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?”

“It’s a great honour to have a parent’s trust.”

“Today is particularly important because it’s about safeguarding children,” says Shelley. “Volunteers are being trained in what to do if they see or hear anything that concerns them.”

I’ve come to the Turkey Lane and Monsall Centre in Harpurhey to sit in on a training course led by the family support charity Home-Start.

“Do you mind if I’m a fly on the wall?” I ask once I’ve introduced myself.

“We’re doing a quiz to establish what we already know,” says workshop leader Shelley Roberts pointing out little cards strewn in front of the participants. “Safeguarding is a really grey area and we all bring our own experiences to each situation.”

Home-Start is a national network of independent family support charities. They each recruit and train local volunteers who visit families with young children. All the volunteers have parenting experience and, with the charity’s help, they offer guidance to other parents who might be struggling to cope.

There’s a lively discussion around smacking. Is it ever acceptable? “If a child is having a tantrum then smacking isn’t going to help,” says one woman, “you have to find the reason for the tantrum.”

“There are other techniques to control your child,” says another.

“Smacking is a really contentious issue, isn’t it?” says Shelley. “There are lots of generational and cultural factors around smacking a child.”

During a tea break I ask Shelley how they get to know about families in need. “Mostly through the health visitors,” she says, “because all our families have at least one child under five and are still being seen by a health visitor. But also through GPs, nurseries and other health practitioners.”

I’m introduced to some of the volunteers. Bukky, Afi and Amna have already been working for the charity and are using the training session as a refresher.

“This training is really useful,” says Bukky, “not just for the work you do with other families but it gives you more confidence with your own. It helps you make informed decisions.”

“Before I worked with Home Start I was feeling very low,” says Afi. “But by helping someone else it really boosted my confidence. I’ve now got a job. Yes, it’s improved my life definitely.”

“What have you got out of volunteering?” I ask Amna who says she first did this training course three years ago.

“Honestly, it’s given me a lot of knowledge,” she says, “and it’s a great opportunity to gain experience.” Amna tells me something about one of the families she’s already supported. “The mother would share things with me that she hadn’t shared with anyone else and that’s a great honour to have someone’s trust.”

Before the mugs are put back in the kitchen and the session resumes, I hear from new recruit Sarah whose daughter’s autism diagnosis prompted a career change.

“She’s five now and is getting lots of help at her school but for me, as a parent, I feel as if I’ve been put through the mill,” says Sarah. “The process made me feel isolated with no emotional and practical support. I want to help other people who might be going through the same experience.”

This will be Sarah’s first volunteering role and she’s looking to switch to a caring career, maybe as a support worker. “I’m not sure what field I want to go into but I do feel this is going to be a great starting point.”

“Let’s move on,” says Shelley as she encourages everyone back to the table. “Let’s talk about how you might recognise the signs of neglect and abuse.”

The Home-Start training courses In Harpurhey and Moston have been supported by the Fourteen programme. The next training course starts in January in Moston. Contact Shelley on 0161 721 4493 for details.

“Tackling the lack of provision for young people is crucial.”

It’s lunchtime on a chilly Friday afternoon and I’m outside a north Manchester high school as excited students stream out, finished for the week.

Amongst the mums, dads and carers are Lee and Adrian, two workers from the Mancunian Way youth charity, about to start their afternoon shift.

“So what’s the idea?” I ask as the children disperse in all directions.

“The main aim is to tackle anti-social behaviour,” says Lee. “In a little while we’ll head up to the takeaway where they have their dinners. Then we’ll make our way around the estate.”

Lee and Adrian are part of the charity’s Stay Safe programme funded – in this part of the city at least – by Forever Manchester’s Fourteen programme.

It’s a street-based scheme where, over time, youth workers build trust with local young people in targeted areas so they can offer advice and support when it’s needed. As well as their Friday afternoon shift, Lee and Adrian are out on these streets on Tuesday evenings too.

“To be fair most of the issues we deal with are not from students of this school,” explains Adrian as we walk towards the takeaway, “but with local kids who’ve been excluded. Even trying to hold a conversation is difficult, they only want to talk about criminality. All they’re interested in is making money in the wrong way rather than staying in school.

“Many of the young people who are antisocial don’t have a strong support structure at home,” he continues. “Maybe there’s a parent who’s alcoholic, or in prison. So there are no boundaries.

“They’re a victim of their environment?” I suggest.

“The parents aren’t bothered. The kids can do what they want.”

The takeaway is the only shop open in a row of shuttered properties in a derelict square.
I’m introduced to Paul, a 14-year-old student from the high school, who’s already eaten and is on his way home.

“He plays in goal for Stoke City,” says Lee by way of introduction, “and you’ve just been selected to play for England Under 15s, haven’t you?”

Paul tells me how he was trialled by the Premiership club and now travels there three times a week for training. “So what have these two ever done for you?” I ask him, cheekily.

“No pressure now,” jokes Lee, over my shoulder.

“They’ve given me lots of encouragement,” says Paul, “they tell me to keep striving forward.”

The takeaway is full to bursting with more young people forcing their way in to order their box of chicken or cone of chips. Two young lads, not in school uniform, come out and are greeted by Lee and Adrian. Their reply is not so polite.

After they’ve disappeared back into the estate Adrian explains they have recently been excluded and now attend a Pupil Referral Unit. “Sometimes you’ll get some sense out of them and sometimes you won’t,” he says, “but they’re always suspicious of new people.”

“That’s understandable,” I say. “It must be reassuring though for these youngsters to have you around.”

“They get used to seeing us,” says Lee. “We’re here week in, week out. Everyone knows why we are here. And every week we speak to someone new.”

We wander towards the 3G football pitches where small groups are running after each other, burning off energy, being kids.

“If you had the resources,” I ask, “what would you like to see happen for young people?”

“Getting them out of their comfort zones can be really inspiring,” says Lee. “Many of these,” he waves an arm, “have never left their own patch. Experiencing the outdoors can be especially rewarding.”

“You’ve got to give young people hope,” adds Adrian. “There has to be real opportunities for them. Without hope they will turn to alternative negative activities. So tackling the lack of provision for young people is crucial.”