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“I grew that�

Nurturing strong communities The Fair Share Trust: an alternative evaluation by Len Grant


“I grew that� Nurturing strong communities The Fair Share Trust: an alternative evaluation

Liam Wilde, eight, from the Alt estate, Oldham.

by Len Grant


Contents

Abram, Wigan

Great Lever, Bolton

1

5 Barton, Salford

3 Lostock, Trafford

6 Sale Moor, Trafford Connecting Communities by Nick Massey DL

p. 4

“That’s a phenomenal result” Quizzing the Fair Share Trust evaluators

p. 6

A different conversation Community building in Greater Manchester

9

p. 106


1

2 3 Middleton, Rochdale

St James, Oldham

8

10

4

Alt, Oldham

2 Droylsden, Tameside

4

Micklehurst, Tameside

7

5 6 7 8

Abram, Wigan: Fix It

p. 12

Spring View Community Sports Association and Over 60s Social Club

p. 20

Alt, Oldham: Green route to school

p. 28

Media workshops

p. 34

Barton, Salford: Eccles Community Hall Organisation

p. 40

Salford Unemployed and Community Resource Centre

p. 48

Droylsden, Tameside: Prime Youth Club

p. 52

Droylsden Youth Centre

p. 60

Great Lever, Bolton: Active Gardening Exchange Scheme

p. 62

Great Lever Voice

p. 70

Lostock, Trafford: Friends of Lostock Park

p. 76

Micklehurst, Tameside: Mossley Youth Base

p. 78

Middleton, Rochdale: MaD Theatre Company

9

Sale Moor, Trafford:

10

St James, Oldham:

Sale Moor Communities Junior Football Club

p. 84

p. 92

Sholver Allotment Society

p. 100

Marie’s exercise class

p. 104


nurturing strong communities

It’s been a struggle, but as Nick Massey DL, Forever Manchester’s chief executive explains, the Fair Share Trust programme has been a positive learning journey that has helped his team see with fresh eyes.

Connecting communities

“We’ve had quarrels, squabbles, tiffs and spats...”

4


In 2003 a £50m allocation of Lottery money was put into trust, over £6m of it ring-fenced for Greater Manchester. This unique programme was designed to run for ten years, with the main aims of building capacity and sustainability, building social capital and improving the local environment and liveability. During those ten years the Fair Share Trust has established itself in ten neighbourhoods across Greater Manchester through the work of Forever Manchester. Let me tell you... it’s been emotional! We’ve had quarrels, squabbles, tiffs and spats, walk-outs, tears, accusations of scheming and trickery, family feuds, heartache and intrigue, but what else would you expect when you bring together relative strangers and ask them to decide how to spend their ‘lottery win’? But we’ve emerged, with stories of passion, determination, joy, success, friendship and triumph, and the programme has radically redefined how Forever Manchester sees the world and how we intend to work in communities in the future. The neighbourhoods we have had the privilege to work in were selected because they were deemed ‘considerably disadvantaged’; a phrase that labels people by their needs, problems and deficiencies. What we found, however, were communities that boast talented local people using what they have to secure what they need, and often doing extraordinary things along the way. Building on this understanding Forever Manchester has been working with local people in a way that respects and celebrates how they live their lives. We believe we can help people tap into the hidden capacities and resources found in our neighbourhoods: those of gifted individuals and their social networks, the environment and physical assets that surround them and the local economy that sustains them. Though these riches are often overlooked or at least undervalued, we believe these assets are at least as important as money and professional services and expertise. In fact, we would go so far as to say that these assets are the critical ingredients needed to build stronger, more self-directed communities. I hope you enjoy meeting the fantastic people in this alternative evaluation of the Fair Share Trust and enjoy listening to their experiences. I know the stories will inspire you and give you some insight into what is possible if we rediscover the meaning of community. The Fair Share Trust experience has been an unequivocal success both as a grants programme and as a learning journey which has changed our way of thinking. From now on, Forever Manchester is in the business of connecting communities. Our legacy will be measured not by how many grants we award but by the increase in the number of people involved in community activity, mutual support and collective planning and through the creation of thriving communities. Finally, I’d like to thank Len and Simon for bringing these stories to life with empathy and humour, but most of all I’d like to thank the people in our Fair Share neighbourhoods for making the world a better place. They grew this!

5


nurturing strong communities

Giving away £6 million seems easy enough. Len Grant chats to independent evaluators, Rachel Hirst and Tariq Ahmed about how the Greater Manchester Fair Share Trust programme was set up and what impact the money has made.

“That’s a phenomenal result”

Volunteering has been a significant theme of Greater Manchester’s Fair Share Trust programme: “We are down here every Saturday and Sunday morning,” says Ray. “We get nothing for it. We love what we do.” (See page 92).

6


First off, can I get something straight? Who decided which areas should get the money? Rachel: The Big Lottery Fund had worked out the areas that hadn’t received their ‘fair share’ of lottery money and used deprivation statistics and other indicators to identify those in most need. Through the Community Foundation Network, who they’d chosen to manage the programme, they then worked with local authorities and Local Strategic Partnerships to work out which neighbourhoods would benefit. Local Strategic Partnerships? Tariq: They were first set up a few years before the Fair Share Trust programme began and are a partnership in each local authority of council officers, local councillors, health, police and voluntary sector representatives. The idea is they can take a broader, more joined-up view of what’s needed in a particular area. But they didn’t decide how the money was spent? R: No, they just recommended the neighbourhoods in their cities or boroughs that would get the funding. Then ‘local agents’ – community foundations in most cases – set up Fair Share panels and it was these panels that decided which projects would get funding... T: ... they also agreed their own local priorities and any group or individual applying for funds had to satisfy the local priorities as well as the national ones such as building social capital and capacity, and improving sustainability and ‘liveability’. So anyone – community groups, individuals, statutory agencies, schools, councils – could apply for funding as long as their project met some of the priorities? R: That’s right. Fair Share Trust awards have been very flexible, used for capital or revenue funding and across different demographics. Principally it’s strategic funding that’s designed to achieve a particular outcome and it’s been very successful in that. Take me back a stage, who were on the panels? T: There were guidelines about that. On a panel of upto 12 members, there had to be at least four residents, someone from the Local Strategic Partnership, representatives from the council and the voluntary sector and those already working with local people, like housing trust officers, health organisations and the police. I think all areas have found it difficult to get an ideal representation across all the stakeholders. In the early days it was recognised that some panels were top heavy with local councillors and that was amended to try and get more residents involved. R: But, it’s fair to say it’s always been an issue – not just here, but throughout the country – of getting the balance of residents right.

7


nurturing strong communities

From meeting some of the projects around Greater Manchester it’s clear that some are managed by the same residents who are actually on the panel. Isn’t that problematic? T: Throughout the whole programme there has been an issue about the number of residents on the panels. Ideally there should be more but, in some areas, it’s those residents who are already active in their communities, and who know their communities well, who are more willing to sit through what many regard as ‘boring meetings’. R: Obviously where there is a conflict of interest the individual residents concerned aren’t involved in reaching a decision. Let me move on to your evaluation. You two are evaluating Fair Share at the end of its 10-year programme. Isn’t that in itself difficult? T: It’s been a bit like doing detective work! A lot of people have moved on and we’ve been unable to contact them. Many people who were involved in projects at the beginning are no longer involved, although those we have tracked down have been happy to talk to us. Perhaps there should have been a mid-term evaluation? R: All the projects have been monitored and evaluated as they have been completed. There has also been other work in individual areas on exit strategies as the programme has come to an end, so ours has not been the only evaluation. I know you haven’t completed the evaluation yet but give me a preview of what your headline findings are likely to be? R: That’s a good question! The key thing, I think, is that there are going to be some big successes in community capacity and social capital in terms of networking and partnerships... T: ... and the increase in volunteering and volunteer skills. It’s easy to underestimate the value of volunteering. It builds people’s skills and self-esteem and can have a lifelong impact on a person’s employability for instance. Also, those panel members who might have had no previous experience of decision-making at that level will also use their new skills in other areas. R: That’s very true. Volunteering, in particular, has been a very strong theme in all ten areas. That idea of building partnerships and networks, everyone working together, comes through in the story I wrote about Micklehurst (see page 78). It was refreshing to hear from residents and statutory agencies all – literally – sitting round the same table. It’s so obvious but doesn’t often happen. R: And there have been some good successes around crime and community safety. I know you have already been to visit the Prime Youth Club (page 52)...

8


Yes, now there’s an inspirational project. R: ... and the Water Adventure Centre in Droylsden. The Police Community Support Officers have reported that antisocial behaviour has dropped significantly because of those two Fair Share Trust funded projects and one of the outcomes is that police resources are going to be moved to another area because there’s now less for them to do in Droylsden. That’s a phenomenal result for that area and has a positive knock-on effect on the national ‘liveability’ priority, as people feel safer. For a grant programme, that’s incredible. T: You have to remember that many of these projects, although the Fair Share Trust money will soon run out, will continue. There’s been a lot of money spent in these areas. Do you think it’s been money well spent? T: Absolutely, yes. Many now have lasting legacies; a lot of groups have become more sustainable, and people have learnt new skills, so it has been money well spent. R: If you just look at the changes that have been made to people’s lives, then it’s been a great success. If you add in the Big Lottery’s aims of improving an area through a long-term strategic grant-making programme then that too has been successful. We’ve all learnt a lot from it. No one would claim that there haven’t been challenges along the way, but ultimately it has proved that focussing a large sum of money in an area, over a period of time, can make huge differences. That’s good but, from an evaluator’s point of view, what would would you suggest might have been done differently? R: In my opinion, I think you should have an injection of cash at the outset to do what the community builders are doing now (see page 106). You’d have someone working on the ground, getting to know the residents and what assets the community already has and building it from there. That would be the key, investing some money in finding out what is in the area and developing those strengths because every area is different. T: If we’d had community builders earlier in the project then maybe the money might have been spent differently. I’m not saying the money hasn’t been spent well because I believe it has but, in those areas where we have had community builders, it’s been welcomed as a different approach and some panel members have commented on the additional benefits that it’s bringing. Community building seems a natural next step for the programme and there’s no doubt it makes local residents think more about helping themselves which hopefully results in greater sustainability. At the end of the day, it’s about whether people are better skilled, more confident, and engaging more with their neighbourhoods. Then that’s a result.

9


10


11


abram: wigan | nurturing strong communities

Fix It, its website says, is a specialist training facility that delivers vocational motor mechanic courses to young people. Fair Share is funding the charity to offer opportunities specifically for the unemployed of Abram, Wigan.

A place of work

“That’s it. Well done, well done.� Fix It has found its hands-on approach to learning works well at motivating and encouraging those who might be turned off by a school classroom.

12


From the outside it looks like a regular garage. The yard is full of cars and vans in various states of disrepair, there’s a branded courtesy car and an adjoining bodyshop. In the main workshop overall-clad mechanics are peering into bonnets, balancing tyres or stripping engines. “So, is it a college or a garage?” I ask founder Ian Tomlinson, as we sit with our mugs of tea in his office above a couple of small classrooms. “It’s neither. It’s a place of work,” he says. “Yes, our students work on cars and get qualifications but we are here to mentor them, motivate them and build their confidence and self-esteem. To be honest, the project is nothing to do with cars. It’s our role to prepare them for the world of work or to move them on to college.” “I heard that you started all this by literally walking the streets and encouraging young people to get involved. I’m sure there was more to it than that.” “Yes, there was. Shall I start at the beginning?” “Yes, please.” “How much tape have you got?” he laughs. Ian tells me his career started in the 1970s as a motor vehicle mechanic for British Telecom, or the GPO as it was then. He was considered a potential high-flyer and was sent on week-long personal development programmes. “That was a wonderful experience,” he says. “I was treated really well by the course leaders and that experience has stayed with me ever since.” By the late 1990s Ian had taken voluntary redundancy, set up his own mobile mechanic business and moved to Wigan. “I remember, at that time, we were having trouble with kids on our street causing a nuisance. It was getting to be a real problem, so I went out to ask them why they weren’t using the local youth club. It turned out they were worried about a local gang who went to the club. “To cut a long story short, I ended up going along with them and got dragged in to help as a volunteer youth worker. I loved working with the young people and they were always asking me about my job and so, eventually, I dovetailed those two skills together.” With no track record, Ian at first found it hard to convince funders to support his new business idea of engaging disaffected young people by teaching them a new skill. “After knocking on a lot of doors, it turned out the local community safety team were looking to set up a mobile motor mechanic training scheme but they didn’t have anyone with the skills to run it. So we got together and I was recruited to run a two-year pilot.” “And how did you find the young people to work with?” “The project particularly targetted those known to the police as trouble-makers, or potential trouble-makers. So I would go onto the estates with a van full of bits of engines and gear boxes and start chatting to the kids, telling them I was a youth worker, but also a mechanic, and asking if they’d like to learn some of the basics around fixing cars, motorcycles... you know, give them something to do.”

Fix It

13


14


Fix It

15


“I’ve changed people’s lives.” Ian says with a broad smile. “Mad, isn’t it?”

16


“It’s fun. You can take a car apart, put it back together and see how it all works. I’d like to go to college after this.”

Jeff will achieve Level 1 within a few months and then move onto Level 2: “In two or three year’s time I’d love to be working in a garage, I really would.”

Fix It

17


abram: wigan | nurturing strong communities

“Where did you set up all this up? On the street?” “Yes, some of the time we’d be on the street, under an awning, with a torch, just taking things apart.” “Do you know what happened to the first kids you ever worked with?” “Yes, I do.” he says, taking a long sip from his mug. “This makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck! “Two years later I went to a 21st party at a club on that estate and there were five young men standing at the bar. They all ran up to me. One of them got a newspaper out and showed me an article about another man, someone he knew, who had just been sent to prison. ‘See him there? If you hadn’t worked with me, I’d be like him now. You changed my life: I’ve got a girlfriend, a flat, a car and a job. I’m happy. You helped me see the light.’ And all the other lads had similar stories. “I’ve changed people’s lives.” Ian says with a broad smile. “Mad, isn’t it?” After the two-year pilot, additional funding was sought to develop the project, find the current workshop and widen the brief to include all young people. “Now we support about 150 young men and women each year,” he says proudly. “In our nine years, we’ve helped over 1,000 young people. I’ll go to my grave a happy man. I’ll know I’ve made a difference.” I ask about the Fair Share money. I know that’s widening the brief even further for Fix It. “That pot is specifically for unemployed post-16s from the Abram area,” explains Ian. “One of our students from that cohort is in his late 30s. He’s the oldest student we’ve ever had. I’ll introduce you later.” Rather than just rely on statutory agencies to refer Abram residents onto the course, Ian took what he calls his hands-on approach to marketing. “I designed and printed an A4 poster and put one in every shop, every pub, every post office and every medical centre in Abram. It took me two whole days.” A cohort of six residents were recruited six weeks ago but now only two are still on the course. “They felt confident enough to move on,” explains Ian. “So that’s been a result. All they needed was a bit of a push, a bit of positive male role-modeling. One has moved on to Silver Track Training [they do railway engineering courses] and the others onto college.” A few minutes later, I am at the back of one of the classrooms listening to a video about tyre manufacture. “Two hundred different materials are used to make a tyre,” the voiceover is telling us. “And that’s why they’re so expensive,” says the trainer Stuart to Jeff, his only student today. Apparently the other remaining student from Abram has not turned in. When they stop for a break, I put my tape recorder in front of Jeff. He used to be a joiner in the construction industry. “Two and a half years ago the building trade dried up, so my wife went to work and I stayed at home to look after our children,” he says.

