The Moss Side Community Allotment: A Story Retold
“So how do you get to Moss Side from Chorlton?”
“Just follow the sound of gun shots in the distance,” my friend responded in a half-joking, half-cautionary tone.
The only thing I really knew about Moss Side before I went there was that it was to be avoided at all costs. The first time I went my mum all but handed me a bulletproof vest. When I told her I might want to move there later in the year she asked if I might prefer to go sightseeing in Syria.
Every solid community has a story that binds it and the story we are told of Moss Side is one of violence and gang warfare. Moss Side is a culturally diverse inner city area of South Manchester. Back in the 80s and 90s, the hard drugs trade grew in Manchester and competition to take control of its sale led to gun violence, particularly between two main gangs in Moss Side; the Gooch Gang and the Pepperhill mob. In the mid-90s a truce was agreed and the violence calmed down, but it didn’t exactly disappear and some shootings continued into the noughties.
This community, however, seems to be re-telling the story to one of local resilience and peaceful social change. Since the beginning of November, I’ve been spending my Saturdays down at their community allotment and it’s probably my favourite part of the week. The allotment was established by local residents, providing the area with home-grown organic food and offering residents the opportunity to pick up the skills to grow their own. However, over the past six weeks or so this hasn’t been the main emphasis of their work. The next phase of this forward-thinking project is to build a community hub; a small building with kitchen and bathroom facilities to host skill-sharing sessions within the local community, from cookery and dance, to sustainable living; whatever the residents want to bring to the table.
So that’s what we’ve been doing; hammering, sawing and drilling. Anyone who knows me, knows that when it comes to this kind of stuff I’m as much use as an inflatable dartboard, but with some patient coaching, I’ve picked a few things up and so have many of the other participants. But that’s not really what this is all about. If left exclusively to a team of experts, it’d probably be up by now (even if they took as many tea breaks as we do) but the whole point of this entire project is that the community has a sense of ownership of what we’re building. I doubt it’s going to be a flawless innovation in architectural design when it’s up (I’ve definitely hammered in a few dodgy nails) but we’ll know that we built it together and in a society where people struggle to eat a proper meal together, that’s a remarkable achievement.
What is the secret to it’s success? Good old-fashioned fun! That’s it folks. Rather than spend our afternoons at the Trafford Centre (a shopping mall) we choose to spend it out in the cold, berating one another’s jokes and putting the world to right with lukewarm tea in hand! We muddy our boots and we splinter our fingers but we come away contented with the knowledge that we’re part of something really important. There’s something about creating something tangible and out-there-in-the-real-world which is so fulfilling, mostly because it facilitates the creation of something less tangible than a building and more nourishing than organic food; a community.
Here’s a video I helped to make interviewing Marc who comes to the allotment every week, to give you a bit of an idea:
Uploaded, I hasten to add, with his permission*…
* I never knew thumbscrews and the threat of more bad jokes could be so effective!
Congratulations to everyone who sowed, weeded, dug, baked, cooked, tidied, planned and put up tents for the Open Day at Moss Side Community Allotment on September 21st. We saw dozens of people pass through during the day, from the surrounding streets to as far away as Longsight and Heaton Moor, in the shape of groups coming to see what’s happening here and get advice and inspiration.
Here are just a few pictures of the day, and the allotments people came to see:
We will be at allotment until about 12.30pm, as the Envirolution event starts at Platt Fields at 1pm and some of our members would like to attend.
We have gained a small additional area on the allotment, where currently some logs are stacked. We now have permission to remove these from the site and clear the area. I have arranged for some logs to transported off the plot. But if anyone knows anywho would like some logs please send them down to allotment to collect.
We have a Facebook page keeping everyone updated. If you would like to sign up to this please do. Even if you are not a member of the allotment group, we would still like you and like-minded people to sign up. The aim is to encourage people to swap ideas, information about environmental issues, garden news, events and so on. If you know of others who my be interested please pass on.
And this is where Moss Side Community Allotment is up to – lettuces, cress, radishes, cabbages, herbs, potatoes, apples, currants, beans, peas and raspberries all looking good, and some courgettes and broccoli just waiting to go in when the weather’s a bit cooler…
This is the website for Moss Side Community Allotment. We run two allotment plots on the Caythorpe Street/Bowes Street allotment site near the former Stagecoach bus station in Moss Side, Manchester. The plots are worked by a group of local volunteers from the neighbouring streets. Anyone who wants to help out is very welcome, and everyone who contributes to running the allotment is eligible to receive a share of the produce. We are trying to grow entirely organically and to provide a wide range of attractive fresh produce which is easily accessible to local people.
If you’d like to be involved, please get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Work sessions run from 10 o’clock on most Saturday and Sunday mornings.
Other community garden and residents’ groups in the area include: