Amidst the concrete jungle of the city one horticultural-based Community Interest Company is sowing the seeds of connection and growth, far beyond the mere cultivation of food.
Welcome to the world of Manchester Urban Diggers (MUD), where green spaces become vibrant communities, one project at a time.
Their journey started in the heart of Fallowfield, where the first roots were planted in Platt Fields Park, not as mere saplings but as a vision of thriving life.
Moving eastward, MUD expanded its horizons by partnering with East Manchester Academy in Beswick, birthing the flourishing Beswick Urban Growers, a community market garden that has since bloomed with life and purpose.
But the MUD ethos doesn’t stop there.
In Whalley Range, they’ve branched out even further, nurturing a new garden at St. Margaret’s Community Centre and playing fields, where the transformation from barren grounds to blossoming greens symbolises their commitment to growth.
Heading north to Collyhurst, another promising project is taking shape, breathing life into yet another corner of the city.
MUD’s influence isn’t confined to green spaces alone; they’ve joined hands with the NHS, tapping into the therapeutic potential of horticulture to support mental well-being and contribute to greening Manchester Science Park.
This dynamic reach, flourishing in diverse locations, underscores the impact of community-driven urban farming.
Manchester Urban Diggers, or MUD, isn’t just about growing food; it’s a living testament to the strength of collective passion and action.
Join us in a conversation with one of MUD’s founders, Mike Hodson, as we journey through their story from inception to transformation.
The Inception of Manchester Urban Diggers
MUD emerged from humble beginnings, with its roots tracing back to May 2019.
Mike Hodson, along with Jo and Sam Payne, embarked on this journey of urban farming and community development.
Mike takes us back to the initial days: “MUD was established in May 2019 by myself, Joe, and Sam Payne.
“They are brother and sister. I first met them in 2016 through a mutual friend when I was a youth worker. I used to place young people I worked with on various community projects.”
Their adventure began when Joe and Sam secured permission to convert the old bowling greens in Platt Fields Park, Manchester, into a hub for growing food.
Mike’s own passion for food production and community work made him reach out to Joe: “I got in touch with Joe because I was interested in food growing and community work.
“I started taking the young people I worked with to Platt Fields Market Garden and things just spiralled from there.”
A Passion-Driven Pursuit
Working full-time day jobs didn’t deter their determination; instead, it fuelled their commitment to MUD. The three founders, with a common vision, spent their evenings and weekends nurturing Platt Fields Park.
And soon enough, their efforts began to bear fruit, quite literally: “We did this for about three years, and during that time, we generated a lot of interest in the garden. We’ve gone from just a few of us, to about 100 people a day now visiting the parks and areas across the city.”
As they toiled in a public park, they noticed a growing interest among passersby.
The allure of the garden attracted the attention of various community groups who expressed a desire to get their hands dirty.
Mike elaborates, “Since we are based in a public park, many passersby wanted to get involved. Different community groups approached us and asked if they could help.”
A Pint-Fuelled Decision
It was a moment of decision that changed the trajectory of MUD, a decision that was made in the most unexpected of places – a local pub: “After about three years, the three of us got quite drunk in a pub and decided to quit our day jobs and set up Manchester Urban Diggers.”
All good stories begin in the pub!
With that, the trio embarked on a remarkable journey.
MUD’s mission was clear: to create spaces where people could experience the joy of growing food in diverse ways.
Their portfolio of services reflects this commitment, which includes design and build, project management for community gardens, and various other offerings.
MUD’s Portfolio of Green Marvels
Since 2019, MUD has been instrumental in shaping the landscape of Manchester, one green space at a time.
Their work has touched approximately 25 different gardens, each bearing the hallmark of their dedication and vision.
Mike said: “We provide services like design and build, consultancy, project management for volunteering programs, community outreach, and more.”
MUD’s influence extends beyond the confines of a single location.
The Pankhurst Plot in Charlton Park stands as a testament to their commitment to the community.
Mike explains: “We’ve designed and built gardens like the Pankhurst plot in Charlton Park, which we eventually handed over to the food bank who now use it to help other people eat healthily. It’s a really nice initiative.”
MUD’s touch reaches beyond the city, finding its way to Stockport.
