Norman Warwick finds


Those artists who work with revenue-funded organisations in Rochdale Metropolitan Borough know well that being labelled as an RFO does not being sitting back and waiting top count the money that rolls in. Whether a circus, a dance company, writing group or visual arts group the arm of the council that awards the revenue funding each year expects returns on its support. Footfall is counted and measured, as well as the number of public engagements. The numbers of participating members are totalled throughout the year and the demographics of identified target groups are looked at particularly carefully.  I´m not sure the general public is aware of all this, nor of all the excellent results so regularly produced by the such organisations. There have been several towns in the UK that have seen an upturn in their fortune in the past twenty years  in part because of their vibrant arts offer. Apart from raising awareness and expectations of local residents they can also attract visitors from other towns (or spenders as they r sometimes known!) and that in turn can interest inward investment.

VIBE is an organisation that was formed in 2015 with several ambitions. They spoke of ´building resilience through creativity´ and ´have not lost sight of their targets to this day as they strive to

utilize the creative arts as an effective tool for young people:

to improve coping mechanisms, self-regulation, self-understanding, and self-compassion, in times of stress

to promote healthy brain development and sense of well-being

to help young people to communicate their experiences, to grow, to heal and build resilience

Formed to provide a communal safe space for young people [members] VIBE engages in the creative arts to help it and its members to build resilience to the challenges they face and may face in the future. VIBE is determined to offer more opportunities to its members and clients for both being creative and experiencing high-quality culture.

VIBE, situated Drake Street (right) in Rochdale wants to provide  a safe, creative space for its  members to reflect and comment on society, to better understand their own lives and those of others, and to occupy a shared arena in which they can debate, present alternative views, and discover new ways of expressing their anxieties and ambitions

Although VIBE members include young people aged 11-24 who may have experienced traumatic episodes in their lives, young people who have, or are at risk of developing, mental health issues, young people such as: asylum seekers/refugees, looked-after, self-harming, self-medicating, autistic, with gender identity issues, bullied and abused, VIBE’s aim is to identify and enable the development, of individual assets rather than focusing on needs and problems. By valuing the creative potential in each member Vibe provide them with more opportunities to enjoy culture, and celebrate greatness of every kind.

VIBE believe that developing resilience through navigating, overcoming, and recovering from adversity as a key ingredient for happiness, success, and satisfaction in life.

The VIBE core management team includes mentors with different creative skill sets who can support aspirant members in areas such as music, visual art, creative writing, and film making. Members also are encouraged and supported to work alongside expert creatives and technicians to develop their creativity in whatever areas they choose, across the whole spectrum of creativity.

VIBE has facilities and facilitators to encourage and enable members to share what they create in their own way, when and with whom they choose.

Members are given a voice and the wider community are encouraged to listen through local print media, social media, website, exhibition, and public performance.

Members are given the opportunity to develop skills and gain qualifications including Arts Awards, to access further and higher education and are encouraged and supported to seek employment and training including across the whole spectrum of the creative industries as creatives and technicians.

Members are drawn from the whole spectrum of Rochdale’s diverse community, and many come to us through our social media presence and at the recommendation of our members themselves.

VIBE also work closely with our referring organisations including for example, Early Break, #Thrive, MIND, CAMHS, Healthy Young Minds local schools & colleges.

Members are given the opportunity to work alongside professional creatives and technicians and take part in typically busy nights, like the one shown left, to develop their resilience through creativity in area such as:

visual arts – animation, photography, drawing and painting,

music – song-writing, playing a musical instrument, rapping,

technical – guitar building, audio and video recording, computer maintenance and production,

writing – composing previews, reviews and interviews for broadcast, print and social media, creative-writing and poetry,

 performance – recorded and live.

Members are given access to projects run by organisations such as Brighter Sounds, Rochdale Music Service, Touchstones Museum and Art Gallery, Rochdale Pioneers Museum, Oldham Coliseum, Bolton Octagon, HOME, Manchester, and Bolton Universities.

Volunteers are drawn from across the community and members are encouraged, when they are ready, to become volunteers in addition to continuing to build their resilience through creativity.

These all sound like fine words, and naysayers encouraged by the negativioty of let´s say, The Daily Mail, might feel they are nothing but empty promises. However, all such revenue funded organisations are obliged to publish their annual report, and there is nowhere to  


The numbers:

20 young people continued as members, and we welcomed 37 young people as new members giving us a current membership of 57.

