Breightmet Hub 24th August: Men in Sheds, Beechcroft allotments

As you see from the title of this blog, it has been a busy old day working at different locations in Bolton. Today’s work began as usual at half eight, first things first, make the Men in Sheds had everything they needed for today’s session, no worries on this front Landrover Dave had all of the brewing tackle they needed, including the welcome return of my rocket stove to the site for brew making which I had left at the Willow Hey site as part of the introduction to permaculture that I delivered there last month.

Whilst the Men in Sheds refurbished and made stronger an old display table, I continued with gardening on the site, albeit at a slow pace due to the harsh dry heat. Luckily for me the area where the two large potato beds are situated were shaded from the sun enabling me to work without passing out and falling over. 

Later in the afternoon Tony Cottam picked me up and took me over to Beechcroft Community allotments where we dug up some garlic which will be used to start off our local food economy project.

After Tony left I started to clear some of the beds but with the heat still being fairly ferocious and my Man flu biting harder than yesterday I had to throw the towel in after half an hour out of sheer common sense, but we will return to the site in a week or so with the Men in Sheds lads from the Hub. So, like yesterday it was bloody hot today, and plodding around at two miles an hour seemed to be the only effective method to get things done, but at least we did get things done.


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Get Growing Breightmet 23rd of August: sunshine and graft

I woke this morning with the beginnings of what felt like Man Flu, I had to make a quick decision, did I take the day off and and try and rest, or do I just ignore it.Since the effects of this Man Flu weren’t too severe I decided to go in and ignore it.

By the time I arrived at the New Lane UCAN centre the temperature was already in the early sixties and getting hotter with every minute that passed, So myself and Alan ‘Mr C’ Chadwick paced ourselves as best we could when wheeling our cart loaded with plants around the estate.

So, much of our day today has been taken up with delivering plants, giving advice and tidying one of two of our growers raised beds.

At lunch time I caught up Tony Cottam for a meeting about both this years work and next years potential work, as usual a very fruitful meeting with Tony bouncing ideas around, looking at potential connections and discussing the ongoing development of our attempts at firing up a local food economy in Bolton.

After the meeting I caught up with one our growers further up New Lane, who wanted advice about the best crops to grow over autumn and winter. Despite a fairly rough and uncertain start to the day, all ended up well, and the sunlight and heat even dried up some of my cold, so all was good.



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Holiday Kitchen sessions @ Elderdale community centre

This is the second Farm to Fork holiday kitchen that Bolton at Home have kindly invited us to deliver, and today’s session was at the Elderdale Community centre in Breightmet.

The bulk of our work is carried out in the Breightmet area of Bolton so it was great to see some familiar faces at today’s session whom we have worked with before.

Urban Grower team member Jean Urmston cooked a curry and rice with all of the trimmings, after eating community members moved over to the long tables where I delivered a windowsill food growing session.

Most of the folk who turned up were Congolese refugees whom I have worked with before, it was really touching to see that despite them coming from one of the most war torn countries in the world that many of the children drew love hearts on the labels for their windowsill boxes.

So all in all a lively session and great to be invited again, thanks to Community Development worker Lisa Forrest for inviting us to deliver the sessions, and to Gaynor, Naz and Val for their invaluable help during and after the sessions, respect to you all!


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Breightmet Hub: Men in Sheds and community growing 17th August

Its a rare thing when you can return back to Bolton from the South-west and in particular Devon, and the same sunny weather is at both ends, this was certainly the case today.

I arrived at the Hub at around eight twenty five, opened up the site and headed up to the UCAN centre to stock up on water for the raised beds at the Hub.

By the time the Men in Sheds session kicked into gear the sun was fully out and shining, whilst the lads cut and measured steel tubing and finished off the last of the four trestles I began cropping some of the sites produce whilst Dave who was visiting from our Willow Hey project cleared a large bed and planted on some cabbages.

As the heat intensified the work slowed a little, and we again stocked up on water for the plants and seedlings in the beds.

By the end of play there was a fairly decent sized box of produce, containing garlic, golden betroot, courgette, white beetroot, a few onions and some red salad bowl lettuce, this is really the begining our cropping with more produce on its way next week.





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Holiday Kitchen sessions @ John Holt centre

The Holiday Kitchen sessions run throughout the summer holidays and offer interactive community sessions where both the children and parents join in and work with each other during the sessions activities.These sessions are also aimed at families who are struggling to make ends meet.

Our involvement in these Bolton at Home initiated and funded sessions is really about two interlinked activities, firstly Urban Growers team member Jean Urmston provided a low cost healthy meal for the day which included a pack containing the ingredients and recipe for the chick pea and potato curry that she prepared for today’s session, and secondly keeping with the theme of food I worked with young children from the estate putting together windowsill growing boxes containing various seeds, including carrots, radishes and cut and come again Salad leaves.

