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18 December, 2013

A home with hope

Ann and Terry Panks
Ann and Terry Panks
A remarkable couple, living in one of the most deprived communities in Britain, is using their family home to help serial young offenders.

Located in Wythenshawe, described by the local press as ’the violence capital of Manchester’, Ann and Terry Panks have made an impact where government authorities have struggled.

The Manchester City Council has poured millions of pounds into building Wythenshawe out of its problems. Yet, in this ten-square-mile suburb of Greater Manchester, crime and unemployment rates are double the national average, and a combination of family breakdown, poverty and inadequate schooling has bred a violent gang culture that claim the lives of many young people.

According to a crime map, created by the Manchester Evening News, Wythenshawe, home to around 75,000 people, saw more than 1,200 violent offences between April 2012 and January 2013. The figure means there were more violent attacks in Wythenshawe than Manchester city centre. The Wythenshawe Civic Centre saw more than 50 violent incidents reported over this period.

The ‘postcode complex’ against those living in the area is strong. A local cab firm, which started out of Wythenshawe, hoping to expand, had no option but to re-locate. A cab driver said: ‘Residents in neighbouring posh areas like Northenden, did not want to ring for cabs, coming out of our area.’

Ann was keen to do something for young people in the area and set up the project in 1980. ‘I was determined to do something positive with my life. I got to know Leonora Noble, who was living in Manchester, and worked with Initiatives of Change. Leo helped me to deepen my faith and realise my dream. She was a rock and stood by me through thick and thin. I also attended several meeting, organised by the movement.

‘Terry came into my life to do some building work in my house. We have been married for more than 30 years. He shares my dream and is a key part of the project.’

The Copperdale Trust is situated in what was once Benchill Police Station. It has been 'transformed' over the years into a family home.

Spacious background with a computer room and recreational facilities (Photo: Don de Silva)
Spacious background with a computer room and recreational facilities (Photo: Don de Silva)
Ann, 74, and Terry, 76, take up to 10 mainly young people at a time, often referred by social services, charities or the probation service. Some stay for weeks, others for years. Whilst staying in Copperdale, they can brush up on life skills as basic as using a microwave oven, and become independent. The young people are given a haven to get their lives back on track.

Ann said: ‘We do get a lot of boys that are involved in gangs, but we have learned a lot from it.

‘There is good in everybody isn’t there? If you can’t see it at first then it feels like a treasure hunt. Bricks for building are always provided – it may not always be in the way you expect, but faith always provides for us.

‘When times are really hard with funding, our faith keeps us going.’

Terry also admitted it hadn’t always been easy. He said: ‘I’ve had guys hit me, one hit me over the head with a baseball bat.

‘But we talked them round and now they’ve moved on to what we hope are normal lives. This is what we try to do.  They come to us and we do whatever we can to help and get them back on the right track.’

Matthew, a resident, said: ‘It was bad, I used to get into trouble with the police, nearly got sent down for a couple of years, so, just wanted to stop it and get on with my life.’

Glen Davis in the background with residents (Photo: Copperdale )
Glen Davis in the background with residents (Photo: Copperdale )
Another said: ‘I don’t think I would be here to be honest with you; I am just being truthful because there is nowhere else to go.’

Maintaining a place like Copperdale can be hard work. Ann and Terry receive strong support from their families. Ann’s sons, Greg and Glen, their wives, Sharon and Louise and children are all involved with the project.

Both Glen and Louise work most of their time at Copperdale. Louise does the administrative work and Glen helps to run the place. Asked to comment on his experience, Glen, 42, said: ‘I grew up in this place. As far as I can remember, home has been a house full of people. During my young days, I was looked after by those who came to live with us. Now, I look after and help those who come to stay here. I really like my work.’

Terry’s family comes over from Watford and helps out.

Funding is a constant challenge. But support comes from unexpected sources. In 2008, the couple was featured on Channel 4 Television’s Secret Millionaire programme. They were given cash by tycoon James Benamor, working incognito, who pretended to be filming a TV documentary in Moss Side about voluntary youth workers.

Ann said: ‘I was shocked to receive the award! It came at a time we were really pressed for money. We used part of it to expand our facilities.’ 

Pride of Britain 2012 Award (Photo: Don de Silva)
Pride of Britain 2012 Award (Photo: Don de Silva)
In 2012, they received the ITV Local Hero Award, voted for by viewers of the station’s regional news programmes. At the awards ceremony, the couple received a standing ovation from an audience that included HRH Prince Charles and Prime Minister David Cameron and a who’s who of celebrities.

The couple were given their gong by ITV presenters Holly Willoughby and Paddy McGuinness who paid tribute to them.

Holly said: ‘It just goes to show that the biggest changes can be made at home. You’ve done so much to help so many, and you really do see the good in everyone.’

Paddy added: ‘ I don’t think you’ll ever know the impact you’ve had on their lives so it’s a real honour to give you this award.’

Commenting on their experience, Ann said: ‘We see ourselves as privileged, because we can be a source or a channel that someone can move along and now have a better life. That’s a privilege. You know, how else could you be happy?’

To Ann and Terry, the Copperdale Trust House isn’t just a home, it’s a place to provide hope.

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