The creation of “The Landing” at “Where the Light Gets In” restaurant reflects their commitment to sustainability: “We also designed and built the landing in Stockport, the kitchen garden for the universally acclaimed restaurant ‘Where the Light Gets In.‘”
A Vibrant Collaboration in the Heart of Stockport
Just a brief stroll from Stockport’s bustling centre, “The Landing” embodies a unique fusion of urban farming and culinary artistry.
Born from the collaboration of “Where The Light Gets In,” and Manchester Urban Diggers (MUD), pioneers of community-focused food growing, this partnership cultivates sustainability in every sense.
It’s a place where fresh, locally grown produce meets community, fostering learning, growth, and social connections. A place where neighbours share knowledge, engage in communal nourishment and restore the environment.
This dynamic space extends beyond the harvest, hosting a variety of events from seasonal festivals to weddings, bridging the community over shared experiences.
Community and Beyond
MUD’s impact is not limited to just gardens and greenery; they’re actively engaged in the community as well.
Their collaboration with the NHS for social and therapeutic horticulture programs is evidence of their broader community-focused approach: “We work with the NHS on social and therapeutic horticulture programs, mainly for people who come to us through mental health services.”
In addition to food growth, Platt Fields Park has blossomed into a community hub.
It’s a place where diverse groups converge, from a mushroom-growing co-op called MyCo to forest schools, artists, and more.
There’s even a catering service on-site, and all the food they serve is grown right there.
The Stronger Roots Initiative
MUD have embarked on an inspiring initiative known as “Stronger Roots” to assist refugees and asylum seekers who find themselves confined to hotels, offering them an opportunity to connect with nature and cultivate their own food.
Nestled within the lush confines of Platt Fields Market Garden, MUD has been at the forefront of fostering community engagement, providing free meals for countless individuals, nurturing local wildlife, and serving as a unique gathering place for the community for the past seven years.
Stronger Roots encapsulates the essence of MUD and Platt Fields Market Garden, bringing together asylum seekers, refugees, and community members of all ages, and liberating them from the isolation often experienced in their new environment. These weekly sessions provide a platform for celebrating diverse cultures, their culinary traditions, and the art of cultivating food together.
Participants cook and share recipes, as well as stories from their homelands, creating a sense of home and purpose in a foreign land.
For those individuals who find themselves confined to contingency hotels, unable to work or integrate into their new society, Stronger Roots becomes a lifeline, offering a newfound sense of belonging and a renewed connection to the concept of home.
As one participant, Evelyne, expresses, “When I see the greenery of the garden it improves my mental well-being. I have struggles in life, and when I have a place like this, I feel at home. I feel safe and that I can share my struggles and have conversations about them.”
However, the funding for Stronger Roots ran dry in August 2023, prompting a heartfelt plea for support from MUD and the refugee community.
With generous donations, they aim to continue running the weekly sessions for 30-40 people, covering travel expenses, providing nature crafts, gardening, food growing, and cooking sessions, as well as offering warm meals that resonate with each participant’s cultural heritage.
This initiative not only enriches the lives of those involved but has also been noted by Jennifer Anderson, the MRSN coordinator, to alleviate mental health struggles among asylum seekers, reducing visits to doctors for depression and anxiety.
Your support can go even further, as Aviva pledges to match every pound donated, enabling the construction of a sustainable, weather-proof shelter within the garden.
This shelter will enhance accessibility and offer a warm and dry space for the entire community, making it available year-round.
If you’d like to donate to this fantastic initiative, you can do so by clicking here
From Garden to Gathering Place
MUD’s journey is a remarkable one, punctuated by various events and collaborations.
“We host a variety of events, like Oktoberfest, beer festivals, weddings, funerals, and birthdays. We’ve collaborated with Track Brewing to make some beer too!”
It’s not just about growing; it’s about celebrating and connecting through green spaces.
And their latest venture?
A café that’s open seven days a week right at the heart of the garden.
The café serves as another way for MUD to foster connections, offering a welcoming space for all.
Sowing the Seeds of Change
MUD, in its relatively short existence, has been a dynamic force, changing the way we look at urban spaces.
It’s a story of dedication, passion, and an unwavering commitment to connecting people with the land they live on.
Mike sums it up well: “We’ve created more than just gardens; we’ve created a sense of belonging and a place for people to connect with the earth, right in the heart of the city.”
Manchester Urban Diggers stands as an inspiring example of what can happen when individuals decide to plant the seeds of change.
Their journey continues, promising more green transformations and community connections in the future.
So, as they nurture their gardens, they also nurture their local community.