Set right in the heart of Manchester, Hulme Community Garden Centre is an inspirational not-for-profit organisation featuring a small garden centre and thriving community garden. Tim Knight descirbes how Hulme Community Garden Centre is helping the local people with more than just their gardens.
What is the origin of Hulme, when was it started and when did you get involved?
The garden centre was created in 1999, the brain child of three local residents who shared a vision of providing a public green space, and to improve the health and well-being of the local community through horticulture and food growing. Hulme was at the time undergoing a much needed period of regeneration and the garden centre was to become an integral part of this.
Tell me a little about the goals and ethos of the charity?
As a not for profit organisation the focus has always been on what is best for our community, and this has always led our growth and development. While we work as hard as we can to run a profitable garden centre, we still have to rely on outside funding to survive and to provide the services that we do. We run sessions throughout the week with many different groups, including for those with physical and learning disabilities, mental health problems or for help with social integration. From our first inception we have aimed to tread as lightly on the planet as possible. We have never used or sold chemicals or artificial fertilisers, peat dug from peat bogs or any slaughter house by-products such as bonemeal. We have a thriving (sometimes enormous!) pot rescue scheme, and when we need to mend or build something we always look first at what materials we can reuse or recycle.
Who are your main users/shoppers?
Primarily our customers are the residents of Hulme, who generally have little or no garden so mainly garden in pots. And then we have those who live a little further away in Chorlton and Didsbury, and in Manchester centre itself. These tend to have a bit more disposable income but again garden size can be an issue. We also have a few who make a special effort and come from further afield in Greater Manchester, who don’t like using the now ubiquitous garden centre chains.
Tell me about your range of plants? How do you focus the things you grow and sell on the community aspect of the charity?
We grow as much as we can but are limited by space, and we only have one heated poly tunnel which we would love to improve on! So we focus mainly on herb and vegetable plants, this way we can guarantee our customers that they will be organic and stock free. These we grow from seed, but we also get in perennial plugs that we grow on here. Other than that we buy in pretty much everything else, using local and family-run businesses who share our ethics wherever possible.
What kind of people volunteer for the charity?
The garden centre was begun by volunteers and they continue to be an integral part of our organisation. We run on a skeletal staff so would not be able to achieve what we do without them. Their demographic is as broad as Manchester itself. Some people stay for years, others a few weeks. Students, retirees, job seekers, those looking for education or therapy, tall, short, blond, ginger….the list is endless and everyone is welcome.
Do you find that more people in the community are engaging with their outside spaces?
We certainly find from our customers that they are interested in making the most of their often very limited outside space. We have recently sold quite a lot of ‘instant’ raised beds (old pallet collars) that enable people to create a mini allotment on hard standing. It is hard to say if this interest is spreading throughout the community, certainly our customer base is increasing only very slowly.
What has been your best-selling product over the past 12 months? And what products are you excited about for the next 12 months?
I have gradually introduced more gift, cards and craft items into our shop, all handmade by our customers, and also some ethical household products such as soaps and bamboo toothbrushes. These have all proved popular and have given customers something else to shop for when it rains! We have also widely increased our range of wild flowers. This is something we want to really push in 2018 and get people used to the idea of mixing in natives with more ornamental varieties, and rethinking their relationship with ‘weeds’.
Do you offer any services to aid people in the community with their own gardens?
We do a ‘garden consultation’ service which involves a member of staff visiting a customer’s garden and advising on what plants would thrive in the garden’s soil and light conditions, related to the type of garden the customer would like of course!
What training do you offer to your volunteers and other members of the community?
We have run several horticultural courses in the past, mainly based on fruit and vegetable growing as this is what most people want to learn about. These courses are offered free to our volunteers. Uptake is variable so we are currently looking at streamlining and improving these.
What current projects are you running in the community?
We are involved with the redevelopment of the Mayfield site near Piccadilly station in Manchester. This is a huge 10 year project that will turn wasteland, old waste disposal sites and crumbling buildings into a new, green community hub in the centre of the city for residents and visitors to access. We have close links with local schools and the universities and do off-site training as well as design and development of some of their green spaces.