Six months on, the Reclaim Gorton project celebrates with a graduation ceremony for young men from the ‘forgotten suburb’.
On Sunday evening [13th September] friends and families gathered at Urbis in the city centre to cheer on 30 young men, who, months earlier, had been at a crucial crossroads in their lives.
Proud mum, Liz Shaw, spoke emotionally of the effect the innovative Reclaim programme has had on her son, Callum. “He was hanging around with all the wrong people, he just wanted to be a gangster,” she said. “It was very upsetting, I felt I was losing him. His school suggested he enrolled on the project and I was all for it, although Callum wasn’t sure at first.
“Now it’s as if he’s a different person, he’s changed dramatically. He’s just so grown-up and he’s a pleasure to be with. Reclaim has given me my son back.”
Reclaim is a leadership and mentoring scheme, designed and delivered by the exhibition centre, Urbis. In 2007 it began working with 13-14 year-old boys from Moss Side and followed that with a programme for girls from the same area. The Gorton Reclaim project started in February with 30 Year 8 boys.
At the start of each programme the young people come together and write their own ‘manifesto’ for their area: things they want done and a set of principles to follow. Heading the Gorton manifesto is a plea for ‘more facilities and activities’ as the participants – and others – feel Gorton is often overlooked when public funds are allocated. ‘Police to mix more with the community’, and ‘Don’t carry weapons or you’ll get yourself hurt’ give some indication of the choices these young men face in one of the city’s most disadvantaged communities.
Distributed around their area by the group themselves, the manifesto becomes a pledge for the next six months of intense activity. Reclaim pairs each boy with an adult mentor who supports them throughout the programme. Over the months the participants undertake personal and physical challenges, hear from motivational role models, get immersed in positive community activity and meet and lobby decision-makers from MPs to police chiefs.
Since the 2007 Moss Side programme, Reclaim has been showered with awards. Developed by Ruth Ibegbuna, Community and Learning Director at Urbis, the project has won the Philip Lawrence Award and the National Crimebeat Award. Ruth herself has won Manchester Evening News’ Peace Activist of the Year Award.
At Sunday’s celebrations, Ruth reiterated to the ‘graduates’ that the six month project was, for them, just the beginning. “You don’t know this yet,” she said, “but we’ve teamed you all up with prestigious local employers in the area who will, for a day a week, give you work experience for the next two years.”
The Reclaim project will continue in Gorton after winning £450,000 this summer from the Government’s Inspiring Communities fund. Over two years the money will be spent on improving the educational prospects and employment opportunities of young people in Gorton South, and involving them in how their area is run.
For more information about Reclaim visit www.reclaimproject.org.uk
Reclaim has been supported by Manchester City Council, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Oglesby Charitable Trust, High Sheriff’s Police Trust, Learning and Skills Council, and the BBC, amongst others.