Dawn McManus's pioneering project, borne out of love

Dawn McManus's pioneering project, borne out of love
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Pic © John Millar, UNP

Dawn McManus only has to look at the enthusiastic faces of the youngsters being supported by her Red Dreams charity to know that she is making a difference. Set up to help disadvantaged young people in creative arts and the media, there is no doubt she’s providing them with the kind of opportunities that they would never have expected to come their way.

While Dawn is passionate about the charity, she is aware that had her son Kyle not died seven years ago aged just 16, Red Dreams would probably not have been launched. Set up in Kyle’s memory, because he loved the creative arts, the charity has since become a living legacy to him. Although Dawn is thrilled about its success, and hugely proud of everything it has achieved, the story behind its inception is never far from her mind.

Dawn (44), who lives in Hartlepool with her husband Ian, explains: “Kyle was our only child and the three of us were extremely close. While other parents told stories of their children being unruly and turning into nightmare teenagers we didn’t have any of that. Kyle was always affectionate and loving, and would think nothing of holding my hand or giving me a kiss in front of his friends.

“He was into creative arts, and enjoyed acting, singing, song writing and playing the guitar. His dream was to one day be an actor, and there was no doubt that he was hugely talented. I’m certain that he would have been very successful and gone on to do great things. Sadly he didn’t get the chance.”

When one of Kyle’s friends called Dawn to say he was unwell in April 2007, she took him to their GP, who called an ambulance. Kyle had suffered a brain haemorrhage, and although the paramedics tried to save him there was nothing they could do. “Ian and I went into a state of shock,” recalls Dawn. “We kept asking ourselves how our lovely son – who’d never experienced anything more serious than the odd childhood illness – could have died so suddenly. We knew from then on that our lives would never be the same.”

Dawn describes the months after Kyle’s death as, “a blur.” She tried three times to return to her job as a teacher, but couldn’t do it, and ended up ill as a result of grief and stress. “I’d look at the rows of youngsters sitting in front of me and see 30 Kyles,” she says. “Or I wouldn’t be able to cope with them going home at the end of the day in case they didn’t come back. In the end I had to leave which was a shame because I loved
the job.”

During this time Kyle’s friends kept a close eye on Dawn and Ian, visiting them frequently and offering support. One day they asked the couple for help with a band they had set up with Kyle before he died. This led to Dawn and Ian finding venues for the group to perform, booking rehearsal rooms, and acting as mentors. Within months word had spread.

Other aspiring performers began approaching them for help and, in  2008, they launched Red Dreams to help other talented youngsters in Hartlepool.

‘Our ethos is “confidence through creativity”. We want to provide opportunities for youngsters who otherwise might not have been able to pursue their dreams’

Six years on the charity has gone from strength to strength. The services now available include music, photography, film-making and youth theatre. Meanwhile there is also a Red Dreams Unit offering the use of four rehearsal rooms, two recording and editing suites, three vocal rooms, a training/photography room, a media suite and a film-editing room.

“Our ethos is ‘confidence through creativity,’” says Dawn. “We want to provide opportunities for youngsters who otherwise might not have been able to pursue their dreams. It’s about supporting them in their creative endeavours and enabling them to build self-esteem, confidence and belief in themselves. However, we expect them to be dedicated, respectful and show focus and determination. In addition to giving young people a chance to shine, we also promote values that will turn them into balanced individuals.”

To date, Red Dreams has created opportunities for thousands of youngsters. In addition to mentoring each individual that walks through the door, the charity also organises showcases and has its own record label – Otiss Music. Some of the young talent has been noticed by major record labels, while others have made appearances on national television.

“The charity has exceeded our expectations,” says Dawn. “It’s great that we can give so many youngsters a platform on which to build a career. Many go on to become volunteers with Red Dreams and support the next group of young people that are coming up because they want to give something back to the charity that helped them.

“All of the feedback we receive is positive, and it helps Ian and me to know that we are doing something to keep Kyle’s memory alive. I think he would be proud of us and what we have created in his name. As new youngsters join, it’s important for them to understand that they are able to do what they are doing because Kyle has let them. Red Dreams only exists because of him – and that makes everything we do even more worthwhile.”

  • For more information about Red Dreams, or if you would
    like to make a donation, call 01429 894605 or visit reddreams.org.uk

 

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