Longsight is an area south east of Manchester city centre with high levels of unemployment and social and economic deprivation. Built as a combined Church and Neighbourhood Centre, St Luke’s has a multi-ethnic congregation including West Indian and Black African members. The Centre has provided informal day care for more than twenty years for people suffering from stress and living with long term mental health needs.
“St Luke’s is such a lovely place, I think because of the variety of people and the different things going on. And we try, as much as possible, to be accepting of people as they are. It’s not always easy – we have our moments even between the staff! Sometimes, if you are tired it can be depressing to see just what hard lives some people have. But when you see people slowly emerging from their shell, interacting and gaining confidence, it’s very positive and the hard work seems really worthwhile.”
The activities in the Centre have grown organically rather than in a planned way, but there has always been caution about growing too quickly.
Drop-in sessions continued to evolve. A connection was made with the Victoria Park Day Centre and a worker from the Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust, based at the Centre started to attend, first the Tuesday and Saturday drop-ins and then a new women-only drop-in session on Mondays for those who wanted an exclusive service or were very nervous. All the drop-ins – women’s, sports and social – provide something for people who do not want or need a formal service, but recognise that they need some support. The drop-ins give an opportunity for them to get together for mutual support whether through sporting or craft activities or just getting together for a chat or a meal. Quite often they prove to be a stepping stone for individuals who develop the confidence to try other activities either at St Luke’s or elsewhere.
Once a month at the Thursday drop-in, workers from Revive, an organisation based in Salford that supports refugees and people seeking asylum, see clients that are in Longsight. The advent of asylum seekers has led to St Luke’s having an ESOL class each week run by a volunteer and here, also, issues such as housing and immigration are uncovered, which can then be dealt with by Revive. There are also regular legal advice sessions during Thursday drop-ins.
St Luke’s Treatment Room opened in May 2003, in response to the expressed needs of people attending the drop-ins and those using the Centre as a whole. The aim is to provide affordable complementary therapies. Although there is wide recognition of the contribution such therapies can make to the reduction of stress, they were not widely available in the local area for people on low incomes. After research into other similar projects, a management committee was formed of staff and service users. They wrote a constitution and applied for funding. The first task was to decorate the room, install a new heating system, buy equipment and find suitable therapists. Their existing networks gave them easy access to people with the right skills. A launch party gave taster sessions in all therapies and, after that, the room opened offering 30 sessions a week. It was not long before there were waiting lists for all the therapies and they have since catered for hundreds of users. Service users make a voluntary donation for the subsidised treatments, which include Chinese medicine, massage and reflexology.
In 2004, a qualified counsellor who had heard what was happening offered his services voluntarily. This meant that people could talk through their problems in a safe environment. Eventually they were able to fund the service and employ the counsellor for six hours per week. When funds were running low in 2007, in collaboration with the Scarman Trust, there was a workshop with users to review the project. This fed into a successful bid for continuation funding from CUF and enabled the project to stay open, albeit offering a reduced service. Other health-related activities have been started such as exercise, yoga, tai-ji and healthy eating classes and workshops. In 2003, the Kwan Wai Chinese mental health project (part of the Wai Yin Chinese Women Society) set up a community café in the Centre open over lunch-time prior to the Thursday drop-in and also open to the public. The Café, which has been going for about seven years, is supervised by a manager and staffed by trained volunteers. A podiatry clinic caters for the over 50s once a month and the podiatrist does some home visits and visits a Chinese community centre and a retirement home nearby. There have been one day festivals like the ‘Recovery Festival’ looking at ways people can take control of their lives and celebrating their gifts and achievements.
The Art Project has been going for over seventeen years. It evolved from an Artist-in-Residence role when, in 1993, Alison Kershaw was invited to work at St Luke’s for three years creating work with an emphasis on involving local people with mental health problems. Eighteen years later, she is still working at St Luke’s part-time. Other free-lance artists contribute and usually about thirty people per week make use of the facilities. There have been many projects over the years, including people making ‘Gegants de Barcelona’ puppets to take to a Catalan Festival; individuals compiling books recording their interests or progress; a walking group that recorded their visits in drawings and posters.
Pool Arts is an offshoot of the Art Project. It is a separate organisation, but was co-founded by Alison Kershaw and meets and has its registered office at St Luke’s. It aims to create opportunities for artists who may otherwise find themselves isolated or excluded.
