Monday, 9 February 2009

Get green fingered in Whalley Range

In these troubled times, we're being bombarded with messages of doom from all sides – credit crunch gloom stories predicting we'll all be unemployed in a few weeks, and climate change warnings which tell us we're leaving future generations to either burn up or be submerged under rising sea levels. We're expected to help the environment while trying to deal with our own money worries closer to home. We're also constantly being asked to think about where our food came from and make sure that our runner beans aren't being flown in from Africa, as if we didn't already have enough on our minds.

Many of us would like to be more “eco-friendly”, but don’t quite have the time or space in our city lifestyles and postage stamp sized gardens to go about it.

We can’t all drop out of society to live in a hut and be self-sufficient, Henry David Thoreau style, but a group of volunteers is setting up GROWTH, a “grow your own scheme” that will meet every two weeks in Whalley Range to share skills and enable people to grow their own vegetables in an urban plot. Odette O’Reilly, project coordinator, says it’s all about “teaching people good habits”.

The first project will be based in a small plot at Tangmere Court residential home on Dudley Road, Whalley Range. An “introduction day” on Sunday 22 February will include sessions on organic gardening, vegetable plot design, composting and permaculture (O’Reilly herself isn't entirely sure how to define this, but describes it roughly as learning to “work with your environment but not take from it”), before the real work of digging commences.

The volunteers are involved in the Manchester based charity Action for Sustainable Living, which was set up in 2004 with the aim of helping people to make sustainable lifestyle choices and bring about a difference to the communities around them.

The charity works on the premise that “small steps lead to big change”, so it aims to educate people to “think globally but act locally”. The words "holistic" and "permaculture" bandied around GROWTH might put people off with images of crusty hippies, but these small steps include switching off the computer, shopping locally, cycling to work, recycling and supporting fair trade.

AFSL also stresses the power of the individual. Volunteers with GROWTH will have the chance to participate in other volunteer gardening projects around Whalley Range, including helping elderly and disabled residents in their gardens, tidying up public areas or using green areas to grow fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers. No experience is necessary, and volunteers will be given training. O’Reilly says GROWTH will be a perfect opportunity to “learn as you grow”.

Although several of the volunteers are involved in The Lost Plot allotment at Southern Cemetry and Chorlton Allotments, there are no allotments in Whalley Range. Whalley Range in Bloom will donate tools and planters.

Admittedly, the idea of scrabbling around in the earth at any time of year, let alone during our snowy winter of discontent, is enough to send many people running, but pop-up tents will shield volunteers from the worst of the elements and there will be a hot vegetarian lunch of homemade soup and bread.

Most importantly, in our modern, isolated society, GROWTH will also offer the chance to become part of a community.

Yes, it does sound like hard, potentially back-breaking work, and you only get out of it as much work as you put in, but it's one thing that will provide a glow in your cheeks during the icy weather. Plus, I've been reliably informed that food tastes better when you've grown it yourself and the volunteers will be sharing round seasonable recipes when it's time to reap the benefits of the project.

If you are interested in volunteering, contact Louise at

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