Len Grant reports back from the ‘Gorton People Stronger Together’ consultation day last weekend.
I feel I’m witnessing the beginning of something special. Today Gorton people are coming together to celebrate the start of a motivational programme for young people and their families. I arrive at the indoor market in time to see dozens of young people being issued with clipboards and I LOVE GORTON T-shirts before being briefed
Clipboards at the ready
by Ruth Ibegbuna from Urbis, the programme co-ordinator for the ‘Gorton People Stronger Together’ programme. “Tell people about the money,” she says to volunteers, “and ask them what they’d like us to spend it on. Then invite them along to the Monastery for an afternoon of fun and entertainment.” (Not to mention the free food supplied by the Gorton Market traders).
The volunteers are split into teams, each given an area to canvas in the next couple of hours. “I’ll do the estate,” says one teenager who might expect to be still under the covers at this time on a Saturday morning. “I know it well, so I’ll get some good responses.”
We all love Gorton!
I follow the four-strong team heading for Hyde Road and Tesco and overhear enthusiasm (and occasional apathy) from their respondents towards the news that Gorton has won £450,000 from the central government’s Inspiring Communities programme.
Today is billed as ‘Gorton’s biggest ever community consultation’ and, as the completed questionnaires come rolling back to base at the market, it seems that plenty of people have a view on how the ‘win’ should be spent.
But this project is not starting from scratch. Already the Urbis team have run hugely-successful ‘Reclaim’ mentoring schemes for young people in Moss Side, east Bolton and north Manchester. (See http://www.reclaimproject.org.uk). The ‘Stronger Together’ programme will build on and extend the theme taking a wider approach by supporting young people as well as their families.
Plans already include Saturday classes for 11–14 year-olds (more early mornings!); a project to renovate unsafe open spaces, adding lighting, greenery and public art; and a Reclaim mentoring project for Gorton girls (the last one was just for young men).
Down at Gorton Monastery preparations are well in hand for the afternoon event. As the Bloco Nova samba band and dancers arrive, I set up a small studio near the café where I am to photograph local people soon to appear on posters and banners promoting ‘Gorton People Stronger Together’. Local MP, Gerald Kaufman is one of the first to arrive and, although he’s unlikely to appear on a banner, he is more than happy to pose in his Gorton T-shirt with some of his younger constituents.
The afternoon flies by. The word has got out that the photography sessions are informal and fun and soon there is a queue out the door. Young and old are captured and I even persuade the camera-shy to take a turn. Some of the pictures appear here but more will adorn Gorton in the coming months.
Before I know it, and with nearly 1000 images on my memory card, the event is over and I hear later about Gorton Visual Arts and their print-making workshop; the manifesto-writing and the young people getting up there on the ‘Gorton Plinth’ telling everyone about their achievements and aspirations. I don’t need to be told about the samba band because I heard their mesmeric beat down the corridor!
To get involved in Gorton’s exciting new project email email@example.com or call 0161 605 8218.
Bang in the middle of Openshaw, the New Roundhouse is hard to miss. Len Grant meets Maria Gardiner of Manchester Settlement to find out what goes on inside and asks why this very angular building is so-called.
Len: So, tell me about the name?
Maria: The Manchester Settlement is part of the national Settlement Movement which began in the late 1800s when university cities, like Manchester, sent out their professors to help in the poorer districts. It those days, before the NHS, it was a case of distributing medicines and helping the sick and infirm. IN those days Manchester Settlement was based on Every Street, Ancoats in a disused circular chapel, known as the Round House, so we’ve kept that connection with our past.
The original Round House on Every Street in Ancoats
Len: And what happens now in the New Roundhouse?
Maria: We run education programmes for young people under 16 who, for any number of reasons, aren’t able to fulfil their full potential at mainstream secondary schools. They may be facing challenging circumstances at home or have other issues which mean that the local high school isn’t the best place for them to learn effectively. We have support workers who help our students with other aspects of their often chaotic lifestyles and keep them focused. Our education programmes are registered with OFSTED.
Len: But does it work?
Maria: One young man who had an attendance record of less than 25% at high school in September has now got an attendance record with us of over 95%. So, what we does, works. We’ve got dedicated staff who give our young people the chance to develop emotionally as well as academically.
Maria: "It's heart-breaking to see some children written-off at 13 or 14."
Len: Who else is here in the Roundhouse?
Maria: The building is owned by the Manchester Settlement but Manchester College and Mosscare Housing are also here. As well as being tenants they’re also partners in a broader support framework. So in this one building our young people get educational support from us, housing support from Mosscare and training from The Manchester College.
Len: Tell me about some of the other opportunities here.
Maira: “This downstairs space is open to all residents for any number of different activities.” Photo: Daniel Hopkinson
Maria: We’ve got a book club running now, and a chess club. There are adult literacy courses, playschemes and computer courses. We plan to turn the New Roundhouse into a learning hub for the whole community, adults as well as young people.
Len: What do you personally get out of your work?
Maria: I’ve a genuine desire to help young people. I was lucky, I had a happy childhood but it’s heart-breaking to see some children written-off at 13 or 14 for no fault of their own.
I’m a qualified accountant by trade. I have worked for a couple of charities and used to work in the motor industry before the Settlement. I joined at a very turbulent time for the organisation: the director at the time eventually left and it looked as if we would close. I was determined not to let a charity over 100 years old fold, so I started writing funding bids and won Lottery funding, money from Children in Need, corporate funds, and managed to keep going. Four years later here we are in this £2.2 million building.
Outside inside: the New Roundhouse has plenty of adaptable space. Photo: Daniel Hopkinson
But there’s still a connection with our past, with Manchester University. We’ve set up the East Manchester Legal Advice Clinic here where residents can get advice from solicitors and lawyers from the university. Law undergraduates and postgraduates sit in on the sessions as part of their training.
Manchester Settlement is on 0161 614 8448
firstname.lastname@example.org and www.manchestersettlement.org.uk
Archive image courtesy of Manchester Local Image Collection.
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.
Liz Shaw: "He's a different person."
“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.
Ruth Ibegbuna: "It doesn't stop here."
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.