Well known for their recycling, east Manchester’s EMERGE is progressively launching new local initiatives that encourage sustainable living. Here Len Grant meets newest recruit, Ben Lear, their Growing Foods Project Leader.
Ben Lear: "Growing and cooking our own food... these are skills we could lose."
Ben’s new job seems easy enough: encourage local people to start growing their own food. On a sunny day in June with the first pea pods appearing in the EMERGE teaching garden, it is surely an idyllic task.
But, even with the increasing popularity of growing your own, the odds are stacked against him. On the main road opposite the newly created garden the construction of two new fast food outlets highlights our preference for instant, unhealthy food. Many of the lorries driving into the New Smithfield Market – where EMERGE are based – bring more fruit and vegetables from around the world and, says Ben, serve as a constant reminder of the importance of locally grown food.
Food containers, tyres... you can grow food in anything
Since arriving in April Ben has coordinated the construction of EMERGE’s teaching garden. There are now raised vegetable plots with courgettes, squash, leeks, spinach and lettuce all making a tentative appearance. Discarded tyres act as pots for potatoes; specially bred worms munch their way through food waste to make ‘the very best compost’, and a large ‘poly tunnel’ has been built as a classroom for Ben’s new project.
“We’re starting a four week course here on July 8th,” he says. “It’s aimed specifically at beginners to give people the confidence to start growing their own food. We’ll start by talking about soils; how to plant things and how to water them; which containers to use. Maybe later we’ll talk a little about garden design and crop rotation but we’ll see how we get on.”
Ben has already set up a Saturday gardening drop-in club down at the wholesale market. “There’s lots to do here and I’m hopeful local people will just pop along and get involved. We’ve built some beds but need more and there’s always lots of maintenance needed at this time of year.”
Keen to take his project out to the community, Ben has already forged linked with some local groups. “With the African Francophone Integration Project in Beswick we are creating a community garden and we might even try and grow some native African vegetables. But I’d like to hear from other groups or individuals who have a plot, however small, that they’d like to cultivate.”
Ben’s job at EMERGE – the social enterprise that spearheaded recycling in Manchester long before it become mainstream – is funded by the Manchester Carbon Innovation Fund. Manchester City Council has invested £1 million in local projects that tackle climate change.
Trucks bringing fruit and veg from around the world are a constant reminder
There are beehives in urban allotments, ‘green roofs’ on community buildings and, in the Northern Quarter, the first ‘smart energy business district’ where offices and homes can monitor and reduce their energy use.
“Following the Growing Foods Project we hoping to open a cookery centre here,” says Ben, “it’s the logical next step after you’ve grown your own local, nutritious food. My granddad is a great gardener and my grandma is a great cook and it’s those skills that we are in danger of losing.”
Like to know more about growing your own food?
Contact Ben Lear at EMERGE on 0161 223 8200 or email@example.com
See EMERGE’s website
Read more about the Manchester Carbon Innovation Fund
This month the Principal’s Blog takes a different slant as East editor Len Grant chats to Jane Clewlow, East Manchester Academy’s new Vice Principal for Teaching and Learning.
Jane Clewlow: "I'm looking forward to September."
So which school have you just moved from?
I’ve been at Salford City Academy since 2006 as Vice Principal responsible for the 14-19 curriculum. It’s been my job to set up a new sixth form from scratch. We converted an old shell of a building into a thriving sixth form with, amongst other things, its own hair and beauty salon and construction skills centre.
Before Salford I worked as an Assistant Vice Principal at the newly-created City of London Academy in Bermondsey. It was so new that for the first two years we didn’t even have a school building but taught the children in ‘Portakabins’. It was only when the first intake reached Year 9 that we moved into our brand new school. That was an amazing experience.
What attracted you to the East Manchester Academy?
After London I never thought I’d have the opportunity to start in a brand new school again. But here it is: the chance to influence things right from the start. If you move to an existing school the systems and procedures are already in place, so it takes time to make positive changes. At the East Manchester Academy we can start from scratch and continually look at the Academy from the pupils’ perspective, always asking, ‘What will be best for our pupils?’
The school will start with just one year group. What challenges will that bring?
Unlike established high schools where the Year 7 pupils are the youngest, our Year 7s will be the oldest year group as they progress through the school. Apart from our sixth form students, they won’t have big year groups above them to look up to, no-one to show them how things are done. They’ll be the ones that set the tone for the rest of the school which will be a challenging responsibility for them.
Won’t it feel a bit empty with only 180 pupils rattling around?
Not at all. The Year 7s will have their own ‘home base’ and certain sections of the school will be off limits. We want to make it feel small, safe and secure for them from day one.