“The great thing about St Luke’s Art Project is its grounded reality, far from the elite of art, yet itself a radical work of art by its very existence, because it accepts and includes those artists who may find it impossible to thrive elsewhere.”
“If someone had ever suggested to me that I would work in a church for all these years, I would have laughed. I’m not in the least religious – but working here has taught me what a community can be.”
An African Elders Lunch Club has been running twice a week since 1995 and is now run by two volunteers. Women cook traditional African meals and the men sit and play cards and watch TV. At the same time, they can use the Centre to access information about benefits and services available to them. Attendees tend to be mainly men because the ratio of men to women is low, but some women have food delivered. Home visits are a chance to provide other neighbourly services such as shopping, helping people go to their doctor, making telephone calls for them or helping with their bills.
In addition, other groups rent space in St Luke’s Centre:
· Alcoholics Anonymous meet once a week and Narcotics Anonymous twice a week in the Centre.
· Manchester Sudanese Tree Development Community have an advice centre for refugees but have also run Supplementary Schools. At one stage, they had three: Sudanese, Somali and Ghanaian, but they are currently struggling for funding.
· Capoeira hire space one evening per week for Brazilian arts and dance.
· Twice weekly table tennis clubs run by volunteers.
· A twice weekly slimming and exercise club run by Manchester City Council.
charitable company limited by guarantee, partly prompted by the likely retirement of the Rector in two years time. He chairs the trustees who comprise people associated with the Centre and local community organisations. The Centre has reached a significant transition point when questions need to be addressed about developing more formal approaches to administration and fundraising.
For the past ten years, there has been a Centre Manager. This became necessary after the appointment of the incumbent as Area Dean. The main leadership has always come from the Rector, but helped by others who have had a longstanding involvement, such as the leader of the Art Project and the Centre Manager.
· Charitable trusts including CUF, Manchester Council for Social Aid, the Scarman Trust and the Tudor Trust have contributed towards the salary of the Centre Manager and other core costs.
· A major Lottery grant paid for refurbishment and, in particular, fitting out a sufficiently large and high standard kitchen to be used for training people and running the Kwan Wai Café as well as for other groups that require catering.
· Manchester City Council used to pay for a youth worker in the Centre, but withdrew the funding following the recent public sector cuts. The youth worker concerned was retained by the Council but redeployed. However, he has continued at St Luke’s as a volunteer. Manchester City Council also used to fund welfare right/debt advice and legal advice sessions. Again the welfare right work has been cut though there are still two legal advice sessions per month.
· Manchester Mental Health Joint Commissioning Team has funded the mental health practitioner for the drop-in sessions although never on a formal contractual basis.
· Help the Aged have given funds towards the costs of the podiatrist. The PCC agreed to forego rent so that the funding stretched further.
· Some Arts Council funding for the Art Project.
· Rental income from lettings.
The post of Centre manager is only secure until the end of 2012; for other strands of work, the future depends on annual requests to the Joint Commissioning Team for continued funding and on applications made to charitable trusts.
· different parts of Manchester Council, such as Ardwick Regeneration Team, Healthy Ardwick and the local ward co-ordinator;
· Manchester Mental Health Promotion;
· several local voluntary organisations such as Voluntary Action Manchester, Manchester Alliance for Community Care, Growing Independent Organisations (GIO), Revive, Roby Counselling and Manchester Community Central, which provides information and support to build the capacity and sustainability of voluntary and community sector groups.
It is clear that much of its ethos is only possible partly because it is closely integrated with the life of the church. But it also relies on the drive, commitment and continuity provided by the core of people who have stayed with the Centre for so long so that they could really get to know the area and its residents, build the necessary trust and form long lasting relationships.
Another barrier is the sometimes negative attitude towards their work. A lack of appreciation of its value can translate into a certain amount of NIMBY-ism amongst some local people, especially in neighbouring streets where houses have been rebuilt and new occupiers have moved in.
 The quoted comments in italics are all taken from The Heart Starts Here . . . . a book researched and designed by Rae Story comprising interviews with representative members of the St Luke’s community, published in 2009 by Slap-Dash Publishing, St Luke’s own community publishing project.