New charity role for borough poet Lemn

Retrak patron Lemn Sissay with Sir Peter Fahy
Retrak patron Lemn Sissay with Sir Peter Fahy

One of the area’s best-known literary sons has taken on a new role with a charity supporting some of the world’s most vulnerable children.

Poet and broadcaster Lemn Sissay, who was fostered by an Atherton family and then spent his teenage years in the Wigan care system, has become patron of Manchester-based development agency Retrak.

This is a charity that I feel very passionate about given my childhood experience and it’s a privilege to be involved with such a pioneering team of people.

Lemn Sissay

The charity, headed by former Greater Manchester Police (GMP) CEO Sir Peter Fahy asked Lemn to come on board to support its work helping children who are separated from their families and living on the streets rebuild their lives.

Lemn will work to raise awareness of Retrak and its work around the world including in Ethiopia, the country of his parents, Malawi, Uganda and Brazil.

Speaking about his new role at the launch of his latest poetry collection Gold From The Stone, Lemn said: “This is a charity that I feel very passionate about given my childhood experience and it’s a privilege to be involved with such a pioneering team of people. I’m looking forward to supporting Retrak’s fund-raising and campaigning activities over the coming months.”

Lemn was asked to join Retrak after Sir Peter met him through his role as the chancellor of Manchester University.

Sir Peter said he was struck by the many connections between Lemn’s own story, which has seen him rise from his begginnings to become one of Britain’s best-known writers as well as appearing regularly on radio, and Retrak’s work.

The charity improves the lives of street children and young people by working with their families and communities to identify the causes of problems and develop long-term sustainable solutions.

Retrak is committed to helping any child in need regardless of creed, colour, faith or gender and has an active presence in countries including Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Sir Peter said: “I was struck by Lemn’s great humanity, his warmth and his passion. Like Retrak, his heart is in Manchester but his soul is in Africa.

“There are so many links in Lemn’s story to the work of Retrak; his Ethiopian heritage, a country Retrak works in to rescue street children and to strengthen vulnerable families; his separation from his mother and rejection by his foster parents, his difficult time in the care system and the feeling, like so many street children, that he was an inconvenience.

“Although Lemn’s story is personal to him, every child living on the street faces the similar challenge of overcoming rejection, abandonment and isolation in order to realise their potential.

“As Lemn says, he wants to be characterised not by his scars but by his ability to heal. As patron of Retrak, his powerful example will be shared with young people whose emotional scars are in desperate need of healing,”