On 6th November 2007 I found out that the owner of Newsome Mill was intending to demolish the building. When I walked around the corner of Hart Street that evening and saw the weaving sheds standing there without their roof slates, I felt completely powerless. I was told that there are some things you just can’t do anything about. But I don’t believe that.
It was only when we were about to lose it that I really understood the relationship between local people and our mill.
Newsome is here because of the mill. It’s part of our history, part of our landscape and part of our identity. A strange silence fell on Newsome when the mill clock stopped.
Within 2 months, I managed to get the mill Grade II listed. But that was just the beginning. The mill has suffered flytipping, theft, vandalism and arson. Even the war memorial was stolen. We made a public appeal and got it back. To try and stop these things happening, we started trying to find ways of telling people what was going on.
Timebanking helped us reach the whole of Newsome, spreading the word through newsletters that were hand-delivered by timebanking members.
Many people had approached Newsome Forum asking for help getting an allotment. Meanwhile, the land at Hart Street has stood empty for 20 years, with the local community resigned to just complaining about it.
People with similar interests came together around the land at Hart Street – heritage campaigners, near neighbours, conservationists, local food activists and land campaigners. We met and decided what collectively we could do. We decided to get our own evidence of the local need for food growing.
We ran the Newsome food survey to find out whether there is demand for food growing in Newsome. We needed to find 12 people to volunteer to work a full weekend to run a door-to-door survey, which seemed like a massive commitment. Timebanking helped us to identify people who cared about the issue.
We learnt how to do this together – and we got 486 responses to our survey. We heard local people’s stories first hand and found out that together we have everything we need to grow our own food.
The results were overwhelmingly positive. 53% of people were willing to do something to help others to grow their own food. We formed Growing Newsome and held our first event within 3 weeks of getting the survey results. 80 people turned up, and it was impossible to tell the organisers from participants. Everyone just got together and helped each other – so those survey results didn’t just stay on the page.
Growing Newsome is all about sharing. We encourage the swapping of seeds, plants and stories. Older people with experience in food growing are helping younger people who are just starting to learn. This is building confidence about how to grow – everyone can participate in some way.
Next we looked at where to grow. We started a garden-sharing scheme. We started to learn that it’s ok to ask for help, because we have things to give in return.
One lady was brave enough to offer us her garden, which was shoulder-deep in brambles. We all got together one morning to clear it.
We also started to work with other organisations. We asked One 17 Design for help with the Hart Street allotments. They helped us to develop a vision for the site and to share this. After years of complaining, people were now talking about doing something positive with the land.
We shared our aspirations with the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, who were looking at a much bigger area of land for food production at Stirley Farm. They carried on our survey work, and their plans were influenced by local enthusiasm for food growing.
Meanwhile, we still needed somewhere for our project to grow. So we took on 2 allotment plots, following council investment in local allotments that we helped to secure. We inherited a load of mud, weeds, pigeons and two old, battered glass houses. None of us could have taken this on ourselves.
I met Pat and Cherry through the allotment. The three of us live 2 minutes away from each other and we’d never met. We need to talk to each other all the time to get things done – to organise ourselves around the weather and work out what needs doing. We’ve become friends. So together we’ve grown far more than vegetables.
We worked with what was there already. We kept the vine and grew runner beans up the old A-frame.
People started to bring us things – rhubarb, an apple tree, seeds and veg plants. Some people brought their experience. Some brought strength. Some brought equipment. Some brought encouragement.
And the grapes began to ripen, due to (or in spite of) our efforts. And this way of working began to influence how I thought about other projects.
When we started a new technology project in Newsome, I stood up at a Forum meeting and asked if people would give their skills, as well as taking learning opportunities. I met Valerie that night, who immediately offered to help. And I didn’t know that Valerie had just taken the plot next to us at the allotment…
We call our technology project Newsome Grapevine. Because it’s about helping people to share what they know, to share it on the grapevine. But also because I was inspired by my fellow food growers and the vine that didn’t give up.
We started running computer drop-in sessions, helped by Paddock Learning Centre. Rob, who we know from Growing Newsome, came along to help people with digital photography.
Janet came to learn but also shared what she knew with others. And she brought other people along with her – some dragged out of the queue at the post office.
Some of the people who we met at the computer drop-in then came along to the Growing Newsome Autumn Fair. Other people brought us courgettes from their allotments and apples from their gardens. We turned these into jam for the Christmas Fair at Paddock, which we’d been invited to by Simon from Paddock Learning Centre. In the process, I accidentally learnt how to make jam and cake, encouraged by our Timebanking Co-ordinator, Rachel, and by my mum.
Our technology project was also coming to fruition. A new website and text message mailing lists gave us new ways to share what we know. Things have also progressed at the mill, with new planning permission being granted in January 2011.
Exactly 3 years after listing, the mill clock hands were stolen, which was really upsetting. No-one seemed to want to take responsibility. But we are now actively looking for anyone who can help us to protect our mill and get it back into use. The future is still very uncertain, but we have given this building a voice.
So is my story about losing things, or about what we’ve gained?
Imagine if timebanking members became the custodians of this clock, so that it can be heard again in Newsome and beyond. Imagine if Hart Street became a local food growing centre. By working together, these things are possible.
People + place + timebanking = getting things done.