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The amazing gardening group growing their community

Manchester Urban Diggers are sowing the seeds of connection and growth amidst Manchester's urban landscape

Manchester Urban Digger’s (MUD) journey is a tale of community-driven urban farming in the local area.

Amidst the concrete jungle of the city, one plant-based Community Interest Company is sowing seeds of connection and growth.

Welcome to the world of Manchester Urban Diggers (MUD), where green spaces become busy and vibrant communities, one project at a time.

Manchester Urban Diggers (MUD)

Their journey started in the heart of Fallowfield, where the first roots were planted in Platt Fields Park as mere saplings.

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.

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.

Breathing life into Manchester

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.

Green spaces and time in nature have been proven to have immense benefits to people having mental health problems.

Join us in a conversation with one of MUD’s founders,  Mike Hodson, who has shared their journey.

The start 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 early days, saying: “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.”

Platt Fields Park 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 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

Manchester Urban Diggers

Working full-time day jobs didn’t deter their determination; instead, it fuelled their commitment.

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, as Mike explains.

“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 involved, and get their hands dirty.

Mike continued, “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 decision that changed the trajectory of MUD, a decision that was made in the most unexpected of places – a local pub.

Mike said: “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.

“Because after all, all good ideas start in the pub – right?”

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

Manchester Urban Diggers

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 vision.

Mike said: “We provide services like design and build, consultancy, project management for volunteering programs, community outreach, and more.”

The Pankhurst Plot in Charlton Park stands as a testament to their commitment to the community.

Mike explained: “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 are also helping out as far south as 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.‘”

Working with Where the Light Gets in

Just a brief stroll from Stockport’s bustling centre, “The Landing” embodies a unique fusion of urban farming and culinary artistry.

Mud have been collaborating with the iconic Stockport restaurant, “Where The Light Gets In,”.

It was to see how this collab sprung up, both being pioneers of community-focused food growing and using sustainable produce.

Here, fresh, locally grown produce meets community, learning, growth, and social connections.

A place where neighbours share knowledge, engage in communal nourishment and restore the environment.

Beyond the local community

MUD’s impact is not limited to just gardens and greenery.

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 is working with “Stronger Roots” to assist refugees and asylum seekers who find themselves confined to hotels, offering them an opportunity to reconnect with nature and cultivate their own food.

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.

Nestled within the lush confines of Platt Fields Market Garden, MUD has been providing free meals for countless individuals, nurturing local wildlife, and serving as a unique gathering place for the community for the past seven years.

As one participant, Evelyne, expressed: “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.”

It’s unfortunately, not all good news.

The funding for Stronger Roots ran dry in August 2023, prompting a heartfelt plea for support from MUD and the refugee community to help them carry on their amazing work.

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

Manchester Urban Diggers

MUD’s journey is a remarkable one, punctuated by various events and collaborations.

Mike continued: “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.

MUD’S community cafe

And their latest venture?

A café that’s open seven days a week right at the heart of the garden.

Sowing the Seeds of Change

MUD, in its relatively short existence, has been a dynamic force, changing the way we look at urban spaces.

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.

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