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Reflection

During the past month, a lot has changed for me. I have started my eight-week placement in a primary school and life has got very busy to say the least! However, on Thursday, as I had been back at university for a week before placement commences again, I was sat down for a long tram journey. This gave me the time and the space to do some thinking about my life and I found myself reflecting and making an important decision about whether I had the time to do more writing in my life.

Perhaps you have been busy too and you may then be reluctant to slow down and feel unproductive. Yet it is in these periods that we can actually work out a lot about our lives if we use them wisely. In fact, I’ll give you another example. I was out doing my clothes washing today when I had what might seem like a bit of an epiphany for me: I realised that the times in my life when I have most suffered have been when I’ve either had too much or too little to do. It was only because I had slowed down for a bit that I had this revelation and the importance of balance in life came to the forefront of my mind.

Our minds can help guide us a lot, but it is only when we give them the freedom to do this once in a while that they can start working for us. On the tram, I concluded that I didn’t have time for more writing right now, but it helped me to think more long term and look at the bigger picture: I would have the whole summer to do it if I chose. Yet this also got me thinking about the amount of free time I would have if I took on primary school teaching as a career. Perhaps I could take an unconventional approach to my career or do something related instead. This was all food for thought and, although I don’t have all the answers, I do know it’s important to regularly ask yourself what is going well in your life and what you can improve on. Scott Smith, on his podcast, ‘The Daily Boost’ recommends doing this as ‘homework’ every Monday.

Perhaps if you are at Back on Track though, you might already be doing this regularly by sitting down with an advisor. I often find that the process of using somebody else as a sounding board and confidante when looking at and making decisions about your life can be very useful. Yet it is better to do your ‘homework’ first as then you have something to work with. An additional person can then help to put your ideas into perspective. Seeing a careers advisor has helped me with this same process recently.

If you are ever confused about or not paying attention to where your life is heading, take some time out to reflect. A walk in nature or long tram or train journeys have always given me the structure to do this. However, it is about finding out what helps you get into a pensive state.

Maysie Stott-Morrison

What are your desert island discs?

This term Kate has been running a music appreciation course called ‘Thank you for the Music’. She explains;

Our learners have been busy learning how music can improve our wellbeing – whether that’s listening to music for relaxation, creating a playlist to motivate us, or using music as a way to express our emotions.

We have been listening to all genres of music, from Samba, Arabic, African, Metal, Jazz, Indie, Reggae and much more!  The class were involved in a centre wide survey asking others to name three albums they would take to a desert island – ranging from  Fleetwood Mac and Elvis Presley to Earth Wind and Fire and Depeche Mode!

In the next few sessions we will be attempting to make our own musical instruments and planning our very own fantasy festival line up, as well as visiting the Bridgewater Hall for a tour around one of Manchester’s famous music venues.

Here are some of the tracks our learners selected when we we asked them to select their their own desert island discs…

Ian said this song would help him to forgive yesterday, and enjoy today;

and that if he wanted some good advice he would listen to this;

and if he wanted to solve all the problems in the world he’d listen to this;

 

Meanwhile, Samiha said she likes to listen to this at home with her son because it has at least three languages they know Swahili, English and French;

These songs remind Samiha of weddings in Africa that she went to when she was young. First some Danish/Norweigan dance pop,

and a very nice Arabic song

Also, she really likes a new Swahili song called Tetema, which means shake “Even if you’re fat – Just keep shaking!” Explains Samiha,

and finally, a song that motivates her;

 

Thanks for your selections folks!

If you were stranded on a desert island, what tracks would you like to be able to listen to?

The light at the end of the tunnel

Ian visited us recently, to tell us how he’s doing in his new job, and how far he’s come since he first visited Back on Track in early 2107.

“I’d been doing well – good job, well paid, well, probably by most people’s standards. But then a family member got ill, and things started getting difficult. Over time it took a toll on me, and then got worse, until I ended up losing my job, feeling depressed and being completely isolated.

I was suffering from severe depression and anxiety when I found out about Back on Track. I was scared to walk into the centre, and coming to Manchester was difficult anyway cos it was so busy it was difficult for me to cope with. But I forced myself to do it.

Starting as a student was hard. I was quiet. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself.  But then I realised that everyone was in the same boat, maybe not in terms of situation, but most were dealing with similar issues. That helped me to relax and start to learn. I did the ‘Out and About’ sessions, then the basic computing and well being courses. I learned about the different support available for anxiety, when previously it seemed like antidepressants were the only thing on offer. Plus, there was no set timetable, everything I did was done at the pace that I chose. Before I knew it I was helping others in the class who were struggling.

I did more classes during the 2nd term and by the end of it I was doing job searches. The volunteer coordinator said she’d noticed a change in me, encouraged me with the job searches and asked me if I’d considered volunteering. I didn’t think twice. I started in the cafe. It was scary working with money – it’s a big responsibilty! But I got loads of help from the other staff and volunteers, and I was so pleased that people were showing trust in me. Then I started doing stock control and then when someone was off one day I was in charge. It might sound like tiny steps but to me it was giant leaps! But I determined to repay the trust that people were showing me.

Then one day one of the staff took me down to a job fair at central library and I got offered a start with a local agency, working two days a week supplying supermarkets with stock. That was six months ago. I’m still there, alright I’m still on the agency books but now I’m doing 5 days a week. It’s hard work but I’m much fitter and a lot happier. My managers are advising me apply for a full time post as soon as one comes up.

