The bee has long been a symbol of Manchester, since the 18th century, symbolising the hive of activity and enterprise the city had become during the industrial revolution.
You may not know it, but Manchester Cathedral is home to 600,000 honey bees on their roof and another 480,000 at Salford Cathedral.
Hidden away on the roof of Manchester Cathedral, head bee keeper Catherine Charnock tends to the 10 colonies. And it’s all for a great cause, too.
Catherine works for Volition, the Cathedral’s charity which helps vulnerable and unemployed people build confidence and skills so they are able to get back into work.
Speaking to I LOVE MCR, she said: “When people come to Volition they initially sign up to a ten-week employability course which is delivered by our tutor from Manchester College.
“We also give them the opportunity to go on and volunteer at the Cathedral, which helps them build more vital skills and experience that can help them find a job.
“I teach the beekeeping and we run weekly sessions learning everything from housing a colony, to how to jar and sell the honey.”
If bee keeping isn’t for you Volition also offers the chance to get involved with photography, art, gardening and Cathedral welcoming.
They’ll help those attending with meaningful job searches and coaching sessions and have ‘no goodbyes’ policy meaning the staff will continue to support people to find employment after their 10 weeks comes to an end.
Volition also have 8 colonies in the gardens at Salford Cathedral, and have recently established 10 colonies at Manchester’s Treehouse Hotel on its new site on Deansgate thanks to a generous donation from the Property Alliance Group in July.
Catherine knows the benefits of bee keeping first hand. She said: “I initially got into beekeeping when my son and I were looking for a new hobby. We tried gardening at an allotment, and we met a beekeeper and attended a training session and that’s how the obsession started.
“We both absolutely loved it.
“It’s such a great hobby and one I can recommend to everyone.
“We’ve kept bees for 8 years now and have completed a lot of training which I want to pass onto others.
“I saw the bee keeping vacancy advertised at the Cathedral and thought, wow, that would be a fantastic opportunity. I didn’t think I’d get it but at the very least I thought I’d get a nice tour of the Cathedral.”
But Catherine scooped the job, and the rest as they say, is history.
Catherine said the joys of the job are not only in the bees, but the amazing people she works with at Volition.
She said: “I love the bees, but the people we work with are amazing too.
“They are usually long term unemployed, or have mental health issues, or maybe just don’t get out much. It makes a huge difference to them; it’s a great thing to be part of.”
Honey produced by the Cathedral bees is harvested and jarred by the Volition volunteers and sold as Heavenly Honey, with all funds re-invested back into the charity.
The Heavenly Honey produced by Volition has even received the Royal approval.
Queen Elizabeth II visited Manchester Cathedral in July 2021 to mark the Cathedral’s 600- year anniversary.
During her visit, Her Majesty was presented with six jars of Heavenly Honey and candles made by the Volition volunteers, which she enthusiastically took away with her.
Catherine says we can learn a lot from bees.
“I think the lessons we can take from the bees is to work together as one unit.
“There are so many benefits in learning how to bee keep. t’s very mindful, it’s a great way to help your mental health.
It also is a very tactile hobby, it engages all of your senses, whether it be your sense of smell, touch, hearing or feeling.
“You can see how it builds people’s confidence working with them. It’s a great head start for our volunteers and it’s such a great talking point when they go for an interview.”
“Everyone seems to want to know about the beekeepers on the roof of the Cathedral. Well now you know a bit