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“And what motivated you to try this?” “I wanted to get back to work and saw this course advertised in the local shop” – one of Ian’s homemade posters – “and thought I’d give it a go.” “How long are you here for?” “I’ve been coming for two days a week, for the last six or seven weeks.” Jeff will achieve IMI (Institute of the Motor Industry) Level 1 within a few months and is hopeful of being able to push on to Level 2. He can see himself going to college too. “In two or three year’s time I’d love to be working in a garage, I really would.” “You say you’re 39, and you’re back in the classroom. How does that feel?” “It’s all right. You never stop learning, do you? I have four kids under 13 and I tell them all, you never stop learning.” When Stuart comes back to re-start the session, I ask him what he gets out of all this. “Not everyone is academically bright. I know I wasn’t, but I was good with motors. Now I pass on my skills and knowledge to give others a chance. It’s good to make a difference.” In the workshop there’s lots of activity. “Are these going on Facebook?” the young people ask when they see my camera. It wasn’t that long ago that young people would ask if my photographs were going in the local paper, now it’s Facebook. One group is stripping a Rover 200 Series. Chris,14 and Elliott, 15 are taking the front bumper off. “It’s better than school,” Elliott says. “It’s fun. You can take a car apart, put it back together and see how it all works. I’d like to go to college after this.” Apparently schools from all over Wigan and the neighbouring boroughs send some of their pupils to Fix It. The schools pay the tuition fees and see the courses here as a real alternative to the formal curriculum. Danny is new today. He joins the group dismantling engines to learn about the different components. “This socket set is for you,” Chris, his trainer tells him and then demonstrates how to unscrew the exhaust manifold. “Now you try turning this. That’s it. Well done, well done.”

Fix It

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abram: wigan | nurturing strong communities

There are dozens of inquisitive glances as I walk into the clubhouse. This is the Spring View Community Sports Association and this afternoon I get to hear about two Fair Share projects at the same time. The Spring View Over 60s are just coming to the end of a three year grant and the clubhouse itself was the first capital project to be funded by Fair Share back in 2005. Thankfully Margaret Thornton is here to explain all.

Just at the right time

“We’re 98 members and 74 of them are here today.”

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Within minutes of my arrival Margaret, a founding member of the Community Sports Association and Chairperson for the Over 60s, picks up a cordless microphone. “Can I just tell them what it’s all about?” she asks me. “Yes, please,” I reply. “Ladies and gentleman,” she says into the microphone. “Can I have your attention please? This is Len.” I wave, nervously, as I take my camera out of its bag. “Hiya Len!” some of the women shout. “Len is involved with Abram Fair Share. Now, as you know, when we first built this club, Abram Fair Share put a lot of money in. And also the Over 60s has had funding from Abram Fair Share. So we’ve invited him down today to chat to you and take some photos, if you don’t mind.” I take a sly photo of Margaret as she’s talking, much to the amusement of the audience. “Hang on!” she says, seeing the funny side, “I wasn’t ready.” She strikes a pose and I take another. There’s applause now. We’re almost a double act. “So if you don’t mind he’ll have a chat to you and he can get the gist of where the money has gone. OK? Thank you.” Margaret tells me I need to speak to George, the treasurer for the Sports Association. “He’s out on the field somewhere just now.” “So, tell me,” I begin, “what does the Over 60s group do this afternoon? What do you do between now and four o’clock?” “They’ve had a sandwich and a drink and now they’re having a chat. Bingo starts at two and we have an artist who comes on at quarter to three. It’s Jezz today. He’s a very good singer.” “And you go on trips, don’t you?” “Thirty-three of us are just back from Llandudno, we went for a long weekend.” She shows me the thank-you card she’s just been given by the group, for helping to organise it all. “And in a few months we’re off to the Dorik Hotel in Blackpool for a week.” Margaret introduces me to Ann. “I started the over 60s over three years ago, me and my husband,” she says. “Can I chat to you both?” “You can, but we’re busy at the moment.” “Ann,” I say, “can you point out someone I might talk to? Someone for whom this group is really important, you know, as a social interaction.” “Well do you want to speak to all 70-odd of them?” she laughs. “We’re 98 members and 74 of them are here today.” I venture over to a couple of tables by the window. The ladies look pleased I have chosen them to speak to. “Can I ask who has been coming here the longest?” “I’ve been coming since the beginning,” says an older woman, sitting on the end of the table. She tells me her name is Kathleen. “It’s very good.”

Spring View Community Sports Association and Over 60s Social Club

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Spring View Community Sports Association and Over 60s Social Club

23


The bingo has started in the main room. “On it’s own, number eight,” Ann is saying into the microphone. “One and nine, nineteen. On it’s own, number nine, doctor’s orders.” Everyone starts coughing. “Leg’s eleven.” Now there are whistles. This is true participation.

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“Ah, thank you,” says Jezz, beaming, as he hits a button on his sound deck. “If you know the words you can join in… Tonight you’re mine completely... You gave your love so sweetly... Tonight the light of love is in your eyes... But will you still love me tomorrow?”

Spring View Community Sports Association and Over 60s Social Club

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abram: wigan | nurturing strong communities

“So, you’ve got bingo coming up and what else?” “There’s bingo and a raffle and the artist. And we’ve got this quiz,” says Kathleen, showing me a question sheet. “You’ve got to think of three song titles starting with the letter B. I’ve only got two so far. You don’t know any beginning with B do you?” I’m on the spot and can’t think. “What have you got already: Be My Love, Bring Me Sunshine, um, there must be thousands. Let’s look it up.” I pull out my iPhone. There’s nervous laughter from around the table. We’re cheating now. “Look at all those! Hang on, I’ll make it bigger: Baby Love, Babylon, Baby Hold On, Brown Girl in the Ring, Betcha By Golly Wow... that’s one of my favourites. Here we go: Born Free.” “Oh, we’ll have that!” exclaims Kathleen. I catch up with Ann before she becomes the bingo caller. She says she used to work for Age Concern. After she retired she and her husband moved onto the local estate and realised there was a gap in the market. “What did people do before the club started?” I ask. “Where did people go?” “They didn’t. This clubhouse was here but there was nothing for the Over 60s, so we decided to set something up. We have this social afternoon every other Thursday and a craft day every other Tuesday. There are trips most months.” “And what are the trips like?” I ask, cheekily. “Are they raucous affairs with singing in the back of the coach and all that?” “Oh yes, we’re always singing – on the way there and on the way back.” “And tell me about the Fair Share money. What has that paid for?” “They set us off when we first started,” explains Ann. “It helped pay for the room hire, pay for the artists and contributed to the trips.” Undoubtedly the Over 60s club is a success. Ann is grateful for the Fair Share cash, it gave them a strong financial foundation as they built up the membership base. Now, at nearly 100 members, the club is generating its own income and is in a better position to stand on its own two feet. George Pugh has come off the field now and Margaret leads me to the boiler-cumgeneral storeroom where he is pulling off his boots. I ask him to describe his role within the Community Sport Association. “I’m trustee, treasurer and groundsman,” he says. “Anything that needs doing, I’ll do it.” He tells me that, ‘many’ years ago, he was the landlord of the local pub. “We had our own rugby team but the council built a housing estate on our playing fields so we had nowhere to play. They then showed us a piece of disused land – this place – and offered to put pitches on it, which they did.” “I was the secretary of the rugby club,” says Margaret who is standing in the doorway, “and we had changing rooms at the pub so the players would get changed there, walk up here, play and walk back. And one day we were just chatting and someone suggested that maybe we could develop the site, you know, build a clubhouse and lo and behold. It took ten years.”

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“It took us six years to get all the funding in place,” says George. “The Fair Share money was critical really. We needed £600,000 and had to go to seven different funders to get it, no one funder would give us that sort of money.” “Our local MP Ian McCartney got all the funders together and really helped to push it over the line,” says Margaret. “Fair Share came just at the right time for us.” “Can you describe what this place is like on a weekend,” I say, not having any difficulty imagining it. “Oh, it’s absolutely choc-a-bloc,” says Margaret. “There are six kids’ football teams now and the rugby have got an Under 8s and an Under 12s.” “And there’s a girls’ football section,” George chips in, “and two open age football teams. And then we hire the place out for parties and that… it’s really well used.” “It gives you a bit of pride seeing them all enjoying themselves,” continues Margaret. “And especially when people recognise it and say, you’ve done a good job, because we’re all volunteers and have been all this time.” “So, if you knew then what you know now, would you do it all again?” “Ha! Would I do it all again?” says Margaret. “When you look around and see what’s been achieved, you can see it’s been worthwhile. It’s for the community isn’t it? Keeping the kids off the streets, that sort of thing. But it has been very hard work. It takes up a lot of your time. Sometimes my husband doesn’t know I exist!” “I had the pub for 32 years,” says George. “It afforded me a decent living and so I thought I would put something back in. Yes, it’s a thriving club but it doesn’t get used by the locals and that’s the sad part of it.” “How do you mean, not the locals?” “I’d imagined people from the local estate using it but, apart from Bonfire Night when we get about 1,200 down here, they don’t use it.” “Why do you think that is?” “I’ve no idea,” he says, exasperated. “We’ve sent out questionnaires, knocked on doors…. Don’t get me wrong, it services the Abram area, but from this immediate estate here, not a one comes in.” After the bingo and at exactly 2.45, there’s an announcement. “Right ladies and gentlemen. Settle down now. We’ve got our artist ready and what an artist we’ve got for you today. He’s one of the top singers in the clubs... give a warm welcome please to... Jezz!”

Spring View Community Sports Association and Over 60s Social Club

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alt: oldham | nurturing strong communities

It started with the garden at her son’s primary school when Steph encouraged other residents from her Oldham estate to join in. After months of planning, their ambitious Green Route to School project is about to come to fruition. “Now,” she says, “you feel part of something.”

“I’ve got a purpose”

Steph (left) and Red: “It doesn’t look much now because we’re at the end of the season but we’ve had beetroot, peas, sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, onions, garlic, rhubarb, tons of rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackcurrants. We sell loads of stuff that pays for the new year’s seeds and the salad is served with the school dinners.”

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The sat nav takes me on the scenic route. Or it would have been scenic had it not been drizzling. I’m through Daisy Nook and Park Bridge, up narrow lanes and past a farm before the lane spits me out onto the Alt estate. In three hundred yards you have reached your destination. Steph’s house is opposite the primary school on the main road. She’s expecting me and has invited her friend Mariea who immediately tells me everyone calls her Red on account of her hair. “Would you like a brew?” asks Steph. “Quite milky for me,” I say as I throw my coat over one of the armchairs in the through lounge. I’ve heard a lot about Steph already and so, with tea in hand, I know I can dispense with the pleasantries: “What’s this I hear about you accosting women at the bus stop?” I ask. They both laugh. “I had some digging to do at the school, too much for me on my own, so I went up to a group of women at the bus stop and asked if any of them fancied helping.” “And me and my sister just happened to be waiting for a bus to go up town,” recalls Red. “Steph came over and we both said yes. And that was that. We’ve been best friends ever since.” “Hold on a second,” I say, “if a woman I didn’t know came up to me...” There’s more laughter. “Why did you approach this group in particular?” “Just because they were there! I just happened to pick the right people.” It turns out Steph’s youngest son was doing a growing project at school and she had sent in some seedlings she had grown at home. “They only had a couple of raised beds to grow their plants and so I offered to convert a piece of unused ground into a garden for the children. That was five years ago.” “And how did the digging go?” “There were eight of us in the end,” replies Red, “and we had great fun... digging in the rain!” “Once we’d built it,” continues Steph, “I was going into school four days a week helping the children grow their own fruit and veg.” Steph became well known as the community gardener and attracted the attention of the Fair Share team in Alt. She was invited onto the panel where she and other local people made decisions about which projects should be awarded money. Seeing potential in Steph’s ability to bring people together, Forever Manchester invited her to consider a Green Route to School project for Alt and use money from the Alt ‘pot’ to yet again improve her community. “So in March this year,” she says, taking up the story, “I said to Red, ‘There’s more digging to be done. Do you fancy getting involved?’” “And I said, yes, again,” says Red. “And it’s been an adventure ever since.”

Green route to school

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Despite the rain we take a walk along what will be the Green Route to School: “We’ll have planters all along here,” says Steph.

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“This used to be flats for older people,” says Red. “We’ll have 90 fruit trees and 300 fruit bushes over there. The school kids will get involved with all of that.”

Catching up with community builder, Helen Smith outside the estate’s ‘community house’.

Green route to school

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alt: oldham | nurturing strong communities

“Can you explain what a Green Route to School actually is?” I ask. “We’ll basically be planting fruit and veg, and plants and flowers on a walk that goes from the community house to the primary school,” says Steph, “It’ll brighten up the estate and get more people involved in gardening.” “We’ve already started digging at the community house,” says Red. “Two more days of hellish digging in the rain!” The community house is the closest thing the Alt residents have to a community centre. Owned by the housing association that manages the 400-odd homes here, it is a semi-detached property on a prominent corner that is used, intermittently, for community gatherings. “The schoolchildren are planting 12,000 bulbs along the route,” says Steph. “We’ve commissioned an orchard on a piece of wasteland that is actually called the orchard but has nothing there. We are also having two new greenhouses and a new shed at school”. “And we’re down at B&Q this next week picking tools,” adds Red. “And has all that brought people together?” I ask. They both laugh again. Have I hit a raw nerve? “Go on, tell me honestly what you think.” “There are five of us involved so far,” says Red, “and personally I’d love more people to get involved because... I don’t know…” “At the moment there is not much community spirit,” says Steph. I’ve barely seen the place. All I know is we’re on the outskirts of Oldham, close to some wonderful countryside but apparently blighted by social problems. Steph says she’s lived here for nine years, Red for only three. “Most everyone up on my side of the estate is on the breadline,” Red says. “And it’s got a reputation,” agrees Steph. “A very bad reputation.” There is some difference of opinion between these two friends about how easy it will be to mobilise support from within the community. “I’m very optimistic,” says Steph. “Red always sees the glass half empty and I see it half full.” Red agrees that they see things differently: “We delivered 450 leaflets around the estate – that’s to every house – to tell people what we were planning. We organised a coffee morning at the community house with free face painting for the children. Only eight people turned up... out of 450 leaflets.” “Why do you think people don’t come?” “A lot of them are disillusioned,” says Red. “There have been plans before and nothing has ever happened. But now they see us digging…” “We just want the community to pull together to look after one another,” adds Steph. “We’ve been canvassing people and we are slowly getting more involved. Some residents have offered to help with the bulb planting.” “Which is quite good,” concedes Red. They tell me that Helen, the community builder for this area, has been helping by putting

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them in touch with residents they didn’t already know. There’s Ann who’s a bit of a jammaking expert and has started a jam-making club using the excess strawberries from the school garden. They both now consider Ann to be a good friend. Red’s niece, Lyndsey has been using her skills too. She’s already designed publicity material and wants to start an arts and crafts group at the community house for the estate’s young children. “How has all this affected you personally?” I ask. “I moved in here with nothing,” says Steph. “I’d just left my husband and was heavily pregnant. The baby’s father didn’t want to know. Before I got involved with all this I felt worthless. I’d just take my son to school, come home and watch Jeremy Kyle. “By working on the school garden, I’ve slowly built up my self-esteem again. I’ve got something to do. I’ve got a purpose. When you see children who have never grown anything in their lives, picking the peas out of the pods saying, ‘I grew that’, it gives you a sense of pride.” As well as working on the garden and as a volunteer in the classroom, she’s also got herself a job as midday supervisor at the school. “I feel more like a respected member of the community,” she says, “and I feel there is a better sense of community slowly starting to appear in the area. You feel part of something.” “What about you, Red?” “Well, I suffer badly with depression and this has got me out. I feel a lot better. I don’t feel 100% but I’m getting there. I’m enjoying getting stuck in and getting my hands dirty. And yes, it’s given me something to do, not just sitting at home. “I’ve always been a loner. I normally keep to myself. I’m 48 and I’ve only got two friends. One is in Scotland and one is here... and that’s Steph.” I look over at Steph. “I know, it’s lovely isn’t it?” she says with a broad smile. I say to Red: “The bus stop encounter must have been an important day for you.” “Yes, it was. I have to say it was.” I know Steph is due at school soon for her job as lunchtime supervisor. “Have we got time to see any of this? To see what you’ve got planned?” “Yeah, come on, we’ll show you,” she says. “I’ve got time.”

