“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.”

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“My welcome was like a big warm hug.”

Lisa from Forever Manchester has been working in the Ardwick ward for over two years now. Her community building work will continue until December but, as this blog is drawing to a close, here’s a review of what she’s been up to.

We’re in the meeting room at Forever Manchester’s city centre offices and I start by asking Lisa what she was doing before working in Ardwick.

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My experience in the UK has taught me a lot.

Having been in the UK for only three years; what I have done feels massive. The first three months were so difficult because I had no relatives or friends. I felt lonely and uncertain. Things got worse for me because I was not eligible to join colleges or courses funded by the government. That made me feel excluded and marginalised.

I started looking for chances to improve myself. Meeting Lisa from Forever Manchester was a significant incident in my journey. Forever Manchester funded me and my friends to make the Syrian Cuisine Group which had a great impact on improving our cooking and socialising skills.

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A Brighter Future

Back in May last year I reported on a new community initiative that had just been set up by a group of local woman.

The Dynamic Engagement Project (DEP), I was told, was a way of sharing the group members’ knowledge and skills with others in the community. It sounded like a great idea with lots of potential.

Today I’m on a Zoom call with Mo and Alison, a couple of its founding members, to see if everything has gone to plan.

“Yes,” says Alison, “we’ve put on lots of activities since then and have really put ourselves out there. We’ve had a lot of fun and, I know, helped a lot of people.”

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The club no one wants to join

“I get to download everything that’s been stressing me for the last week,” says Elizabeth. “They’ll all give me suggestions – or just a big hug – and it makes me feel better about whatever I’m going through. This group is definitely the highlight of my week, it gives you hope.”

I’m sitting with Elizabeth and her friend Zoe on the corner of a large table in the church hall. Between them is Zoe’s two-year-old son, Tommy, strapped in his buggy and 100% focussed on the video game he’s playing on his mum’s phone.

“He was diagnosed with autism last month,” Zoe tells me. “I kind of knew before and did some research but if it wasn’t for this group, I wouldn’t have a clue.”

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Brunswick Village has it all

“Nice to see you all down here today,” says ‘Bingo Balls Dave’. “Are you ready to play?” He starts up his machine and a coloured ball pops out. “Okay, your first number today is seven and nine, 79.”

Bingo dabber in hand, I’m in the lounge of Brunswick Village, a 60-apartment extra care scheme for older people, completed earlier this year.

“Boris’ den, number 10,” says ‘Bingo Balls’.

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The eyes and ears of the community

We’re in the back room of ARMR, the busy plant-based café run by Raph Swaby, opposite the O2 Apollo on Stockport Road. The place is heaving with people today and more like a local community centre.

I’m here for a meeting of the Ardwick and Longsight Mutual Aid Group (ALMAG) and it’s a weird one. Although it’s been going for 18 months this is the first time the group has formally met in person.

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A new community hub for Longsight

Sue and Phil are busy in the bright, sunny kitchen of 422’s café. I’m told it’s Phil’s first day and already this morning they’ve prepared homemade celery soup. “I like cooking,” he says with a big smile, “and helping out.”

422 is a new community hub on Stockport Road, in an historic building previously home to Longsight Youth Centre. Over the last eighteen months it’s been renovated by Manchester Vinyard to provide a whole range of opportunities for local residents.

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