Our Lifeline

Posted by editor on July 28, 2010 under Community, Education and health

In the first of a two-part look at what’s on offer at Clayton’s Sure Start Children’s Centre Len Grant heads for a popular play session with a difference.

Cornflakes spill out of a paddling pool; red paint is splattered with rollers and toothbrushes; pasta is shovelled out of a plastic tub with wooden spoons. It sounds like a parent’s worst nightmare but this is the weekly Wonderful World of Play at Clayton Sure Start Children’s Centre and the kids love it.

“For the children it’s all about getting messy, interacting with others and learning through play,” explains Amanda Shore, the Children’s Centre Teacher. “For the adults it’s an opportunity to meet other parents and get informal advice from half a dozen health-related agencies and for us it’s a chance to demonstrate how children can learn from play without expensive toys.”

Kayleigh Smith and her 19 month-old son, Cole have travelled this morning from Ancoats. “Yes, we have to get a bus to be here but it’s worth the effort because he enjoys being with other children and getting messy. He doesn’t get much chance of that at home.”

“I’ve put our pans in a low cupboard in our kitchen,” says Carla Stevens, mother of three year-old Roman. “It means he can just take them out whenever he wants and it keeps him busy whilst I’m cooking.”

Carla has been coming to the Wonderful World of Play since Roman was a baby and isn’t about to stop any time soon. With her five day-old daughter in her arms she has many more sessions ahead of her. “I was here last week, heavily pregnant,” she explains, “gave birth over the weekend and am back again now. I haven’t missed a week!”

"My daughter was born on Sunday and I'm back here today...

Whilst their children are covering themselves in paint and foam the parents and carers get informal advice from different agencies who join in each week.

“We have health workers, speech and language therapists, dental nurses – a string of specialists who might not be consulted formally but who become part of the play session and ‘filter’ information in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere,” says Amanda.

When the dental nurse pays a visit there are toothbrushes in the paint pots and minty-smelly ‘goo’ to play with. When the fire service comes, not only do the children get to try on the helmets but the parents learn they can get their fire alarms tested for free.

“For an a hour and a half the adults get to ask questions of the specialist but also chat to each other,” continues Amanda. “This social interaction is crucial for many new mums.”

“Before having Liam I’d always worked full-time,” says Clayton resident, Claire Tomkison, “so it was a real shock to finish work and start maternity leave. I felt quite lonely and isolated and the weeks seem to drag on forever. I came down here to see what was going on and just started getting to know people. Once Liam arrived I signed up for every course going. I don’t know what I’d have done without the Children’s Centre.

“Some baby and toddler sessions are quite structured but here you get to talk to other mums and I always find it interesting to see what Liam gets up to when he’s playing with the friends he’s made. It just shows that you don’t need expensive toys… our children will learn from anything.”

The Wonderful World of Play is on Fridays between 10 and 11.30. Phone 219 6177 or call in for more information.
Clayton Sure Start Children’s Centre, North Road, Clayton.

Revisit East in the next week for more about the Children’s Centre.

Trail Blazers

Posted by editor on July 20, 2010 under Community, Environment

Surrounded by wildflower meadows, kingfishers and tawny owls, you’d never guess you were in Gorton. But, as Len Grant reports, there’s a whole lot to discover beyond Tesco and the busy Hyde Road.

Simon and Vicky on part of the Gorton Heritage Trail: "It celebrates local heritage amongst outstanding wildlife habitats."

Simon hasn’t always lived in Gorton. In fact, when he moved here from Whalley Range in south Manchester just three years ago he admits he had negative preconceptions about the place. “I was pleasantly surprised when I saw this house,” he says. “But it was the location that really sold it for me: the views and the amazing habitats right on the doorstep.”

Simon’s small cottage is part of a conservation area with some older houses nearby dating back to the Gorton Hall estate. He didn’t realise until he’d moved in that his new home was right next to the Gorton Heritage Trail. “One of the neighbours gave me a leaflet, and that was the first I’d heard of it.”

The Trail was established 10 years earlier in 1997, inspired by local councillor and one time Lord Mayor of Manchester, James Ashley. It was Ashley and a group of local people he brought together who first recognised the potential of celebrating local heritage within a trail that took in some outstanding wildlife habitats. The trail includes Richard Peacock’s Mausoleum (he of Beyer Peacock fame), the ‘Dissenters Graveyard’ at Brookfield Church, an old salt road and lots of clues to an old tannery.

With his fiancée, Vicky Evans, Simon joined in with the group’s efforts to maintain the trail. “As ecologists we are both interested in practical conservation work – we help with the Wildlife Trust as well – and we thought we could lend a hand with some of the hard work.” Content with weeding, litter picking and clearing paths, he wasn’t so keen at first on joining the organising committee.

“James Ashley had died a year or so before I moved here and the committee was becoming gradually disillusioned. They’d put in a massive effort over the first few years but needed new blood to take things forward. And so, despite paperwork not being a strong point, I reluctantly agreed to come on board.”

The timing was good, however. In early 2009 the Environment Team at New East Manchester contacted the group and asked how they could help.

“They asked how the trail was being used,” recalls Simon, “and how it could be developed further as a community asset. Groundwork was then commissioned to conduct a consultation which lasted several months.”

Exhibitions were set up locally in the library and the indoor market; there were door-to-door questionnaires; and walkers were stopped on the footpaths and quizzed about their use of the trail. “Groundwork produced a really detailed masterplan which captured everyone’s comments and ideas and set out funding opportunities and a whole list of medium and long-term goals.

“It’s really invigorated the committee,” enthuses Simon. “Since then we’ve won funding for tools and safety equipment for our clean-up days and new computer equipment for all our admin.”