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alt: oldham | nurturing strong communities

The Alt estate has a PR job to do on itself and so tutors and students from the local college have been drafted in to work with residents on their own web-based newspaper. The poster in the chippy window advertises a series of media workshops and this morning it’s the second session of three.

“And... action!”

“There used to be blocks of old people’s flats on here,and a community hall, and at Christmas time you’d hear singing from inside. All that’s gone, and now nothing ever happens except wanton destruction. But that happens on a lot of estates, it’s not just here.”

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While parking I overhear a couple of dog walkers talking about the new fence that has gone up on the ‘orchard’, the piece of open land in the middle of the estate that will be the focus for the Green Route to School, (see page 28). It’s never actually been a orchard before but is about to become one. Tape recorder in hand, I wander over to the two men and explain what I’m doing. “What do you make of all this then?” I ask. “Initially,” says one, talking very precisely now he is being interviewed, “when I first saw this fence going up I thought, what a waste of money. I talked to the workmen who told me about the young trees. The kids round here would have the saplings up in no time I thought, because they’re generally bored with nowhere to play. There isn’t a play area on the whole estate.” “No, there isn’t,” concurs the other man. “But what I’ve heard from the lady doing it,” – he must mean Steph or Red – “is that each child will be given an individual tree or bush to plant themselves. They can then watch this tree, measure it, and keep records in the classroom, so it will give them an insight into how the tree grows. Consequently, the brothers and sisters, their siblings, won’t let anyone touch that tree. So it’s a good idea and I’m all for it. How long it will last is another story.” “But you’ve got to do something haven’t you?” I suggest. The men’s dogs are getting restless, running up and down either side of the low metal fence. “Don’t worry, she won’t jump over.” “You’ve got to help the kids haven’t you?” says the second man. “You’ve got to make the effort,” says the first. “Now then,” I say. “I’m putting all this in a book. Would you mind if I took your picture?” “Listen. Last time I had my picture taken it was in the police station!” The second man is less keen. “I’m off to the paper shop,” he says to his neighbour, “I’ll see you later.” Inside the community house there are more facilitators than there are participants. Residents, Red and her niece Lyndsey are here, so too are John and Carl, tutors from the media course at Oldham College assisted by Kerri, one of their photography students. There are laptops and cameras dotted around the place. I’ve met Carl a couple of times before when he worked as a journalist on the Manchester Evening News. “I’m going to help you identify the stories that are right in front of you,” he is saying to Red and Lyndsey who are each sitting on a sofa facing each other. “You have so much going on in this community. I’ll help you tell it using your own voice, as if you are talking to one of your neighbours.” A few minutes later John and Kerri lead the budding journalists outside for a photoshoot. We let ourselves into the orchard and walk across to the new wooden gate. “Stand here,” says Red to Lyndsey, “let’s pretend we’re looking at something.”

Media workshops

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John says the community website is going to be called The ALTernative and it’s a pilot project that could easily be replicated in other areas. “We’ve started in Alt because of all the energy here. It’s all about raising self-esteem really… raising expectations.”

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“I hope everyone can see my pyjamas!” Red is still in her pyjama trousers and doesn’t mind who knows. “It’ll become my trademark,” she laughs.

“What will make this estate better?” I ask. Denise thinks for a moment. “The kids need something,” she says, “they really do.”

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alt: oldham | nurturing strong communities

She points at a tree, her arm outstretched in a pose. “Now then,” says John, joking, “you’re not becoming a Liberal Democrat councillor are you?” “I hate having my photograph taken by the way,” says Red as Kerri tries different angles, although, with all the banter, she is clearly enjoying this experience. “We’ve got 15 students working on this project,” John says as the photographer directs her subjects. “Some are doing background research on the estate. There is a perception that Alt is a high crime rate area and that’s misleading. Our students have found that the crime rate here is much the same as well-to-do Saddleworth up the road. “There are great nuggets of stories. There is Denise at the chippy round the corner. Carl and I will get fish and chips every now and again and catch up on all the gossip. She’s going to have her own page on the website.” Photos over, we are walking back to the community house now. “What about internet access,” I ask, knowing that in low income neighbourhoods, not everyone is online. “Look at all the Sky dishes,” says John, pointing down one of the nearby streets. “Every other house is connected. And once we get going, the story will be bigger than just a website... it will be a community focus.” Before we are back up the stairs at the community house I catch up with Lyndsey. “What are you trying to do with this media project?” I ask. “We need more residents interested in what we’re doing. People sneer when they talk about Alt and we want that to change. We want to talk about the good things going on.” “And what role will you take? Photographer, writer?” “I like reading and I like writing so I’m likely to write some stories.” “Anything in mind yet?” “Probably something about the Green Route project starting.” John has a little microphone on a wire. “Just drop that down your front will you?” he asks Red. “Am I going on television?” she says. “Yes, you are.” “I hope everyone can see my pyjamas!” Red is still in her pyjama trousers and doesn’t mind who knows. “It’ll become my trademark,” she laughs. “What we want from this piece is progress to date,” explains John. “Carl is going to ask you some questions about what you have done so far. OK, everybody! Camera. Action.” “Now Red,” Carl begins, “you’ve been working on this thrilling project. Can you tell me how you have got to this point?” Red talks about the school garden, the bus stop encounter, making a pond, getting the children involved and now, five years later, the Green Route that’s about to start. “What signs are there that the community appreciate what you are doing?” he asks. “Personally, I find that difficult to answer,” says Red honestly. “There are a lot of people who can only ever see the negative in everything. We try and explain it’s a long term project.”

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“Do you think people are surprised by what you have achieved?” “I think they are, yeah.” “Great!” Carl says once they are ‘off air’. “You were very relaxed and you looked straight at me. When I first went on TV my eyes were all over the place and, in close up, I looked like a maniac. So well done, that was great!” “Fantastic!” says Red, clearly pleased with her debut performance. Next it’s Lyndsey’s turn. She paints a picture of a closed estate, where few people help each other. “There’s no reason why things can’t be done,” she says, “it just needs someone to do it.” Red nods in agreement from the sofa. Kerri has now downloaded her images and put them up on the screen. “Look at that fence, it looks so countrified,” says Lyndsey. “That’s gorgeous,” says Red. “I’m starting to like me in photographs! I should be on Crimewatch!” “Your eyes are closed on that one!” says Lyndsey. As John wraps up the session encouraging the new journalists to look out for potential news stories, I slip off to have a word with Denise around the corner. The chippy is one of only two shops on the whole estate. Denise has a sign in the window advertising the media skills workshops but she can’t attend. She’s open six days a week from 9am to 6.30pm and runs the place herself, except for Saturdays when she gets some help. “So are you looking forward to this newspaper thing?” I ask as she is preparing for the lunchtime trade. “Yeah, if I can get my head around it,” she says from the other side of the counter. “What are you going to be saying?” “Well we need to get some positivity into people, that’s the thing,” she says, enthusiastically. “Everyone is so negative. They’ve been promised a lot and nothing has ever come to fruition.” Denise has lived on the estate for 16 years and has been running the chippy for the last six and a half. She knows Alt well and is well respected, especially by the local children who, by the sounds of it, make up a large proportion of her clientele. We chat about the Green Route project and, like the dog walker from earlier, she is pleased something is, at last, happening on the estate. “But,” she wonders, “will the kids round here have the patience to sit and watch them grow? I live right opposite so I’ll be able to shout at them to get their hands off the apples!”

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barton: salford | nurturing strong communities

The ballroom at the old Eccles Town Hall had been decaying for decades until a group of local enthusiasts decided to bring it back into community use.

“We’re absolutely thrilled”

Eccles Town Hall: its hall was converted into offices after the borough become part of the City of Salford in 1974.

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I’m looking forward to seeing the old ballroom on the first floor of the defunct town hall. The website of the Eccles Community Hall Organisation (ECHO) – what an inspired acronym for a decaying, empty hall – gives some details of its past. The building itself was built in 1881 for the Local Board of Health, a provider of basic services to the growing population in industrial towns. When the Municipal Borough of Eccles was established in 1892 it took over the health board’s role as well as its high street headquarters. Successive mayors were ‘sworn in’ in the ballroom and mayoresses hosted afternoon teas and charity balls. Eccles residents saw their first moving picture here in 1898 and Eccles Scouts were inaugurated in 1912. With its ‘sprung’ wooden floor, the ballroom was always a popular dance venue and in the 1930s a shilling would get you in on a Saturday night. In 1974, when Eccles became part of the newly-formed Salford City Council, the administrative functions of the Town hall moved elsewhere and the slow decline into decay began. Today I have invited myself to sit in on an ECHO committee meeting, held in one of the offices on the ground floor. Maybe residents of Barton, Winton and Eccles would have stepped into this office to pay their rates or meet their local representative. The latest phase of the restoration work is very nearly complete and the ECHO committee are now grappling with the day-to-day issues of hiring out the ballroom and planning their opening event. In a matter of weeks the workmen will have packed their toolboxes and once again the ballroom will open its doors and become a public venue. During a break in the proceedings, I catch up with treasurer, Councillor Paula Boshall who, she points out, serves on the committee as a local resident, not as a councillor. “How did all this get off the ground?” I ask her. “My colleague, Councillor David Lancaster and I had been to a meeting with Neighbourhood Management,” – they occupy ground floor offices here – “and afterwards we went upstairs out of curiosity. It really was in a dreadful state with pigeons flying around, a complete mess. So we called a public meeting and a group of enthusiastic volunteers picked up the idea and ran with it.” “Would you like me to show you round upstairs before we get going again?” asks David Yates, the group’s secretary, and one of the original ECHO stalwarts. While still on the ground floor David explains that some time ago, Salford City Council set the ball rolling by created a ramp entrance and a rather swish glass lift so the first floor hall is now totally accessible. “That,” he says, as we walk up the ‘grand’ staircase, “was phase one. The Fair Share money has paid for most of phase two which is this.” David opens a set of double doors and I take my first peek of the ballroom coming back to life. “Just stay here a moment,” he says. “I need to ask the foreman’s permission.” Once inside my head swivels, trying to take in all the detail at once. David is explaining that the restoration of the stage and the changing rooms will be part of the next phase and

Eccles Community Hall Organisation

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Flanked by municipal memorabilia, ECHO secretary David Yates briefs his fellow committee members.

ECHO Chair, Jim Vann: “Thanks to the band of volunteers who have wielded brooms, dusters, vacuum cleaners and damp clothes to get the hall ready for this, our first event.�

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“Two teas, please.� All hands on deck to serve refreshments to the capacity audience.

Eccles Community Hall Organisation

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Eccles Community Hall Organisation

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barton: salford | nurturing strong communities

that, as a favour, the contractors are doing basic repairs to the expansive rooms under the balcony so they can also be put to good use. Let me show you these sash windows,” says David enthusiastically. “They’ve been restored with new leaded lights and brass-riveted chains and now work beautifully. There’s been a fantastic amount of work done in here. “Would you believe it, but in the 1970s they put a false ceiling in the main hall. You can just see the horizontal line where they chopped straight across the architrave. It was a case of appalling vandalism. But all that has now been corrected.” I am left to take some pictures as David rushes back to the meeting downstairs. A single workman sweeps the ballroom floor and I decide there and then to come back on the night of the opening concert. * ** The flyer says that doors open at 6.45 for the 7.30 inaugural concert by the Eccles Community Choir and a cappella group, the Monday Mondays. It’s free and punters are encouraged to arrive early to guarantee a seat. Janice Green and Phil Austin are first through the door. “It looks fabulous doesn’t it?” says Janice, taking in the expansive hall now laid out with over 200 chairs and decorated with table lamps and indoor plants. “Have you two been supporters along the way?” I ask. “Only on the periphery,” replies Phil. “We’ve been to a couple of the open days.” It turns out that Janice is into tai chi and has already booked the hall for International Tai Chi Day in April. “We’re inviting different groups from across the North West and, with lots of others worldwide, we’re hoping to create ‘chi’ around the world on that day.” “When the workers were still here, I brought our barber shop quartet in to sound the room out,” says Phil. “We really liked it and are on the list to perform concerts. It’ll be a super local facility.” More have arrived while we’ve been chatting, including ECHO’s treasurer, Paula. “How are you feeling today, walking into the place and seeing the hall complete?” “It’s a wonderful feeling. It’s super, it really is. It’s been a lot of work for everyone involved.” “And, as treasurer, I have to ask you, how critical has the Fair Share grant been?” “Absolutely critical,” she says. “We wouldn’t have got to this point without it, or else it would have taken a very, very long time.” The hall is filling up, mainly older people who, I bet, all have a story of this hall in its heyday. And there are volunteers too. Preparing the refreshment stall, selling raffle tickets, taking contact details, helping the choir set up. There’s a real buzz of excitement. Tonight is another milestone in this place’s history. A group of about a dozen women find a block of seats so they can sit together. I ask where they are from. “St Michael’s Ladies Fellowship,” says septuagenarian Pauline Craven.

