By
Séverine Chavanne
0 Comment
20 May, 2013

Youth groups for kids who don’t go to youth groups

The UEW complex in a renovated church building
The UEW complex in a renovated church building
Severine Chavanne interviews an ex-nightclub bouncer who knows how to engage with inner-city youth.

‘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 Davis explains the work of UEW to visitors
Greg Davis explains the work of UEW to visitors
On that night of 1996, Greg Davis’s life took a new turn. He speaks of the mix of sadness and anger he felt, and surprise at the lack of respect the young people were displaying for the church. Local church authorities later informed him that the church had been closed down because of nightly vandalism. His reaction was immediate: ‘Would you consider letting me do something with the building?’

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.’

Mo’s Clothes Shop
Mo’s Clothes Shop
He describes how the fear had replaced respect. People who were considered figures of respect only a couple of years before – policemen, schoolteachers, the clergy – were not anymore. And that night ten years later when he came out if his car, Greg decided to do something about it. He obtained the right to use the church building and opened it to the youth of the area. ‘We’ve put a gym and a coffee shop in there. We’ve put in a dance studio; we have a cinema; we have a sound recording room. We also have a community hall where we put on concerts.’ Along with this all, Greg and his team have set up a little church, which provides the space for quiet reflection to anyone.

The Chapel at the back: a place for reflection
The Chapel at the back: a place for reflection
The inner city culture and lifestyle destroyed the building, but Greg was convinced that the same culture could turn it around. And it did! This soon became known as the United Estates of Wythenshawe (UEW).

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.

A coffee shop to have a natter about life
A coffee shop to have a natter about life
But offering such support requires funding. Greg says, half-joking: ‘We refer to ourselves as the toilet of society: Working Class White Christians (double WC). It is almost impossible to fundraise with that background.’ So he and his team came up with the idea to raise funds in a fun way, in keeping with the inner city culture. Last November, UEW, in partnership with several other charities, organised a big fundraising concert they called ‘Music for Cities’, which was a sell-out, attended by over 1,200 people.

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

Leave a comment

0 Comments

| Discussion policy

Related Posts