Pallet Therapy

 

Each Wednesday volunteers gather at Cherry Tree Allotments in Blackpool to grow vegetables in raised beds, drink tea and share healthier lives for themselves. They meet on an allotment run by Grow Blackpool where as much as possible is upcycled. Including the people who come…

Planters, plant staging and the raised beds are made out of pallets. The untreated wood has approximately a four year life span, longer if treated. Conner is currently building a tropical pond and greenhouse out of pallets (treated with used engine oil provided by garages, so all the chemicals are burnt off, it stains a nice dark brown). They also make play cookers which they donate to nurseries around Blackpool. The plant staging in the greenhouse, Connor says, would normally cost ?20-?40 per unit. Here they could build ten with that money, and they?d probably be stronger.

 

A newcomer is activist Sarah Hall. She can only grow plants in tubs in her own garden because of the cats, so comes here to supplement her learning on growing and sharing food. When she?s not here, she collects food for Streetlife https://www.streetlife.com/, keen to promote healthy eating habits not just in her kids but in as many young people she can*. Her aim is to grow fruit trees across Blackpool, where people can help themselves to food. She makes her own jam, and knows how easy it is. If it doesn?t set, you can eat it with yoghurt.

 

Debbie got an allotment in St Anne?s after a three year wait only to lose it the same day because she moved out of the catchment area. She?s just started coming to Cherry Trees and loves it. ?The muckier I am, the happier,? she says, and hopes to get her own allotment here to share produce and knowledge with this good group of people.

Talk moves to the winter and sightings of Siberian Swallows ? a sign of a hard winter, which will at least kill of the slugs. Sarah marvels at how they manage to squirm themselves inside her home. Debbie can?t believe she gets them in her flat on the third floor. Julie suggests they take the lift?

It?s hard to find community these days, they reckon, but there?s one here.

 

Enter Michael Powell of Treehouse that runs projects focusing on creativity and the outdoors. He?s here to build the planters for the fourteen banquet tables http://www.leftcoast.org.uk/banquet/, and in doing so, hopes to build confidence, self esteem and trust in himself and those helping him.

 

Watching George, Andrew and Tim rotate the crowbar and mallet around themselves to prise off the slates of a pallet (donated by various local businesses) I see that trust. They take it in turns to stand on the pallet, weighing it down, while another levers the crowbar, swings the mallet, wood splintering and flying. And another hammers. They?re making the planters for the Banquet tables, and are quietly confident in the job. George only has a backyard at home and while he can grow cabbages in tubs he comes here to grow more and bring the veg home. His suggestions for the planters are mint and radish, both still growing now, or beetroot leaves. Sarah likes the idea of richly scented herbs, like garlic chives or rosemary on the table. There?s talk of having salad leaves in them too.

Michael is making the tables out of pallets too. He spends much of his life driving around scouting for piles of pallets and then building up the courage to ask for them. People are, generally, only too happy to give them away. The table and planters he?s making for Banquet are influenced by his passion and awe of the natural world. He began working with wood and recycled materials, about two years, as a response to a growing interest in nature and its different connections, movements and relations. It is an attempt of interpreting and explaining the world around himself through the physical act of making something, out of something either discarded or gathered from the natural world. He has become increasingly interested in natural building techniques and permaculture over the past few years. This project has been influenced by his research and experience of these. As an experienced community support worker and workshop facilitator, as well as artist he?s enjoyed how this project has allowed for a collaboration of these two worlds, leading to the co production of the banquet table for this event.

Tim, now welding a saw on a fresh pallet, was part of the People?s Pottery project. His plate detailed a game pie: grouse and other birds. He comes to the allotment because he likes getting outside, and not just for his food. His arm moving smoothly back and forwards, blade cutting through the soft wood. The only weather he doesn?t like is the wind with rain. If it does rain when they?re all down here, they head to the poly tunnel to sow seeds. However, it?s rarely as bad outside as looking at outside from inside?

Today, luckily, the sun shines down on them. They?ve fourteen planters to make and plant up and, with some already finished, their focus is sharper than the saws they?re using. The Banquet Table and its makers is a union up there with home grown tomatoes and onions for chutney.

 

* If you?d like to donate food for Streetlife you can leave it at the Lighthouse http://tristans-lighthouse.co.uk/

Grow Blackpool is a charity and welcomes donations of tools or plants. Just take anything you don?t want to the New Enterprise Centre Lytham Road, Blackpool. They don’t have the skill set to repair broken tools just yet, so only unwanted usable ones please.

Orchard, Found

I caught up with Philip Parr again in the waste ground opposite the model village at the bottom of Stanley Park.

Not only is it a dog walkers paradise, it is the Lost Orchard Found. According to Philip?s expert eye there are about 40 trees here, with maybe 500 apples a piece, making for 20 thousand apples for the taking in central Blackpool. And what?s more, they?re apples unique to Blackpool, ?volunteers? grown from the compost of an old green tip, here at least 40 years ago, apparently. I can vouch for three very different sweetly full flavoured apples.

