Celebration time for Fourteen

It wasn’t meant to be like this. Jane said I only had to say a few words about this blog but now I’m up on stage compèring the whole event.

She’s prepared a script so I start with that. It’s the last time I stick to it all evening. “Welcome and thanks for coming. Tonight is all about celebrating the amazing achievements made by local people, helped along by funding from the Fourteen programme through Spirit of 2012.”

We’re at The Miners in Moston and the place is buzzing with people from different groups across Harpurhey and Moston. Community co-ordinator Jane Ellis is up on stage too – a first, she says as she invites Helen and Graeme of Forever Manchester to the microphone.

“What I love about Harpurhey and Moston are the people who have the passion for this community and who want to get involved to make a difference,” says Helen. “So thank you for your involvement and thank you for coming along tonight.”

Graeme tells us how his role as Community Builder has been a real pleasure. “I’m not going to mention all the 60-odd projects we’ve funded,” he says, “but they range from a youth leadership programme to using hanging baskets to bring people together on a local estate and much more.”

We’ve got a packed programme for the night and young filmmakers Josh and David from Modify Productions come and tell us about the film they’ve produced about all the positive goings-on in north Manchester. They’re back here on Tuesday night with the premiere.

“I’d like to officially present Trish with the Another Music blog,” I say once I’ve explained how this blog will now be written totally by the local community, another of many legacies of the Fourteen programme. “Has anyone got a camera?” I ask as Barbara jumps up to snap us with an oversized computer screen. Thanks Barbara.

Local singer-songwriter Tyler J Bolton provides the first of our musical interludes followed by the Amani Choir whose 20-odd singers just about fit on stage.

“This is about bringing different communities together,” says Emmanuela by way of introduction. “At Amani Creatives we use art to create social change by providing opportunities like this choir.”

Following the wonderful performances including exquisite solos I encourage Barbara from Creative Community up on her feet. She’s keen to explain how Fourteen funding helped her weekly art group.

“Everyone knows that fundraising these days is difficult, so being awarded a grant for equipment and materials lightened, quite frankly, a heavy load,” she says.

Jane’s next up, telling us about the literally life-saving work of the Frank Cohen Centre on Moston Lane. She’s been instrumental in supporting this alcohol addiction service which is close to her heart. “I can barely find the words to explain their impact on people’s lives,” she says.

After the Tai Chi demonstration by 75-year-old David who gets everyone on their feet for a warm-up – this is no ordinary evening out – I encourage our host to the stage.

“I call you the Modest Man of Moston Louis because you get on and do all this stuff and you don’t shout about it,” I say. “You’ve won some awards haven’t you?”

“The first one we won was the Forever Manchester Most Inspirational Project, that was the best one, wasn’t it Paula?” We encourage Louis’ partner on stage. “Before that we’d never had any praise for anything. Then we won the Manchester Proud Awards for Best Community Project and the Best of the Best.” Whoops and cheers all round.

Jane finally thanks everyone for coming and announces Louis’ famous pies are being served. Phew.

I leave Moston full of meat pie and pleased I didn’t make a total fool of myself on stage, with a twinge or two of sadness as my time with the Fourteen programme and the Another Music blog is now over.

Over the last 15 months I have met, and written about, some amazing local people selflessly working hard, with dwindling resources, for the benefit of others.

It makes me cross to read negative stories in the local news about an area which is so rich in positivity and pride. Can those journalists not get from behind their computer screens and come and see what’s really going on here? Or at least read Another Music for some inspiration!

“So, what’s your idea?”

Continued from “We help develop the ideas they feel passionate about.”

There’s an energy in the upstairs meeting room. An energy of three teenagers working away on their winning projects, bouncing ideas off their mentors and each other. Trish and I chat to each of them in turn.

For the youth, by the youth
“My business partner, Dublin and I were meant to be revising at home but instead we went into town. On the way we agreed that revising was no fun but if we didn’t get down to it we were going to fail. That’s when we decided to make a revision web app.”

Dapo and Dublin, already fluent in a number of computer programming languages, are taking their GSCEs in a few months time as well as launching their GSCE Maths Cloud App.

“Aren’t the big corporations doing this sort of thing already,” we ask, “why would two 15-year-olds from north Manchester be ahead of the game?”

“It’s for the youth, by the youth. We understand how young people want to learn.” says Dapo confidently before telling us how their videos and podcasts will cater for different learning styles. “You’ll earn points as you revise and they’ll be incentives, like gift cards and books.”

A beta version of the app has already been tested with 2,000 student visits each day. “We’ve had ideas before but we haven’t been able to see things through. The Agency has given us the proper training we’ve needed, we couldn’t have done this ourselves.”

Dynamic Beginnings
“It took a while to develop my idea but I knew I wanted to do something around music because I love it so much,” says Aneka. “I know it really helps people to write down or release feelings through music.”

“So, what’s your idea?” we ask.

“It’s a project consisting of 10 workshops ending with a showcase. It’s aimed at young people to build their singing and songwriting skills. They’ll do both group and individual work so that they get an all-round experience.

“The final showcase will be a chance to show what they’ve learned and what they achieved and they can choose to perform as a group or individually. The aim is to build up their confidence, prove what they can do and hopefully pursue music in the future.”

Aneka’s been busy organising the workshops so, had she enjoyed it and what were her plans?

“Oh yes, and, once I’ve finished my GCSE’s, I hope to continue with the idea and do another series of workshops in the summer. I’ll have more time to plan, a better idea of how much funding I’ll need and how to promote it better. I’ll know much more about what’s involved.”

Workshops are continuing at The Miners in Moston until April. Contact dynamicbeginningsmcr@gmail.com for more information.

Empowering young sportswomen
“My dream would be to get into Team GB as a pro boxer, says Faidat. “I box down at the Collyhurst gym – it’s a great place – but it’s made me realise how difficult it is for young women to get into elite sport.

“Boys have it easier. In pretty much every sport, there are scouts looking out for new male talent, but it’s not the same for girls. So my campaign is called EmpowHerr. I’ll be encouraging more girls into sport and, at the same time, encouraging scouts and elite players to support them.”

“So what will you do exactly?”

“I’ll be visiting schools, speaking to girls interested in sport and signpost them to different clubs. At the moment the aspiration amongst girls to get into sport is quite low. In areas like ours young people don’t often make it in elite sport, unless it’s football.”

Faidat tells us she’s planning a sports day for young women. “It’s called Powerherr Day and I’ll bring girls together from different areas to compete against each other – athletics, football, basketball – watched by scouts and supported by elite players from each sport.

“I’m trying to break down barriers. If I can get two girls into Team GB my job is done. That’s what I’m aiming for.”

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“We help develop the ideas they feel passionate about.”

Another Music writers Len Grant and Trish Beddow visit The Agency where young dreams really do come true.

He’s been running this project for five years now but Steve’s enthusiasm is still infectious. He’s seen how The Agency makes a difference to young lives.

Tonight is one of their regular Wednesday evening sessions at the Factory Youth Zone in Harpurhey and, before it all starts, I ask, “Can you describe what The Agency is?”

“We’re a youth entrepreneurial scheme,” explains Steve, “working with young people in Harpurhey and Moston to develop businesses, social enterprises, community projects: anything they’re passionate about and feel their community needs.”

Steve Vickers works for Contact Theatre in Manchester and The Agency is a concept developed in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro by a theatre maker and journalist. In Brazil the scheme is supported by Ford Motors in the US and works with hundreds of young people.

“In the UK, the Battersea Arts Centre runs projects in two London boroughs and next year we’re expanding to Cardiff and Belfast,” says Steve.

“There are other low income communities in Manchester, why did you pick Harpurhey and Moston to work in?” I ask.

“We have some history of working in this area. We took over the old Co-op in Moston for a week in 2011 for an arts workshop. And when we started there were lots of negative headlines – that horrible TV documentary was out – so we thought we could make a difference.”

Each autumn since then The Agency has recruited 20 young people to take part in a competitive process that ends up with three of them being given intensive mentoring – and £2,000 each – to realise their project.

“We work through an artistic methodology in the first three months,” explains Steve, “where they develop their ideas in preparation for a pitch to a panel of community leaders and industry experts.”

“How do you find the young people in the first place?” asks Trish.

“A lot of hanging out, at first,” says Steve, “and going into schools, lots of outreach. Now I employ some of the young people who’ve been through the process to help me recruit. They’ll have better networks than me.”

“What happens to those who don’t make it through the panel process?” I ask.

“That’s the hardest part,” admits Steve. “But there are options. They can join one of the funded projects and help with say, marketing; they can continue with their idea and we’ll signpost them other support; or they can try again next year and some have been successful with that.”

Over the past five years The Agency must have produced some amazing success stories. Steve falters when I ask him to choose just one to tell us about.

“Oh, there are many,” he says. “I can tell you about Aaron. He was passionate about computer coding. He set up and delivered a series of 12 workshops for other young people – each one packed – and went on to get a job at The Co-op’s head office. He’s now been funded by the Council to run more workshops and has a place at Oxford University.”

“So tonight, at this part of the process, you’re working with the three winners? Perhaps we can interview each of them?”

“Sure,” says Steve. “These young entrepreneurs are just about to start their delivery phases and we’ve been pairing them with experts in marketing, finance and branding. It’s their own journey but we help facilitate it.”

In a upstairs meeting room we’re introduced to Aneka, Dapo and Faidat. We tear each away from their laptops and discussions with tonight’s mentors to find out about their projects.

Read about their amazing ideas in “So, what’s your idea?”

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