The sun is shining and Hartfield Close Allotments are buzzing. The word is out and there’s a queue of residents, all socially distanced, come to collect their sunflower seeds.
“It’s like a celebration of new beginnings,” says Lisa from Forever Manchester who hands sunflower packs to a couple of boys. “People are really enjoying coming out, and I’m loving being back in Ardwick again after all these months.”
The #mcrsunflowers project was started by Haydn Bettles who I met at nearby Armitage Primary School last month. It’s really caught on.
The two boys are brothers, Joshua and Marcus. “We got a message on our phone from S4B Housing,” their mum Jordanne tells me. “The boys couldn’t wait to get down here. We tried growing a sunflower last year but it never came up. Hopefully we’ll have more luck this time.”
I encourage the boys to open their packs and Joshua peers in. There’s an information sheet about how to grow the sunflowers and the distinctive black and white seeds at the bottom. “We’ve got quite a few,” he says, delighted, “so more chances.”
Sharon, S4B Housing’s community officer, is here too. “There’s just one person after another. It’s great, isn’t it? The sunflowers are so going to brighten up the area and, after all the doom and gloom, it’s good to focus on something more positive.”
Sharon introduces me to local resident Shabana and her daughter Naysun who’s scootered from over the road. They have their own allotment plot here. “We grow peas and carrots, onions and garlic,” says Naysun. “And strawberries too.”
“And now you’re going to grow sunflowers,” I say.
“Yes!” beams Naysun.
Lisa and her colleague Vikki have already been out and about with their sunflowers. “We gave out about 50 packs in Wythenshawe yesterday and another 50-odd in Grove Village this morning,” she says.
“It’s been the same vibe. People are just so pleased to see you, pleased that something is happening again.”
“Everyone’s happy to be out, aren’t they?” I suggest.
As a community connector Lisa would normally be walking the streets, meeting new people and putting residents and organisations together. That all had to stop for Covid and for the last year she’s been doing her job on her computer.
“Zoom has been good for getting lots of people working together,” she says, “and that will continue for some time. It’s just more convenient. But there’s nothing like fresh air and getting in front of people.”
“You don’t get to see the people who can’t do the technology… you don’t get to see the kids. That’s all important stuff for us. It’s been wonderful. I haven’t stopped smiling in two days.”