What are you most looking forward to?
Oh, meeting the pupils and getting back into the school routine! Although I’m still going back to Salford once a week to teach my A-level students, I miss having the children around and find it very strange working in an office environment. I can’t wait for September!
When did you know teaching was for you?
My love of English came first. It was my reception teacher, Mrs Warburton, who, when I was just five years old, recognised that I had a particular aptitude for the subject. By the time I was 16 or 17 I had a real passion for English and also loved working with young people so the two came together in teaching. I studied English Literature at Lancaster University and completed my teaching training in Manchester before taking up my first post near Warrington in 2000.
And the satisfaction?
There’s satisfaction every day but now that I’ve been teaching for nearly 10 years it’s also wonderful to hear from ex-pupils. I’m in regular contact with a number who have gone on to achieve successes in a multitude of fields: some run their own businesses whilst others are representing our country in Afghanistan.
One of the pupils from the original intake at The City of London Academy got in touch with me recently; he thanked me for the impact I’d had on his early school career. He told me how he now runs three businesses, is a local politician and is about to go to university to read politics. For him to attribute some of his success to me is incredibly humbling. To know you have inspired a young person to go on to achieve great things is what teaching is all about.
I know that all of the pupils who start with us in September will go on to achieve great success and I’m looking forward to be being part of the team that helps them achieve that.
See the East Manchester Academy website here
Like giant mole hills, mounds of earth have recently appeared on the site adjacent to the City of Manchester Stadium. Len Grant dons hard hat to investigate east Manchester’s industrial past revealed by a team of archaeologists.
Old and new: Bradford Iron Wroks revealed in the shadow of the City of Manchester Stadium
It’s the site once earmarked for the ‘super casino’ but not so many decades ago it had been the epicentre of east Manchester’s industrial past. Bradford Colliery’s two shafts, each 18 feet wide and a mile deep, satisfied the local industry’s veracious appetite for coal and had done for more than 100 years.
Over the last few weeks archaeologists have been exploring the surrounding area prior to its preparation by New East Manchester for future development.
“We knew there was a medieval timber-framed, moated hall not far from here in the 13th century,” explains Ian Miller of Oxford Archaeology North. “Some evidence of that was found in 2002 whilst digging the tunnel wall for the Metrolink to travel under Alan Turing Way, but we’ve not been able to find anything new on that site.”
Early maps from 1761 show the remains of a moat and the beginning of coal excavation: shallow pits where miners would have recovered coal very close to the surface.
“By the 1840s,” continues Ian, “there were the beginnings of some major development here. Bradford Colliery had been established, a canal arm from the nearby Ashton Canal had been progressively extended towards the two pit heads, local streets had been laid out and houses built.
“But, by 1893, this whole place had exploded into a major industrial powerhouse, centred on Bradford Colliery. Unlike other areas of the first industrial city that peaked during the 1880s and 90s, this small area of east Manchester just continued to grow exponentially.”
Adjacent to Alan Turing Way, the archaeological team has uncovered the remains of what would have been boiler, fan and engine houses for the colliery. Steel-reinforced concrete foundations from a 1950s redevelopment of the colliery sit amongst Victorian brick remnants. A search for the actual mine shafts has not been a priority as these were capped with huge inverted concrete conical ‘plugs’ in the late 1960s when the colliery eventually closed.
Alongside Alan Turing Way: the colliery buildings
Victorian brick remains and more recent concrete foundations
1950s reinforced concrete atop of brick remains
“We have also uncovered,” explains Ian, “the intact remains of the nearby Bradford Iron Works, which contains some early examples of modern furnace technology.”
"The Iron Works were right here next to Forge Lane"
In the shadow of the City of Manchester Stadium the excavations clearly reveal a series of boilers each connected to two steam hammers used to pound the molten iron. The hammers themselves were invented and produced locally at Patricroft, but it is the system of brick-lined flues which indicate the experimental re-use of exhaust fumes.
“Red hot exhaust gases from the foundry’s furnace were sent down a brick-lined flue,” explains Ian’s colleague Graham Mottershead.
“Once the bricks were white hot the air flow was reversed and cold air was drawn in and rapidly heated by the hot bricks. Alternately switching the flow meant the whole boiler system was much more efficient.”
"The bricks were laid out in such a way as to maximise their surface area and take up as much heat as possible from the exhaust fumes."
These early innovations at Bradford were adapted and improved until, by the 1920s, foundries and other steam-powered processes were 80-90% more efficient.
“There was huge innovation on this site,” says Ian, “ideas were being tried and tested on an astonishing scale. Being able to see the tangible remains really brings home the incredible industrial heritage we’re celebrating in this area.”