Together these 57 young people engaged in 827 creativity sessions with our core team and associate artists/facilitators.

The members’ stories:

[a selection of returning and new members]

The activities:

One-to-one and small group sessions including visual art, musical instrument tuition, guitar building, animation, video-making, soundtracking, gaming, mixing own tracks, song writing, singing, poetry, and creative writing.

We produced 2 short animations, one short video of a project we did with Falinge Writers plus a video of the journey of one of our members. We were commissioned by Healthwatch to make 3 short videos for asylum seekers.

Several members expressed an interest in building their own guitars, so we resurrected the Build, Learn, Play, Perform/Record Guitar Project.

We continued to offer 24/7 support to members including those who were temporarily unable to attend sessions through such as messaging, email, and phone.

I always felt excited whenever I worked with Vibe as a peripatetic artists. There was always a great energy when working with them.  The young people we worked with were given the chance to explore all kinds of new activities but we are also encouraged to contine with whatever creativity was their passion. That meant that we were frequently with young and disenfranchised who were validated by being seen as experts in their field. The staff and mentors at Vibe communicated with them through mutual respect and works of excellence were created in what seemed like an anonymous shop front on a main street in decline.

That was why Steve Cooke and I decided to stage the annual Rochdale Literature And Ideas Festival´s Easy Like A Sunday Morning  speakeasy sessions, a kind of open mic session while we read the newspapers, discussed the news, performed some poetry and listened to some live musc.

That´s all nearly ten years ago now, before I moved over here to live on Lanzarote.

To see this current report showing what a thriving group Vibe has become. I know that Steve Cooke subsequently joined the organisation on a more formal footing than I had enjoyed as an occasional visiting artist.

Steve (left) is an experienced educator and creative arts columnist

Curator of the ‘All Across the Arts column. Alongside the AATA family of writers writing articles, interviews, previews and reviews covering local to global creative artists of all genres A column published in print twice per week in the Rochdale Observer, Heywood and Middleton Guardian and quarterly in Style Magazine; Digitally on and shared across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Linkedin and a 30-year high school teaching career 1974-2005. Assistant Head teacher of a performing arts school responsible for achieving its specialist school status. Speaker at education conferences and training programmes. Member of government advisory groups. A level Sociology teacher with a MA in Education

A member of Foreign and Commonwealth Office Olympic Truce Stakeholders Group 2010-2012.  Achieving 2012 Olympic Truce status for a Greater Manchester peace-related project registered on the International Olympic Committee Extranet.

A trustee of Your Trust, member of the Rochdale Refugees and Asylum-Seekers Multi-agency Forum and Rochdale in Rainbows Steering Group.

A Justice of the Peace for Greater Manchester sitting 2007- 2018.

Curator of the Rochdale Literature and Ideas Festival Fringe Writers’ Showcase.

The report reflects the hard work that Steve Cooke and the Vibe team have put in a visit to their web site also showed me that Steve continues our shared penchant for creating multi-purpose catch all titles that can be moved from one project to another.

I see that, for instance, Stories We Could Tell, which we used for a project with Touchstones Creative Writing Group is now alive and well at Vibe.

Stories We Could Tell was actually a title I picked up from a song written by John Sebastian of The Loving Spoonful and recorded by The Everly Brothers.

Currently, the title Stories We Could Tell is being employed for an on-going project at Vibe.

SWCT HUB is a welcoming supportive, stimulating and safe space for young people to develop their resilience to the challenges they face and may face in the future through engaging with their creativity.
An asset-based community group that was formed in 2015 to provide a communal safe space for young people [members] with an offer that engages them on their terms, that is relevant and accessible and builds ownership.

Although SWCT HUB members include young people aged 11-24 who may have experienced traumatic episodes in their lives. such as: asylum seekers/refugees, looked-after, self-harming, self-medicating, autistic, bullied and abused our aim is to identify and enable them to develop their individual assets rather than focussing on their needs and problems.

Members are drawn from the whole spectrum of Rochdale’s diverse communities and many come to us through our social media presence and at the recommendation of our members themselves. Vibe also work closely with our partner organisations who refer young people to us including:  #Thrive, MIND, CAMHS, Barnardos, local schools & colleges.Members are encouraged and supported to work alongside professional artists and technicians to develop their creativity across the whole spectrum of the arts.

