Throughout the past four years, whilst I have been living here on Lanzarote, a former member of a writing group I ran in the UK has stayed in touch via e mail and her prodigious facebook outpourings.

Katie Haigh has some fairly severe physical ailments and even occasional sufferings from poor mental health, but she is a great wife and mum, constantly cajoling her tight knit family into all sorts of good deeds for the community. She is also a regular attendee at both Touchstones Creative Writing Group and Langley Writers, and even occasionally turns up at Weaving Words at the other side of town. Katie has long been a popular performance poet at venues throughout the Rochdale Borough and is a regular member of Those Bard From The Baum. For many years she also ran a monthly meeting of poets at The Ring O Bells in Middleton with her friend and fellow poet Gemma Lees. Like Gemma, Katie is also a published poet with a collection called Prejudice And Pride (available for free PDF download at clearwalksoft.com/poetry-drama/157632-prejudice-and-pride.htm ) and I recently heard that she and her children now occvasionally deliver at poetry events under the umbrella title of Sign Along With Us https://www.facebook.com/signalongwithus/ that not only performs poetry but also signs it for the deaf. Katie was also, and I think still is, a Brownie leader of the all souls group in Heywood and her daughter Ashleigh was one of the girls in the group.

Katie would occasionally call me in to deliver creative writing classes to these ladies, and I was always amazed by the writing and performing talents of her daughter and her pal Jade Kilduff. Katie often sends me a photo or two, (actually her last three e mails have been of 59, 46 and 123 photographs respectively !) of group activities not only from their weekly meetings but also from a summer activity-camp the girls are taken to each year.

A couple of days ago she sent me some You Tube links to a film showing a girl I recognised as Jade Kilduff leading a wheel-chaired child in some sort of Karaoke sing-along during which she seemed to be sometimes signing as well as singing words to him. And then, just this morning, I opened my Daily Mail (printed in Spain proudly printed under its title) and there on pages 26 and 27 was a double page story, and several photographs, of Jade and her young foster brother under the headline You Don´t Need Words To Say I Love You. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7729275/

My vague memories of Jade and Katie´s daughter Ashleigh in the Brownies or Guides are of them being pretty full-on, always rushing round and creating fun. I thought of Jade as the quieter of the two but I could see they were each a good counter-balance for the other, and it was patently obvious, even to me as an outsider, how much they cared about their friends and other kids in the group.

Diane Kilduff, left, with children Christian and Jade

This article in The Daily Mail showed Jade to be not only all of the above but also diligent in learning how to help, and share a huge love with, her foster-brother Christian who was born severely disabled. Even the photographs accompanying the article, written by Jenny Johnstone, show how Jade so radiates her affection for Christian that she can hardly take her eyes off him. According to the story, seeing Christian, now four years old and eighteen year old Jade on You Tube clips, https://www.youtube.com/ communicating by using sign language and song, reduced songwriter Gary Barlow, of Take That, to tears. One of their favourite songs is Someone You Loved by Lewis Capaldi, who himself re-tweeted their social media upload of Jade and Christian singing and signing together. The story spread across these two pages of the paper lies next to a headline over another story that reads, Mental Health Services ´Fail 60%´. Such a headline should so shame us as to spark outrage, but in the story of the Kilduffs and their fostered son there is only a sense of wonderment at what Christian has achieved and in how much Jade has helped him.

The narrative begins with a call from a foster agency on Christmas Eve four years ago, and continues to where Christian is now, living in a happy home with a caring and loving family. He clearly adores Jade, and despite his disablements is able to smile and throw open his arms and say ´I love you Jade´. This, from a little boy of whom doctors suggested at his birth would never ´walk, talk or smile,´ is something of a miracle. The Daily Mail call the Kilduffs ´an utterly selfless family´ and that will be why they have such close friends too. I don´t know the family at all but I do know that they are friendly with Katie Haigh and her family, that I DO know also happen to be an utterly selfless family and around the Kilduffs and the Haighs there will be other families making sacrifices and delivering incredible achievements. That seems to me like it could almost be the dictionary definition of the word ´community.´

There also exists the phrase ´community arts´ and I know Katie Haigh and her daughter Ashleigh and her friend Jade Kilduff are constant participants in Rochdale´s vibrant and impactful community arts sector. Two of the major creative writing groups mentioned in this article are revenue-funded by the local council, as are the Borough´s Skylight Circus, delivering transferable life skills through traditional circus crafts, or M6 Theatre, or Can´t Dance Can, Tracing Steps, or Crescent Community Radio or all across the arts who deliver writing and promotional skills in transferable packages.

I may now live in pretty much my idea of Paradise but friends like Katie Haigh and that story in the Daily Mail, about the Kilduff family and their daughter Jade and her foster brother Christian, remind me why I will always remain proud of, and will never forget, Rochdale.

There will be other tales of Rochdale community life when talented actress Sue Devaney takes to the stage again in her home town for three performances in one weekend. My colleague Steve Cooke recently previewed the event in our sister all across the arts pages in The Rochdale Observer.

Sue Devaney

The lady with the big voice and even bigger heart will be appearing in her own cabaret show, Sit Soft With Sue Devaney, at Touchstones Arts And Heritage Centre. Sue promises to deliver songs by Gracie Fields in this venue just across the road from a statue of that iconic star of the town. There will also be songs associated with Etta James, one of my favourites artists, and Bette Middler, Edith Piaf, Judy garland and Victoria Wood. Sue will be accompanied throughout the performance by the wonderful Phil Reynolds and the evening will alos include Sue being interviewed live on stage by her friend, and ´soul-sister,´ Lisa O´Neil Rogan,

After recently appearing back on the Corrie cobbles (after a thirty year break !) Sue is currently touring in Calendar Girls,  the musical, but says ´I can´t wait to be back up North for Christmas, and I´m so looking forward to a little sing song and chat at Touchstones,¨

The evening is intended to be laid back and informal and so Sue happily suggests that ´people can come in their winter onesies and slippers and bring a cushion and slip on a slipper or two.´

Some of the money raised will be heading for a homeless charity in the area and Sue told all across the arts that ´the atmosphere will be all about sharing, caring and having a blooming good belly-laugh.´

Her friend and interviewer Lisa says Í am really looking forward to catching up with my friend and chatting about all the things you chat about when you sit down with an old friend, only this time there´ll be an audience !´

These special performances are on Friday December 6th at 7.30 pm until 10.30 pm and Saturday December 7th at 2.00 pm until 5.00 pm and then again that same evening at 7.30 pm. Tickets are £10.00 and are available in advance from www.link4life.org

It sounds like yet another great example of the caring and sharing community I lived in and loved for fifty years, so as Steve Cooke advised on his Rochdale Creative Network post, ¨Don´t Miss This !´

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