Confidence Booster

Posted by editor on February 18, 2010 under Business, training and employment, Community

They are out there. In every corner of east Manchester they are giving their time freely, supporting local organisations and, at the same time, learning new skills. Len Grant interviews a couple of the Experience Volunteers.

I’ve probably come across dozens of volunteers at events and in local offices but never actually realised it. They are some of the hundreds of unpaid workers trained and placed by Experience Volunteering, a service for local residents run by the community group, 4CT.

Many take up volunteering as a stepping stone to finding work, others to keep active and make a contribution to their community.

Doris Hardcastle: "I'd recommend it to anyone who's stuck it a rut. It gives you a new lease of life."

Doris Hardcastle: "I'd recommend it to anyone who's stuck in a rut. It gives you a new lease of life."

I met Doris Hardcastle in a church hall in Clayton where she had been supporting a mental health users’ group. “It’s just a cup of tea and a chat,” she tells me, “but it’s somewhere for people to meet together which is very important.”

Doris, I hear, has been volunteering for many years. She met the Experience Volunteering service some time after her mother died and has been helping in the community ever since.

“I’d been nursing my mother in her own home for eight years,” she says. “She suffered from Alzheimer’s and I promised her she wouldn’t die in hospital. When she passed away in 2000 I nearly had a nervous breakdown, I was in a bad way.

“I’ve changed enormously since then. The volunteering team has been tremendously supportive and it’s given me a lifeline, a new lease of life.”

One of Doris’s first roles was at the East Manchester Festival at the Grange Community Centre as part of the Refugee Week celebrations. “I’ve also been a receptionist, helped at the Seeds of the East festival in the summer, and next week I’ll be at the stadium for the JobCity recruitment fair.”

It seems to me that volunteering works on so many levels. For Doris it’s about keeping active and building up confidence. New volunteers to the programme are invited onto short courses and taught communication skills, customer service and teamwork, but it’s that all-important confidence building which is central to the work placement.

Tony Pearson: "I enjoy passing on my skills."

Tony Pearson: "I enjoy passing on my skills."

Tony Pearson says he hit ‘rock bottom’ after a trio of personal setbacks. A relationship breakdown, redundancy from a managerial position with a charity and the death of his own mother all contributed to a depression from which is he only now recovering.

“I’ve been able to keep my skills fresh with the volunteering,” he says. “It’s kept my head clear and I’m more focussed now.”

Tony is not new to volunteering. Throughout his varied career he has used his skills to help others. During his 20s he played in a band and later worked as a Community Service Volunteer in hospital radio, trained in radio production, and then trained others. “My heart is still in radio,” he says, “and I enjoy passing on my skills.”

Since he’s been with Experience Volunteering he’s helped out in their office with administration, marketing and even some of the funding bids. He’s also developed his love of photography and staged an exhibition of his work at the Grange in Beswick. “I took up photography after my mum died. It’s been a good distraction. I’d like to be able to make a living from it but realistically it’ll stay as a hobby as I look for a job in IT training.”

Within months Tony will have completed a course which allows him to apply for teaching assistant posts. “I’d like to be a full-time adult tutor in IT and Photoshop,” he says. “Already I’ve been offered a volunteer placement at The Manchester College which is one step closer to getting a full-time job. Since I’ve had the bad times, I haven’t had the breaks. You just need some luck.”

East Manchester residents interested in volunteering should call Sue or John on 0161 230 1436. Email:

Have You Seen Openshaw?

Posted by editor on February 12, 2010 under Community, Housing

Len Grant sees a massive change in Higher Openshaw as major development plans finally get underway.

It feels like Openshaw has turned a corner. There’s no doubt this east Manchester neighbourhood is very much in transition and there is still lots to do but, walking the streets recently, there’s now a new momentum.

The new town centre rising behind the purple hoardings

The new town centre rising behind the purple hoardings

The most obvious change is on the high street: demolition contractors and construction contractors are practically falling over each other! No sooner has something been knocked down than there’s a new structure in its place.

The derelict shops on Ashton Old Road have now gone, a swathe of rough ground in their place. Signs above the purple hoardings announce a new town centre is on its way and beyond, the yellow steel framework of Morrisons supermarket has shot from the ground.

The Albion pub and shops on their way down

The Albion pub and shops on their way down

The BarbersFurther down the road and opposite the New Roundhouse and the state-of-the-art health centre more shop fronts are coming down as part of the Toxteth Street development. There’s now more comings and goings around the new houses and apartments than around the boarded-up terraced streets which, I’ve read, have recently provided the backdrop to an East is East sequel.

I first photographed Openshaw’s high street six years ago when most of the shops and restaurants were either struggling to stay afloat or had already gone out of business.

Awaiting development way back in 2004

Awaiting development way back in 2004

There was a hair and beauty shop offering unlimited tanning sessions, ‘Only £10 for 2 weeks’; there were taxi firms asking for owners drivers; and – with their rusting shutters closed for the final time – there was the Tuck In Cafe, A + B Dry Cleaners, a Chinese take-away, the Al-Hambra Restaurant, amongst others.

But it wasn’t always like this. I know from listening to older residents that the high street was the main shopping street for hundreds of local residents and that on Saturdays you’d barely walk between the butcher’s and the greengrocer’s before you met another neighbour and stopped for another chat.