When I arrived he?d just finished two hours of clearing brambles and undergrowth from a particularly tasty red russet, giving air to the trunk and freeing up a path up to the jewels hanging there. His plan was to pick the higher apples, with his makeshift apple picker, so leaving lower hanging fruit to attract more pickers. And not just dogs. Alfie clearly knew all about the orchard, and, according to his walker, enjoyed a couple of apples every day in the season.

In the six weeks since I?d first met Philip he?s been collecting apples with a variety of people. He spent half a day at Mereside?School?working on a tree just next door to the school then drying the fruit in his dehydrator for everyone to savour the intensification of the sugar. This and works best on larger apples, and was perfect for the tree there. Only two out of the thirty children had ever picked apples before and he?s hoping the school will now make it an annual jolly to strip the tree

Sad that scrumping has gone out of fashion. He recently picked with an older man who used to scrump as kid, although not quite, as he got permission from the tree?s owner. Still, the boy took all the apples he picked and sold them for a penny down at the cinema. Ahh, the good clean enterprise of olden days ?

Philip contributed to the ritual by gaining permission from another tree owner to pick in his garden. The owner, a retired landscape gardener, had bought the land, with apple tree, and built his house there. He then grew another five apple trees in the back garden. These trees he still harvested, but was happy for Philip to take the front garden fruit.

There seems, to Philip, a real sense of growers in Blackpool. It?s what people do here to supplement their income. And the knowledge of growing is passed down, like an heirloom. And certainly, I?ve witnessed at Cherry Trees and Chepstow Gardens with Grow Blackpool a real wealth of knowledge for growing and eating.

I left Philip welding his bag up in the tree ? height being a definite advantage to the job. He had two wheely suitcases to carry the fruit back in. Carrying the apples would force him to discern the best ones, to enforce a selection process so his enthusiasm couldn?t get the better of him.

He?s quite confident he?ll have plenty to share on his stall in the Winter Gardens Food Hall Saturday 24 October. He?s already got ten different varieties stashed in the Left Coast Office. And alongside the apples, there?ll be apple jellies, sweet dried rings (nothing like the sulphated ones you buy in the shops) and a map of where the orchards can be found. This is a map that?ll never be finished ? after all, there?s always another apple tree?

Dream Team

Where is home to you?

What is it?

Streetlife Banquet CJGriffiths Photography (22)

These questions were the starting points for the collaboration between Unfinished Business and Streetlife for their performance Walk Talk and Eat with Me on Friday 23rd October.

For Jack ?Too? home is family, people who stick by you. When you?ve problems you know you?ve got someone there. You look after those who look after you. It?s people who understand you. He has his travelling family, initial family and another family. When things got bad at home when he was little he used to go across the road to his neighbour who is now his best friend.

Jordan adds another view: Home is where you feel most comfortable, your surroundings. ?Blackpool is mine, because I was born here. I?ve lived in Lancaster and Coventry, but I know where everything is here. It?s where I feel most comfortable.?

For Jack ?One? it?s when he?s with his Grandma and Granddad.

Leo feels at home when he?s being creative. London, too. His brother and Anna (with whom he runs Unfinished Business) give a sense of home. Little rituals also give a deeper connection.

It?s about feeling comfortable, for Anna. That isn?t necessarily a place, but being around people, who are not necessarily family. It?s about feeling understood, and that sense of familiarity.

For Owen, home is a cup of tea.

Lee?s family split a long time ago in a lot of different directions, so that idea of home isn?t relevant to him. He spent a lot of time with friends, his dance group. They became his family. Wherever they were was his home. Now he?s got a little boy, home is wherever they?re together. His crew is all he needs.

Then again, you can have home in your person. As Jack ?Too? put it: Home is your heart.

The consensus was home is people who care about you, who have your safety and wellbeing at heart. Jordan has totally relied on Streetlife since he?s been back in Blackpool. He goes to the shelter every night. It?s where he?s safe, where he sleeps. ?I?ve got a bed. That?s my home.? He?s built relationships with the leaders. They?re his family.

The event explores notions of home, homeless and food. How hard it can be for people, and challenging perspectives about homeless people that aren?t hundred per cent correct

People have a stereotypical view of what a homeless person is, which, according to Jordan, is dirty clothes, rugged looking. He went on, saying ?Not all of us look homeless. We wear decent clothes, keep pretty clean. And if they bumped into us in town they wouldn?t think we were homeless.?

None of the guys in the project beg. Jack ?One? said he had too much pride. Jordan said they don?t need to with the help they have from Streetlife, the emergency shelter for 15-25 year olds who have nowhere to go.

Walk, Talk and Eat with Me will start on the promenade, then the performers will guide small groups of five or six people to the Winter Gardens. At the Winter Gardens the whole group of almost 50 – audience and participating performers – will create and eat a meal together made up of food brought by the audience to the show.

The guys hope that people will appreciate how much hard work as gone into all elements of the show, to share their views on homelessness and maybe they?ll find common ground. And of course, for everyone to have a good laugh.

