Our Own Future -you bet it is. By Will Ashworth

In relation to my last blog post about ‘potlucks’, the practice sharing of food between a community, I have been looking at a Make:Shift inspired project in Wolverhampton that also uses food as a tool to bring people together, but in a slightly different way.

Allotments have been a feature of British life for generations, stereotypically run by time-rich retirees, eager for some time in the open air or to get away from her/him indoors. But they have had something of a resurgence in recent times, with waiting times for plots stretching into years in some areas, possibly brought about by the recession or people wanting to get more organic vegetables into their diet.

But why should the benefits of an allotment be limited to those lucky few who have managed to bag a plot to themselves? That is a question that Elliot Lord must have asked himself when he came up with the idea that he pitched to Make:Shift in 2013. That idea was to turn a piece of unused land into a free organic garden that is run and owned by the community. A very simple, but a very Make:Shift-y concept that we are greater than the sum of our parts.


Elliot eventually managed to acquire the use of an abandoned allotment on Lich Avenue, Wednesfield from Wolverhampton Homes, a plot that had been suggested to him in a brainstorming session at Make:Shift. Wolverhampton Homes also also helped to prepare the space ready for the first seed to be planted, and with the added help of local volunteers and businesses, they also kitted out the garden with essentials like a shed and a greenhouse, made from entirely reclaimed materials. Not surprising then that renaissance man Elliot is also the inventor of the innovative cardboard bed designed for the homeless that received national press coverage. A keen community campaigner, he is also founder of ‘Own our Future’, an organisation that promotes the empowerment of people to take control of their own destinies through community led projects such as the organic garden.



Over three years into the project and it is still going strong, churning out organic produce which is consumed by the volunteers that grow it and then the surplus being donated to foodbanks and local charities. Another fine example of how great an impact a simple idea can have when our communities pull together to make it happen. Or rather, Make:