The struggle for Community Food

For the best part of a decade we have been struggling to try and get people to grow foods in their gardens and yards, and in this time this objective has been partially achieved in that some the people who have taken up growing their own have stuck to it and further expanded on their efforts and are likely to do so for years to come because they have seen the economic viability and the health benefits of both growing and eating their own fruit and vegetables.

Community food

Other successes we have had is making available freshly grown organic produce to families who could simply not afford to replace their fruit and veg intake with organically grown. We have achieved this either growing crops on our Hub sites and giving it away to people who have been benefit sanctioned or trapped on low and no incomes. We have also helped people to learn useful and traditional skills that can take with them throughout their lives.

What we are up against

But there is a side of our work that we have discovered and researched throughout our time doing it that paints a formidable enemy in our struggle for community food. Here is a few conversations I have had with people over this period and things I’ve picked up on in different areas. It would easy to just say that a lack of knowledge about healthy food and the economic inequality that perpetuates it and just end it there, but there is greater clarity and other issues attached when we hear it from the people who going through it and experiencing it their selves

‘People used to cook in my day, now they just order a takeaway on their phone that’s delivered to your door within an hour’

‘I can order a massive kebab on my phone for a fiver that is full of meat and vegetables, then cut it up into four large pieces, and that me and the kids sorted for tea. I cant cook ‘owt in the house cos the gas costs money and we are on a card meter, so only use the gas to heat the place’

‘The problem with people nowadays is that use fruit and vegetables like its medicine and they make a point about telling folk about the salad they just ate like its something good, my Mam and Dad didn’t have much money when we grew up but all of our meals were cooked with fresh produce that my Mam bought from the Market’

‘I,m pretty bad with me with food, most of what I eat is chicken, its really cheap in the freezer places, chicken burgers, hot strips, wings, thighs and chinese for £1.50 for a big bag. I just sling it in the oven with some oven chips and sometimes have salad with it’

‘We never really did that much cooking at School and my Mum didnt cook much cos she working all the time so I my microwave a lot, it takes two minutes to heat a tin of beans up and about the same time to make toast, where can you get a meal that you can eat in two minutes’

‘I do four twelve hour shifts a week and am usually too knackered to cook so I have a bacon butty at the canteen at work and a pie at dinner time and when I go home I stick summut in the oven, a pizza or a curry from the supermarket, but always try and have a proper cooked Sunday dinner’

‘I couldn’t eat those eggs from you chickens, at least when I get them from Asda I know where they have come from’

‘I regularly go without meals so the kids get enough’

‘Dont mind getting the kids can of pop, its one of their five a day isn’t it’

‘Since the cooker broke we use a microwave, I cant afford two hundred quid for a cooker, and when I top up my gas card some of it is taken to pay off my arrears’

 The problem is the solution

We know that there are multiple interrelated issues related to access to cleanly grown food as the conversation above point out, it would be pointless picking out isolated elements of these problems and trying to work with them when we can begin to deal with all of it directly on an individual basis by growing food in our gardens, yards on on our window sills, and within a community context by getting involved in or starting our own community food growing projects. We know that this solution works, can you think of a more direct way of getting fresh produce onto the plates of those who have scarce or no access to it than growing it yourself? Of course as a community growing group ourselves we can only stress the benefits of this direct and long lasting approach, and in the wake of our work there are now families dotted about our town who are highly likely to always grow some of their own food.

A self seeding food movement

Since I began growing myself in the early nineties there has been a slow and steady increase in people having a go at growing there own. But since the early two thousands the amount of people and groups taking up food growing has rocketed and there are dozens and dozens of community food growing project popping up all over the place.

On top of this the community supported agriculture schemes are up and running up and down the country, incredible edible projects are sprouting up across our towns and cities. As individuals and communities if we want to eat and have access to locally grown food then we cannot leave this to industrial agriculture, the markets, the speculators and share holders. Our interest is our health and well being, their interest is making as much money as possible from you. Carry on growing!