What was great for us was the fact that in an age of takeaways and mass produced processed food, that most of the children really enjoyed the food that Jean had made, and really enjoyed the gardening session afterwards.

Once everything was potted up and watered I ran a little quiz where I asked the children questions about fruit and vegetables, if they answered correctly, which all did, their prize was that they got to spray water in my face from one of the sprayers we had used to water the grow boxes, great fun was had by all, and the kids soaked me with water which inspired much laughter from them. A great afternoon, and a big thank you to Community development worker Lisa Bradley for inviting us to deliver these sessions, and also thanks to the Mums and Val Hulme for helping out.



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Get growing Breightmet 8th of August

“The rain to the wind said,
You push and I’ll pelt.’
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged–though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.”

Robert Frost

As the get growing Breightmet project moves into its last month the weather is on the change, wind and rain for the last day or so, and no difference this morning, we were rained on a couple of times but continued unabated, and besides it was warm and the plants on the roof were loving it.

Our jobs today aside from dodging rain were planting seedlings into large pots, sowing seeds into pots, and delivering these pots and barrows full of soil around the estates at the different addresses of our growers.

Whilst out and about we spoke to two young Congolese women who asked us if there was going to be a growing project next, such enthusiasm!










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Why places like Willow Hey project matter

The Willow Hey site is now open and fully functional, it has been a long slog through two harsh winters, where up until fairly recently we were only able to work on the site for one day a week, but we persevered, stuck to our guns and got on with it, until the former jungle of a site was returned to a place of fertility and usefulness for the local community.

It seems like such a long time ago when we were knocking together make shift fires and frying eggs for our Butties in the flames in the middle of a cold snowy winter as we struggled to assemble a large chicken coup. This was at a time when we were having to rely on the kindness of local Cafe the Pepper Mill for our brews until we got our own cups and kettle.10848896_765276143548623_595230483269324597_o

The Real Deal!

I have never seen such a level of keenness and dedication on any project I have worked on or been involved in, there have been sights and things said on the site that have bought me close to tears of joy, Chris wood echoed this sentiment earlier on today when we had a catch up about the project . Its like  Chris puts it ‘Its a special place’ and it really is.

At Willow Hey project, people find self worth, confidence, friendship, laughter and a very laid back and supportive environment, once again this has happened because we have all allowed each other to work and lead in our specialisms and accept the expertise and guidance of whoever is engaging in a specific type of work, none of us are precious about our skills, we are keen to share them with anyone who shows an interest or needs to learn them.Ubuntu

A skilled community emerges

As a sat sipping at my brew and tugging on a roll up earlier today, I drifted through the evolution of the site up to the present and what is has now become, and it really made me smile inside. And then I thought about the varied skills of the people who come onto the site, it makes a compelling list when we put these skills into the context of developing communities and creating solution based strategies to continuing austerity.

Here are just some of the skills that people have on the site: Green woodworking, carpentry, permaculture design, joinery, community work, horticulture. food processing and preparation, support work, teaching, IT (computer building and maintenance) blogging, woodland management, writing, and two Men in Sheds Tutors.


And what is really exciting about this bank of skills that people possess is that it all came together organically, the right people for the job, came to the right site, at the right time and it because of this diverse range of skills that the site has become a lively and thriving community Hub, in the last three weeks alone we ran an introduction to permaculture, a small festival complete with bands, lovely food and activities for the kids, and today the site was host to some children off the local estate who are in the middle of their summer holidays.


The next phase for us, and one which we are specifically geared up to do is engaging with people from the local housing estate, as you have seen from the list of skills above we are able to provide wide ranging traditional and useful skills to members of the local community. This will continue through the late and into autumn and winter as we deliver workshops on pickling and preserving, how to use herbs in cooking and medicinally, keeping chickens, and another introduction to permaculture which I am hoping to run in early September on the site, and of course the weekly Men in Sheds sessions.

supportive solutions

There is a lot of poverty and social exclusion close to the Willow Hey site, it is here where we can have an impact in peoples lives by offering them a range of skills which will enable them to feed their selves and families, we can offer quality and useful skills to those seeking employment or self employment, and we can be there for those who those who fall into isolation through our men in sheds project and a women’s gardening project we hope to begin in the spring.

Hubs for a low impact future and localised economy

In the face climate change and the dwindling of natural resources Hubs like the Willow Hey project are able to offer local communities the means of crossing the bridge from consumption to low impact community production.  where people have skills to generate their own day to days resources locally, reducing their dependence on finite resources, saving money, and reducing their carbon output to virtually zero. At present we are venturing into the area of creating micro income generation through local food growing, we are in the process of finding out what local buyers, cafes, pubs etc are interested in buying in terms of fresh produce and looking at how much we are to deliver, over time this will create quality horticultural employment for young people living on the estates close by.


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