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“We have a meeting every Tuesday but today we’ve come here instead to see what’s going on. “I used to come here in the 50s for our works ‘do’ from Twinshire’s,” she says. “There’d be singing and dancing.... we’d all let our hair down in here. Some of us got up there to sing,” – she nods towards the stage – “but none of us were in tune!” Her friends have a good laugh with her. “This was a beautiful dance floor. We’d be jiving to Bill Haley on this. Oh aye. Bill Haley and his Comets.” People have clocked my camera and tape recorder. I’m beckoned over to another group of women. They think they’re going to be in the paper. When I tell them I’m collecting stories for a book, the ladies of the Tuesday Club from Patricroft are still happy to talk to me. “Does anyone remember coming here before it became derelict?” I ask. Barbara Lawton leans forward from the row behind her friends. “They always had a New Year’s Eve dance here,” she says, “the biggest dance in Eccles, with a rock ‘n’ roll band and everything. And when Eccles was a borough and this was the Town Hall, we used to come down here in our teens and help count the votes after an election. I got roped in because I was a junior at Gardner’s and two of the bosses were politically inclined.” “And what did Gardner’s do?” I ask. “Have you not heard of them? They were an engineering company in Patricroft,” she explains. “Are you not from round here then? Oh, right.” “Barbara knows her history,” says one of her friends. “We’re absolutely thrilled to bits that this is open again,” continues Barbara. “It’s in the heart of Eccles and there’s not much of the old Eccles left. This town has changed dramatically. There’s nothing. Back then there was the Broadway cinema where we’d go every Friday night and the manager used to stand in the foyer in a full evening suit. Do you remember that, girls?” There’s barely a seat free as the choir arranges itself at the front. Echo’s chair, Jim Vann takes to the microphone. “… this is the first public event held in the hall for many years and we are very grateful to everyone who has made this possible,” he says. “We’ll be having a more formal opening at a later date where we’ll be inviting the mayor to cut the cord or smash a bottle of champagne…” Jim is clearly pleased, relieved almost, to have got here, and after so much hard work. Next the choir’s musical director, Angela Rowley steps forward, raises both her arms together, and a new chapter begins. By this time I’m up in the balcony and for a moment I stop taking pictures, step back from my tripod, and survey the scene. Fast forward 50 years and maybe a new group of local residents will be sat down there reminiscing about the good times they’ve had since the place was renovated back in 2013.

Eccles Community Hall Organisation

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barton: salford | nurturing strong communities

Best known for the bridge that carries the M60 over the Manchester Ship Canal, Barton is an area of Salford that has seen more prosperous days. On the boundary of Trafford Park, its residents would once have found work in Europe’s largest industrial estate. Now they are more likely to seek welfare and debt advice from the Salford Unemployed and Community Resource Centre (UCRC).

The fourth emergency service

Barbara Bentham and (right), Lorna Stewart. “When you become disabled,” says Lorna. “You’re not just arguing for money or benefits you’re arguing for everything: your right to live, your right to work, your right for equality.”

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I like Barbara Bentham’s job title: Income Maximisation Advisor. It sounds like she has some special powers, some route to a better place. And in a way, she has. There are a number of files on the desk in her tiny office, all Barton clients who have benefitted from the extra work the Centre has done over the past couple of years, funded by Fair Share. “This young man is only 24 and in private accommodation,” she says. “His housing benefit was £33.18 less each week than his rent, so he was always in arrears. We applied for a discretionary housing payment which we won. £30 a week is not a lot of money but it enabled that young lad to keep his house.” The Salford UCRC has been going for over 30 years, supporting people to find work, giving advice, meeting the needs of their community. In that time the emphasis of their service has shifted from finding work – there just aren’t the jobs any more – to helping clients claim their entitled benefits, teaching language skills to a new community and getting people ‘work ready’ in the hope prospects improve. “This chap,” Barbara says, picking another file off the pile, “had back problems. Let’s have a look: osteoarthritis, problems with upper and lower limbs, hypertension, in fact, a lot of medical conditions. We assisted him with a disability living allowance claim and now he gets £70.95 every week.” “How does it feel, Barbara, when you hear these stories and are then able to help out and get a result?” “Amazing,” she says. “I get huge job satisfaction from making just that little bit of a difference.” “How long do things take to resolve?” “Some are just a couple of letters to the right department, for others we might have to contact our local MP. You can tell by the size of the file whether they’ve been quick or not.” She picks up a thick file this time. “And then there was the pensioner who was told she’d been overpaid pension credit to the value of £4291.98. “The Department of Work and Pensions made a decision that she had failed to declare income belonging to her partner. This lady is actually terminally ill and it wasn’t a fraudulent claim, it was an omission, so we eventually managed to get them to write the debt off. The stress of thinking she might have to pay half her benefit back must have been unbelievable. Just to have been able to make things easier for her... it’s amazing.” Barbara is one of ten staff that include advisors on employment law and debt management, IT and language tutors, and project workers on a four-year project supporting ex-offenders. The resource centre increasingly find themselves filling in the gaps when other statutory and voluntary advice services have folded. After chatting about income maximisation I’m introduced to Alec McFadden, the centre’s manager who leads me upstairs to his office.

Salford Unemployed and Community Resource Centre

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barton: salford | nurturing strong communities

“We’ve got a problem with loan sharks in Irlam,” says Alec from behind his desk. “I just need to make this call.” As well as manager of the Salford UCRC, Alec is also trustee of the local credit union. “We need to better inform people about money and give them access to affordable credit,” he says after his phone conversation. “Round here there are people with legal loans of up to 900%. It’s a scandal. And the loans sharks are ruthless. They’ll break people’s fingers, or worse, if they can’t pay. Sometimes people commit robberies just so they can pay off their debts.” Judging by the posters pinned around his office, Alec has dedicated his entire working life to fighting the corner of the low paid. I’m hooked on the stories he is telling me about unscrupulous loan sharks but really need to hear his views about Barton, the area the centre has targetted with Fair Share funds. “Barton has changed staggeringly in the last say, eight years,” he says. “I’ve been here for 15 years and back then, apart from the Yemeni community, it was virtually all white. “All of sudden it changed. Some Africans moved in and lots of Eastern Europeans, particularly Poles and Czechs. The Polish deli opposite,” he gestures out of his window, “is busy all day and there’s more of a cosmopolitan feel about the place now. There doesn’t seem to be the level of racism there was a few years ago. I would say we have what you could call ‘Little Europe’ in Barton now. People seem to be getting on.” Alec says that, because of the change in population, then the services they offer have been adapted. “We had to get to grips with a totally new area of law relating to benefits for migrants,” he says. “And, of course, we offer language courses now. “There’s no question that we have got a lot of benefits for people and we’ve educated others and made them ‘work ready’. We’ve helped people compile CVs, teased out their skills and experience, and sent them away so proud to have something down on paper.” “And what about Barton specifically?” I ask. “We produced special leaflets,” he says, pulling a couple from under a pile of papers on his desk, “and put them house to house and in the pubs, shops, mosques, all over. And what’s interesting now, after 19 or 20 months, is the number of people in Barton who are referring their friends and neighbours after they’ve had a positive experience. It’s quite staggering.” “What has the Fair Share money allowed you to do that you couldn’t have done anyway?” “We’ve concentrated on an area in a way that has never been done before. That’s significantly improved the quality of life for a lot of people, greatly improved their incomes and given a number of new residents language skills so they can communicate with their neighbours.” I know for Fair Share, there’s a lot of emphasis on sustainability, keeping the ball rolling. “What happens after the Fair Share money? Has it helped lever in any other funds?” “Out of the blue I got a phone call from Lloyds TSB. They have a charitable arm and they had heard of our Barton work and have since agreed to give us £26,000 over two years to continue what we’ve started.”

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Alec is banging the drum now, and rightly so. “We’ve had an independent evaluation from the Manchester Met University,” he says, “that highlighted our ‘soft’ achievements, things that are difficult to quantify. It said we are good at getting people communicating, that we always listen. “Our clients call us the fourth emergency service. They know we will always help, or try to help.” The centre has invited one of their Barton clients in to talk to me, to tell her story. So Alec takes me back downstairs where Lorna Stewart is chatting to Barbara, like old friends. To start with, I ask her about Barton. “It’s weird,” she says. “My estate looks quite affluent but it’s extremely vulnerable. There are some single parents but it’s mainly elderly and disabled. When it snows we’re in trouble because no one can help each other… when you need an able-bodied person we’re out of luck!” Turns out 33-year-old Lorna had a car accident three years ago which has changed her life completely. As a psychotherapist who used to work in mental health she wasn’t unfamiliar with the world of disability, but could never have foreseen the difficulties she’d face after being hit by another car on a trip to Tesco. After the accident Lorna applied for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) but was refused. She then came to Salford UCRC. “What, do mind me asking, are your medical conditions?” “Fibromyalgia… Tietze Syndrome... Raynaud’s Phenomenon…. I’m anaphylactic. I have twisted lumbar damage, connected tissue disease and suspected lupus. Much of it is unseen, but I’m in chronic pain.” “And are all those because of the car accident?” “Apart from Fibromyalgia. That collision took my freedom completely. I can’t use a wheelchair because my joints dislocate and my tendons and ligaments tear so easily. If I did sit in one and let someone push me, I’d never be mobile again. I can’t use crutches because they dislocate my wrists.” Without the right benefits and being unable to work, Lorna quickly got into debt. She freely admits that had it not been for her training in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy she could easily have had mental health issues too. “How did they help you, when you came here?’ “They appealed for me and, after going through several medicals and jumping through lots of hoops, we won. DLA is the gateway to other support too, so it’s crucial. I’ve finally got a mobility car now so hopefully I can start working again.” Lorna tells me how she has rebuilt her life and how appreciative she is of the staff here. She’s turned a corner and is positive now for her future.

Salford Unemployed and Community Resource Centre

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droylsden: tameside | nurturing strong communities

Twice a week around 80 young people pile into the Prime Youth Club in Droylsden to meet their mates, chill out and use the equipment provided by a Fair Share Trust grant. A partnership with the local police, the club has been a huge success in reducing antisocial behaviour.

A model for youth provision

PCSO John Corr: “If we didn’t have this place we’d be run ragged now, imagine all this lot out on the streets right now.”

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I’m hit by a wall of noise as Susie comes to greet me. “Would you like a brew before I show you round?” I think she asks. I follow her towards the music and we’re in the main function room, what used to be called the Flight Deck of the Concord Suite, this 70s municipal block in the middle of a shopping centre. “It was a British Legion club,” she tells me now, “and they’d have weddings and parties in here.” Young volunteers, distinct in their staff polo shirts, are selling chews and soft drinks from the bar area. There’s a police officer here too, chatting to a couple of young lads. “That’s John,” Susie says, “He’s one of our PCSOs [Police Community Support Officers]. He says we’re putting him out of a job!” With my mug of tea I encourage PCSO John Corr to step into the back office where my tape recorder will stand more of a chance of capturing our conversation. “Tell me something about the problems that the police encounter in this area and how this youth club is helping?” I ask. “Before this opened we had large groups of youths on the street drinking alcohol, causing annoyance and criminal damage. Since then the number of antisocial behaviour incidents has greatly reduced,” he says. “And you can put that down specifically to this youth club?” “Yes, definitely,” he says. “Can you give me some examples, without naming any names?” “There are a couple in here now who I’d be bumping into daily – criminal damage, shoplifting, that sort of thing. Since they’ve been coming here I’ve had no problems with them at all. They know us by name and we know them. It keeps the problems down.” “And do you and your colleagues actively promote the club to young people who don’t already come?” “We talk about it on our visits to schools,” John says, “and when we are out and about we hand out these cards,” – he shows me a business card – “which is free entry for the first night. After that it’s 50p a night.” Susie has joined us now. “The police have been involved right from the early stages,” she says. “All the PCSOs have a good rapport with our young people and they deserve a lot of praise. They know this community really well.” The story of Prime goes back to 2009 when the police set up Club Delta, a monthly disco that would regularly get 150-200 young people off the streets and into the large hall next door. Tameside Youth Service and a group of volunteers (including Susie) helped to run it. “The young people loved it,” says Susie, “and it was such a success in terms of reducing antisocial behaviour that a regular youth club was suggested: a partnership between the police, the youth service and us volunteers. Club Delta is still running but Prime now organises it with the support of the police.” Bringing together the council, the police and a voluntary club in a joint venture has to be pretty unique, but clearly, here in Droylsden, really successful. And, with all successful

Prime Youth Club

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“We don’t allow social network sites,” says Susie. “ We think that’s something they can do at home.” “So what are you lads all playing on here then?” I ask the three boys staring at screens. “Infectonator,” says one of the boys. “It’s a video game.”

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“OK,” I say, “here are some questions: what to do you like about Prime? Is it a) You’ve got lots of friends here, b) There are good things to do, or c) It’s better than being at home?” “All of the above,” shouts one of the girls.

We charge 20p per game for those,” she says, “we’re aiming to be self-sufficient because we know our funding is coming to an end. All the equipment is really well utilised and I’m not sure what we’d have done without the Fair Share grant.”

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Prime Youth Club

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droylsden: tameside | nurturing strong communities

projects, I wonder why this isn’t replicated. “So why isn’t this happening everywhere?” “It’s to do with funding,” says John, “and finding the right venues to hold the youth clubs.” “This place seems ideal,” I suggest. “Right in the middle of town and plenty big enough. How did that come about?” “When we took it over it was a mess, really dark and dismal,” says Susie. “The Youth Service contributed £40,000 to completely refurbish it and then the Fair Share money was used to kit it out. Do you want me to show you round?” Susie shows me computers, a TV with video consoles, a ‘cyber bike’ for the Wii and, in the main room, there’s a pool table, games console (with 149 games), a dance machine and one of those driving simulators you get in arcades. As Susie takes me round, I ask her why she volunteers, why she throws so much of her time and energy into the club. “I’m a Droylsden girl,” she says. “When I was younger there were youth clubs absolutely everywhere. I used to go to a different one every single night. Now I’m a full time carer for my partner. So, believe it or not, this is my respite. It gives me a couple of hours, twice a week, to come out and do my own thing. I love it. “A lot of our young people have learning difficulties; some have ADHD [Attention deficithyperactivity disorder] or Asperger’s and, for them, this sort of activity is really beneficial. We’ve got a bunch of really nice kids but there are some serious underlying issues with many of them. Family life might not be great, some self harm, that sort of thing. “One of the parents has just been in this evening and thanked us for helping her daughter. I asked if she’d mind if you talked to her. I’ve got her number.” “Susie suggested I call and ask about Prime,” I say to Latasha’s mum a few days later. “It’s completely turned my daughter’s life around,” she says, emphatically. “Completely. Latasha has Asperger’s and was very withdrawn and would never get involved with anything. She started going to Prime six months ago and she has totally come out of herself.” I can hear in her voice that Latasha’s mum has had a weight lifted from her shoulders, a worry about her daughter that she thought might never be resolved. “She went at the end of Year 6 and met lots of her new school friends before they started secondary school, so that filled her with confidence. It’s transformed her, it really has, she’s even auditioned for the school play!” “This is Mark,” says Susie, introducing me to another member of the staff. “He’s a filmmaker from the Youth Service and has been working with our young people to make films about public safety.” It turns out that, as well as running the youth club, Susie also represents Tameside’s young people on an independent advisory group for the police.

