It’s pre-Covid-19 and I’m at West Gorton Community Rooms for their February half term activity week.
Wardeh and her three younger children are first here, keen to carry on with the creative activities they started yesterday.
Soon the table is covered with coloured paper glue and glitter.
These lunchtime sessions are organised by the Clowes Street Tenants and Residents Association and, as well as giving the kids (and adults) something to do, it’s an opportunity to enjoy a free hot meal.
“Some families find it challenging to provide two meals a day for their families during the school holidays,” explains Association chairperson, Heather, “and it’s a break to get out of the house and do creative things with other families.”
Already this week someone from Manchester Museum has been over with a collection of stuffed birds and later today Heather is threatening to get out the karaoke. “It keeps everyone entertained,” she says.
Wardeh’s children all have their heads down, colouring. “It’s close by for us, and we enjoy the friendly community here,” she says, “it’s brilliant.”
An English teacher back in Syria, Wardeh enjoys socialising and meeting new people. “It helps us learn the language better,” she says, “although we still find the accents difficult.”
Across the room, Heather’s colleague, Chris is cutting up lettuce in the kitchen. “He’s the only one allowed in there,” she says, smiling. “He’s got all the certificates. I just circulate and get all the praise!”
“What’s on the menu today?” I ask Chris.
“Burgers,” he says, as he starts slicing a tomato.
The room is filling up fast. A big TV screen on one wall is showing cartoons but mostly the kids are enjoying their cutting, drawing and sticking. Some are hiding behind chairs, playing hide and seek.
“Why do you volunteer to organise all this?” I ask Heather. “What do you get out of it?”
“Satisfaction,” she says, straight off. “Why be sat at home doing nothing, when you can do something worthwhile like this?”
She tells me she was born here in West Gorton and has seen lots of changes. “This is the second round of regeneration we’ve experienced. As a kid I remember Clowes Street as this huge long road with busy shops on either side. But for these past ten years we’ve basically been living on a building site.”
“And has it turned out better, in the end?”
“Mostly,” she says, “but before the regeneration we had a parade of shops which included a post office and a chippy. Those haven’t been replaced. And the older people in particular are craving a chippy.”
“And, as a community group, what would you like to be doing more of?”
“I’d like us to be running a food bank,” she says. “There’s a real need for that here, but we haven’t really got the space and you need money up front to get it going.”
“Who pays for all this?” I ask, gesturing towards Chris in the kitchen.
“There’s a small grant from the Council and money from Forever Manchester,” she says as the buzzer goes again and she lets another family in.
The children are now getting stuck into Chris’s burgers. I slip out quietly before the karaoke starts.
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