Manchester’s Youth Zone is an invaluable asset to the city
“Just a few weeks ago there was a really serious incident outside between two drug gangs. We were forced into a complete lockdown of the building. A car was set on fire. It’s only “an example of what these young people face. We provide a safe haven, they come here, respect each other and respect us. It’s almost like a family.”
Talking to Amanda Naylor is simply inspiring. As CEO of Manchester Youth Zone [MYZ], she is responsible for one of the city’s most vital community assets. A facility incorporating everything from rock climbing walls to therapy services, basketball courts to career and enterprise centers, boxing rings to mental health support.
Primarily aimed at young people in north central Manchester, the gates are open to anyone aged up to 19, 25 for those with learning disabilities, with every child who walks through the entrance receiving a free meal (although those who can pay a 50p contribution back). Additional help is also offered to parents in difficulty.
That’s before we get to community activities, whether it’s putting youth workers in city parks to help protect those at risk, or on Metrolink streetcars to help those who don’t have cannot afford to pay for their trip, thus avoiding fines.
“Spending a few hours with our children is enough to feel recharged. Before Boris Johnson coined the phrase, we used to say talent is evenly distributed but opportunity is not,” Naylor replies when asked what motivates MYZ staff given the clearly challenging nature of their jobs. “These kids are funny, smart, savvy, know how to navigate life, have great communication skills, are very appreciative, grateful, caring and supportive.”
MYZ celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, and over the past decade, Naylor believes over 15,000 children have had the operation and enjoyed stability, security, guidance and opportunity as a result. She has been here for much less time, although the story of how she ended up here says a lot about who she is, especially in terms of her dedication to causes that directly target those left behind by the safety nets, systems and services in a UK that increasingly forgets the ethos on which its post-war recovery and identity were built.
“I was at Barnado’s and seconded to a project to determine how the voluntary sector could reach the most vulnerable children at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Office of the Commissioner for Children had identified about 1.4 million children who needed extra support, and once the lockdowns hit, they immediately became the most vulnerable,” Naylor tells us, recounting how many of these young people were experiencing a sharp drop in their mental health, problems accessing the education everyone has a right to, digital poverty,” and — especially in the case of Black and Asian families, those living in multi-generational households, public housing, or overcrowded housing — disproportionate levels of bereavement “Ultimately we had reached 100,000 children and it emerged that North Manchester was the most needy area in the country.
“I mean, 25% more Covid deaths than the national average…generally children in the city were out of school more than any other part of the country, with Manchester experiencing multiple Tier 3 lockdowns,” continues- she. “So I realized that what made a real difference were the organizations present in the community, those who knew which doors to knock on, had the trust of families in the region and truly helped young people to flourish. I wanted to run an organization like this, and MYZ ticked all the boxes. We are based in Harpurhey, and this part of town has never really seen the regeneration of other areas. A lot of kids here – Moston, Higher Blackley, Newton Heath, Charlestown, Miles Platting – don’t even consider themselves to be from Manchester. They come from Harpurhey, or the neighborhood where they live.
If this sounds confusing, allow us to recount one of MYZ’s most recent excursions. Taking a group of children through the world of glass, steel and big business in Spinningfields, and up to the 16th floor of an office tower, Naylor recounts how a child asked if they were looking at London, when they were only a few miles away. road from home. After explaining that the view was central Manchester, another simply replied: ‘It’s not my Manchester’. A clear sign of how disparate the two sides of the city have become in the boom era that has simultaneously transformed the aesthetics and economy of our hometown, while leaving large swaths of the population behind.
“In terms of deprivation I think the situation has gotten worse in North Manchester over the last ten years. The biggest employers are hospital and college. There is no industry, there is there is no business. And Manchester Youth Zone has really suffered because of that, in terms of getting support and funding for businesses. We were able to reach the city and say North Manchester is also Manchester. It’s important that you don’t forget about these kids… One of our greatest successes has really been partnering with companies and building partnerships with companies that fund areas of our work. align with their requirements for environmental social governance – as for-profit agencies, they’re supposed to prove how they give back to the community,” Naylor tells us. “With Metrolink, for example, it’s about make transportation safer for them and to ensure that the children can join us safely.
“Others, like High Finance 24-7, fund our careers and business hubs, to really provide pathways to employment for children. And we start very young, getting them to buy into the job. They can easily say “there’s nowhere to work, might as well sell drugs”. We hear that from 10 and 11 year olds. What we’re trying to do is create a kind of family business. Because they don’t have a family business, with a relative who could offer them work experience,” she continues. “For our tenth anniversary, we are now asking ten organizations to pledge to give us £10,000 which will help sustain our future for another ten years – this work has never been more needed. So far we have seven registrants, so we are still looking for three more. Of course, if there are more, we will gladly accept ten other partners, we are not bothered!
Anyone wondering how desperate times are need only consider the food parcels that MYZ regularly sends children home with. Apart from food and drink, these emergency supplies also include washing powder, washing up liquid and toothpaste. Barely luxury items by any stretch of the imagination, Naylor tells us she’s seen a number of recipients cry because they’ve been gone for weeks without trying to keep shopping bills within their budgets anymore. more tense. With the cost of living crisis laid bare, tragically, such situations have lasted far longer than the current inflationary nightmare.
Despite such clear and profound needs, one of the reasons MYZ’s private sector partnerships are so vital right now is the shocking state of public funding for youth services of all kinds. With audible emotion in his voice – not to mention frustration – Naylor paints a picture of what can only be described as politically motivated neglect, with around £1.4billion allocated by central government to pay youth services in 2012, compared to just £700m. today. Putting that into context, it costs around £1.4m a year to keep MYZ’s doors open alone.