Made by Men in Sheds @ Breightmet Hub


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Bolton’s emerging community food infrastructure

Make the problem the solution – So Imagine for a minute that you are given the task of trying to provide long term solutions to issues surrounding food access and food poverty, how would go about trying to achieve this on a practical level? As permaculture practitioners our answer is a direct and simple one, to generate a social and community based food economy in Bolton that is allowed to develop over time and provide not only accessible and affordable cleanly grown produce but to also provide much needed training and employment opportunities around horticulture and food.

Community food Hubs –  I wrote a while back about the development of food Hubs that are located close to concentrations of social housing in Bolton, a few of these Hubs we have been working on with Bolton at Home have slowly developed and integrated into the communities around them and have become a viable resource for local people to tap into, but whilst these Hubs have been pushing forward to establish their-selves the economic situation has worsened to the point that many people working full time are having to access food banks because they simply don’t earn enough to cover their basic living costs, and with the continued roll out of Universal credit adding its own problems there is now an even greater need than ever for these Hubs to not only exist but to forge greater links with local community members and look at the idea of building a real local resource based economy. People are a powerful resource for change when confronted with absolute necessity, if the economy is rigged against us, let us create our own!

Creating resilience through diverse interrelated services – Now that these projects are up and on their feet, the next step is to build in some resilience, one of our ideas rooted in permaculture is it develop diverse interrelated services within the projects, so instead of just growing seasonal food and having to constantly apply for funding on a yearly basis that we have multiple services on offer that are capable of generating income to sustain their own existence within the wider project, and to contribute to the general ongoing functions of the project. So instead of just growing seasonal fruit and veg, the Hubs are able to run sessions on how to grow seasonal fruit and veg, to link in with local community business initiatives such as Breightmet Hub has done by supplying community growers ‘A small Good thing’ with site grown organic garlic enabling the project to double the amount of garlic for 2018. Similarly on an individual level I live in Bolton and have traded many hundreds of bottles of wines over the year that I make every year which has had a positive impact on my own home economy. I am not suggesting that the Hubs sell all of their produce, but adding value to some of it provides an economic ouput for the project, whilst at the same time ensuring a supply of produce for the most needy families living in the proximity of the Hubs.

The last time I checked there was no provision for horticultural training in Bolton, since the community Hubs are engaging in horticulture and the people likely to attend horticulture courses live close to the Hubs then it makes sense on all fronts to deliver Horticulture training from the Hubs, which local people can apply either through growing their own food or using it to aid employment, or both!

A local food economy – I mentioned further up this post that Breightmet community food growing Hub had provided local community grocers ‘A small good thing’ with garlic grown on the Hub site, this is a small example of how we see a local resource based economy developing. The garlic is grown, purchased and eaten in Bolton. There is much greater monetary value in this for the town than there is with the high street shop and multiplexes whose profits are taken out of the town, for every pound spent in popular high chains less than 40p stays in the town, a very different invest occurs when we produce, sell and consume our own resources, and this is where the real value of this model lies as it sits waiting to offer a sane and fairer alternative than the cruel rigged and failed Neoliberal setup.


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Women in Sheds

Watching and taking part in the development of Men in Sheds projects in Bolton has been a great experience for me and one that I have really enjoyed over the past couple of years, both as a teacher and mental health support worker. Watching the Men arrive at the projects in states of ill heath and then gaining confidence and skills over time is worth its weight in gold, Men in Sheds works, its as simple as that!

But the depression, isolation and ill health that has inspired these sheds into existence applies to everybody and this is something that we have been thinking about a lot over the last year.

So we are going to try and set up a Sheds project for Women in Bolton. There are knit and natter groups for women but many Women we have spoken to over the last year are interested and a range of skills including basic woodworking, make do and mend sessions, gardening and up-cycling and recycling clothing and furniture. We have also been asked on various social media outlets if there are any Women in Shed groups.

Bolton Urban Growers Jean Urmston is leading on this project and we are hoping to set up a crowdfunding page during the next few weeks to try and turn this idea into a living project.

I spoke to Jean about this recently on a number of occasions and she said ‘Many different types of skills were passed on between Mothers and daughters, but during the last three decades many women have become tied up with work, working long hours and juggling the needs of a family leaving little in the way of time to learn anything’ Jean continued by saying that ‘projects like Women in Sheds would empower women, give them confidence in their selves and abilities, and in dire economic times the skills learned by women at the sessions could help them to save money at home’

Jeans own skills that she has picked up during her life include: Painting and decorating, tiling, sowing machinist, van driver, needlework, gardening, furniture and clothing up cycling, budget cookery.