Posted in practical permaculture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Men in Sheds and community growing 21st Sept

A very fruitful and interesting day today has been. The morning began with opening up the site and making sure the Men in Sheds had brewing tackle and water, followed by some time spent with local community media CIC who are putting together a short promotional film for our crowd funding bid so that we are able to reach out to more people in Bolton.

We did some filming at the Hub site in Breightmet and also filmed some of growers who we worked with on this years project.

Meanwhile back at the hub Men in Sheds tutor Landrover Dave and the lads had been making vertical planters, and what an amazing job of the planters they did. The Men in Sheds project just seems to go from strength to strength with the lads gaining more skills and confidence with every week that passes.


Posted in practical permaculture | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Breightmet community Hub 2015-2016 a case study

Breightmet Community food growing Hub is situated just off New Lane and is accessed via an estate cut through that people use as a short cut. The site itself around a quarter of an acre in size and is fenced off because of its former use as storage yard for Bolton at Home’s tech services as a place where building materials were stored.

Year one

In 2015 we began work on this blank canvas of a site and built raised beds from recycled wood from the Cawdor housing estate, despite a relatively late start on the site we managed to grow a fair amount of food which was given to people who were subjected to benefit sanctions and people on low or no incomes. During the summer we held a community cook in, where we made a large pan full of vegetable curry and invited our growers and other members of the community onto the site to have lunch with us and talk about growing, we expected around a dozen people to turn up, all in all we fed around fifty five people that day.

year two

In the spring of 2016 we began planting and sowing on the site which was now completely kitted out with raised beds, half way through the gardening season we lost most of our plug plants and seedling through vandalism, but we bounced back and sowed late summer crop seeds.

Men in Sheds

A men in Shed project also began onsite this year and has been running successfully for the last six months, this project supports men who are socially isolated and provides a social element where the men meet up on a once a week basis where they learn different elements of woodwork, carpentry, gardening and general tool use.


Hubs that serve the community

The idea behind the Breightmet Hub is to provide a local resource to the community where they are able to learn about organic horticulture, learn new and useful skills, and attend men in sheds sessions. Within the short two year existence around a hundred and fifty people have come onto the site and accessed it in some way, the Hub is also ideally located in the centre of the estate where the people live who access the site.


Posted in practical permaculture | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cawdor Estate Growing project 2015 case study

The Cawdor Estate is situated in Farnworth in Bolton and up until 2015 the estate was associated with anti social crime, and drug dealing, the estate was cleared of drug dealers and the associated crime by some collaborative work between housing charity Bolton at Home and the local police, the estate is now a safe and secure place for families and is now host to a thriving community.

Our work on the estate took place in the summer of 2015 when we worked with ten families on the estate where we provided food growing and horticultural resources and advice whenever it was needed. It was the women of the families who engaged with us the strongest, and they led the growing throughout the summer.

project Support sessions

As part of the ongoing support for the Cawdor Estate Growers we also ran a number of small workshops at our Willow Hey site, including: healthy cooking on a budget, seed sowing and care for indoor vegetables.

Video diaries

Posted in practical permaculture | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Get growing Breightmet project case study 2014-2016

The get growing Breightmet Projects began in the spring of 2013 when Bolton at Home commissioned us to deliver a food growing project to families and individuals living on Greenroyd Avenue in Breightmet. This project was central to both Bolton at home and Bolton Urban Growers core themes of addressing food poverty in a direct and practical way via home food growing.

How the project worked

seven families on Greenroyd Avenue were provided with a food growing start up kit, including:

  • raised bed
  • small portable greenhouse
  • fruit trees
  • fruit bushes
  • herb and salad pots
  • seeds, seed trays, and compost

Weekly support

The project was supported on a once a week basis from March until September where we provided direct horticultural advice and support to our growers one day a week working with out growers in their gardens and homes.

