“Are you okay sweet,” asks Janet, “do you need some help with your string?”
There are usually seven or eight ladies around this table in the West Gorton Community Rooms on a Wednesday afternoon. But today Yusra and Gloria have Janet to themselves.
“Today we’re going to start a berry knot wall hanging,” she tells her two students. “First we’ll need to lay out the strings.”
Macrame might be an ancient art, but it’s fairly new to Janet. Bored with knitting and unable to get her head around crochet she took it up during the first lockdown to fight off anxiety.
“The pandemic hit me hard,” she tells me, “I had this fear I was going to lose everyone around me. I could feel myself getting more and more anxious. I needed something to bring my stress levels down.”
Janet dug out a discarded macrame kit her daughter had given her a couple of years earlier. “I taught myself the basic knot and went on from there. I really enjoyed it, just doing it for me.”
Concentrating on the elaborate sequence of knotting calmed Janet down. “If I hadn’t done macrame, I don’t know what might have happened. It was my escape route.”
“But how,” I ask, “did it go from a lockdown creative passion to standing up here teaching other people?”
“I met Lisa at one of her roadshows in the park,” she says. “And it all went from there.”
Lisa is Forever Manchester’s community builder and has been working around Ardwick for the last couple of years delivering what’s known as asset-based community development.
“We look for people’s strengths,” Lisa tells me later, “and find out what they are passionate about. Perhaps they have a skill they could share that others might enjoy. An informal group then develops, friendships are formed and bingo: we have a happier, healthier community.”
“And Janet’s group is a classic example of how that works,” I suggest.
“Absolutely. We gave her a voucher to buy everything she needed to get started and, after some encouragement, she held her first session a couple of months ago.”
Back around the table I interrupt the knotting to ask Yusra and Gloria how they got involved. “I have lots of macrame plant holders around my house,” says Yusra, “and was keen to learn the technique, but the online courses are just too expensive. Then, at the parent café at school, Lisa told me about this class and I thought, yes, I’d like to do that.
“But it’s not just about learning macrame,” she continues, “it’s nice to socialise, so I’m really enjoying it.”
Gloria tells me she’s a new migrant from Hong Kong. “I’ve only been here for half a year,” she says, “so am keen to extend my social network. Here we talk, we tell each other stories about our lives, our cultures… and our food!” Turns out they all had a bit of a Christmas bash sharing their homemade food.
“We’ve got a good thing going, haven’t we girls?” says Janet.