New homes for old in the Toxteth Street area

New homes for old in the Toxteth Street area

Shopping, of course, is different now. You’re more likely to meet your neighbour or old friend in the car park of one of the major supermarkets. And so Openshaw is changing, offering    something new for existing residents and becoming an attractive proposition to newcomers looking to move in. I look forward to photographing its revival in the months ahead.

Principal’s Blog: January 2010

Posted by editor on February 10, 2010 under Education and health

It’s 2010 and the countdown begins to the opening in September of the new East Manchester Academy. Principal Designate, Guy Hutchence, continues his monthly round-up…

Despite the frozen start to 2010, work on site continued at a rapid pace. Only one day was lost when the site had to be called because of the freezing conditions in the first week back after new year.

Inside the academy all the rooms are beginning to look the part and a sample room has been fitted out – not unlike a show house – so visitors can get a real idea of what the completed school will be like. Some of the teachers we have recently appointed will come and do some training in school over the February half-term and they’ll get the chance then to familiarise themselves with all the facilities.

The Balfour Beatty Maths Challenge produced some outstanding entries from primary pupils and a VIP tour will be hosted by the contractors on Friday 12th February for the 11 pupils who correctly calculated that 241,248 bricks were required to build the academy! Well done to all who entered, the response was fantastic.

As we move into February, I’m excited at the prospect of appointing our next cohort of staff and finding out in March which pupils have been allocated a place by the local authority. I have been very impressed with the sense of anticipation amongst the youngsters I’ve met so far this term. As soon as we know who will be the very first pupils at the East Manchester Academy we’ll organise ‘transition’ activities so the new pupils will be as familiar with their new school in September as we are.

Winning Streaks

Posted by editor on February 4, 2010 under Business, training and employment

Len Grant visits Wigs Up North, the Ancoats-based winners of New East Manchester’s All Stars EnterPrize award.

I’ve been looking forward to doing this story, not just because the company I am visiting sounds wonderfully bizarre, but also because they are based in one of my favourite Ancoats buildings, Royal Mills.

Jackie Sweeney: "It's not all glitz and glamour"

Jackie Sweeney: "It's not all glitz and glamour."

For three years between 2003 and 2006, I would impersonate a construction worker with yellow vest, hard hat and ‘rigger’ boots and photograph the renovation of this magnificent mill. Its central atrium, now glazed, is the focal point of the apartment block and is slowly becoming home to an eclectic bunch of independent traders. There’s a fashion wholesaler, an outdoor and snow sports retailer and soon a café. But it’s Wigs Up North I’ve come to see and Jackie Sweeney, one of the three partners, is happy to tell me about the rise and rise of their specialist business.

Wigs Up North in the renovated Royal Mills

Wigs Up North in the renovated Royal Mills

She and Liz Armstrong met whilst studying at the London College of Fashion. “I was lucky,” says Jackie, “One of the students ahead of me put me forward for a job at Phantom of the Opera and my tutor recommended me to a specialist wig company… and that was while I was still at college! So my second year was mad: I was setting wigs for Phantom in the mornings, catching a couple of lectures, popping over to the wig company and then, in the evening, going back to do the Phantom show. I was loving it.”

When the Phantom production team needed a replacement make-up artist Jackie was able to suggest Liz. “Her first love has always been theatre,” she says.

Aware that the wig and theatrical make-up business was predominately London-based, the two friends, both from the North West, saw a gap in the market. “I asked Liz one day whether she fancied giving it a go and she said yes, and that was it, we’ve never looked back.”

‘Wigs’ began trading from a start-up unit near Manchester city centre before moving to Royal Mills. Now they work with northern companies like the Royal Northern College of Music and the Buxton Festival, designing wigs or supplying their own stock, as well as being a regional supplier of make-up (their other specialism) for touring companies. “We know how difficult it can be for production companies to get the right supplies when and where they need it, so we work with shows like The Sound of Music, Starlight Express and Chicago.”

Liz and Jackie were joined in 2005 by Vicky Holmes, another wig and make-up expert who’s fitted wigs to hundreds of heads on numerous West End productions.

Jackie: "We're happy to provide training for those on their way up."

Jackie: "We're happy to provide training for those on their way up."

I ask Jackie what is it about wigs that she and her partners find so compelling. “It’s the whole transformation thing,” she says. “With actors you’ll notice how their demeanour changes as they are being made up. You’re helping them transform into their character and that’s very rewarding.” The ‘wig women’ made six wigs for Peter Kay including the one for his Geraldine persona. “Once he put that red one on with the blond streaks, he was immediately in character. But it’s not all glitz and glamour. An elderly lady came in this morning and bought a ready-made wig and that, for me, means just as much.”

Jackie, Vicky and Liz with the EnterPrize trophy

Jackie, Vicky and Liz with the EnterPrize trophy. Photograph: Karen Wright Photography.

Having moved to Ancoats, ‘Wigs’ were in New East Manchester’s patch and eligible, then, to have a stab at the EnterPrize award. Jackie says they didn’t think they stood much of a chance – the competition was so tough – and went to the awards ceremony in December content to have a good night out at the fabulous Gorton Monastery. But they’d clearly impressed the judges with their business plans and came away with the £10,000 top prize. “We were astounded,” recalls Jackie, “it was such a great night and then to come out on top…”.

Jackie tells me they are using their winnings to beef up their e-commerce operation using something called the EPOS system. I just nod.

Since my visit to Royal Mills, ‘Wigs’ have been to yet another ceremony and can now add runners-up in the North West Women in Business Awards to their trophy cabinet. Congratulations!

Wigs Up North

EnterPrize award