Get growing 2015

Using the same gardening start up kit and horticultural support as used on the Get Growing Greenroyd project we expanded our work onto the estate in Breightmet and worked with twenty five families on the first of the ‘Get growing Breightmet’ Projects, opening up the project to the wider housing estate and its residents.

Get growing 2016

Following on from the greater number of participants from 2015 this years project worked with a total of thirty two families in helping them to grow their own food, by the time we had taken on board our last growers in July we were approached by a further six families who showed an interest in growing some of their own food at home.



Posted in practical permaculture | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Willow Hey project: a case study 2014-2016

The Willow Hey project began life in the late summer of 2014, the site is a half acre allotment site that is situated close to a council estate and area of high social exclusion. The site itself was very overgrown and neglected as it had not been used for around five years. For the first twelve months of the project we cleared the site, and repaired and re-made the site on a shoestring budget using reclamaimed and bought resources.

Aims of the site

The main aim of the site is to address food poverty directly by teaching people to grow, prepare and cook food. The project also aims to provide employment support to people on the local estate via training and work experience at the site. The site also provides free sessions and courses to local residents in a variety of useful and traditional skills.

People who access the site

Since the gates of Willow the Willow Hey project first opened its gate in the late summer of 2014 around two hundred and twenty people have come onto the site and connected with us via our provision. People coming onto the site come from a wide variety of social, cultural and health backgrounds, including:

  • Refugees and Asylum seekers
  • Unemployed people
  • Young people undertaking the Prices Trust Award Scheme
  • People with mental ill health issues
  • local gardeners
  • People from the local Cawder Estate
  • low income families
  • skilled local volunteers
  • people on acquired brain injury rehabilitation programmes

Ongoing provision

Since we took the site on and to support our work effectively we have delivered a diverse range of events, workshops and support, including the following activities:

  • One pot Healthy cooking on a shoestring
  • How to sow seeds and care for indoor vegetables
  • making birdboxes
  • outdoor cooking
  • Men in Sheds sessions
  • introduction to Urban permaculture
  • A seed swap event
  • A small scale music festival promoting
  • A site open day
  • Gardening outreach onto the local Cawder estate
  • work experience placements

The Unique nature of the Willow Hey project

There are two things that are unique about the Willow Hey project, firstly in a recent skills audit we found that amongst project members we had an incredibly diverse skills base, including the following:

  • Community workers
  • Teaching
  • Carpentry
  • Joinery
  • Youth work
  • Green woodworking
  • administration
  • blogging
  • research methodologies
  • permaculture design
  • mental health support work
  • gardening
  • Civil engineering
  • music
  • Computer building and repair
  • support work

The other unique factor about this project that comes directly from our skills base is the diversity of courses (accredited and unaccredited) that we able to deliver to members of the local community. This gives us an in built resilience and a broad level of in house provision that is able to be responsive to meet the needs of local people.


Posted in practical permaculture | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Connecting the Hubs: Men in Sheds away day

Ever since the spring of 2014 we have been working on the development of two community food growing Hubs, one in Farnworth and one in Breightmet. Now that both Hubs are up and fully functioning our next job is to connect the two Hubs in whatever way we are able to.

So as part of connecting the Hubs the first thing that we needed to connect where the actual people involved in both Hubs, this happened today when we decided to take the Men in Sheds lads from Breightmet over to the Willow Hey Hub.

Chris Wood Community development officer for Bolton Home supplied locally made Carrs pasties for the away day, the pasties went down very well and the whole box had disappeared within ten minutes of them being put on the Table.

The Breightmet Men in Sheds lads really took to the Willow Hey site and in many ways this visit has fired them up to try out new ideas at the Breightmet Hub. In fact the lads enjoyed the site so much that some have said that they will help out in the future whenever needed, so all in all, a great site visit with some positive outcomes.


Posted in practical permaculture | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment