Sown in Bolton day 3

A real mixed bag of a work day today on this the third day of the Sown in Bolton project. The morning began with a good soaking as I struggled to plant on a few bits and pieces in the UCAN centres Yarden, on two occasions having to retreat to the shed because of the rain.

Then came the three ton delivery of organic compost that was skillfully dropped behind the New Lane UCAN centre, this compost will be barrowed round the estate to fill raised beds and large salad pots in our growers gardens next week when the weather has hopefully perked up a little.

It wasn’t long before it started to rain again, so me and Mark Walmsley, one of our growers from the project went into town to buy gardening resources for the project, and also to pick up a grant award from Irwell Valley Housing Association to help towards the cost of the project. After that I went home and continued potting on and sowing seedlings until once it again, it began to rain.



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Sown in Bolton day 2

I arrived at the UCAN shortly after nine, fired a quick brew and a fag down and then set to work planting stuff on for the growers ready for distribution to various houses on the estate next week.

So today I potted on tomatoes, filled grow bags full of compost and seed potatoes and finished off clearing and planting in the Yarden growing space ready for the emerging propaganda garden of summer.

In the afternoon I walked round the estate with a pen and paper collecting names of people who were interested in growing, and making lists of the different resources needed for each house.

Not a bad afternoon, all in all I managed to get ten families signed up for the project, gave on the spot gardening advice to three families and have another potential three families through People I spoke to on the estate.

After recruiting growers I walked over to Tonge Moor to work with the kitchen gardeners on their site which is situated in the middle of the estate. As part of todays session we continued thinning out the strawberry bed and potting on the newer plants which were taken home by the young kids that helped to pot them on.

We also weeded a little, had a general tidy, and planted on two fruit bushes. Towards the end of the session we spoke about expanding growing on the estate, and have decided to start working on individual families gardens in a few weeks time.

So all in all, a lovely day weather wise with the sun on full beam all day, and some good work carried out, so its a cold one from the fridge for me, and some more seed sowing as the sun goes down, thanks for reading, and be back soon with more tales of fighting food poverty through food growing.


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Sown in Bolton day 1

So here we are with a day and a bit left of our Sown in Bolton crowdfunder, its not looking like we are going to hit the twenty thousand that we need to work with a hundred families, but do have some resources that have enabled us to start the project, we uncertain of how many families we can work with but will endeavor to work with as many as we can.

Despite us doing some work behind the scenes we have finally decided to call today day one of the project, and what a great days its been, we spent the morning tidying and sowing seeds in the Yarden at the Breightmet UCAN centre, in previous years this growing space has proved a great propaganda tool in inspiring local people to grow their own food, here’s how it works: local residents come into the UCAN centre to access support services, whilst at the centre we give out veg that is grown in the yarden and in good weather UCAN users will sit outside where the food is growing, we have picked up around a dozen growers in recent years using the Yarden is a propaganda tool.

After clearing the beds and sowing various veg seeds into them, I walked up to the Tonge Moor UCAN centre where we worked with the Kitchen Garden growers who live on the local housing estate, here we sowed seeds with the kids and potted on dozens of strawberry plants from the raised beds, which were taken home by the Mums and kids. The site itself is situated on a small site in the middle of a council estate and is well attended, at the height of today’s session which wasn’t advertised, word of mouth bought around a dozen people to the site.


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Sown in Bolton Crowdfunder: What your pledges will provide

Its quite difficult in a three minute promo video to explain everything that we intend to deliver if our crowdfunder is successful, so I shall run through everything here as a means of providing a broader insight into where your pledges will go if you decide to support what we are trying to do.

Resources  We will provide a 100 households with raised beds filled with organic compost, a fruit tree, some fruit bushes, large pots containing herbs, a small portable greenhouses, seed trays and seeds and watering can. We Will also be providing seeds, seedtrays and plug plants at the sessions that we are running to complement and support the growing project.

Project delivery We will set growing kits up in our growers gardens and then support them every week by providing both Labour and horticultural advice directly to growers in their gardens. This support will run until the end of the growing season.

