As the brand new Beswick Library opens its doors Len Grant asks Maxine Goulding how the role of east Manchester’s libraries has changed since books were loaned to local residents from a converted pub.
Maxine Goulding, Miles Platting Group Manager: "The new Beswick Library is gorgeous. We love it!"
I remember, a few years ago, Beswick Library was here on Grey Mare Lane, not that far from where we are now.
Yes, that’s right. We used to be in what was formerly The Bobbin Pub right next to the precinct. I’m sure it would have been the local for many of our customers at one time. It wasn’t a very large building but it had a lovely feel to it and we had a very successful homework club.
The old library was formerly The Bobbin Pub
We were very sad to come out of there in 2006 but, because it was a regeneration area, many of the houses were coming down, the shops were closing and we were losing customers.
From there you set up the East City Library in what is now The Manchester College campus at Openshaw. That must have been a big step.
Oh yes, we moved into this wonderful, large ground floor space that we shared with the college library. We thought it was gorgeous. It was a big change for us because it’s a college and a public library and although we still have many residents using the library, most of our customers are students.
Because we have plenty of space we are able to put on more activities and we enjoy lots of partnership projects like getting involved with the students’ end of year shows. The college has been great and we’ll still be at the East City Library as well as the new Beswick Library.
Working in a regeneration area surely brings its own challenges?
The new library shares the building with the East Manchester Academy
We’re very much a part of the regeneration story, fully committed to the social and cultural regeneration in east Manchester. It’s a new way of working because now we are collaborating with all kinds of partners. I attend ward meetings, youth meetings, health forums, Valuing Older People meetings: we’re using other people’s skills and resources to achieve a common goal. Communities are changing very rapidly and our libraries are changing with them.
We have to work particularly hard in east Manchester to encourage people to use the library. Many still have a traditional view of what libraries were like: all dusty books and ‘quiet please’. But things are very different now and as soon as people walk through those doors they understand that difference.
Our outreach work is essential. We get out there and tell people what we’ve got to offer and work with hard-to-reach groups to encourage them to use the library. For instance, we’ve run drama and sound recording sessions to promote the Manchester Book Awards and we’ve had artists working with youth clubs on art projects in the libraries.
The light pours into the new library
And now you’re back in Beswick with this wonderful library alongside the new East Manchester Academy.
We were always going to come back. We’ve been involved with the design of the building from the very beginning and we’ve worked closely with the Academy promoting the school and the library together. We’ve got the same customers.
I just love it. The space is amazing and with the light pouring through those tall windows, well, it’s just a wonderful building.
We’ve got community meeting rooms and a community space for larger events as well as all the services we now offer throughout the city.
Of course we’ve got all the computers and – what some people don’t realise – we’ve got staff on hand who can help. So, even if you haven’t used a computer before, you can book one-to-one sessions and be taken through the very basics by our friendly staff.
It’s a lot less daunting than booking on a college course.
Then there’s the story sessions for the little ones and a chance for parents and carers to have a cuppa and a chat. We hold lots of advice sessions on a variety of topics so residents don’t always have to travel to get the help they need, and then there’s the health information point, the parenting advice books and now even ebooks…
What do you find most rewarding?
I love working in east Manchester because I feel we have been making a real difference. Being part of the regeneration effort is very exciting.
Many homes still don’t have internet access and we can offer all that – and more – here. We’ve made a huge impact with our homework clubs and now that we share the building with the Academy and we have extended opening times, we can build on that success even further.
Click here for opening times, facilities and lots more.
Numerous computers as well as books and community information
Children's and teenage books are upstairs
Stairs and a lift link the two floors
Beswick Library: something for all ages and abilities
East Manchester’s Food and Drink Fringe Festival has now kicked off! There are 20 mouth-watering events this month across the area. Len Grant calls in at a community centre in Newton Heath to see one of the first.
Billy Jones, left, amongst the Over 50s Forum enjoying the Fringe workshop
I’d intended to drop in at The Stirling Centre in Newton Heath and take a few snaps of the very first event of the 2010 East Manchester Food and Drink Fringe Festival. Sure enough tables were being laid out for the Fringe’s ‘How Does Your Garden Grow’ workshop but there was already a flurry of activity across the hall as members from the Over 50s Forum were busy painting plant pots. I wasn’t expecting two events for the price of one!
