After leaving Earl Marshal School some years ago, Elaine was pretty clear that for a young black woman at that time, paid employment was going to be hard to come by. So she decided to offer her time for the community – initially at the Pitsmoor CAB with Eileen and Glenys, and then with the Youth Service at the then Ellesmere centre. “How can we change this place so that there’s more for girls and women?” she asked – join the management committee and become a volunteer came the reply – and she did and she’s not stopped since. .
After a long spell being out of work, Elaine’s first break came with the old ‘community programme’ scheme (that Thatcher killed off as it was the only good thing going for unemployed youth then…). Through a maze of part time and sessional jobs until she qualified as a “youth and community worker” from Manchester Poly in 1991.
Elaine’s award is a recognition that she never just worked – and still doesn’t to this day – as a youth worker. For her, the need to support girls, young women and mothers/parents has lived in everything she’s been involved with – from the old GAP (Girls Are Proud) project, through the childcare training for black women, through the Byron Wood after school club and to today’s Girls With An Attitude group. Not forgetting too, her diligence with the boys and young men who are in and out of Earl Marshal centre.
After 22 years as a volunteer and worker in this community (worker in change at Earl Marshal centre at Fir Vale for the last seven years), Elaine sees the changes for the better – captured in the confidence and the self-belief of more young people, especially girls. But the challenges are still there – money is more tightly controlled by funders these days; there is less room for professional autonomy; less discretion on the ground; less flexibility. But Elaine Virgo will keep the flame of grass roots youth and community work alive. Again, another home grown Fir Vale gem!