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“We’ve been working with crime reduction specialists from the Home Office,” says Mark, “and trying to educate young people through film. Would you like to see one that we’ve nearly finished?” We gather around a laptop and Mark taps a few keys. “We’ve asked young people about their own experiences and this film is based on an incident that happened to one of this club’s members.” “A bit like a reconstruction?” I ask. We watch a short video of a 12-year-old walking alone through a shopping precinct checking his messages on his mobile. As he approaches a group of older children, two of them help themselves to the phone and wander off, laughing. “So the young people conceived the idea and acted it out?” I ask, impressed with the result. “Yes, and we’re making another one on Monday,” says Susie as we continue our tour. Behind the bar Leanne is brewing up for the volunteers. She says she is nearly 18 and has been coming to Prime ever since it opened. “What do you get out of being a volunteer?” I ask. “I like helping the young people,” she says, “so many of them need support. A lot of them don’t get much attention at home.” “And are you at college?” “Yes, I’m doing public services,” she says, stirring in the sugars. “I’d like to join the police.” Next I’m introduced to an older woman who is teaching a couple of the younger lads to knit. It’s not what I expected. This is local councillor and Prime vice chair, Ann Holland. “Some of them took an interest in knitting so I’ve just started them off,” she says, needles clattering together above the latest soundtrack. “I am just teaching them how to pearl one.” Between them Ann and Susie tell me more about the club, about the successes they have had reducing antisocial behaviour, about the ethos they try to instill: “It’s about respect,” says Susie. “Respect for the staff, for each other, for other people and for the equipment.” They are clearly appreciative of the financial support they have had from Fair Share at a time when other sources of funding have dried up. “We’d have probably just ended up with a secondhand table tennis table in here if it wasn’t for Fair Share,” says Susie, “and that wouldn’t keep many kids off the streets.” “With youth services being decimated by all the cuts,” says Ann, “we’ve done really well here. There’s a good working partnership between all the agencies. It’s a good model for youth provision.” “My ultimate dream would be to have a Prime everywhere,” says Susie.

Prime Youth Club

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droylsden: tameside | nurturing strong communities

Droylsden Youth Centre has got something of a track record. 2013 will see its 50th anniversary and Alan Bradbury – one of its founder members – has helped steer a steady course for half a century.

Into the future The club’s longevity and Alan’s commitment have given more than half a dozen funders the confidence to put money into the construction of a £1.5m brand new centre that could potentially serve the community for the next 50 years. The new building with its boxing gym, community room and changing facilities is being constructed on exactly the same spot as the now demolished club that Alan helped to set up in 1963. “The original building was built in 1945 and, as a prefab made with concrete slabs, it was only intended to last for 15 years. A nursery used it until 1960 after which it lay empty until we took it over three years later.” The interior was destroyed in an arson attack in 1983 and, by the time the insurance money had been paid out and a refurbishment complete, another club had been set up. “So,” Alan says, “we just concentrated on what we were good at: boxing and football and have been doing that ever since.” Children can now progress through the footballing ranks from age five all the way to the under-18 team and, if they show potential, can play in the second team for the local town team. “We’ve got a tie-in with Droylsden FC,” says Alan, “they’re in the Blue Square North League which is quite a high standard, so our young people have a straightforward route to semi-professional football, if that’s what they want.” Alan is down at the site regularly, taking progress photographs for the website, keeping the next generation of Droylsden footballers and boxers up to date with developments. Already a 60x40 metre all-weather pitch has been completed. “Yes,” he says, “there are grandkids of our original members who are playing now and clubs like ours are even more important than ever as there are fewer and fewer places for young people to go and things for them to do.” The local Fair Share panel has poured more than a third of its allocation into this club which, in turn, accounts for about 15% of the total construction budget.

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“It’s been a joint venture,” says Alan, “the Fair Share contribution has been very important and we wouldn’t have got the project off the ground without it.”

Droylsden A place Youthof Centre work

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great lever: bolton | nurturing strong communities

Groundwork established the Active Gardening Exchange Scheme (AGES) in Great Lever to deliver gardening sessions for volunteers to help maintain the gardens of elderly, disabled or vulnerable residents. Now the three-year funding has come to an end, the volunteers themselves are taking the project forward.

“I do like a nice garden”

“I get a lot of satisfaction from it. It’s better than sitting at home watching television. I enjoy meeting the clients and knowing that we’re doing a good job for them. Some of them don’t see anyone from one day to the next.”

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We’re causing a bit of a stir. Passers-by are wondering who we are. There are more people in the front garden of this neat bungalow than in the the rest of the street put together. As well as the eight-strong gardening team pulling on their gloves, there’s Sarah Jane from Groundwork, and Rachel from Forever Manchester, “Are you here to check we’re doing a good job?” asks Patrick, one of two young men on the team with learning difficulties. “Not at all,” assures Rachel, “I’ve come to hear about your experiences and celebrate your success.” Pat Warner has had her garden tended since the project started three years ago. “There were knocks on the door and people in the street,” she recalls when I ask her how she got involved. “I used to be very active but I’ve got a bad back and my knees have gone a bit funny and I find bending down difficult. No, I can bend down but it’s the getting back up. I can mow the lawn but I can’t do the edging. “I literally made myself ill trying to keep on top of things. I had already put in different plants, you know, ones that didn’t need as much doing to them, but it didn’t work out.” “So, how often do they come?” I ask “Four times a year, every three months,” she says. “And do you direct operations or do you just let them get on with it?” “They always come and ask me what needs doing. We go round and have a look at the priorities and they get on with it. Honestly, I am so grateful for it because I do like a nice garden.” Sarah Jane Tarn, Senior Project Officer at Groundwork, had already set up a similar gardening team in nearby Bury when she applied to Fair Share for funding for this Great Lever project. “That’s still going strong after five years,” she says, proudly. “This is one of those projects that should happen everywhere isn’t it?” I say. “It should happen everywhere yes, and we’d love to be able to do it on a bigger scale. It’s such a simple idea but it’s really, really effective. It has so many benefits. People think it’s about gardening but it’s not. That’s secondary. It’s about bringing different people together. “For the clients the social interaction is very important. All the clients have built up relationships with the volunteers over a long period of time. Some of the clients are really quite isolated so having regular interaction with people who they can trust is crucial. “And for the volunteers,” continues Sarah Jane, “they enjoy that side of the project too and knowing they are helping to make a difference. Then there’s the teamwork and working outdoors in the fresh air.” I can see there’s a strong team camaraderie with this group of volunteers. Despite them all having their heads in bushes, or pulling weeds from between the paving stones, there’s plenty of good-natured banter flying around. “Presumably the objective was always that, once the funding was finished, Groundwork would take a step back and the project would continue independently?” I ask Sarah Jane.

Active Gardening Exchange Scheme

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“For the clients the social interaction is very important. All the clients have built up relationships with the volunteers over a long period of time.�

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“Volunteering has turned my life around 360°. If I wasn’t doing this I’d be sitting in my flat going crackers. I’d be going back to my previous life and I don’t want to do that.”

“The little ones are cheese and the big ones are Cornish pasties,” calls Pat, with another tray in her hand.

Active Gardening Exchange Scheme

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Active Gardening Exchange Scheme

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great lever: bolton | nurturing strong communities

“There are always going to be older people who need help, but without funding we couldn’t run it indefinitely. We needed to think of a way for the volunteers to take ownership and to carry on the project themselves. “Three years has been a good length of time to develop the programme and build up a good relationship between the clients and the volunteers. That has made the sustainability of it much easier. The group is more likely to flourish now than if we’d only worked with them over a year or so.” I look around the garden at what appears to be a disparate group of volunteer gardeners. “How are the volunteers recruited?” I ask. “Some people, like Rowland, answered a local leaflet drop. Others have been referred through different employment and training agencies. Others have walked into our Groundwork offices and offered to volunteer.” “Maybe I could get some gardening advice while I’m here,” I say. “Rowland is a good person to ask if you need any advice,” says Sarah Jane, pointing out the oldest member of the team who is supervising one of the young men with learning difficulties as he snips away at one of Pat’s bushes. After I’ve introduced myself, I ask, “We put this apple tree in a couple years ago and we haven’t touched it yet but already it’s gone a bit mad. When’s the right time to prune it?” “Are there any more apples on it?” “No, they’ve all finished. We made an apple pie with the last ones at the weekend.” “In that case, now is the time to do it, before the winter.” “Okay, I’ll get onto that, thanks.” I switch from gardening novice to interviewer. “Can I ask, what do you get out of this Rowland?” “I get a lot of satisfaction from it. It’s better than sitting at home watching television. I enjoy meeting the clients and knowing that we’re doing a good job for them. Some of them don’t see anyone from one day to the next.” “And – do you mind me asking? – how old are you?” “I’m 74.” “So, some of the time you’re working for people who are younger than you!” He laughs. “Some are younger, yes, and some are older.” In the back garden Rachel is chatting to one of the other volunteers, Richard. Although all the volunteers take an equal role while they are out and about it is Richard who coordinates them all. “Without Richard,” Sarah Jane had said, “it probably wouldn’t happen.” “I’m originally from this area,” he tells Rachel, “but I’ve since moved to Bury. I’m a senior volunteer for Groundwork and chair of our local allotment.” “How many volunteers are there in this group?” asks Rachel, notebook in hand. “On a good week we get about eight, but sometimes there’s only been two of us. People

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come and go, some get jobs, people have other commitments. But whatever the number, we’ll still go out because people like Patricia rely on us. We’ve been doing it for three years now and we’ve kept on top of the gardens so most of them only need a bit of this and a bit of that.” Patricia is flicking through a pack of photographs showing some of the newer volunteers what the garden looks like at different times of the year. “That’s beautiful when it starts off,” she says pointing out a rhododendron bush in one of the borders and comparing it with the corresponding photo. “Look, it’s a gorgeous white when it’s in flower.” Richard is now telling Rachel how volunteering has benefitted him. “It’s given me a focus in my life,” he says. “That’s why I volunteer. “I can see the happiness we bring. The clients know me. Everyone knows me. I have a good bit of banter with them. The main thing is, they know they can rely on us.” “What would you have been doing if you weren’t a volunteer?” I ask. “That’s the million dollar question,” Richard says, “and I’ve got to answer it honesty. I’d be sitting in my flat going crackers. I’d be going back to my previous life and I don’t want to do that.” “Are you happy to tell me what your previous life was?” “Yes,” he says after a brief hesitation. “I had a drink problem. And volunteering has turned my life around 360°. I’ve got two children and now I have a granddaughter. And I’ve got this. “I do still drink, but it’s social drinking and not seven days a week like before. Now I’ve got a focus. If I’m not there to sort all this out, nothing happens. It’s lifted my confidence, no doubt about it, and it’s lifted people like Patrick too.” [One of the young men with learning difficulties]. “You have to be motivated and you have to be able to motivate other people.” Someone is taking brew orders. “You should know what mine is by now,” quips Richard. Richard tells us that, although the Fair Share funding has come to an end, the group will still be supported by Groundwork. They are helping with a funding bid for transport and new tools and they will continue to offer advice and support around finance, health and safety and project management until the group is self-sufficient. “I’m going to learn as much as I can in the next twelve months,” he says. Already he’s learned how to use a computer. “Then we will stand alone. That’s the plan, that’s the vision.” Clients are invited to give donations to help with bus fares and new tools but Richard is quick to point out, “If they can’t afford a donation, they still get their garden done.” Everyone downs tools as they see Pat coming out of her front door with a tray of hot drinks. Next there’s trays of pastries and cake. “The little ones are cheese and the big ones are Cornish pasties,” she calls out. “It’s like a picnic,” somebody says. And it is.

Active Gardening Exchange Scheme

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great lever: bolton | nurturing strong communities

After a day shift with the Connexions advice service, Val Johnson would regularly work another couple of hours in the early evening for Great Lever Voice, a group she set up in 2004 to fill the gaps in youth support she’d identified during her regular job.

Giving them time

I shake hands with each of the young women and, if they’re up for it, pose towards John who is struggling with my camera. “Just press that button,” I say. “Everything else is automatic.”

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“It was hard for young people then, and still is,” she tells me as we wait. “They hated school, had no qualifications and couldn’t get jobs. So I set up Great Lever Voice and we’d do little qualifications like Level 2 in food hygiene or in health and safety, or something in waitressing or the care industry. Anything to give them a chance, a head start. “It worked brilliantly. We’d put all their qualifications on a CV and put the CV onto a pen drive so they had it with them the whole time. I’d keep a copy and if I heard of any jobs going through Connexions I’d ring them up and ask them if they wanted me to send off their details. Really I was doing the job for them, but it worked really well.” “But why?” I ask. “You were doing a full time job and then working after hours voluntarily.” “I just got a kick out of doing it,” she replied. “It helped the young people and it was good for my job.” We’re sitting in what might be regarded as a classroom area in the upstairs of a converted semi-detached house in the New Bury area of Bolton. It seems this is the Voice’s third home having moved from Great Lever to Farnworth and now back here, the base for the charity, Raise the Youth. “Tell me something of the young people you worked with at the very beginning,” I ask. “Where are they now? You must have plenty of success stories.” “Right, there are loads,” she says, metaphorically rolling up her sleeves. “From the Level 2 food hygiene there are young people working in nursing homes and hospitals. An ex-student wrote to me recently on Facebook and told me I had changed her life. As well as doing care work she now has an Asian dress shop in town. She said when she came to the Voice, she was at a time in her life where she didn’t know which way to go.” Val reels off another story: “Me and my daughter were in town a few weeks ago and these two lads came running towards us and my daughter thought we were about to get mugged. It turned out I’d helped them ages ago and they wanted to give me a hug! There is always good in people.” I know Val is being a little modest with her achievements. Before I set off this afternoon I read a report from 2006, the first year the Voice received Fair Share funding. Over 50 young people walked into a job, education or training after attending Val’s tea-time courses. Half a dozen returned to become volunteers and the percentage of young people not in employment, education or training in Great Lever fell significantly. I’m surprised she’s not ‘mugged’ every time she’s in town. Things have moved on since the early days of the project, Val is telling me. “I took voluntary redundancy from Connexions two years ago and since then the project has changed from pushing older ‘clients’ towards courses and employment and now I’m working more with school age young people, at the moment with girls.” We’re awaiting the arrival of her Wednesday night group, many of whom have older siblings who Val has supported over the years. “Most of the girls you’ll meet tonight are in Year 10 and have been coming since Year 7,” she says.

Great Lever Voice

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After some juice and a biscuit, for those whose mouths aren’t still full of lollipop, there’s another AQA paper to work on.

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They finish off with some questions about power in relationships: what do they think would make a balanced and fair relationship? It’s all relevant stuff and the young women briefly discuss the issues and write down their answers.

“One-to-one work gets excellent results,” says Val. “In a group they are less likely to put up their hand and admit they can’t spell something, but they will individually or in their friendship groups.”