Liz Lomas from the Forum explained: “Every year the city council’s Valuing Older People programme puts on a fortnightly Full of Life Festival to celebrate older people and encourage more participation in the community. One of the themes this year is ‘Grub and Gossip’ and that’s what going on here. We’ve got herbs and seedlings and packets of seeds which will go into the plant pots once they’re painted.
Esther Parnell: "The last time I painted was with the grandkids!"
There was plenty of gossip going on as the pots were decorated: “The last time I did anything like this it was colouring-in with the grandkids,” said Esther Parnell as she added another petal to the red rose she was painting on her ceramic pot. The grub came in the form of a splendid buffet provided by Liz’s colleague, Brenda Austen.
Once the pots were filled with compost and seedlings and the participants had had their fill of sandwiches and mini sausage rolls, it was time to turn to the Fringe Festival event staged by community artist, Michele Hawthorne.
“We were looking for something relatively easy and yet creative to make,” says Michele, opening bags of laurel, rhododendron, conifer and holly branches out onto the table. “We’ve got some plant pots with wooden stems already prepared and we’re encouraging people to use their imaginations and create a living decoration that should stay alive for several weeks.”
This group don’t need much encouragement and within minutes the table was full of green-fingered enthusiasts.
Community artist, Michele Hawthorne, gives some tips to Forum member Caroline Crerar
Caroline Coates, the Cultural Regeneration Officer from New East Manchester is here too. She’s responsible for putting many of the Fringe events together over here in east Manchester. I ask her what she’s looking forward to most in the weeks ahead. “There are 20 events during October and it’s hard to highlight just a couple but I think the cooking demonstration with locally grown food at Emerge’s Learning Garden (next to Smithfield Market) on the 9th will be fun. And then there’s the World Food Event staged by Adactus Housing on the 30th at Miles Platting Library. Here local residents will be cooking food form all over the world, so that should be amazing to watch… and amazing to taste!”
See the Food and Drink website: http://www.foodanddrinkfestival.com/events/east-manchester/
See east Manchester’s what’s on listings: http://www.east-manchester.com/whats-happening/index.htm
The Big Society – this government’s idea for communities to take on more responsibility, become more involved – is nothing new for east Manchester. Across the area dozens of community groups run by enthusiastic volunteers have been established for years. Len Grant meets Methode Nguimby from the African Francophone Integration Project.
Methode Nguimby: "Sometimes I feel like a doctor who is ill himself."
Methode leads me into the office of the African Francophone Integration Project (AFIP) in a building on Bosworth Street in Beswick previously occupied by the Manchester Settlement. They share the premises with a community cafe which this morning is busy serving a late breakfast to a handful of local residents.
Methode is keen to tell me all about the project and how it helps French-speaking asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants who live in, or have just moved to, Manchester.
“Many people arriving here are stressed and disoriented,” he says. “They don’t know the language, have often been given misleading information about what help is available and need some friendly support. The AFIP can give free advice on housing, health, education, benefits and employment as well as encouraging integration with British society, often through music and the arts.”
The emphasis is to get people off benefits and into work. If they are able to work, and currently those claiming asylum are not allowed to earn an income, then Methode and his team help find them a temporary job, maybe cleaning or packing as an introduction to the employment market.
“To begin with this ‘small job’ helps newcomers with the language and builds their confidence. Then we work together on a CV and help them apply for a permanent job with perhaps a retail company.
“For those who are more highly educated we suggest they continue their studies at college. Often qualifications gained back home are not recognised here and our clients have to retrain.”
After only a short while in Methode’s company I can see that he is a very committed individual, happy to spend his energies helping others. But what of him? I’m keen to know more about the man who started this organisation out of his bedroom seven years ago.
Back home in the Republic of Congo he was a hardworking young man who studied history at university. Being a politically active student in a volatile country was not safe and he fled to Britain in 1996 when he was just 18 with not a word of English.
