This story is part of our Resident Guest Blog series, in which we collaborate with our customers, to share their experiences and make their voices heard. 

Amayna Solaiman is one of our customers who, over the years, has been involved with lots of the activities on offer through our Youth Opportunities team. She has written here about her experiences taking part in creative projects and the difference that Michelle, our Youth Opportunities Coordinator, has made to the lives of lots of young people in our areas.

My Experience with One Manchester

I went to school in Moss Side and we didn’t have many social clubs or activities available to us in the community. That was until One Manchester introduced their Girl Talk and Boy Talk programmes into my high school; these sessions provided a safe space for the respected groups to communicate, express and learn. After a month of the sessions, there was already a great sense of community, sisterhood and brotherhood amongst my peers. 

The leader of the sessions, Michelle Wright, single-handedly brought together my disruptive year group and taught us how to be more civilised. She then introduced a group of us to Camerata

For a lot of us, this was our first experience with music composition. Again, Michelle created an environment where we left our differences at the door and came together every week to be creative. The project was concluded with a performance of our original compositions at the Bridgewater Hall. This experience was a big deal because kids like us weren’t ever seen in places like that, yet we got to perform. The creative encouragement from Michelle didn’t stop there; she started a fashion project at our local library where a group of us would gather every week to design our own clothes. It was these sessions at the local library where a lot of us established valuable friendships and connections. 

Again, we were given another once in a lifetime opportunity to feel important, beautiful and valuable to our community. We had our makeup done professionally, we were photographed professionally, and we walked the runway in front of our family and friends. 

We told Michelle that we didn’t want the club to end and she must have seen how much it meant to us so she came up with another two years’ worth of activities for us to do at our local library; we learnt to cook each other’s international dishes, we learnt how to cook on a budget, we danced, we sang, we played sports and even did some self-defence. Michelle encouraged creativity every chance she got which meant she helped our dreams come true. She helped my friends and I write and produce a play together. 

At school, we were in our own cliques, we had playground arguments that lasted years but with Michelle, there were no groups and no arguments; she taught us respect.

Leaving school meant leaving our youth group but Michelle called some of us up and asked us if we were interested in doing a project with her. Without asking about what the project entailed, we all enthusiastically agreed because whatever it is that we do with Michelle will always be amazing and so we started her mentoring programme; she shaped a group of 15-year-olds into mentors for young children at holiday clubs. 

This was an invaluable experience because it taught us so many useful employability skills such as planning, organising, time-management, leadership and many more. Most importantly, she opened our eyes to how important it is to give back to our community.

It’s no secret that children in deprived areas don’t typically go on amazing trips abroad during the summers or have much money to do things in the country so it’s left to holiday clubs.

I also learnt the true work behind charity when I signed up to help combat holiday hunger; it was a humbling experience to see how many children in just seven clubs relied on us for their meals 5 days a week.

Michelle has given children who come from humble beginnings opportunities that turns us into stars- even if it is for just one night. Because of the things I’ve learnt and the work I’ve done with Michelle over my 6 years with her, I have accepted 3 community/social responsibility awards and have been nominated for many other awards. 

When I’m asked about my fondest memories, I often find myself recalling those of which I had spent with my high school friends, at our favourite youth club with our favourite youth worker - Michelle Wright.