Great Lever Voice

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great lever: bolton | nurturing strong communities

“My husband, John has been working with me since I left Connexions. He’s an ex-teacher and says he now sees things differently after working on this project. When he was a PE teacher he’d give a detention to those children who didn’t bring in their kit. Now he understands the reason they didn’t have the kit might have been because their mum was drunk the night before. Do you know what I mean? So it’s changed his way of thinking as well.” The door is flung open and half a dozen girls walk in, each with a lollipop in their mouths and, when they speak, each with a coloured tongue. They look quizzically at me. “Do you want to introduce yourself, Len?” “OK,” I say, suddenly on the spot. “I’m a photographer and a writer and I have come today to find out a bit more about Val’s project. I work for the people who have given money to Great Lever Voice and I’m going round Greater Manchester taking pictures of some of the best projects, and this is one of them.” Next Val is telling the new arrivals that she has some certificates and that I am going to present them. Suddenly I am thrown from documenter to pseudo-dignitary, bestowing certificates on Val’s students. “I wasn’t expecting this,” I admit. “I’ll have to get someone else to take some pictures!” I’ve photographed enough presentation evenings to know what is expected of me but still feel somewhat uncomfortable on the other side of the lens. Everyone gathers around the large table, ready for another AQA paper. This one is Personal Awareness and Val and John start to work through the questions. “Best writing please!” says Val. “Now, what is meant by gender? So, what gender am I?” “Female!” “What are two differences between men and women?” reads John. There’s some giggling and a discussion about body parts. Next they are talking about religions. Between them they rattle off all the major world religions as if they are fresh from an RE lesson. I’m impressed. “What’s your own culture?” Val asks next. This is a little trickier. “It’s white British isn’t it?” “What’s value? And what’s diversity?” John is really pushing them now. “What’s a different word for diversity, I’m giving you a clue there.” “Difference!” A couple of girls shout out together. “So value and diversity is about valuing someone who is different,” says John. “I don’t understand that,” someone says, confident that in this environment they can admit they are not keeping up. John and Val patiently explain, giving examples that are relevant to these girls and, before long, they get there. That part of the session complete, I am keen to interview some of the older girls, the ones who have been coming for the last three years. Alannah, Shantelle and Lauren – all now 14 – are off into a smaller room, to get some one-to-one support from John with their maths.

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I follow and disrupt the session briefly. “Do you remember what you did in the very first session?” “Drugs and alcohol,” recalls Alannah. “Oh yeah, I remember that,” concurs Shantelle. There’s a display board in the main classroom, a drug identification guide with the most comprehensive description of different illegal and legal drugs I have ever seen. With fake pills, bags of white powder and examples of drug-taking paraphernalia it is worthy of any museum wall. “Why have you been coming all this time?” I ask them. “Because it’s good,” says Lauren. “Because it’s educational,” says Shantelle, pleased with herself because she knows this is the ‘right answer’. “What do you learn here that you can’t learn at school?” “At school people mess about. Teachers shout all the time. Val doesn’t shout. She’s very kind. She’s like a grandma.” The girls tell me they come once a week and really enjoy it. If they’ve done well then there are reward trips to the bowling or wherever. Alannah is suddenly in a state of giggles and I decide to bring the interview to a close. They start to settle down and do their maths with John helping. Non-judgemental, compassionate support. Val gives me a tour of the building. Downstairs six computers sit around the walls of the learning lounge. An older teenager is in front of one. Away from the organised chaos upstairs I ask Val what she thinks she has given these young people that a statutory agency couldn’t. “Probably time,” she says. “Time to get to know them.”

Great Lever Voice

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lostock: trafford | nurturing strong communities

Seven years ago, Lostock Park was a vandalised, burnt-out shell. It was such a mess that local young people preferred to hang about on the streets. Now Lostock’s young skaters welcome enthusiasts from across the North West to the skate park they designed themselves.

“It’s an addiction” It’s cold and about to rain. I’ve arranged to meet Daz at the skate park for a photo shoot and wasn’t expecting anyone else to be here. But it’s really quite busy with young kids and teenagers haring about on skateboards, roller skates and those metal scooters... how do they do that? And there’s some middle-aged bloke on a stunt bike who has just ticked the multi-generational box. “In the summer, it’s absolutely rammed,” says Daz, arriving just after me. “There can be as many as 300 here but there are few accidents, everyone respects the etiquette.” 45-year-old Daz is a sports coach for the local authority’s Sport Trafford and has helped develop this skate park from the beginning. “I’ve been skating since I was 11, one of the first generation of skaters,” he tells me as he rounds up a few of the older teenagers for a picture. I’m introduced to Sean, Dale and James. “So why do you come here on a Saturday afternoon in the cold? What’s the attraction?” “It’s an addiction,” says Dale. “You have to do it.” Daz tells me about the friendships this skate park has built, the way skating has brought different groups together. “But it’s Maureen you need to speak to,” he says as I get my camera ready, “she and the ‘Friends’ have made this all happen.” “Right, I will” I say, sliding down into the bowl. “I might never get out again!” Maureen Reilly is the chair of Friends of Lostock Park, and a Fair Share panel member. We chat on the phone one evening after her day job as a teaching assistant. She takes me through the skate park journey when, at first, the Friends asked local young people what they wanted in the park. That conversation was the beginning. While Daz coached the skaters, Maureen and her colleagues secured funding from Fair Share and Manchester United to build the bowl, designed by the young people themselves. It’s popularity – and the ‘Friends’ tenacity – have since resulted in an extension. “The original grants have certainly levered in more,” says Maureen. “We’ve raised over £350,000 in total for the park and now have well-used diversionary activities.”

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“It’s dead friendly... you’re always meeting new people. It’s exciting and,” says Sean, “with a bowl like this, you can vary it so much. There are no rules.”

Friends of Lostock Park

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micklehurst: tameside | nurturing strong communities

Only about 10,000 people live in the small town of Mossley, nine miles east of Manchester, on the foothills of the Pennines. Micklehurst, the recipient of Fair Share cash, is a housing estate within Mossley. Ten years ago parts of it were ‘tinned’ up – homes unoccupied and boarded with metal shutters – and the estate was known locally as the ‘Steel City of Mossley’.

The turnaround estate

“it hasn’t happened overnight,” says Linda. “But now the whole estate feels safer. Yes, it’s taken five years but we’ve broken the cycle of antisocial behaviour.”

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I have been invited to Micklehurst’s Youth Base, a community space that has survived local authority cuts and for many years been the focus of community involvement. “Come around lunchtime,” Linda Sidebottom from the housing trust had said, “is there anything you don’t eat?” Around the table are a couple of residents, Irene Raddings and Frank Gittens, as well as Maurice Chadwick who runs the place on behalf of Tameside Youth and Family Service. In the middle of the table – most importantly – is a plate of sandwiches and small cakes. New Charter Housing Trust took over the Micklehurst estate from Tameside Council in 2000 and embarked on an improvement project which brought houses up to standard. “But it was more than just physical improvements,” Linda is saying. “We had to fight inherent criminality, drugs and antisocial behaviour.” “But,” I ask, playing devil’s advocate, “why have people stop being antisocial do you think?” “There is no need for them to be,” she replies, “the young people have access to the Youth Base, they have things to do that will occupy them. And now they see their aunties, uncles, cousins – their wider family – involved in community activities so they have a greater respect for the area.” Frank concurs. He moved onto the estate in 2003 as New Charter were beginning to make a difference. “I moved from Oldham because of the race riots. I’ll tell you that now,” he says, “I had two young kids and I didn’t want them getting involved in that. It was the best move I’ve ever made. I wished I’d done it ten years earlier.” With notebook in hand, I am trying to get to grips with a decade of community improvements and, between mouthfuls of ham salad sandwich, see how the Fair Share money has helped a community that was once on its knees. Back in 2003 the residents’ group, MERA – Micklehurst Estate Residents’ Association – was inactive: the incumbents were aging and it had run out of steam. With the housing trust’s help the group was invigorated. Now, with the likes of Frank and Irene – she’s chair – it’s become the focal point for change. “I always think of this as a tree,” says Linda, helpfully. “The residents’ group is the trunk, the local authority and our housing association are part of the roots and you have all these projects branching off it. Our success has been down to partnership working.” And that is why I am getting Micklehurst’s story not from a resident’s perspective, nor from a statutory agency, but from them all here together. “Tell me about some of these projects.” “Back in 2006,” Maurice begins, “a Fair Share grant paid for a tool bank – a sort of library of DIY tools – and that got people interested in growing and so we did an ‘in bloom’ project to brighten up the estate.” “Then we won a joint bid for a £30,000 ‘grow-to-eat’ project from Tameside Crime Prevention,” says Linda.

Mossley Youth Base

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“Mossley was a very rich little borough, rich on cotton. But obviously all that has gone. “Back in the 1950s, when the Micklehurst estate was built, it had all the mod cons. If you moved from a two-up two-down with an outside loo to a new three-bedroomed house with an inside bathroom – as we did – then you were improving yourself. It was lovely, you couldn’t have wished for anything better. “In the 70s and 80s the place deteriorated and became somewhere you didn’t want to live. But now New Charter Housing has changed the whole feel of the estate. They’ve established rules which residents have to sign up to. They’ve given people the power to put pride into where they live. Instead of being isolated, there’s more of a community. “The Fair Share money has come at the right time for Micklehurst, it’s helped with all that change.” Val Carter, parish town councillor and Fair Share Trust panelist

Mossley Youth Base

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micklehurst: tameside | nurturing strong communities

“What’s that?” I ask. “A community garden, basically,” says Frank. “We made a community growing area that would facilitate seasonal tuition, links with the youth provision, access for young people and open access for the community,” says Linda. “There was also tuition on healthy eating and how to cook the vegetables. It was hugely successful. Young people got to try fruit and vegetables that they had never tried before...” “... never seen before,” says Frank. After two years the funders were so impressed they offered another £10,000 for a third year. “We changed it slightly and made a Saturday morning club for young people called the ‘Muddy Buddies’,” says Maurice. “We built three more beds called ‘buddy plots’ so families could have their own plot for a year.” “And where are these plots? “Just outside here,” says Maurice pointing out of the window. “We can have a look in a minute.” “I think what kick started it all was the grant we got from Fair Share for the tool bank. Everything else escalated from that,” he says. “And that is what has knitted the community together,” agrees Linda. I turn to Irene who has said nothing until now. “You are keeping very quiet,” I joke. “What do you think about all this money coming into the area?” She sniggers. “It came as a bit of a shock that Micklehurst got anything at all. I’ve lived in Mossley all my life but I’ve only been on this estate for 12 years. Normally we get nothing.” “Do you think, historically, Mossley has been forgotten?” “Yes,” she says emphatically. I know already that, as well as the tool bank that was one of the earliest projects to get funding, the Micklehurst panel have this year approved a grant to improve the Youth Base. I ask Maurice for some background. “Tameside Youth Service, as it was then, was offered the building in 1999 by the church next door. It had been the local infant school,” he says. Initially leased, the council has since bought it and it’s been altered to accommodate young people. “As well as a youth club three nights a week,” he continues, “it’s used by the NHS for cookery sessions, by a credit union, by health workers...” “… and I run a six-weekly bingo session,” interrupts Irene. “And we’ve had computer courses for the over-55s, you know, for people who can’t even switch one on.” “In some way, everyone in Mossley accesses Youth Base,” says Linda, “and so, as a legacy, it’s been decided to extend the building and convert the outside courtyard into another room, into a hall. That’s all with Fair Share money.” “So,” I say, “now that Fair Share is coming to an end and it’s all supposed to be about sustainability, how will you keep going?”

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Irene is more vocal now: “We want to work together as a community which we try and do. I think that should be top of the list.” “Because,” I say, “once you’ve got all these connections made…” “Yes,” says Irene, “we want to keep them.” “By working together we’ve turned it round,” says Linda, “but it hasn’t happened overnight. But now the whole estate feels safer. The young people we engaged with at the beginning of this process have now grown up and their younger brothers, sisters and cousins are coming through with more respect for where they live. Yes, it’s taken five years but we’ve broken the cycle of antisocial behaviour.” “I don’t think we’ve had one smashed window in the last five years, have we Linda?” says Maurice. After a photo session amongst the raised beds and beehives of the community garden I leave the Youth Base and head down the hill where I’ve arranged to call in on Val Carter, one of Mossley’s local councillors. Local government is a little complicated in this small town. Before it became part of the borough of Tameside and so in Greater Manchester, it was pretty much on the boundary of each of Lancashire, Cheshire and the West Riding of Yorkshire. Since 1999 Mossley has exercised some historic right to establish its own parish council and, for nearly ten years, Val has been an independent councillor. “I want the best for Mossley,” she says from her ‘home office’ at the back of her neat bungalow. “I will always support whatever will benefit the people of this town.” For four years Val also sat as an independent councillor on Tameside Council. “We’d been neglected by the metropolitan borough,” she says, “and I tried my best to fight for better services for Mossley.” Over these past 12 months she’s also been a Fair Share panel member, helping to make decisions about how the money should be distributed. “Tell me something about sitting on the panel, how it’s managed and how it could have been done better,” I ask. “I think it would have helped if there were more residents involved,” she says, pulling a ring binder off one of her shelves, “they know the estate, know what’s needed.” We look at an agenda from a recent meeting. Out of 15 members, five are residents (including Frank), five are councillors, then some council officers, Linda from the housing trust and a couple of others. “It’s a bit top heavy isn’t it?” says Val. “So you think more local people making decisions would be a good idea?” I ask. “Yes. Maybe the councillors should be there just to advise. Local people may need specialist training to help them and I think perhaps Fair Share could have supported them in that.”

Mossley Youth Base

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middleton: rochdale | nurturing strong communities

It started more than 15 years ago as an extra-curricular activity for mature students at a further education college in North Manchester. Then tutors Rob Lees and Jill Hughes decided they could better develop their drama workshops independently and so MaD Theatre Company was born.

“We want to entertain”

“Crimewatch? How will they tackle that?” “This group is full of very creative young people,” Jack replies. “They always do really, really good improvisations. You watch, they’ll all be comedies about different things.”

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“I decided I wanted to work as a theatre director rather than a college lecturer,” says Rob as we both sit in the café of Middleton Arena, a swish three year old community facility in the centre of the town and venue to the Saturday morning drama workshop for young people. “So Jill and I set up MaD in 2006 as a company limited by guarantee and now we’re a charity too.” “Basically our aims are to provide a theatre company for young people and adults who wouldn’t traditionally go to the theatre or have access to drama, at a reasonable rate.” “Do you run these workshops for free then?” I ask as a small boy comes up to Rob and drops a few pound coins onto his palm, answering my question for me. “Cheers James,” says Rob, and then, to me, “Either free or for small subs.” Rob goes onto explain that MaD are the antithesis of how people might imagine an amateur dramatic society. “We write all our own stuff and we never advertise ourselves as amateur, or community, or anything like that, we’re just a theatre company. We want the general public to come and watch our work whether it’s adults or young people performing. “We’ve now got quite a decent following in Manchester because of the kind of plays we put on. They’re always working class based, usually funny, often political.” “Is that your background?” I ask. “Where are you from?” “From Oldham originally,” says Rob, “and I went to Oldham Theatre Workshop in the mid-80s. It was council run and free for all local kids. We got to put on plays in big theatres like the Oldham Coliseum and Tameside Theatre, once even in the main space at the Royal Exchange in Manchester. It was fantastic. “Cheers,” he says to another boy. “You automatically got to be part of an agency and so we’d go off and do bits on Coronation Street and things like that. But, in a way, they were a victim of their own success. Because so many young people were getting work they got a good reputation and it got too commercial. We started having to pay and it became less for the young kids from urban Oldham and more for those from leafy Cheshire.” Rob went on to study drama in Liverpool: “I loved the idea of theatre groups bringing theatre to working men’s clubs in the 60s and 70s and I thought that’s what I’ve got to do, bring theatre back to ordinary people and make it non-elitist and fun. “Cheers, mate... It’s not high art, although that’s got it’s place. We just want people to be entertained.” “You’ve been inspired by your childhood experiences then?” “Most definitely. There are plenty of acting schools that encourage their students down the agency route, you know, fame and fortune and getting onto Hollyoaks. And it’s not that we dissuade our young people from having agents. One of our girls has just filmed a second series of the 4 O’Clock Club for CBeebies, she’s done very well. But our view is that the education route is best: go to college and university and if it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t then we’ll train you up to be a workshop leader so you can either stay with us or get employment elsewhere.”

MaD Theatre Company

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MaD Theatre Company

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“Our ‘improv’ is about two girls who go into a shop and steal a jacket and some false nails. They run away and then go into slow motion.”

“Five more minutes to rehearse!” shouts Katelin, “and then we’ll have the performances.”

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“Lee gets stuck in as much as the next person,” says Jack. “The wheelchair doesn’t hold him back.” Lee: “Drama is my favourite subject at school. I want to be a comedian when I’m older.”

MaD Theatre Company

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middleton: rochdale | nurturing strong communities

“And you’ve always got your academic achievements to fall back on,” I say. The café is filling up and the table in front of us has a reasonable pile of pound coins. Before the sessions kicks off, I’m keen to hear from Rob how the Fair Share money was spent and, in particular, how it has helped the group develop. “We received just under £10k to do a project last year. So we ran after-school drama clubs in three Middleton schools. They were about alcohol and how if affects young people. They worked really well. “That money ran out but, as a result, Rochdale Council said they liked what we were doing and has funded us to carry on for another couple of years.” The work MaD has done with Middleton’s young people inspired a new play, Gin and Chronic Arthritis, written by Rob. It follows the lives and loves of three generations of a family on a housing estate and is about to start a short tour in Manchester and Salford. “The Head of Drama at Middleton Tech” – one of the three schools – “said she loved the play and wanted her GCSE students to study it. But first it needed to be published.” He pulls out a small booklet from his bag. “So we’ve had it published and she is now helping us create a GCSE study pack for other schools too.” “So without the Fair Share money to get that started, that might never have happened?” “Exactly. We’re always looking for new ways to generate income and now we can offer this play to other schools, with a published script. Working in partnership with Middleton Tech has given us a credibility that we wouldn’t have on our own.” “That must be quite exciting. You’ve written a play in collaboration with local school kids that’s now being studied formally by them, or their peers, for GCSE drama?” “Yes, it’s great isn’t it?” A young woman drops down in the chair next to Rob. “This is Katelin,” he says, “she and Jack are the two workshop coordinators today. Katelin has been coming since she was seven.” “And how old are you now?” I ask. “Nearly 17.” “You must have been in loads of productions over the years,” I suggest. “Which has been your favourite?” “I don’t know really. Each one has been good in its own way. Next week we are doing Gin and Chronic Arthritis in Manchester and I’m doing a comedy warm-up as well as playing this lad who’s a bit of a yobo.” Katelin is taking the preferred MaD route, getting qualifications as well as following her dream. At college she’s in the middle of Biology, Chemistry and English Literature A-levels as well as a BTEC in Performing Arts. “The drama is like a detox for me, it’s so full on with my A-levels and that.” It’s 10 o’clock and all the young people head upstairs to their workshop space, the top tier of a 500-seater theatre with the seating retracted. This is a quality performance space and no doubt the choice of venue must rub off on these trainee thespians.

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There are a couple of games to get everyone warmed up. “OK. Are you listening? I’m not talking over you. Thank you.” Katelin brings everyone to order. “Now, everyone get a partner…” One of the games involves sitting on the floor with legs outstretched. Lee, in a wheelchair, complains lightheartedly. “Did you not think about me when you decided on this game?” Without any fuss, the game is adapted slightly to give Lee a fighting chance. Next it’s improvisation and the young people get into groups as Jack calls out, “Crimewatch! That’s the subject for this week. You’ve got 20 minutes to come up with a play based on Crimewatch.” As huddles form and ideas are debated I approach Jack with my tape recorder. “How long have you been involved in MaD?” “I’m nearly 22,” says Jack. “I joined when I was eight.” He tells me that since the age of 16 he has been given the responsibility of running some groups – a feature of the MaD training philosophy – and had been employed part-time while studying A-levels. He’s now a full-time member of the team. “It’s not bad, doing your dream job by the time you are 22. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do so I’m dead chuffed. “I’m the only person I know from North Manchester who is employed in the arts in North Manchester. I have friends who have to go to town or other parts of the city to work in the arts but I work in the communities I have grown up in and now I can give something back. We’ve worked with kids, adults, people with special needs, substance abusers. Even at my age I feel as if I could get a job teaching in a school because of the experience I’ve had thanks to MaD.” Each of the groups is now developing their ‘improvs’. One boy is sitting on his own, apparently banished from the rest of his group. “What are you up to?” I ask. “I’m in prison,” he says. “I’m a criminal and I’ve just killed someone… but these four cops are all so daft that they’ve ended up electrocuting themselves and I get to run away... in the end some other guy arrests me and I get put in prison.” Trafford is 12 and has been coming to MaD for the last 13 weeks. “What do you enjoy about it?” I ask. “Well, I’m in foster care and it’s like a really good way of making friends. I’ve met a lot of people – those are my best friends over there – and it’s just really fun.”

MaD Theatre Company

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sale moor: trafford | nurturing strong communities

Established in 2009, the Sale Moor Communities Junior Football Club already has dozens more beneficiaries than the 150 young boys and girls running around the grass pitches at the local high school every weekend.

“It’s for the kids, isn’t it?”

“There are lots of kids who can’t actually pay and we never charge those who are in genuine hardship. It’s not about making money.”

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Saturday morning football. I’m on familiar territory. And it’s a perfect morning for standing on the touchline shouting encouragement. Ray and Tracy are already here, an hour before the session starts. Ray marks out the pitches and Tracy is in charge of the catering. Before they get too busy I ask them why they volunteer every week. “You know what I enjoy?” says Tracy, without needing to think. “Every one of those kids knows me… they all know my name, and I love doing it for them.” There’s a big metal cabin on the edge of the playground, near the pitches. It’s new, only been here a few weeks. This is where Tracy and some of the other mums serve hots drinks, burgers, bacon butties and sweets. Although the tuck shop is helping towards the running costs it’s not about making a profit. “Everything’s cheap, cheaper than a normal shop, but I also give a lot of stuff away because kids come with no money. Sometimes I even lose money… but it’s for the kids isn’t it?” “Last season,” says Ray, “we had two teams come down from Wilmslow and the weather was awful, it was lashing it down. At the end, when they were all shivering, we gave every player a cup of tea and a bacon butty… all free.” But Tracy and Ray come down for other reasons too. “Our 11 year-old son Will has ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder],” says Tracy, “and he’s a handful. This club is a lifesaver for him. That’s why I’m so involved.” Tracy tells me something about the battles she is having with school to get Will the support he needs. There’s a case meeting next week and she is fired up, fighting the system to get the best for her son. “This is like a release for him,” she says. “This is where he has his fun, and that is why football is so important.” Ray has been a footballing dad for 16 years. “We are down here every Saturday and Sunday morning,” he says. “We get nothing for it. We love what we do. But we can sit down on a Saturday night in front of X Factor or whatever knowing we’ve had a day, we’ve done things together and that’s great.” Although there are several games and training sessions today, I’m here to watch just one: Sale Moor Communities JFC Under 9s versus Wilmslow Dragons Under 9s. It’s been cleared with both coaches that I can take pictures and so I arrange the home team for a formal shot, as if they’re posing for their squad picture in front of the Stretford End. As the referee brings the boys together for a handshake, I’m joined on the touchline by John Walker, the club’s vice chair. An accomplished footballer in his youth, he now coaches both the four- to six-year-olds and his son’s Under 15s team. “For those who don’t know it, what’s Sale Moor like,” I ask, with one eye on the game. “It’s basically a small pocket of deprivation surrounded by middle class areas but, because it is so small – only a couple of thousand people on one estate – it doesn’t get the level of funding that places like Wythenshawe or Baguley get. It’s been forgotten.”

Sale Moor Communities Junior Football Club

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“Last season we had two teams come down from Wilmslow and it was lashing it down. At the end, when they were all shivering, we gave every player a cup of tea and a bacon butty… all free.”

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Although there are several games and training sessions today, I’m here to watch just one: Sale Moor Communities JFC Under 9s versus Wilmslow Dragons Under 9s.

Finally the whistle blows and it’s 8-5 to Sale. Cory adds three to his tally, Reece has also scored three and Keiran, two. “Shake hands lads,” shouts Cory’s dad.

Sale Moor Communities Junior Football Club

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Sale Moor Communities Junior Football Club

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sale moor: trafford | nurturing strong communities

Sale Moor immediately put the Dragons under pressure and, I have to say, I am impressed by the standard of play. Sale’s striker is round one and then another and shoots… but just wide. “Well done, son,” calls out one of the two coaches near us. “He looks quite a useful player,” I say to the coach. “Yes, that’s my lad Cory, our star striker. Ten goals in two games.” Both Trafford Council and the local housing trust have been supporting Sale Moor for some time and a chunk of the Fair Share money has been spent on improving much needed community facilities. “There was, however, quite a problem around antisocial behaviour,” explains John. “As kids we used to play football in the streets the whole time but that’s seen as unacceptable nowadays. Partly it’s a safety issue but mostly residents don’t like kids hanging around. That’s why the club was set up nearly three years ago now.” “And what’s your motivation for getting involved?” I ask John. “I still have 80 friends today, at the age of 37, who I’ve played football with when I was a kid. That’s how important it is. It’s a way of taking you out of your comfort zone and understanding someone else’s life, whether they’re multi-millionaires or kids from a council estate: once they run on to that pitch they are all equal. “I was a council estate kid myself but now I have an opportunity to give something back, which is the same for all the coaches.” This is a game of three ‘halves’ – three 20 minute sessions – and at the end of the first ‘half’, Wilmslow are winning 1-0, against the run of play. “Well done lads, well battled,” says Cory’s dad in the team huddle. In the second period Wilmslow gain in confidence and it’s an evenly matched game. The visitors score, Sale equalise and so it continues until it’s back in the huddle after the second period with Wilmslow just ahead at 4-3. “I have to ask you… could you have done it without the Fair Share money?” “In the first year, before our application,” says John, “we did massively well at getting kids here. But there are lots of kids who can’t actually pay and we never charge those who are in genuine hardship. It’s not about making money. “We had a small grant from the local housing trust to get us up and running but with goalposts themselves costing a couple of hundred pounds each, then that was soon spent. So, for the first year, we lived hand to mouth and relied heavily on what subs we collected.” The final ‘half’. The mums and dads are on tenterhooks, their lads could pull this off. Cory is off on one his runs. He’s going it alone. He shoots! 4-4. Sale are back in it and have the psychological advantage. Within minutes there’s another, this time from centre forward Reece. “Had we not had the Faire Share grant,” John is now saying, “we would have to attract six or seven significant business sponsors to make up for it and, in these times of austerity, we’d have never got that. “Would we have kept it going if we hadn’t got the money? Yes, of course. We would have

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begged, borrowed or stolen to have kept it going.” I’m imagining hoodies on the grass as goalposts. “But instead the grant has given us a solid foundation to build on.” “The grant was for about £13,000, wasn’t it?” I ask. “It’s not a lot really, to be honest. Once you’ve paid for kits, balls, goalposts, pitch hire, I bet it soon goes.” “We have over 150 kids so it works out at less than £90 per player.” “That’s not much at all. And then if you equate that to future cost savings by other agencies because these young people have taken a different path than they might have…”. “We can already document that,” says John. “Two years ago there were in excess of 43 ASBO-type complaints to the police about the under-16s on the estate. There were two last year, and we haven’t had one this year yet.” “How can you put that down to football?” “We can’t claim it’s all to do with football but all those complaints were about under-16s and 40-50% of those young people are now at this club. It’s circumstantial… but significantly circumstantial.” For the Under 9s the last ten minutes are a triumph. Wilmslow stay strong but cannot hold back the home team who make one advance after another. Finally the whistle blows and it’s 8-5 to Sale. Cory adds three to his tally, Reece has also scored three and Keiran, two. “Shake hands lads,” shouts Cory’s dad. After the celebrations I wander over to the tuck shop where orders are coming in thick and fast. I get chatting to Ashleen, one of the mums who has brought her three sons along this morning. There’s Jordan, 12, Joshua, 10 and Jake 7. “What do your lads get out of it?” I ask. “It gives them confidence. It burns off some of their energy… they’ve got a lot of energy the three of them… and it’s something to focus on. They love football, absolutely love it. One cheeseburger and two normal ones, please Tracy.” “And what did you do before coming to this club?” “Nothing. We tried a neighbouring club for a couple of weeks but they were too expensive. Especially for the three of them.” “How much were they asking?” “About £35 a month, each.” “Each?” “Yeah. There was no way I could afford that. So this has just been fantastic. I don’t know what I’d have done without it. And it’s something for the parents as well. We all know each other now, it’s a social life for us, too.”

Sale Moor Communities Junior Football Club

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She has two large dogs at home and suggests we meet on the green so we can have a peaceful conversation. “Have you given yourselves a name yet,” I ask. “We’re the SAS!” she replies, “the Sholver Allotment Society, and our plots will be just down there.”

A massive community effort

“I don’t know the rest of St James. I just stay around Sholver. I don’t go further than where I know.”