Living in London, he took a number of low paid jobs whilst he learnt English at the local college. “But London was expensive,” he says, “and a friend of mine suggested I try Manchester. At the time I was working as a customer service assistant on the trains and I was easily able to keep my job but be based in a different city. So I came to Manchester.”
Knowing no-one but having saved a little money Methode was lucky. He found a privately-rented house in Salford on his second day in town. “That was 1999 and it was quite easy. Things are different now.”
Having got to know the city Methode was often the fist contact for others coming to Manchester. He would give them advice on where to get advice: an unofficial sign-posting service. “I’ve always enjoyed helping people,” he says, “I don’t like to see people suffer.”
But before long his good nature was to get him into serious trouble.
“Another man who didn’t know his way around had asked me to drive him to meet friends. He paid for the petrol and I offered to be his personal taxi service for the day. What I didn’t know was he was committing serious fraud whilst I was driving him around and he was arrested. The police thought I was implicated and I was arrested too.”
By this time Methode was married and his wife was expecting their second child.
“This man never owned up to the court that I was innocent – he wouldn’t tell them anything – and we were both jailed. I served half of an 18-month sentence.”
But even in prison Methode continued to study – one wall of this office is covered with certificates gained from numerous training courses – and to help other inmates. “I was interpreting for others,” he recalls, “they used to call on me if they needed a French speaker.”
Once released friends and family encouraged Methode to continue his support work but to make it ‘official’. So, in 2003, the AFIP was born.
“Our first funding came from Manchester City Council,” he says, “ and that was for computers and stationery. Since then we’ve grown with more staff and, after many different premises, with this permanent office base.”
This year the project became a not-for-profit limited company. It’s supported by half a dozen or more agencies and Methode, whose work is entirely voluntary, hopes it will become a registered charity before long.
What is most bizarre about Methode’s story is that despite helping hundreds of other asylum-seekers, refugees and other migrants, Methode himself is still not legally resident in the UK.
“Despite numerous applications and many knock-backs I still don’t have permanent leave to remain,” he says. “I feel like a doctor helping the sick and yet being unwell himself. Our clients assume I’ve been accepted here but because of my criminal record the process is still not resolved. It’s nearly 14 years since I arrived in the UK and I’m still living in a state of uncertainty.”
Last week East reported on the messy antics at the Wonderful World of Play at Clayton’s Sure Start Children’s Centre. This week the Over 50s Luncheon Club comes under the spotlight.
The Lunchoen Club: getting out for a hot meal, a game of bingo and a good chat
Over 50s at the Children’s Centre? Surely there’s been a mistake. Not so, explains the Head of Centre, Karen Camm. “Yes, we’re focussed on increasing children’s attainment and getting parents trained and back into work so we’re essentially a hub of services for children and families. And, as such, we’re an intergenerational resource: everyone uses the library, the café, it all mingles together.”
Karen sees the benefit of getting not just mums and tots, but the whole family using the centre. “It has a ripple effect,” she says, “grandparents coming for one event might pick up information about another and pass it on. The Luncheon Club is very much an add-on for our overall ‘think family’ strategy”.
Led by the voluntary group 4CT, the Tuesday Luncheon Club has been going for longer than any of its current members can remember. Clayton resident Sandra Webb has been a volunteer since 1994: “It used to be run by Clayton Community Association [a forerunner to 4CT],” she recalls, “who had their base in an old community centre in Clayton Park and before that in an old butchers shop on Ashton Old Road.”
Today the eight or so regular members are finishing off their steak pie dinner before having a few games of bingo with Sandra calling out the numbers. “Oh yes, they pay for their own dinner and make a small contribution towards the bingo prizes and any trips out we can afford,” she says.
When there’s enough in the ‘kitty’ the group will hire a ‘charabanc’ and enjoy a day trip to the coast. Last time it was a meal out at a Blackpool hotel followed by entertainment and no doubt a sing-along on the way home. “We just go out and have a good time, don’t we?” says Sandra to the bingo players.
A hot meal, a few games of bingo and a good chat. For many of the Luncheon Club this is a social lifeline. “If they didn’t come here,” says Sandra, “they wouldn’t go anywhere.”
The Luncheon Club meets on Tuesdays from 11-2.30. New members are always welcome. Drop in or call 219 6177 for more details.