New for 2017: The Back on Track Choir


Amazing news. We’ve just been given a grant that means we can make a long-standing dream a reality – the Back on Track Choir is happening in 2017! 


The choir will see Back on Track service users, volunteers and staff singing together – doesn’t matter if you’ve never sung a note before, if you’re part of Back on Track, you’re in! Practices start on Tuesday 18th April, building up to a public performance to mark our 40 years celebration in July. Watch out for video updates because this is going to be a lot of fun.


Thanks so much to the Leathersellers’ Company Charitable Fund for the grant that is making this happen.




Kew Gardens comes to Harpurhey


It was lovely to welcome Richard Pollard from Kew Gardens to our Harpurhey allotment last Friday. Last year we were delighted to get a grant from Kew’s Grow Wild fund, which helps people set up gardening projects and grow native plants and flowers. Richard came to see how we’d got on.


We used our grant to run sessions at our allotment and buy spades, wellies and waterproofs. Things are going well – we already have a nice little herb garden going and we’re about to plant veg to use in the cafe. We’re also creating a wildflower section using native seeds provided by Kew. Most importantly, though, the people who have taken part have really enjoyed and found that it has had a positive effect on their wellbeing. 


The allotment was overgrown and neglected when we took it on, and the volunteers have done a great job transforming it. And this is just the start for us – the project has been so popular that we’re going to make more outdoor activities available this year. In fact, we’ve already partnered with City of Trees to transform an area of woodland in Wythenshawe. Watch this space for updates!

allotment - richard visit

University of Manchester food market, Tuesday 14 March

Lemon and chia seed muffins
Beetroot brownies
Vimto cake with Vimto frosting
Carrot and courgette cake
Coconut and chocolate brownie
Lemon polenta cake (gluten free)
Chocolate avocado cake (vegan)
Mexican Chocolate brownies (gluten free)   


levy market cakes

We have a stall tomorrow at Manchester University’s food market. The market is run by Levenshulme Market and is total foodie heaven, with an amazing line-up which includes our good friends Nila’s Burmese Kitchen and 4Lunch.   


Our stall will be staffed by our cafe volunteers and catering trainees – people who have been through major problems and are working to get the experience they need to rebuild their lives. As usual with Swan Kitchens all the money we make will be reinvested into our projects for disadvantaged people, which means that the more cake you eat, the more good you will have done. And if that doesn’t convince you then our menu surely will:

You can find the market on Bridgeford Street, which is off Oxford Road, by Manchester Museum. It runs from 11.30am to 2.30pm so if you’re anywhere near come on down and spoil yourself. Postcode is M15 6FH.

Urgent: foodies please get in touch!

Back on Track are looking for people with food skills to help run our catering social enterprise.

Since it launched just over a year ago the Swan Kitchens project has achieved an incredible amount.
The in-house cafe has sold thousands of low cost, healthy meals to people on low incomes, while the outside catering operation has fed 700 people. And it’s all staffed by people who are getting their lives back together after going through homelessness, addiction, offending and mental health problems. 


The cafe gives people the chance to get new skills and work experience, and more than a third of the volunteers have already moved into paid employment. And it’s ethical – the café uses salvaged and donated ingredients to reduce food waste, stocks Fairtrade products, and always has vegetarian and vegan options.

We now urgently need skilled volunteers to help us run the project.
Experience in catering and hospitality is preferred, but training will be provided. We need people who can offer at least one full day a week – you’ll be supporting people in the kitchen and helping to run the business side. We’re looking for people who want to use their skills, have fun and change the world a little bit at the same time! Sound like you? You can find out more at our special afternoon tea information session on Friday 10 March, from 1-3pm – cake will be served!

Or, if you can’t make that please email


See the full volunteer role descriptions



From homelessness to helping others: Sheena’s story

It’s hard to believe it now, but it was only just over two years ago that Sheena reached her lowest point. Her life had come apart and she found herself without a home. For a while she got by sofa surfing but one night she finally ran out of options – and ended up sleeping under a bench in Wythenshawe Park. “I was terrified,” she says. “Every little noise frightened me. I hardly slept at all. I was in a bad place – I was homeless but I couldn’t shake myself up to do something about it. I couldn’t see a way out.”



Sheena still remembers the exact day she got up the strength to take matters into her own hands. “It was the 27th December 2014. I finally went to the town hall to ask for helping finding accommodation. They told me to go to the Booth Centre – but I only had half an hour to get there and I didn’t know how to find it.”

At that moment the course of her life was changed by a simple act of kindness. She asked a couple – about to get in a taxi – for directions. 
“They put me in their taxi and took me straight to the Booth Centre. When I got there the staff found me somewhere to stay straight away. I wish I’d found out their names because I’d love to thank them for what they did. So I just want to say it now: whoever you are, thank you.”


Although she had now somewhere to live, things were still difficult for her. 




“The first place I was in was horrible to be honest. There were women fighting constantly all night, it was noisy, drugs were everywhere. I lived there for seven months. Then I moved to a women’s shared housing project, and that was better. It was much more peaceful there. And I got on really well with the Lesley, the manager. I still keep in touch.”

