History, overview and aims of the Green Estate
Following the collapse of Sheffield’s major manufacturing industries in the 1980s on which most families were financially dependent, the Manor Estate rapidly transformed from a relatively wealthy working area to an estate with a high dependency on benefits and resulting poverty. By 1991 the percentage of Manor households with children and no employed adults had increased from 7 per cent to over 25 per cent in ten years.
In 1996, when local MP of the time Roy Hattersley labelled the Manor estate the ‘worst estate in Britain’, locals decided it was time to take action. First to emerge was the Manor and Castle Development Trust, who received funding to develop a new model for neighbourhood change on the estate. This saw a greater focus being placed on community development, whilst also accepting that such a sizeable initiative would take time to bear fruit.
Two years later, the Manor Estate saw the inception of the Green Estate. Beginning its life as an 18-month funded project to create and manage local greenspaces, it soon became apparent that the organisation could only continue to survive and thrive if it looked into generating income itself. In response, the Green Estate turned to a mix of commercial sales and services, outlined below, to help continue to support its social and environmental activities for the local community.
Today, despite the Manor estate still being one of the most deprived areas in the UK, the Green Estate has helped to unite the community through the range of services it offers. Whether it be the community farm which brings children and adults alike closer to the food chain, its Manor Makers project which sees highly skilled older men teaching younger members of the community in woodwork, or simply through regenerating green space into welcoming open spaces, the Green Estate is working hard with the community to create a range of environmental projects that help to enhance their local area.
Structure of the Green Estate
The Green Estate operates four distinct business strands:
- Green Estate Landscaping: one of Yorkshire’s leading specialists in landscaping services. It offers a range of specialised services including wildflower meadow creation, Japanese knotweed removal, and green roof maintenance. It also undertakes grounds maintenance contracts and manages, on behalf of Sheffield City Council, Manor Fields Park which is a 24-hectare Green Flag Award-winning park;
- Pictorial Meadows: a ‘designer meadow’ service that sells both wildflower seeds and seeded turf;
- A heritage venue that is used for wedding ceremonies and receptions.
In addition, the Green Estate offers a wide range of volunteering opportunities, educational programmes and supported volunteering for people who are eligible for Individual Budgets.
- Biodiversity: In the UK more than half of native species are in decline, due to a range of factors including agricultural practices, climate change and disruption caused by build development.
- Declining green space: a 2011 study by the Department for Environmental Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) found that one third of the UK’s natural assets- including green spaces- were in danger of being lost to development or degraded through neglect. Green spaces are worth at least £30bn a year in health and welfare. In urban areas, it was found that 10,000 playing fields were sold off between 1979 and 1997.
- Education: a study by the British Nutrition Foundation found that 25% of primary school children thought that cheese came from a plant. 13% believed pasta comes from an animal.
The Green Estate has a wide range of activities and services, and its environmental impact is far reaching. It encourages sustainable water use with its SuDS drainage system across its parks, promotes sustainable agriculture at its two community farms, and conserves natural spaces through the 50 acres of parks it manages. Its volunteering opportunities and regular educational activities for adults and children provide an opportunity for the community to actively participate and discover more about improving their local environment. Over the past 20 years, the Green Estate has helped develop a strong public awareness of, and engagement in, the natural environment.
Before the Green Estate’s inception much of the area’s 200 acres of green space was low grade, and parts were being used for fly tipping on an industrial scale. But the organisation spotted this as their first commercial opportunity, using a grant from Power to Change’s Community Business Fund to help set up a composting business to charge for, and then process, this waste, providing a valuable income stream for the organisation.
In 2004, the Green Estate collaborated with the University of Sheffield to create the Pictorial Meadow. Its longer flowering season is of an advantage both visually and to local wildlife. This has been a huge success commercially, with Pictorial Meadows becoming a separate company that sells seeds, turf, and landscaping services internationally.
In March 2007, the Green Estate began work on converting the Manor Oaks Farm back into working use. Soil regeneration made the land productive and fertile again, and for several years it has been home to bees, farmyard animals and a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. Produce is then directly sold through the onsite café and farm shop, reducing its carbon footprint. This helps to broaden the knowledge of visitors on the global and local food system, an especially prevalent topic in an area where a lack of access to a healthy diet is a prevalent cause of ill health.
As well as regular lectures and talks at its Discovery Centre at Sheffield Manor Lodge, the Green Estate also runs a programme of education and engagement activities for families, schools groups and adults at Manor Fields Park. The variety of activities helps to attract a diverse range of individuals, and topics include the protection of the natural environment, seed swaps and fungi walks.
- Green space
The Green Estate also recognised that something as simple as improving the local greenspace can have a big impact on the community. From a ‘wasteland’ to a ‘piece of countryside in the inner city’, Manor Fields Park has been completely transformed by the Green Estate. The Park uses SuDS, a drainage solution that mimics natural drainage patterns, reducing the impact of flooding and pollution on receiving water bodies. The park has also planted a variety of flora and fauna to attract local wildlife. The organisation’s ‘Manor Pocket Parks’ project consists of three small parks created between 2000 and 2002. They have brought nature to areas with limited greenspace, as well as much needed play areas for the local children.
- Community involvement
Through its commercial success, the Green Estate is able to increase participation from a wide range of its local community. Its supported volunteering scheme invites people with disabilities to help with restoring and maintaining green space, and its ‘Manor Makers’ project teams up older men with woodwork experience to train up the younger men on the estate. Such projects are not only helping to improve the local environment, but are also playing an important role in supporting the physical and mental wellbeing of participants.
- Community accountability
The Green Estate ensures it is held accountable by local people by involving representative groups in decision making. Its member group, consisting of the Manor and Castle Development Trust, the Wildlife Trust, and a third group consisting of a broad range of representatives from the local community, each have one vote on key matters at the Green Estate. The Green Estate also has an Inclusive Access Forum, which has a membership of people with different disabilities who advise on improving access onsite. Throughout the programmes and activities it delivers, the Green Estate actively encourages and responds to feedback from the local community. This all helps to ensure local people feel a sense of ownership over the Green Estate, and are behind its continual evolution and development.
The Green Estate has undergone a remarkable transformation in the past 31 years. It has converted much of the Manor estate’s low-grade green space into an environment welcoming for both wildlife and residents, and its Pictorial Meadow is the world leader in naturalistic planting. Its community farms, volunteering opportunities, and intergenerational projects is helping to provide vital education on the natural environment, and its commercial activities are helping to improve the local environment and provide an income stream for the organisation.
The Green Estate has helped to unite its community and instil a sense of pride by taking ownership of its local environment to actively challenge negative perceptions of the area. Through turning liabilities into assets, and leading innovation in the green regeneration sector, there is a lot of lessons to be learnt from the Green Estate’s successes.