Complementary training and support at growing Hubs In order to support our growers further in their en devours to grow food effectively we will be running workshops throughout the growing season at both Breightmet Hub and Willow hey project, these sessions will focus on cooking tasty and health meals on a budget, and support sessions in organic horticulture. Again these sessions will run throughout the growing season ending in autumn and will be open to not only our growers but any person who lives on the two local social housing estates that are within close proximity to the Hubs.

Social benefits beyond the monetary  The social benefits of projects like this are very much worthy of a mention and cannot really be explained or quantified by monetary value, in the old speak of community orientated work there are both hard and soft outcomes from projects like this.

In the previous years that we have ran these projects with our co-collaborators Bolton at Home we have noticed that the kids who engage in the project actually eat the veg that they are growing. Neightbours talk to each other more and share ideas over the fence. People also learn new skills, and in the case of some of our growers who are suffering with serious long term health issues a level of both physical and mental well being has been nurtured through the the exercise of getting out in the garden, the sense of achievement from growing cooking and eating something from their garden. In some ways this direct way of getting people to grow and eat fruit and vegetables sidesteps the need for our growers to understand the nitty gritty of vitamins and minerals, and as I am sure most health specialists would agree if families are eating a variety of fresh seasonal produce from their gardens then they have met that so hard to achieve objective of healthy eating without being baffled and bamboozled by daily nutritional and vitamin information.


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Men in Sheds projects and the Transition Initiative

The bridge to a Revolution  I have always been a fan of the Transition Initiative, it makes complete and total sense to wind down our fossil fuel activities and create new strategies for low impact living whilst we are still able to. Indeed when I was part of Permanent Culture Now with friend Michael Thomas (now part of the Transition team) Mike asked me what I thought of the then Transition towns movement,  my answer was this, if a lot of people start getting it and growing and making things on a local community basis that it is potentially a revolution in disguise because it reclaims and recreates the everyday resources that we are held to ransom with through wage slavery and low pay as well as addressing how we perceive and use resources and our relationship to the eco systems that provide us with these materials.

What are Men in Sheds projects?  For anyone who is not familiar with Men in Sheds they are projects that began life in Australia and now exist all over the world encompassing different ethnicities and genders. The Sheds were initially started up as places that men who suffered from isolation and mental ill health could attend and socialize with other Men whilst they carried various different crafts including: Woodworking, Metal work, repairing Computers, and practically any other activity that involves making or repairing things.

Men in Sheds and the Transition Initiative  We are currently involved and working with two Men in Sheds projects in Bolton and there are a number of things worthy of mentioning in relation to the Transition Initiative, firstly at both sites during the last year they have used up around ten tons of timber that would have otherwise ended up being thrown in Landfill. This ten tons of wood has turned into work benches, which will last for decades, vertical planters and raised beds which will help to provide people with food. The Men have also helped out with the food growing arm of both projects where they have helped out with seed sowing and planting on,  and of course not forgetting the people care aspect of projects like these, the Men themselves develop greater levels of confidence, social interaction and learn new and traditional skills in the process.

A different way of working  One thing that myself and Men in Sheds tutor Landrover Dave have done at the Men in Sheds project in Breightmet is to make the project a hierarchy free zone, we all have different skills and these are equally valued. Similarly at the Men in Sheds project at Willow Hey in Farnworth co-coordinator Lee is an enabler not a boss. One of the Men commented to me a while back whilst we were having a brew and fag at the Breightmet project ‘Why cant work be like our Men in Sheds sessions, we get loads done and have a good laugh doing it, without having some arsehole stood over your shoulder checking his watch’

Connecting with Communities There are now over two hundred Sheds in the UK with more opening on a weekly basis, There is no reason why these Hubs will not spread further and integrate with local communities where ever they spring up. At the Two project where I work, we already have local community members bringing stuff in to be repaired or actually joining the project itself. We have had a number of inquiries from Women wishing to do this type of thing so Jean from Bolton Urban growers is looking at putting a crowdfunding page together with a view to starting a Women in Sheds project in Bolton. As more and more community food growing projects pop up all over the place, as is the case with Men in Sheds projects, it makes perfect sense that these Community food groups should contact and connect with their local Men in Sheds project there is much work that they can do together in terms of generating local resources and sharing skills.


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The story of Sown in Bolton

Since our inception as a small constituted community group back in the early 2000s our main aim has always remained the same throughout this time, namely that people on low or no incomes should be able to access cleanly grown organic food that hasn’t been shipped half way across the planet only to lie idle in some distribution centre where it loses nutrients and freshness. We firmly believe that cleanly grown local food is a human right and that income and social strata shouldn’t come into it where food is concerned.

Proof of the pudding

We grow food in our moderately sized council house garden to great effort, in the early days, we majored in Courgettes, garlic, Tomatoes, peppers, purple sprouting brocolli, carrots and mixed salad leaves until they were coming out of our ears. There was even enough bulk produce to sell and swap bits if it, and seeds and cuttings to sell on ebay which helped generate some income when money was scarce. We continued developing and designing the garden and were able to grow enough hops yearly to make around a thousand pints of beer, we also grew different soft fruits and grapes which were turned into wines and lots of herbs, some to take cuttings from and sell, and some to be used in the kitchen. With a little reading up, orbservation and planning it is possible to grow a sizable amount of useful plants in a Council house garden

diverse skill set

On top of the horticultural skills in our little group two of us had studied Permaculture, myself briefly under Andy Langford whilst at Ruskin College in 1996, followed by a full PDC with Patrick Whitefield, Co-founder Jean Urmston also studied for her PDC under Patrick Whitefield. With our combined skills and our work in both the statutory and voluntary sector in mental health, and project and community work we were well armed and ready to go into battle, all we needed now was people to work with and some cash to do it with.

Connecting the pieces

Enter Bolton at Home, a modern Bolton based housing charity who had fighting food poverty as one of the major organizational objectives, Bolton at Home had over fifteen thousand tenants (potential growers) intelligent and forward thinking Neighbourhood Managers who weren’t scared of trying things out, and access to funding through their community development arm.

Our collaborative work with Bolton at Home has now just gone into its fourth year, with each passing year we have worked with more and more folk, in the first year of supporting people to grow in their gardens we worked with seven families, the following year the number rose into the 20s, the two proceeding years the numbers jumped to thirty five families who we helped in some way to grow food at home. During the 2016 growing projects we were inundated with requests from residents who wanted to try and grow their own food, but we had already stretched our budget out to work with extra families and had reached our capacity in terms of resources.

The need

There are lots of things wrong with modern food and how we go about it, Coming from a working class household things that we previously ate as treats such as takeaways have been marketed into replacing cooked meals, nowadays its simply a case of picking up the phone and ordering the take away, it is then delivered half an hour later, as one of our growers once put it ‘You can buy a large kebab and two large bags of chips for under a tenner, I divide it up into four portions for me and the kids and it fills us up’.

some of the Mums we have worked with have gone without a meal so they could make sure their kids had enough to eat, my own mother would sometimes go without when we were small,  four decades later the same thing is back and happening on Council estates across the country. Some of the folk we work with have no pots and pans, some have no cookers, some have to choose between heating and eating during the winter months. There is also lack of knowledge about what constitutes healthy food, I could go on and on and on.


After speaking to a guy at the Offgrid festival in 2016 where I was booked to speak about our work in Bolton we decided to give crowdfunding a go. There had been huge cuts made in both housing sector and social and community provision so it made sense to try something new out in terms of funding. The guy I spoke to at Offgrid festival told us there would be a strong likelihood of projects like ours attracting a lot of attention and funding, as he put it in his own words ‘There are a lot of food growing and permaculture type projects from affluent places who are crowdfunding, but what you are doing is really important and needs to be rolled out, people will support it I,m sure’ so we decided to give it a bash, there was nothing to lose by trying and the guy at Offgrid festival sounded really upbeat about it.