It was Lesley that told Sheena about Back on Track and how we might be able to help her. 
After visiting our centre Sheena signed up for several of our courses – she has kept all her certificates and brings them in to proudly show me. The biggest challenge, she says, was the Health and Social Care training course, which included a day a week at The Manchester College.

“It was tough! But it was good. I learned about working with people, not to be judgmental. I also made a lot of friends and I’m still in touch with them. Everyone really helped each other out. At first I was the quiet mouse in the corner. But I really came out of my shell. By the end they were all calling me the gobby one out of the group! I owe so much to Andy and the other staff at Back on Track.”

The training course was a turning point for Sheena. She realised she wanted to help other people who’d been through the same experiences as her. She’s now training to be a peer mentor with the Inspiring Change Manchester programme, which supports people with lived experience of offending, substance misuse, homelessness and mental health problems. In the long term she wants to find paid work supporting people.

“I do need to learn more about supporting offenders because I don’t have any lived experience in that area. I’m fine with all the other stuff, I’ve got plenty of experience with all of that. Been there, worn the t-shirt as they say!”

“It’s tough though,” she says. “So many jobs are zero hours. There aren’t many real jobs around these days. Even real work experience would help me because there’s nothing like learning by doing the real thing.”

How does my life compare to when I first came to Back on Track?
 There’s no comparison. I’ve come a million miles. I’ve even got a new flat of my own now. It’s in a lovely quiet area – I love it. I know there’s still a long way to go but the difference is now I believe that I’ll get there.”



Swan Kitchens: a year of impact

It’s just over 12 months now since Lucy Powell MP cut the ribbon and we launched Swan Kitchens, our on-site cafe and catering social enterprise. So we thought it would be a good time to take stock. 


You want numbers? We got numbers!


The cafe has sold 1960 healthy main meals (starting at £1 to be affordable for people on low incomes), 4500 sandwiches and 6584 cups of tea and coffee. We get food from FareShare Greater Manchester to reduce food waste, and use Fairtrade ingredients whenever possible. We always have vegetarian and vegan options. 


The outside catering operation has delivered 53 bookings, feeding 660 people.


58 disadvantaged people have taken up volunteering positions, gaining crucial skills and experience. 33 so far have moved on, which is great. The rest are still volunteering, which is also great because we need people to run the show.


Of those who have moved on 36% have gone into paid employment and 33% into volunteering.


Remember, Swan Kitchens volunteers have experience of homelessness, mental health problems, offending and substance misuse. These can all be massive barriers to getting a job and enjoying a positive future. The costs of this are huge, to the individuals involved, their families, and the local community. So I think you’ll get an idea of the positive impact of what we’re doing. 



All about that base

Back on Track was really buzzing this Tuesday – everywhere you looked people were enjoying incredible pizza!


Richard Carver from Honest Crust Wood Fired Pizza came in to run a workshop in our kitchen, showing our catering trainees the secrets of making pizza the authentic Italian way. Since Richard set up at Altrincham’s Market House a couple of years ago people having been coming from all around to get a taste, and today we found out why.


We also had a pop-up stall run by our Market Force enterprise team, with great smoothies and other goodies on sale.


We invited our neighbours in Swan Buildings up to join in the fun and the place was really buzzing!


Thanks so much to Richard for his time today and for bringing in all those fabulous ingredients. You’re welcome back literally any time! 


Celebrating change in verse

Anyone who was at our celebration event a few weeks ago won’t forget the moment our service user Kel stood up and read out her poem ‘7 months’. The poem is about the the changes she’s seen in her life since she started coming to Back on Track. We’d like to share it with you.  

kell poem

7 Months

A new life has begun

Another day I have won

Every day was a challenge
Now I challenge myself

I wake up every day
I face it a new way

7 months ago my life was dark
Now it’s more like a walk in the park

Living to succeed and be myself
Is better than my other self

Life isn’t always great
But now I like walking out the garden gate


With a smile on my face
With more room in my head for space

7 days 7 weeks 7 months

My life has changed
There is new things I’ve arranged

New friends I’ve made
Others never stayed



Back on Track staff cook up a treat for volunteers

Just before Christmas the Back on Track staff donned their aprons, brushed up on their waiting skills and got to work making Christmas dinner for around 30 volunteers. It was our way of thanking them for another year’s hard work. There was also a very high-scoring (and competitive!) quiz. Turns out our volunteers are a very knowledgeable bunch.


Martin, one of our volunteers, got in touch to say thanks to the staff for the meal and for all their support.Martin is our longest-serving volunteer, having started back in 2003 (think how many hours he must have clocked up). As you can imagine he’s seen all kinds of changes over the years and volunteered in all kinds of different roles. Plenty of people have come and gone in that time, but Martin’s still here. It just shows that volunteers really are the lifeblood of our organisation.


At the moment he’s supporting service users in our creative writing and maths classes. “I like to work closely with the tutor and make a good team,” he told us. “A good volunteer in the classroom can make a real difference to the learners.”


Cheers Martin, we couldn’t agree more – and here’s to another 14 years! 


Check out some of the snaps from that Christmas meal below.