For this to happen, the group realise it?s about practice. It?s a very short process: six days over all. But throughout they?ve been working as a team. They ?have got each other?s back, and will help each other out.? As Jordan says, ?We?ll smash it. As long as we?re all working together, we?ll be fine. No one?s a leader. We?ve all got the same input as everyone else. Our opinions are equal.?

They have a range of skills that will see them through. While Jordan acted in school, he?s never done anything like this before. Part of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, he was dancing the Old Bamboo, kicking legs out, twirling the stick. So anything could happen?

In fact none of them have done anything like this before, but with Unfinished Business they?ve been writing and working on developing their focus and building confidence as individuals and as a group. After this first three day process they have a sense of belonging to the group.

Jack ?Too? explains: We?re doing stuff to embrace the improvisation of the event, as well as talking about our time in Blackpool. When you?re homeless there are loads of things going on around you. People?s lives are very different.

Jordan continues: We?ve been given ingredients and practicing making random dishes from them, so when we go to Winter Gardens we?ll have an idea of what to do in 30 minutes.

It?ll be all cold foods, salads, cheese, meats etc they won?t be cooking anything to keep within the time. Jack ?One?, a qualified chef, has done all his levels at college. He?s pretty confident about making a meal on the spot.

Jack ?Too? describes himself as the naked chef.

Jordan makes a mean mashed potato, and is excited about exploring his skills further…The day before we met he made his own crazy recipe which he called: Brillsy cr?me brulee. For this he cored the apple, mixed Nutella with water to fill the apple with, put meringue under the apple, poured the chocolate sauce on the top, sprinkled crisps around the side, more meringue on top, put a few carrots on the apple? And et voila! (With a flick of the wrist).

Whereas Lee made a swan out of his apple.

Jack ?Too?s challenge has been working with ingredients he can?t pronounce and has never heard of. One meal was aubergine, onions and tomatoes cut up and wrapped in seaweed. Verdict? Absolutely disgusting.

It was Owen?s first day of rehearsals, but he reckoned he could make an aubergine into something tasty. He?s a track record for getting people eating things they didn?t think they liked.

One thing they agree on: Meeting Leo has been brilliant, the way he thinks and brings new ideas to the table.

Everyone has a story to be told, and the group is interested to hear them. If you?re interested in sharing yours, then get your ticket for the show and prepare yourself for a gastronomic feast and good old laugh with these guys…

 

Dishing the Dirt

I?ve been sworn to secrecy over this meal.

Actually environment artist Kerry Morrison and FoodRiot chef Gill Watson?haven?t divulged any details about their banquet. All I know is there?ll be six courses ? related to hunger, soil, pollinators, intensive farming and foraging. Each will have an informed introduction, alongside film and sound to plump out the sensory experience. And there?ll be you.

The plan is for Saturday 24th October, 12-2pm to be a memorable feast. And, like all great banquets, for it to be a communal experience, one where everyone shares their joys and concerns about the food we eat.

Going on what I did learn about the pair, I suspect it?ll be far more than the sum of those parts. Let me introduce you.

Kerry Morrison claims she?s never done anything like this before. Although she has done this and is involved in this, so she?s clearly fascinated by our relationship with nature and how we farm it for our food. She?s an ecologist who believes in the value of everything from slugs (what else, but earthworms, does the job of getting rid of our crap so efficiently?) to dandelions (edible from root to petal). Her interest lies in reconnecting our eating habits with the natural world, and making them responsible, sustainable.

Her own diet includes ?feral? food that is shot locally because of the way we farm; rabbits, deer and pigeons, considered pests and seen as a nuisance to farmers, end up on her plate. From time to time, she has grey squirrels delivered in her local veggie bag. Two years ago it was illegal to release a grey squirrel into the wild if you?d caught it, because they are non-native and considered invasive. Today, to release a grey squirrel you need to apply for a licience. If you are a landowner, the Governmant will fund you to kill grey squirrels. Another example of the paradox what is seen as ?belonging? is the honey bee. This ?national treasure? is actually ? apart from the native black bee – is from Italy. But we love honey, so it must be given a higher status than many other pollinators. Flies on the other hand?

There are no flies on Gill Watson. In the film she talks about the importance of delivering food directly to those who need it rather than relying on food banks. And that falls to her, driving around her area with bags of fruit, veg and bakery goods from Lidl. She?s just acquired a hut, where people can come, without registering or giving personal information, to pick up perfectly good, often prized food that?d otherwise be chucked in order to make space for the next delivery.

While the UK still feels a long way from France where it is illegal to throw away decent food, Gill is convinced every supermarket knows they need to do something to change how they deal with ?waste? food. Through her work with Lidl, since 2014, it?s now company policy that all UK store managers don?t have to get head office to okay the give-away of remainder produce. It?s a big commitment from the supermarkets and from people, like Gill, who are willing to sort through the food to redistribute it: one that asks people to think more deeply about food, what?s out there, what they can eat, and the cost of convenience.

It is this passion, commitment and food knowledge that?ll be served on Saturday 24th October in the Pavilion Theatre in Blackpool Winter Gardens. How can those six courses be anything but delicious, food at its most gourmet: made with love, care and conscience?

For more info and to book a place at the table, phone?01253 477973 or book here