How the project will work

If our crowdfunder is successful we will provide resources for a 100 families to grow their own food, including raised beds, fruit trees, fruit bushes, seeds, pots, herbs and watering can etc. we will visit them regularly (once weekly) to see how they are fairing and provide horticultural support when needed. We will also be delivering cooking and horticultural sessions at two community food growing Hub sites in Bolton, the sessions are in place as extra support to our hundred food growing families, and for other folk who live in the areas who show an interest in what we are doing.

Long term

This is a long term project for us, we will continue in whatever capacity we able, to support low and no income families in growing some of their own food. Bolton is littered with patches of derelict fertile land, and surrounded by farmers fields, many which seem to by lying idle, over time we would like to see a local food economy develop in Bolton, which we hope will create good quality and meaningful employment set against a background of tedious call centre and warehouse work. So that’s about it for now folks, the sun is shining, time to get out sowing seeds before the rain kicks in again, if you able to support us either by pledging money to our crowdfunder or sharing the Link, it would be very much appreciated.


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Sown in Bolton

During the last three years we have been working collaboratively with local housing charity Bolton at Home to address food poverty, we have helped to fight food poverty in the most direct and practical way possible, by helping people to grow some of their own food at home in either their gardens, yards or on their windowsills.

It makes sense!

There are multiple reasons why we took this approach, namely that people on low or no income are less likely to have access to cleanly grown fresh food, we also believe that if we can get people into growing some of their own food that they learn new skills, they get outside in the fresh air, save money and eat really well for next to nothing, and as the case has been with some of our growers in the past they have continued feeding their families and growing has now become a norm for some households.

What we are up against

We have seen a lot of things whilst doing this work and listened to a lot of concerns within the community, there is grinding poverty experienced by many including people who are working, a lack of basic knowledge of what constitutes healthy food and how to prepare it, some people who have no cooking equipment, and there are people who have to regularly make the choice between either heating their selves or eating. Some families now are almost completely reliant on cheap aways, as one young Mum once explained to me ‘If you aint got money to top your gas up to cook your tea you can buy a large kebab and two lots of chips for a fiver, this is enough to feed me and my three kids’

Light at the end of the Tunnel

But don’t get me wrong, its not all been grim, far from it, We have also seen a lot of good happening during this time, we have seen people with serious illnesses getting out in the garden and growing food with their kids, we have seen our growers sharing out their produce as was the case with one man Chris Gregory who lives in Breightmet who divided out portions of food he had grown and gave it out to people who had been the victims of benefit sanctions, and we have seen kids picking and eating carrots and peas as they leave the house to walk to School. On the community plots where we have worked we have listened to stories of how getting out and working with the soil has helped people with mental ill health. We also saw Congolese refugee women who were knew to Bolton engaging in food growing and the sharing of native food dishes with us.

And it is these successes and connections that are the motivating force for us to continue with this work and to try and take it to another level against a background of continued ideological austerity and scarcity, ours is a simple one ‘If you aint got food, grow some!

Ramping up production and developing communities

We decided at the end of the growing season of 2016 that we really needed to find a way of ramping the whole food growing thing up and try to get as many people growing their own as possible. We decided that we were going to try crowdfunding as a means of potentially funding this work and so we got together with managers and community workers at Bolton at Home and put together our crowdfunding page on Spacehive.

So whats the Plan for 2017?

The idea is to raise enough funds to buy food growing kits for a hundred families, and to provide resources and support for two food growing Hubs in Breightmet and Farnworth, both are areas of high social and economic exclusion. If our crowfunder is successful we will support the hundred growing families right through the growing season, whilst running gardening and cooking sessions at the Hub sites as a means of supporting both the growers we are working with and people who live on the local estates who might also want to grow some of their own food. We are not asking for a great deal of money to work with these families and offer them support, we only need twenty thousand pounds to make this happen, so please give if you are able to, if you are struggling for cash please share this blog post as any help is very much appreciated.


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