I look back now and I don’t recognise the person I was back then. There was a light at the end of the tunnel, but it was like a pin prick in the distance. Thankfully, after starting at Back on Track it was like golf ball size, and it got bigger with each step I took. I’m stood right in front of the exit now, and I feel like if I can get a full time post I’ll be stepping out into the bright sunshine.”

What else can I say but good luck Ian, and congratulations for everything you’ve achieved so far!

 

Kel – a new start in a new town

It was great to just catch up with Kel, who has been a big part of Back on Track over the past few years.

Kel performing at our 40th anniversary event

Everyone here knows her. She’s been all kinds of things including our choir, Tony Walsh’s poetry group, and the Manchester Street Poem project. Recently, though, she took the plunge and moved out to Blackpool, where some of her family live. She is starting a new life there with a new flat there and new adventures.

‘I’ve now got my flat really nice,’ she says. ‘I’ve been spending time with my mam and two brothers. I’m going to a place called U R Potential with my housing support officer, also she is looking into what other little projects there is for me too…’

Life hasn’t always been easy for Kel, and she says that when she first came to Back on Track she was at rock bottom. And just before Christmas she split up with her partner, which was tough for her. But she’s also spoken about the huge strides she’s made – something clear to everyone at Back on Track.

‘God knows where I’d be without Back on Track,’ she tells me. Whatever’s going on in my life I’ve always known that’s Back on Track is here for me. Samantha (our Employability Coordinator) has always been there for me, so have lots of the staff. I’ll miss it loads. At Back on Track it doesn’t matter who you are – service user or staff or volunteer – nobody’s better than anyone else.

I’d never have been able to make this move three years ago. I didn’t have the strength to do it. Now I have.’

What were the highlights from her time at Back on Track? Not surprisingly, all the friends she’s made here come top of the list. But what else?

‘I loved singing in the choir. And creative writing – I actually suggested creative writing when they were asking for people’s ideas on what courses Back on Track should do next. So I had a part in making that happen.

And then being part of Tony Walsh’s poetry group for Back on Track’s 40th anniversary event, being part of making all come together – that was really special.’

Kel with Tony Walsh

We all remember her performance that day as a major highlight. Like everything else she does, Kel wears her heart on her sleeve with her poems, and she initially struggled to get the words out because they were so personal and meant so much. But the other members of the group shouted encouragement, and Kel somehow managed to get through it, leaving plenty of people watching feeling pretty emotional.

‘Yeah well it’s like Tony said in the workshops: poetry is “one heart speaking to another”. That’s all it is really. One heart speaking to another.’

Kel touched a lot of hearts at Back on Track. And you know what? We’re sure she’ll do the same in Blackpool.

Wellness – what works for you?

“One car! That’s all there was!” It’s difficult to imagine, but we all know it’s true.

It’s Tuesday morning and I’m in the IT room at Back on Track. I’m attending the ‘Having a voice’ group, and Jennifer has us all mesmerised. She’s telling us about a photograph of her and her sister, as children, on the street where they grew up. It’s the 1960’s, and the street is empty, except for one car.

“One, car. We were just looking at it the other day. We couldn’t believe it! I bet it was easy to park though.”

Having a voice is a weekly session to help participants develop their communication skills and build the confidence to speak up and have their views and opinions heard. During January the sessions have been focused on photography as part of Macc’s ‘Sharing Our Wellness’ campaign. We’ve agreed to take photos of what works for us in terms of wellness, or in other words, what makes us happy. It’s a really useful way to demystify wellbeing, and to help people think about it in everyday ways.

Our first session involves a trip to Manchester Art Gallery to see the Martin Parr exhibition – Return to Manchester, which contains photographs of everyday life in Manchester taken over the last 40 years. Everyone gets animated about the images – laughing at the fashions, and trying to identify the places.

Credit: Martin Parr https://www.martinparr.com

We all end up talking about things from the past that make us happy.  “I’ve always loved playing football.” says Anthony, as we walk back from the gallery. “I still do. I’m looking to join a veterans team at the moment. Even 5 a side would do. I know it’s fast, but there’s life in the old dog yet.” I don’t doubt it. He’s full of energy, darting about, and snapping away at random scenes with his camera.

We review the images the following week. Lots of them are great, and the session tutor Kate is full of positive encouragement and advice about how we can take even better photos. Then we’re off again with a brief to photograph patterns. Which are suddenly everywhere, if you take time to notice them. When we review again it’s clear that we’ve already got lots of good images to choose from. Kate instructs the group about uploading photos to PC and how to use the editing software. Kevin’s racing ahead, so we have a chat about his photo, and that it reminds of his school Plant Hill School. He talks about what lessons he enjoyed there, and what he’s learned since coming to Back on Track despite having learning difficulties.

 

There’s a real variety of photos, and when I’m chatting to people it’s lovely to hear each person talking about the image they’ve chosen. Everyone is happy for their content to be shown on online, but some don’t feel comfortable about being recorded, so we agree to type something for the website. Others are more than happy to talk, and Jennifer is really warming to the subject of old photos. “I like looking at old photographs, cos it helps me to think about being alive now, and that we should make the most of it. I used to work at a school in Wythenshawe. I still get old pupils coming up to me in the street all grown up and saying ‘Hello Miss! Remember me?’ and I always do. I ask them how many kids they’ve got and they tell me and I go ‘Alright then, see ya!’ You see, things change very quickly.”

Click here to see all of the selected images and stories from the project.