I’m led through the noisy main hall, out the back where the braver ones are having a kick-about, and down the ramp to the garage. Inside all is quiet and calm.
I’ve been looking forward to visiting the bike maintenance project at The Factory Youth Zone in Harpurhey for some time. It sounds like such a good idea.
In amongst the dozens of bicycles, all in different states of disrepair, three young women are working together with youth worker Heather and volunteer Mike on a couple of mountain bikes perched on maintenance stands.
“We’ve been going for about 16 months,” says Heather when I ask her how it all began. “We started from nothing, and all this place was full of junk.”
With donations of professional tools to get things going Heather explains they now have four fully-equipped workstations where young people work under supervision.
“Most of the bikes here have been donated by the police,” Heather says. “The young people sign up for a twelve week programme where they choose a bike and learn how to put it together with new components. As long as they try hard and respect the place, they get to keep the bike at the end of it.
“You’ll need new tyres for that,” she says, keeping an eye on one of the young women. “Do you remember how to do this? You put one side of the tyre on first, and then the valve…”
“But it’s more than just bike maintenance skills isn’t it?” I ask.
“This is a very able group,” says Heather, “but for others it’s about building self-confidence, communications skills and manual dexterity. Some young people think they can’t do it but once we spend time with them and they see we trust them with the tools then we get results.
“Some say they like the calm atmosphere and it’s more challenging than the activities they do in the main centre.”
Success, Suzanne and Victoria tell me they are all friends from Moston. Success has been working in the garage for three months and has already earned her bike. The others are just starting out.
“So you’re the expert?” I suggest.
She laughs. “What do you like about it?”
“I like helping my friends,” she says while adjusting a chain, “and I like making things, especially hard things. They are changing the tyres now and then we’ll start working on the gears.”
“So you look forward to your Monday evenings?” I ask.
“And I sometimes come down on Tuesdays to help my little sister in the junior session.”
At the next workstation volunteer Mark is helping Victoria with her rear tyre. “I’ve been fixing bikes at my Collyhurst house for years,” he says, “and lads would always come round. It’s a good way for kids to gain confidence.
“They think they can’t do things but, when you do it together, you can see them start to believe in themselves. There’s a connection when you’re fixing something together and it’s a good way of having conversations about other stuff.”
Once tyres and inner tubes are on and pumped up, the young women move on to the their gears. It’s starting to look complicated so I leave them to it.