We are hoping that if we manage to secure funding for this project that we are able to deliver it at multiple venues in Bolton, watch this space!


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Sown in Bolton in Pictures 2017

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Sown in Bolton 2017

Its that time of the year again when the season is quickly moving into autumn, and with this comes the end of this years Sown in Bolton project. So here is a little in the way of a story about how this years project unfolded this year.

In early 2017 fearful that years project wasn’t going to happen we began an ambitious crowdfunding campaign to work with a hundred cash strapped families helping them to grow their own food. Despite a lot of interest being shown in the campaign we were unable to meet the required amount of pledges, but since this was our first time ever of using this method of fundraising we have learned exactly where we went wrong and will run a new campaign to help fund our work in 2018.

So despite the crowdfunder not being successful we were still able to deliver Sown in Bolton food growing project to thirty two families across the borough due to smaller donations that were made independently of the crowdfunder from organizations and individuals.

Collaborative work

This year as with previous years delivering this project we worked with some non Bolton at Home tenants by delivering food growing resources and advise to two families living in Irwell Valley Housing Association properties in Breightmet, with a further three families from the same association who have shown an interest in wanting to grow their own food in 2018.

  so we would like to say a big thank you to Natalie and Amanda and Paul the Irwell Valley tenants we worked with on Monks Lane for participating in this years project.


Social Background of growers

All of our thirty two families that took part in this years project live in social housing, all families involved fall into low income categories, including some working families who at some point during the last 12 months have needed to access foodbanks for daily sustenance.  Around a quarter of growers have some long term ongoing health issues.

Lessons learned for adaptation and future delivery

As is the case with every project there are things that work and things that don’t, and things that need a little adaptation. Without rambling on for pages and pages about this here is a simple and short list of adaptations which we will be implementing into next years project.

  • Offer growers the opportunity to undertake accredited Horticultural training based on a rolling course for families with children and people with disabilities who would find it difficult attending a venue.
  • To expand the workdays of the project to two days a week to enable us to develop a closer working relationship with our prospective growers and to ramp up the amount of food in each garden.
  • To have regular weekly onsite help from a volunteer who is interested in horticulture and community growing helping to deliver the project with us.

Personal thoughts

This is the part where I say all thoughts and opinions are all my own, but seriously. I,m sure that I don’t need to go into the finer details about the current state of affairs that finds well over million families having to access food Banks out of absolute necessity, many of whom are in work who simply don’t earn enough because of low pay, Similarly the harsh effects of benefits legislation and cuts only fans the flames of greater food insecurity and perpetuate the manufactured hunger that is being imposed on people on benefits and the low paid.

So for ourselves rooted in social justice and the ethics and principles of permaculture it makes perfect sense to provide people with the skills and resources needed to grow as much of their own food as they are able to.

The more people grow their own the less dependence they have on cash money and the current Ponzi scheme economic model, and of course less carbon generated by transportation and a woefully outdated agriculture method.  The more people take up home growing the greater the chance of a local food economy coming to life, but most importantly people get to eat healthy cleanly grown food that is usually out of their price range whether they have money or not.


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Men in Sheds @ Breightmet Hub

Breightmet Community Hub is a small quarter acre site situated in the middle of a Council estate in Breightmet Bolton. The site is host to a community food growing project and a Men in Sheds project.

The Men in Sheds project is now in its second year, and like the food growing project has developed from the ground upwards and was actually built and put together by the men on the estate who attend the weekly sessions.

Since those early days we have had tool donations from retired carpenters, timber donations from local firms and small pots of funding throughout its brief history. In terms of how the project itself helps the men who attend it, this is plain to see, the lads now work on home based woodwork projects outside of the site, they have gained a high level of confidence and skills and on almost every weekly session the Men are always there before the start of the session, such is their keenness.

In my role on the site, I look after the food growing, and also support the Men in Sheds project when needed, I have watched men arrive on site with little in the way of confidence and esteem, and within a month they are telling jokes, interacting with the other men and applying themselves to their work, I dont exaggerate when I say I have seen real positive change in the Men who attend and make the site what it is today. Equally positive and encouraging has been the quality of the items that the men have made on site using a combination of hand and smaller power tools which are powered by our generator.

As someone who has worked in both mental health and FE/HE education environments for the best part of two decades it is very clear to me and plain for all to see thar both the physical and mental well being and learning of new and useful skills at work here that are instilled and nurtured in those attending these sessions.


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Sown in Bolton day 20 in pictures








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