Bowes Railway Company

This former mining colliery is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and the oldest known rope hauled railway system in the world. The team have been running Heritage Open Days since 2017 and it's become a 'firm favourite' in their events calendar. For 2021 alongside their usual brilliant tours and talks our Edible England theme gave them a whole new line of inspiration. In just three months they converted part of this industrial site into a thriving community allotment.

Amanda Cuskin, Bowes Railway Company, Tyne & Wear

Why we take part

I believe the Heritage Open Days (HODs) event is an absolute must in our yearly event calendar.

Workshops and demonstrations are just one part of Bowes's festival offer / © Bowes Railway Co.

It is a perfect reminder of the importance of preserving our incredible heritage; to display rarely seen rooms or objects in the collection and showcase new projects at the museum. It encourages members of the public to visit who may not normally attend, particularly through the organised city-wide bus trips and the national press coverage which brings people from far and wide.

What we do for HODs

Guided site tours include indoor workshops and demonstrations. Or check out our miner's allotment activities for children/adults throughout the week, from planting, picking, sampling - bring your own favourite Veggie recipe to submit in our NEW recipe book competition, you might even want to design a page to go with your recipe. (2021 Event directory description)

New inspiration

For 2021 an Edible England inspired community allotment was developed in three short months, as lockdown came to an end. The idea was threefold:

  • To create an educational tribute to early mining communities who, through sheer necessity to feed their families found a life-line in allotments. Not only did they grow food, but they reaped the benefits of being outdoors, away from the confined, damp spaces of the mines. A strong sense of community has always been at the heart of the allotment and in later years, friendly competitions took place between miners for most outstanding vegetables!
  • We would like to recreate that spirit, of ‘growing together’ and sharing with our local community.
  • As the world faces climate change, we would like to give back to the environment in this small way, having been an industrial site generating much pollution in former years.

Together the community are once again growing prize worthy veg in planters created in their own joinery workshop. / © Bowes Railway Co.

Making it happen

I am ever the optimist, although creating the allotment from scratch within months of the HODs launch was a big ask and met with some scepticism!  However, the volunteers pulled together to construct and plant, while local community groups and other allotment holders kindly donated a variety of small vegetable plants to get us started. We used recycled wood to build large, raised beds in our joinery workshop, develop compost sites and erect a donated greenhouse where produce has thrived.

Over the months, leading up to our HODs event we held weekly ‘Growing Together’ activities on the allotment to engage people of all ages and encouraged general visitors to help plant something while they visited the site.

Growing Together - volunteer Alan went from gardening novice to allotment champion! / © Bowes Railway Co.

Festival fun and follow up

We made it a real sense of occasion with a marquee, lots of bunting and offered visitors free tasting samples freshly made from our allotment produce. The samples encouraged passing cyclists to pop in and our volunteers soon had them engaged, one has since signed up as a volunteer himself!

We asked visitors to fill out cards that were displayed on the tables to share their own favourite vegetable-based recipes and these will be used to create a recipe book for us to sell next year. Profits will be used to help ensure the allotment becomes self-sustainable.

We all enjoyed the whole process of creating the allotment, it brought a sense of pride and camaraderie amongst the volunteers and excitement about the possibilities for the future. It has introduced new people to our museum and the HODs event was the nudge we needed to get it started!

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The difference it makes

  • This project has enabled a variety of community group collaborations. For example we received plant contributions and onsite visits with advice from volunteer gardeners at Saltwell Park in Gateshead.
  • One family have attended all the weekly ‘Growing Together’ sessions and continue to do so. Their son Joshua who is seven, has been a delight to have on site as he is so enthusiastic, he even developed a large Bug Hotel on the allotment. His mother Sarah said: ‘The experience has been great for Joshua, he loves being outdoors and doing things. We have really enjoyed being part of Bowes allotment and seeing things grow.’
  • Rather than the allotment lasting for a season we now have a long-term vision, with a wealth of ideas flowing from everyone. It is an ideal venue from which children can learn about our historic past, see the value in preservation, whilst gaining life skills to help them in the future. We are keen to further develop the community involvement, self-sustainability, and offer local food parcel donations to those in need.

Nice surprise

A hedgehog house was created by volunteers and concealed amongst the trees by two of our young ‘Growing Together ‘helpers along with a night camera. We have been delighted by the regular evening entertainment of wildlife, including George (after Engineer, George Stephenson), our new resident hedgehog. We now have fun weekly film footage gatherings to share with the team.

Donations like this greenhouse helped the team get started. / © Bowes Railway Co.

Amanda's Top Tips!

  • Plan out your ideas thoroughly and don't take on more than you can chew, particularly for your first event.
  • Don’t guess at resource costs – make a spreadsheet of everything you will need.
  • Make sure you have plenty of staff/ volunteers to help as it can get very busy.
  • Ensure your event/s is uploaded onto the HODs site in plenty of time and any local or regional press and Heritage brochure listings.  

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