of a befriending service, a couple of hours chatting, walking, shopping. They arrange trips and meals out to encourage widows to socialise and run a couple of support sessions locally.“On Tuesday’s we run a craft based workshop with activities such as sewing, knitting or crocheting. It’s an opportunity to meet other widows and socialise.

Also, on Thursdays we organise a workshop for people who are suffering from dementia. We do arts and crafts like painting alongside dancing, playing music, singing. It’s held at the Each Step Care Home and around 10 to 20 people attend, some are residents and others live nearby. It’s a lovely group and really enjoyable.”

I decided to go along and see for myself. Each Step Care Home is a modern, bright, well lit building in Blackley, cheerful and clean with a garden and cafe.

I’m taken through to a lounge area to see a small group sat around a long table doing crafts. Gradually more people arrive. There’s music and karaoke compliments of Richard who, along with Oyovwe, encourages everyone along and there are plenty of volunteers to join in the singing and dancing.As promised the group were lovely and thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

Running the charity is not without its challenges. Raising funds is a time consuming necessity and committed volunteers are much needed for roles such as office admin, befriending, PR, fundraising and more. Oyovwe also has her own young family to look after and I truly admire her.

“You don’t have to be a widow to see the pain that bereavement causes. I put myself in their shoes, understand how they feel. It’s what gives me that push, that drive.

I can see the impact of what we are doing. Some have really improved in their confidence.

It’s helped them to meet other widows and I hope it’s raised awareness amongst the community and families too.”

If someone offers to pack your bag at the supermarket please let them and, if you can, make a donation to whichever cause they are collecting for. It’s a fair exchange.

More about the trust and full details of the volunteer opportunities can be found on the Widows Empowerment Trust website and Facebook page.

Or contact Oyovwe on 07472 064322  /  email: info@widowsempowment.com