But there’s a lot to do. “One of the long-term goals is to have a pedestrian crossing at the point where the footpath dissects the busy Hyde Road. That’s quite crucial to the future of the trail. New East Manchester are also applying for an ‘Access to Nature’ grant on our behalf so we could afford a part-time development worker. Yes, the last 18 months have been good, which has been down to the help we’ve had from New East Manchester.

“If I were able to see into the future I’d see the trail being used by lots more local people, being well sign-posted and being accessible to local schools and youth groups for things like pond-dipping and bug hunts. It’d be great!”

See the Gorton Heritage Trail website here

Young at Art

Posted by editor on July 7, 2010 under Art, sport and leisure, Community

Street signs, silhouettes of tower blocks, ornate church windows, paving stones, railings and even pub signs have all inspired a West Gorton art group to produce striking silk screen prints depicting their local area.

Field Worker Amanda Crummett, centre, with the Young at Heart Group and their art mentors

The Young at Heart Group – set up more than two years ago and ‘adopted’ by Keele University’s CALL-ME research programme – flung open the doors of their community rooms on Gortonvilla Walk this week to show off their creativity.

Matty Wade: "It's my design on the T-shirt!"

Matty Wade: "It's my design on the T-shirt!"

Each member displayed a finished print mounted and framed on the walls with other limited editions on sale to raise funds for future projects.

The silk screening techniques were taught by artist Ian McKay and his son Andrew as part of the M12-11 arts project, set up in 2005 of offer creative opportunities to east Manchester groups and residents.

“I’ve enjoyed every part of this project,” says Matty Wade, who accompanies his partially-sighted grandmother to the group and whose design features on the group’s T-shirts. “We all took a vote on which image should go on the shirts and the group chose mine. That made me very happy.”

Eighty-five year-old Maggie Wade was, at first, reluctant to join in the group’s activities: “When they came to ask me if I’d like to join I told them I could only see light and shape and I’d never to able to manage. We started with pottery and I thought I’d never to able to do it but, with the help of these people, I’ve managed. I felt as if I was past it at my age, so it just goes to show.

“They’re starting keep fit classes on Wednesday so I’ll come down to that too!”

“Some older people hardly go out at all,” says club secretary, Audrey Hurley. “So this group has given them a chance to have a cuppa and a chat as well as make some fantastic art. We all enjoy the laughs when we get together.”

“CALL-ME is part of a longer research project aimed at improving the quality of life for older people,” explains Keele University’s Professor Michael Murray. “With our partners, we’re providing opportunities for older people in disadvantaged areas of Manchester to socialise. Here the Young at Heart group have produced some amazing artwork but mainly it’s been about people coming together.

Our field worker, Amanda Crummett, has been able to support the group to apply for funding, recruit a community artist and develop this project. We’re really pleased with the results.”

Grow It. Cook It. Eat It.

Posted by editor on June 22, 2010 under Community, Education and health, Environment

Well known for their recycling, east Manchester’s EMERGE is progressively launching new local initiatives that encourage sustainable living. Here Len Grant meets newest recruit, Ben Lear, their Growing Foods Project Leader.

Ben Lear: "Growing and cooking our own food... these are skills we could lose."

Ben’s new job seems easy enough: encourage local people to start growing their own food. On a sunny day in June with the first pea pods appearing in the EMERGE teaching garden, it is surely an idyllic task.

But, even with the increasing popularity of growing your own, the odds are stacked against him. On the main road opposite the newly created garden the construction of two new fast food outlets highlights our preference for instant, unhealthy food. Many of the lorries driving into the New Smithfield Market – where EMERGE are based – bring more fruit and vegetables from around the world and, says Ben, serve as a constant reminder of the importance of locally grown food.

Food containers, tyres... you can grow food in anything

Since arriving in April Ben has coordinated the construction of EMERGE’s teaching garden. There are now raised vegetable plots with courgettes, squash, leeks, spinach and lettuce all making a tentative appearance. Discarded tyres act as pots for potatoes; specially bred worms munch their way through food waste to make ‘the very best compost’, and a large ‘poly tunnel’ has been built as a classroom for Ben’s new project.

“We’re starting a four week course here on July 8th,” he says. “It’s aimed specifically at beginners to give people the confidence to start growing their own food. We’ll start by talking about soils; how to plant things and how to water them; which containers to use. Maybe later we’ll talk a little about garden design and crop rotation but we’ll see how we get on.”

Ben has already set up a Saturday gardening drop-in club down at the wholesale market. “There’s lots to do here and I’m hopeful local people will just pop along and get involved. We’ve built some beds but need more and there’s always lots of maintenance needed at this time of year.”

Keen to take his project out to the community, Ben has already forged linked with some local groups. “With the African Francophone Integration Project in Beswick we are creating a community garden and we might even try and grow some native African vegetables. But I’d like to hear from other groups or individuals who have a plot, however small, that they’d like to cultivate.”

Ben’s job at EMERGE – the social enterprise that spearheaded recycling in Manchester long before it become mainstream – is funded by the Manchester Carbon Innovation Fund. Manchester City Council has invested £1 million in local projects that tackle climate change.

Trucks bringing fruit and veg from around the world are a constant reminder

There are beehives in urban allotments, ‘green roofs’ on community buildings and, in the Northern Quarter, the first ‘smart energy business district’ where offices and homes can monitor and reduce their energy use.

“Following the Growing Foods Project we hoping to open a cookery centre here,” says Ben, “it’s the logical next step after you’ve grown your own local, nutritious food. My granddad is a great gardener and my grandma is a great cook and it’s those skills that we are in danger of losing.”

Like to know more about growing your own food?
Contact Ben Lear at EMERGE on 0161 223 8200 or ben@emergemanchester.co.uk

See EMERGE’s website
Read more about the Manchester Carbon Innovation Fund