BOYS are playing pool, girls are chatting, something’s cooking in the kitchen and there is a lot of noise. It could be any youth club, anywhere in the country. But it is in the heart Manchester’s Moss Side district, the capital of Britain’s guns and gang culture, where, at least according to press reports, children barely out of primary school deliver wraps of heroin on mountain bikes. And it is just about the last place you would expect to see a nice Jewish boy like Jonny Wineberg.He stands out from crowd, not just because pretty much everyone else is of Afro-Caribbean or Somali descent, but because he is the only one wearing a suit… and a kippah. His job is to do all the sensible and strategic stuff that makes an organisation like this — The Hideaway Project — actually work. And the work it does is pretty important — preventing youngsters aged 14 to 25 drifting into gang activity.
It is a far cry from Wineberg’s own experiences, growing up in Leeds as a macher at BBYO, the Zionist B’nai B’rith Youth Organisation. “The majority of kids who come to a project like Hideaway go to school, then get a job and they’ll be fine. But there’s more crime and they are affected by it and some get involved in it. It’s a small minority who get sucked into gang or drugs culture.
“We would hope they’re in a safe environment here, but a lot of young men are finding other places to hang out. There are two gangs in the area. Shootings are a reality in this part of the world. There’s another youth centre near here that has bullet holes in it.
He may be matter-of-fact about the violent history of Moss Side, but there is no getting away from the startling survey results he shows me, detailing youngsters’ key concerns. For “mainstream” Jews, aged 11 to 18, they are, from the top: the future; antisemitism; racism; bullying; Aids. For a comparable group of Moss Side youngsters, career tops the list, followed by guns.
A colleague of Wineberg pops in while we are talking. She explains that Hideaway is “a Doddington project”. Anyone living here would know exactly what she means. Moss Side is divided by bitter rivalries between the two main gangs — Gooch and Doddington — named after the roads where they are based. You do not have to be in a gang to understand what is your territory, and what is not.
“If you’re on another turf you don’t walk, you run,” she says. “We’re inclusive here, but little boys watch their uncles, or cousins, or whatever, and know where they belong. For many, it’s easier to be involved in gangs than not.” She mentions a young man who had been trying to buy a gun “for his own protection”.
It has been much quieter on the street since 11 Gooch members were jailed last April. Their behaviour had been “all too reminiscent of Al Capone and Chicago in the era of prohibition”, said the trial judge. But the lines remain drawn, just like the divide in Belfast between Catholic and Protestant.
And that is not the only division Wineberg is dealing with. Half the youngsters at the project are from the well-established Caribbean community — Christian and Rastafarian — the others are a much more recent influx of Somalis, mostly Muslim.
“Yes, there are tensions, but there are similar tensions between different groups within the Jewish community, and we don’t really have issues about it here,” he says.
Much of Wineberg’s career so far has been in youth work. He was northern director of the Association of Jewish Youth for eight years, worked for the Anne Frank Trust and Manchester City Council’s youth service before he went freelance four years ago.
Do does he find it an odd place to be working? “Moss Side is a vibrant, exciting and diverse place. There are some of the most fun people to work with,” he says. “We hopefully change young people’s lives by boosting their self esteem, steering them away from places they shouldn’t be, and, above all, by getting them to believe in themselves.”