“It’s beautiful to watch people develop.”

continued from “My welcome was like a big warm hug.”

The National Lottery is funding Forever Manchester’s work in the Ardwick ward and, when the pandemic took hold, suggested the project might be put on hold. By then Lisa had already made significant connections with the community and wanted to keep the momentum going.

“No one else was stopping serving their community,” she recalls, “indeed there was a greater sense of drive and purpose.”

The Ardwick and Longsight Mutual Aid Group was set up online, bring together statutory services, voluntary groups and local councillors to coordinate support for the most vulnerable in the ward. I wrote about some of their work here and here.

Lisa was part of that group and, although she was not able to physically get out and about, she was able to continue to connect people over Zoom. “The Mutual Aid Group was the perfect combination of people with the right skills and local knowledge to get things done,” she says.

Although stuck in front of a Zoom screen during lockdown Lisa continued to make connections across the Ardwick ward community.

“It was wonderful to witness how new people, who had never done that sort of thing before, answered the call to action. So, although Coronavirus was – and continues to be – awful, there was such an outpouring of positivity that came from it.”

Nowadays Lisa is back out on the streets, in the parks and the community spaces of Ardwick supporting local people who might not otherwise find a way of developing their talents. What, I ask, are her highlights so far?

“Asset-based community development is about co-production, about walking in line with people,” she says, “and there are a number of people who I’ve had the pleasure of walking with.

“There’s Patricia from the Dynamic Engagement Group. Seeing how she is now sharing her many creative skills with others is wonderful.

“And, of course, Wardeh, who wrote about her own experiences on this blog. She introduced me to so many other women and families, all with similar stories defined by their immigration status. And all with something to give. Hearing about their passions and being able to support them has been beautiful to watch.

“Despite having ‘no recourse to public funds’ Wardeh’s open heartedness and willingness to be part of the community is an inspiration. I’m looking forward to watching how she develops the new group we’ve been able to fund.”

Lisa with Wardeh at West Gorton Community Park. “Wardeh and her friends really know how to make the best of a community space.”

“Janet is also a great example of Forever Manchester’s approach,” I suggest. “That all started with a conversation in the park, didn’t it?”

“Yes, at one of our pop-up events last summer. We built a relationship from that first meeting and I soon heard of her love for macrame. As you know, we’re not here to do things for people, but with some encouragement and a little bit of funding, Janet started those sessions you came along to.”

Lisa showing off the skills of West Gorton macrame tutor Janet. “She’s really proud of what she’s taught those ladies.”

With months to go before Lisa winds up her Ardwick work in December, she tells me that her community building targets have already been met. “We’ve made 39 For Great Stuff awards so far. That’s small pots of money for community groups or individuals who might otherwise slip through the funding net. You don’t need a constitution or group bank account. We’ll put up the cash for passionate people to ‘give it a go’.”

Lisa’s work over the last two years has been complimented by this community blog which I’ve had the pleasure of compiling. I, too, have been welcomed into the Ardwick ward community to tell positive stories that might not be heard.

“People as inspired when they hear or read about something good that’s happening where they live,” says Lisa, “it encourages more good stuff to continue. The blog has been the perfect showcase for the Ardwick ward. It’s crucial to what we do.”

Lisa Brown is Forever Manchester’s Community Builder for the Ardwick ward. She covers Brunswick, Ardwick Green, Grove Village, Coverdale and West Gorton.

She’s helping to connect different groups and individuals who live in those areas. If you’d like to get in touch to find out more then call Lisa on 07816 492307 or email lisab@forevermanchester.com