Emma Prendergast better known to her friends as ‘Prend’ kicks off her new Manchester guide series ‘Prend Out And About’ as she peddles the backstreets of the city to visit one of its inspiring local community centres in Levenshulme. Here she learns the real value of community and what it means for local residents.
Image ‘The street with no name’, levenshulme. Sam Sutton via Flickr.
With Greater Manchester being home to ten boroughs – from Bury to Wigan, I really do have my work cut out in selecting which of its finest local gems to write about. Manchester in its entirety is a vibrant, multi-cultural hub – residents originating from all over the world live here, alongside and equally, to all genders, lifestyles and cultures.
Image Northern Quarter Street Party, Manchester. Rachel Docherty via Flickr
Which is why, when racking my brains for a realistic representative of Manchester, I decided to head to the Levenshulme community centre. Beyond the area’s rough exterior, it not only treats us to the bustling Levy Market every Saturday, a community run social enterprise market with wonderful baked goods from artisan bakery Trove, and brilliant antiques, but the charming world that is Levenshulme Inspire. An unassuming building, which may go unnoticed by some, but once inside, the centre exudes warmth and intellect, and is a sense of home to its members.
Image Levenshulme market. Via Levenshulme Market Facebook page.
Arriving at Levenshulme Inspire on my bike, soaked from head to toe from the rain, my first impression can’t have been great. Fortunately, I can’t say the same for the centre – a characterful old church with delicious smells of hearty grub seeping through its doors, friendly staff and a vibrant crotchet club happily chatting in the corner.
A Community Interest Company, Inspire is a social enterprise that uses its profits for the benefit of the community. After the local community centre had been closed down in 2004, and the local church was threatened with destruction, Ed Cox founded the project that not only saved the church, but then six years on, with 3 million pounds raised, became Levenshulme Inspire. Four years later, the centre is now an ever-expanding place of worship, hope and friendship.
As the centre manager, Jane Graystone, describes, the centre is ‘holistic’. Whether it be economical needs being met through money-saving courses, training for people getting back to work, or setting up social groups for toddlers and over 50s, there is something for everyone – from any background, and any age.
Though the centre is impressive, there were only so many wafts of home cooked food that I could take before I found it hard to concentrate. But once I had devoured a very affordable Vegan lunch of Blackbean and Quinoa stuffed peppers (they run Vegan lunches every Wednesday), I was so engrossed in what the centre had to offer that I ended up staying there until closing time (when they started turning the lights out, I thought I should probably make tracks).
To start with the café, in a society where choices for those of you who are Gluten-free, Vegetarian, Vegan and lactose intolerant, (or heaven forbid, all four), are limited, it serves a thoughtfully considered and reasonably priced menu. Progressing from just the humble paninis it sold in its early days, the café now does a wide range of tasty dinners, snacks and fair trade tea and coffee – not to mention the home-made cakes that kept eyeing me up. Alongside the regular everyday menu, the café has now evolved into what can only be described as a full on weekly party.
There will be no more Monday blues for the over-50s, with a half price discount on all food just for them. On Wednesdays, Vegans and non-Vegans alike are invited to sample meat & dairy-free delights, and Saturdays – Saturdays are my favourite. Every Saturday, Inspire are now serving full breakfasts (meat and veggie) – with FREE newspapers. Genius. And safe in the knowledge that all of the food is ethically sourced, with some of the veg dug from the centre’s very own allotment, I will happily eat there again (and definitely on Mondays, dressed in disguise).
Tearing myself away from the food, the rest of my day in the centre was spent meeting new faces – from its visitors to the volunteers and the staff. I spent time with the ‘Talk English’ group – a group attended by mostly women who know little English. Spending time together practising language skills, activity leaders such as Crotchet addict, Elle James, also come along to teach them their favourite crafts.
But Elle is only one out of countless volunteers who give up their free time to help at the centre, and the Talk English group is just one of the many incentives formed to include and support people from all circles into the community.
I would fill pages and pages if I listed them all, but to highlight the variety of what else Inspire provides, there are Chair based exercises for the over 50s, free training and courses for volunteers looking to get back into work, Garment making workshops, Children’s Tae Kwando, Saturday film clubs, benefits advice, Mindfulness classes – and these are just the groups.
The events are just as popular – Pop up restaurants at the café are making waves on the food scene, with nights of Italian themed food, local market stall holders such as Neil Buttery serving his famous pies, and Indian Street food (January 31st 2015).
And after the success of the multicultural Festival of Light that was held earlier this autumn, more ingenious festivities are coming our way. Winter busking evenings are Inspire’s latest mastermind – where in the cold, harsh winter months, the centre invites the buskers of Manchester into the café to perform and to be part of the community.
For one small church and community centre sitting away in Levenshulme, I think it’s fair to say that you would not expect too much. But you would be wrong. As is obvious from above, Levenshulme Inspire offers much more than just a community centre. Yet, Jane says, Inspire itself would not be what it is today without its volunteers. In fact, she says that the ‘Volunteers are Inspire’.
Run on a skeleton of around a hundred volunteers, who are mostly local to Levenshulme, it is the community that come to Inspire with the ideas. The Talk English group, the chair-based exercise classes – they are all created from local people – but through the help of Inspire providing a safe and supportive place to do so.
The host of activities and events held at the centre are remarkable, and all contribute to maintain the principle of inclusion – from social recluses, to single parents and even the powerful business man – everyone who walks through the doors at the centre is equal. To some it’s a haven – there are those who have been to the depths of despair and can’t thank the centre enough for offering an embrace in their time of need.
To others it means friendships – those who have been outcast or abused by society have now found a sanctuary, where for the first time in years, they have formed meaningful relationships. And to most, it means home. A place that ‘unlocks potential and inspires community’, it has broken down barriers amongst cultures, ages and statuses, has provided a safety net for those who needed one, and (as well as making a mean brew and a great sarnie) has sustained a community that 10 years ago, was facing abandonment.
Contact: 0161 850 5717
Ready to seek out our finest independent cafes and bookshops, already sourcing the best boozers (early research), and even prepared to find the town’s best toilets, she will leave nothing or no-one unturned. You will be joy-riding through the city’s ginnels with her to unmask Manchester and hear from those who really matter – from our local bakers, potters and bookshop keepers, to our cyclists, bar owners, and if we’re really lucky, some lovely bearded Mancunian men. So Manchester locals, watch out! If you see a six foot ginger lady wobbling around on the biggest bike you’ve ever seen since the penny farthing, balancing various sized notepads, a camera and a flask of tea, that’s probably her.