Manchester’s Unsung Heroes: Hulme couple re-mortgage OWN home to fund ‘rewarding’ charity centre

By Suraj Radia

Not many people would re-mortgage their own home all for the name of charity, but that is exactly what one couple did to fund their Hulme-based centre for underprivileged children and adults.

Lenox Green, 48, grew up unable to afford life’s luxuries, having to wear home-made school uniform and living on ‘the wrong side of the borderline.’

It was his upbringing that prompted Lenox, a devout Christian, to open the Rainbow Christian Centre in 2003 with his wife Heather, 53.

Rainbow provides food and drink, clothes, shelter and a general hang-out spot for all people, from babies to adults, all for free – something Lenox believes is quite rare.

“One of the catchphrases we have as Christians is ‘freely receive, freely give’ but it seems like you have to pay for everything, even at churches,” he said.

“When we started Rainbow, we wanted a centre where people could come from the community, on the poverty line, and face no charge for the trips and services we provide.

“Just being here and supporting the hub of the community and trying to bring a bit more balance into people’s lives, that’s what’s important to me.”

Though the idea was always in Lenox’s mind, the couple bought the centre, in Bronte Street, without actually knowing how to make use of it – until some help came from above.

Lenox said: “The day we arrived, there was a young boy who was climbing on the roof of the building and we asked what he was doing up there.

“He replied ‘I just wanted to see what was going on’ so we said ‘come down and have a look around, we’ve bought the building, what would you like to happen here?’

“He said ‘well I’d want a youth centre and I’d want this and that’ and he was telling us what he’d like. He went and got his friends and they got their friends so on the very first day the agenda was set by the kids in the area.”

The majority of Rainbow is funded solely through Lenox and Heather’s incomes and the money they received from re-mortgaging their home after growing frustrated at the council’s lack of support.

He said: “Three or four times they said they would provide a centre or they would provide the capital costs but every time, they had an excuse for why they couldn’t make it happen for us.

“We started to realise we’d have to fund it ourselves – It’s been good in a sense because we can do what we want without having to ask a committee so it’s given us a lot of flexibility and a lot of freedom to run it the way we want.

“If it was a bigger or more centrally run organisation, there probably would be a lot more interference and a lot more instability about the funding for the next year or so.”

It’s not all be plain sailing though with locals initially unsettled at the noise levels of the children coming in and out of the centre.

And, despite the significant drop in the local level of crime since the centre’s opening, Rainbow itself was a victim of a burglary, only for the culprits to leave empty-handed after a friend warned them off.

The incident highlighted the respect Rainbow has with the local community and Lenox insists he is proud of the centre’s achievements.

He said: “We may not be making a big impact in Manchester or even in Hulme but we’re making a big impact on this estate and that’s a fact.

“To me, it’s not about the things we can’t do; it’s about what we are doing and why we’re doing it. It’s made a huge difference to the people here and that’s where I get my satisfaction.

“All the stats and the figures, what we’ve achieved, how many people have come in and the outcomes, that doesn’t drive us at all – it’s the people that matter, not the statistics.”

Lenox admits one day he’d like to take a step back from his full-time job at the University of Manchester in order to open the centre during the day and run classes and workshops.

With its small team of core volunteers providing gym facilities, food drives and a crèche for the youngsters, Lenox believes the centre is beneficial to all parties.

“I get as much out of it as much as some of the people who come here,” Lenox said. “It’s a privilege to be in a very supportive community that’s got a lot of character underneath the struggle.

“Rainbow definitely is a unique centre. I’d like to think that when I was a kid, if I had a centre like this, it would have made a difference to me so I’m always mindful of that.

“Those who are involved in Rainbow are really great people that are supporting us and that help us do what we do and they have the same vision and core beliefs as we do.

“If I ever stop what I’m doing for whatever reason, I’ll look back on this time and I’ll never regret the time and money we’ve put in because it’s been really, really rewarding.”

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