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Jo Butterworth and her three-year-old son, Austin, come and meet me on the Millennium Green, a patch of land adjacent to their estate with impressive views towards both Oldham and Rochdale. “Are you all right if I interview you here?” I ask, thinking the wind might be a bit chilly and neither has a coat. “No problem,” she says, “it would be no use in my house, we’d never hear each other over the dogs.” Because of the wind I hold my tape recorder closer than usual, and ask how the allotment idea all started. Jo tells me about a meeting at the local Sure Start Centre three months ago where she met community builder, Helen Smith. “She was talking about Fair Share and the money that was still available for St James, and I just happened to say it would be nice to see some allotments on the estate and that was it. Since then it has spread by word of mouth and my idea has just got bigger and bigger. We’ve finally got plans now to use the the land over there,” she says, pointing down a slope to some scrubland. “Are you involved in other community projects?” I ask. “Not really. I use Sure Start quite a bit and just thought this would be a good idea. And now it’s happening.” She sounds surprised that her idea is actually being realised. “And what exactly will you be doing?” “You’ll have your own plot and plant your own veg but then we’ll share what we produce, and not just with the growers, with all the neighbours whether or not they have a plot.” “How many neighbours are interested?” “Twelve up to now, I think. But it’s growing all the time so it’ll be a massive community effort by next Spring. “My next door neighbour has had a stroke and even if we had raised beds he wouldn’t be able to grow anything. But he wants to get involved and so he has offered to get the seeds, I’ll plant them, and he’ll get the benefit. It’s a proper community thing. “Me and my other neighbour have already been growing vegetables in our back gardens and it just seemed to make sense to do it on these fields because it’s land that’s not used.” “What sort of things do you grow?” “I started off with potatoes and this year I’ve done cabbage, carrots, turnips, peas… my pumpkins unfortunately went wayward to the slugs.” “All in your garden here?” “Yeah, just in grow bags. But with all this land,” she says, looking into the distance, “it’ll be amazing what we can grow.” “So, in five years time what do you think it’ll be like?” “I don’t want greenhouses,” she says, “because I don’t think it’d be fair on the people whose houses back onto the fields. It’s just got to be a fun thing – grow your own and share it with everybody else, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Sholver Allotment Society

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“I’ve talked to lots of people who grow their own food and they all say that the quality is so much better than the supermarket.” “It tastes so different,” she says. “That sounds silly, doesn’t it? But it’s true.” All this time Austin has been standing patiently next to his mother, his arm around one leg and his head resting against the other. “You like home grown stuff, don’t you?” she asks him, “You like peas don’t you? “Are they your favourite?” I say, bending down with my tape recorder, making out I am interviewing him now. “Can you take them out of the pod yourself?” Austin unsurprisingly shrinks back behind his mother’s legs. “Yes he can,” Jo answers on his behalf. “I like raw peas,” I say to her son, and then to Jo: “I used to eat loads when I was a kid but in the supermarket nowadays, they are so expensive.” “You plant one pea,” she says, “and you get enough for a whole Sunday dinner.” “Can I take a photograph of the two of you where the plot is going to be?” “Yeah, it’s a bit muddy down there.” As we walk Jo tells me that the Millennium Green was meant to be a kind of community park with benches, trees and those wonderful views across the hills. “Unfortunately the children wrecked it,” she says. “What about them wrecking your allotment?” “Well, we’ve already talked about that. It will be fenced off but we are expecting that to happen. We’ll just keep replanting and hope they get bored eventually.” “Or join in?” I say. Dogs bark from one of the houses on the edge of the estate. “Shall we do it here?” I suggest. “Yes, that’s fine.” Jo picks up her son and stands downwind so her hair isn’t all over her face. “And there’s going to be a children’s corner where they can grow their own flowers.” “Do you like flowers?” I ask Austin. “You like sunflowers, don’t you?” his mum replies.

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“It’s nice to have been given some money to do something because we don’t get that much to be fair.”

Sholver Allotment Society

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Marie has been running a daytime exercise class for many years. Tonight’s taster session – which has been organised with community builder, Helen’s help – is an attempt to attract a wider range of participants to a new midweek evening session.

Too good to be true While Marie is bringing her equipment from the car, I ask some of her regulars how long they have been coming. “I come twice a week, Mondays and Wednesdays,” says Mabel, “and I love it. I’m 79 now and it’s kept me going these last 20 years. I don’t know what I’d do without it.” Helen and a colleague prepare some finger food, and I get stuck in and take the drinks order: seven coffees, eight teas and a hot water. “Let’s make a pot shall we?” suggests Helen, pointing out the large stainless steel tea pots on the kitchen shelves. As part of Helen’s community building initiative in St James, she has supported Marie with a Cash for Graft award, to help her reinvigorate her well-established exercise classes. “It’s a relatively small amount of money,” says Helen, “but if it can kick start another class with new people then it will have ongoing benefits long after the Fair Share money has finished.” Marie is setting up a new integrated amplifier and speaker that she’s just bought off the internet. “My old CD player used to jump all over the place as soon as the ladies started moving,” she says, plugging in a microphone. “Is that working… working… working? Is that making any difference… difference… difference?” “Take the volume up and the echo down,” I suggest. “We’re doing two routines,” she says into her new microphone, “a slow one and then a fast one. You can do both or just the slow one, or you can watch, whatever you want. “Ready! We’re going to start moving all our joints. After four... three... two... right foot, two taps...” You’re just too good to be true/ Can’t take my eyes off of you. After an hour’s workout, Marie and Helen catch up with the four or five newcomers. They’ve all seen leaflets that Marie and her regulars have distributed locally and they’re all talking about coming to the evening session… and bringing their friends. “So,” I ask Helen, as the women begin to drift away, “has it been useful?” “It’s been absolutely brilliant. I’m so pleased for Marie. And I’ve met some new people. One woman is qualified to work with children and her sister is a qualified aerobics instructor and between them they want to set up a children’s aerobics class.” “That’s a winner then, isn’t it?” “A real winner,” she says.

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“Point forward... after two... push, push, push. After two... push higher. Now stars.”

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nurturing strong communities

With 18 months to go before the end of the Fair Share Trust programme, Forever Manchester changed its approach to community development. As the new initiative rolled out, residents asked, “Why didn’t we have this from the beginning?”

A different conversation

Steph Wilde in Alt: “It’s us, as a community, who have to do the grafting.”

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I’m sitting in Steph Wilde’s living room on an ex-council estate on the outskirts of Oldham. Steph is telling me about a Fair Share project, (see page 28) which, it seems, involves a small number of her neighbours getting together to make something happen. In their case it’s a ‘green route to school’ which involves planting lots of greenery and flowers to improve the look of the estate and to get people working towards a common goal. From an estate of over 400 homes there is only a handful of volunteers so far. “So why do you think people don’t get involved?” I ask. “Disillusionment,” says Steph without hesitation. “The rest of them think nothing ever happens and nothing ever will. There’s an expectation that outsiders have to come in and make things better, rather than thinking we can make it better by ourselves. The government can’t wave a magic wand and suddenly make a community here, it’s just not going to happen. We’ve got to do the work and it’s us, as a community, who have to do the grafting.” Steph speaks with the passion and conviction of a politician at a hustings. “You can send a shiver down the spine with talk like that,” I tell her. “There’s a philosophy call asset-based community development,” she continues. “Have you heard of it?” I have and, as its names suggests, ABCD is an approach that emphasises what a community has, rather than what it doesn’t have; it exploits the positives that residents can jointly offer rather than dwell on what is lacking. For Forever Manchester, the community foundation that has been administering the Fair Share Trust in Greater Manchester, it’s a fundamentally new way of working. Steph says she has been to an ABCD conference in nearby Manchester: “I felt a bit out of place, a community gardener in amongst all the professionals, but as I sat there listening, I was thinking to myself, I’m already doing this. I’ve already got my neighbours together and we’ve started doing things for ourselves. There’s nothing difficult about it. It’s a very, very simple concept.” * ** Some time later I’m interviewing Gary Loftus, Forever Manchester’s Head of Community Building and an ABCD champion. “Explain, if you would, how ABCD is different.” “It’s an approach that uses the assets and skills within a community rather than a needs-based approach that we’ve been used to. In the past, if you wanted a grant from our organisation, you’d have to tell us just how bad your neighbourhood was. You’d effectively have to tick the box of need and deficiency.” “Which is how most funders still work,” I say.

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“Exactly. You’d be expected to tell us just how bad it was before we’d give you any money and you’d have to paint a worst picture of your area than your neighbouring group. A culture of dependency has grown in many neighbourhoods.” “And ABCD turns that on its head?” “Instead of labelling neighbourhoods as ‘problem’ or ‘disadvantaged’, ABCD starts with the view that every area has lots of assets and our job should be to help identify those assets and join them together. Low income communities might be ‘cash poor’ but also ‘asset rich’. So we have to start a different conversation with people.” “What do you mean? What sort of conversations?” Since Forever Manchester has embraced this new approach three ‘community builders’ have been employed to work in some of the Fair Share Trust areas of Greater Manchester. Their job is to help people identify the often hidden and untapped assets under their noses and to then make connections. They are the ABCD pioneers and they are often out on the street at their ‘bumping spaces’, chatting to people. “Many people are turned off by the idea of community involvement,” continues Gary. “Sitting round a committee table just doesn’t appeal. So the community builders will get to know local people at the newsagent, or the bus stop, or the school playground, their bumping spaces. They’ll find out what people like about their neighbourhood, what they get involved in, what hobbies or interests they have and see if they can link them with others to make meaningful connections. It starts with building relationships rather than throwing money at a problem.” “Tell me about money,” I ask. “Money is secondary,” says Gary. “Some cash is almost always needed, so we now operate a matching grant scheme called Cash for Graft. If a group of neighbours get together on a project – they don’t need a committee or a bank account – we will match the time and effort they put in with cash. It’s just a straightforward way of mobilising people around their ideas.” “It’s more about valuing what people can offer?” “Absolutely,” says Gary. “It’s not a handout, it’s a hand-up.” I like the idea of ABCD. It makes a lot of sense but I can’t help thinking this new way of community development – relying on people’s skills rather than handing out large grants – is only now popular because there is less money around for beleaguered neighbourhoods. Gary has heard this criticism before. “It’s not the new kid on the block,” he says. “The methodology has been worked up in the US for the last 30-40 years and there are some amazing success stories we’ve heard from America’s toughest cities. But yes, it is new for us and has changed the way we work. We now think that solutions lie with people within neighbourhoods. There are certain things only people can do for themselves; things only professionals can do and things only people and professionals can do together.”

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“So how are you going to evaluate all this?” I ask. “Making connections between people is not the same as giving a grant to buy new chairs for your community centre. You might not know what happens after a connection is made. How are you tackling that?” “If our whole approach to civic engagement is different then we have to tackle evaluation differently too,” says Gary. “Rather than a baseline of deprivation indices, we’ll start with an assessment of being ‘disconnected’ and then, after the right conversations, mobilising ideas and investing small amounts of money, then we’d see the community move to ‘connected’ eventually. From ‘connected’ we believe we are going to see ‘thriving with a vision’. That’s the essence of community building: starting at a grassroots level and seeing neighbours and agencies come together to build a neighbourhood vision.” * ** Helen Smith is Forever Manchester’s community builder in Oldham. She works in the two Fair Share Trust areas of St James and Alt, the estate where Steph lives. “I was brought up in Liverpool,” she says when I caught up with her in Alt’s community house, “and my mum would always be chatting to strangers at bus stops which I think is really friendly. There’s a little desire for community in everyone but I think an anxiety has developed. We have to tell people it’s OK to get involved, OK to say hello. As community builders, we’re just trying to encourage simple neighbourliness.” I know Helen is supporting Steph and her neighbours with their Green Route to School project and from that she has encouraged other activities like a jam-making club and a Saturday morning craft club. “What’s Alt like for community building?” I ask. “People are disengaged, let down over broken promises,” she says, “but it’s great for meeting people. There’s one chippy, one shop, one school and maybe a couple of bus stops and that’s it. “We’ve been asking parents at the school gate what sort of vegetables they’d like to see grown which is really just an excuse to start conversations with residents who wouldn’t normally engage. I met one young woman who says she loves playing bingo with her kids so I suggested she might like to do something here at the community house for everyone to come and join in.” “People think they are connected nowadays because they have 250 friends on Facebook,” says James Hampson, the community builder for Lostock in Trafford. “But the chats across the back fence don’t happen as much as they used to.” Flanked by the elevated M60 and in the shadow of the out-of-town Trafford Centre, Lostock would once have been home to hundreds of workers at the nearby Trafford Park industrial estate.

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nurturing strong communities

James Hampson in Lostock: “As a community builder you need to become part of the community like the shopkeeper or postman.”

Gary Stanyard in Great Lever: “People ask why we didn’t implement ABCD at the beginning of Fair Share, and they are right. Thousands of smaller connections might have had a greater impact on community cohesion than some of the big budget projects.”

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“They’d all have gone to work together and come home together,” suggest James. “People passed on news between themselves. Everyone felt connected. That’s been lost in our fractured, working-class communities. “My job here is to meet people, find out what they enjoy, what skills they have, and introduce them to like-minded neighbours.” “And what conversations have you had so far?” I ask. “What have you made happen?” “There is a block of flats for the over 50s around the back,” he says. “One resident had an idea for flower boxes for their balconies and encouraged some of her neighbours to get involved. They did the graft – including filling the boxes for the disabled residents – and we matched it with £250 for materials. Now I keep hearing stories of what these neighbours are doing for themselves. I no longer need to be involved, I’ve just helped those relationships take root.” James also tells me about the overgrown allotment at the back of the school where he introduced two older blokes – seasoned growers – with enthusiastic mums hoping to supplement their shopping with homegrown vegetables. “I have to stop myself from nipping round to see how they’re doing. I need to let them get on with it!” James’ colleague, Gary Stanyard, is just finishing a conversation in a Sure Start café with young mum, Shirley. The café is one of his bumping spaces where he chats to parents picking up their children. “I was telling her about a sing-along session some local musicians were organising,” he tells me later. “I also found out she was interested in pencil drawing… and I know someone looking for an illustrator for his children’s story.” Another connection. Gary works in Great Lever, just outside Bolton. Like Lostock, its working population would have been employed locally, in one of the many large mills that punctuate this urban landscape. Now with mainly Asian residents, Great Lever has the challenge of adapting to a rapidly changing demographic. Amongst the many connections he’s made so far, Gary has found a bilingual volunteer for a local Rainbow group (young Brownies) and connected a woman who organises bike rides with a housing association that has offered her a commission. But his most significant successes, he tells me, are those which have resulted in good friendships between residents. Ideally the community builders work in their communities for no more than two years before moving on. They’ll collaborate with neighbours to develop a feeling of independence rather than dependency and identify and encourage residents to take on the role of ‘connector’. Like his colleagues, Gary won’t be around to see the long-term results of the connections he’s making.

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Produced in 2013 by

About Len Grant

Forever Manchester

A photographer and writer for more than

2nd Floor, 8 Hewitt Street

20 years, Len has recorded many changes

Manchester

in and around Manchester. As well as

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landmark construction projects he has documented major regeneration initiatives

www.forevermanchester.com

in low income communities. His social issues projects include an award-winning

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What happens when…? In 2003 ten Greater Manchester neighbourhoods won a share in a £50m handout from the Big Lottery Fund. Targetted at areas that had not received their ‘fair share’ of lottery funding, the Fair Share Trust programme set about redressing the balance. Forever Manchester – the Community Foundation for Greater Manchester – has managed the scheme locally. In the last few months of the 10-year programme it sent photographer and writer, Len Grant and film-maker, Simon Dinnigan to investigate the impact. They came back with stories of determination, perseverance and triumph.

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