SWCT HUB has facilities and facilitators to encourage and enable members to share what they create in their own way, when and with whom they choose. Facilities that include: Café/Performance/Exhibition Space, Recording Studio, Internet Radio Room, Workshop and Training, Space.

Members are given the opportunity, encouraged and supported to gain qualifications including Arts Awards, to access further and higher education and to seek employment and training.
Members are given a voice and the wider community are encouraged to listen through local print media, internet radio, social media, website and public performance.

Members also are given access to projects run by partner organisations such as Touchstones Museum and Art Gallery, Rochdale Pioneers Museum and Manchester University.

Another artist who works frequently with Vibe is the brother of the aforementioned Steve.

John Cooke was born and has lived in Rochdale nearly all his life. John ppent 12 years in the British Army then spent 12 years in the IT industry designing large databases for banks and insurance companies. He has travelled extensively and is currently an artist and photographer.

Renowned story teller (and ukulele player) Ray Stearn is one such artist, (shown left outside Vibe with Eileen Earnshaw who also works with Vibe and is in my opinion one of England´s most profound poets).

Another poet who works regularly at Vibes is Seamus Kelly, another friend and occasional contributor to these pages.

Seamus Kelly has been a member of the Vibe/SWCT team for five years specialising in supporting young people through creative writing and is currently supporting a group developing Vibecast, a recorded and livestream opportunity for the members to share their artwork, photography, music, creative writing, and reviews to a wide audience.

Seamus is a poet, writer, photographer, and artist and has worked as a writer since 2015. He has performed his work across greater Manchester and beyond including high profile performances at the Eroica Festival in Derbyshire.

With 14 years of teaching in colleges, high schools and special education he has also developed an extensive range of workshops for writers and artists Seamus has facilitated and delivered workshops on a wide range of topics for schools, libraries, writing groups, and community organisations.

Seamus (shown left when speaking on my community radio programme a few years ago )was the originator and one of the commissioned poets for Connect2 Poetry, creating a poetry trail around Rochdale’s extensive Connect2 network of walking and cycling routes.

His first short collection of poetry “Thinking Too Much” is filled with poems inviting the reader to think about life, family, nature, politics, justice, peace, and society. Prominent Yorkshire poet James Nash said of Thinking Too Much “Seamus Kelly’s poetry is the poetry of journeys and places. Sometimes that place is the past and sometimes it is where nature and people intersect. But always it is written with a kind of passionate precision, and with great humanity”

I was also delighted to see listed among the names of associated artists on the Vibe blog that of Alison Cooper, a young lady I used to work with occasionally at Touchstones Arts And Heritage Centre whilst living in Rochdale.

Alison Cooper is a musician, composer, visual artist and museum curator. Her experience as a creative educator, community worker and project manager has brought together a socially engaged practice combining these unique elements.

Seeking to develop new understandings between narratives of landscape, material culture and human interaction is a key influence on the work she creates. Influenced by the intriguing nature of archive and museum collections Alison works to bring a fresh understanding to historic narratives which can never truly be replicated, only re-visioned. The collection of personal narratives, studying of archives, folklore and material culture are central to achieving this.

Performing and releasing music under the name Magpahi, she has toured UK and Europe and has numerous releases via Twisted Nerve, Bird Records, Finders Keepers Records, Folklore Tapes and A Year in the Country. As a visual artist she also works in a variety of mediums including photography, printmaking, animation, textiles and has a foundation course in herbal medicine.

Her Recent clients include BBC, In-Situ (Pendle), Gallery Oldham, Touchstones Rochdale, Barnardo’s, Hebden Bridge Arts Festival, Yorkshire Sound Women Network, South Square Gallery and The Whittaker Museum. Alison is has a full DBS and is qualified to run Arts Award (Trinity College London).

Vibe is, albeit brightly shining, just one of a constellation of stars in Rochdale that includes artists galleries and revenue funded arts organisations.

The report above has enough ticks and boxes and numbers of people and interventions and measured successes to satisfy any current or prospective funder, but the real stories we could tell are of individual achievers who with aspiration and perspiration have changed their own lives, and perhaps that of their town, forever,.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.