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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MaD by name, mad by nature

I like the MaD Theatre Company. Probably because they are just a bit mad. I like Rob and Jill’s enthusiasm. And I especially like the way all the young people in this Thursday evening rehearsal encourage and support each other.

“Our whole thing is about using drama to develop skills for life,” Rob tells me, “not about churning out professional actors.

“Often they do get on stage or TV and some have done really well. But, for us, it’s about building confidence and self-esteem. I’m dead chuffed when our kids go on to university or get a good job. One lad’s doing a PhD in Criminal Psychiatry.”

There’s nothing high brow about MaD. And I like that too. They perform to audiences who wouldn’t normally go to the theatre, often in places where people don’t realise they’re watching theatre.

Their plays are about real life and always relevant to their audiences. “Our local housing association asked us to write a play that included dog shit and fly tipping… but in a funny way,” says Rob. “And so we did.”

“Do you want to get some chairs in a circle?” Rob calls out to the young people as the place fills up. We’ve at the Simpson Memorial Hall on Moston Lane, MaD’s base for the last 12 years. It was originally built by Alice Simpson, the daughter of a wealthy silk merchant as a school to support local kids. Seems appropriate.

Elsewhere in the expansive hall there’s some filming going on. “We re-making our Cottage Pies film about domestic violence,” Rob explains, “which we tour to schools and all over.”

As Rob gathers the group I chat with 19-year-old Alana who’s come back this evening to help with the filming. Her MaD years are behind her now but I ask what she’s got out of it all.

“It definitely brought me out of my shell and made me more confident,” she says after explaining her first role, at the age of eight, was as a loan shark in a play called ASBO. “It sounds odd but it was funny and it worked.

“It helped me be the person I am today, 100%,” she says, emphatically. “You had to work to deadlines and have discipline. That helped me in school when I had to time manage my revision.

“It’s given me positive life skills and made me work hard. I’ve got a good work ethic because of it.” Alana is working to pay for a world trip before she goes to university next year.

“MaD is like a big family,” she says, looking over at the youngsters in their circle, “I’ve made lifelong friends here.”

Later I watch transfixed as the young people hand out scripts and rehearse their ‘dog shit and flytipping’ musical – I’ve Got You Babe – which has now been commissioned to tour residential nursing homes.

The young people can hardly hold it together as they recount the story of Moston Marilyn’s romance with Northwards Norman from the housing.

“Baby, when I met you I was on my arse,” sings ‘Norman’ as if he’s Kenny Rodgers. “My whole life was empty, it was one big farce.”

It’s all a bit mad.

Interested in joining MaD Theatre? Contact Rob on 07788 163151 or email him












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