Youth groups for kids who don’t go to youth groups
‘I was driving past the church. I hadn’t been in Manchester for a while. It was a cold night, a bit rainy, dark. As I turned the corner, there was a huge gang of kids – 20 or maybe 30 kids no older than 16, in the grounds, on the roof; the windows were broken; it was beyond vandalism. I stopped the car, I jumped out and I shouted at the kids and I said: “Come here! I want a word with you.” I was angry.’
Greg grew up as part of the inner city culture with a strong Christian Methodist education. At the age of 19, in the mid 1980s, he started work as a doorman in a Manchester nightclub. At only 21, he created his own door security business, which soon expanded to outdoor security and became one of the largest security businesses in the country.
Greg recalls: ‘It was a very interesting time to work as a doorman. Manchester always had gangs but with the arrival of rave and ecstasy, the gangs in a very short space of time realised that if you control the club door then you control the supply of ecstasy inside the club which meant that the gangs wanted to control the doors.’
Greg has the vision of making his centre an inner city cultural centre offering the support that is relevant to the lives of the people in the area. He and his team provide mentoring and support for both young and old who want it. Some have turned their lives around. Some have even set up their own businesses around Manchester. The long-term hope is to develop a model that can be replicated in other inner cities around the country with the worst social conditions.
When Greg opened the complex he particularly picked people who have ‘an excellent level of communication with the kids’ to work with him. Getting to know them, Greg realised that, although they appear as tough guys, they’re just normal people with quite a high level of spirituality.
To set it up he contracted various companies to set up the venue, manage the stage, the sound and the lighting, under the one condition that they would take two apprentices from Wythenshawe. This was a success. The group plans to hold more such events. The Manchester rock legend, Peter Hook, has become the patron of this initiative.
During his youth, Greg’s mother Ann Panks, introduced him to Initiatives of Change. Greg actively engaged with it recently when he participated at the After the Riots Forum organised by IofC in London in February 2012. He is now a member of the Steering Group of the Sustainable Communities programme where he interacts and works with other people working on similar issues. He says: ‘IofC is about providing solutions. This is a solution-oriented group of people. Rather than a discussion group, this is about providing long-lasting sustainable solutions.’
Photos by Don de Silva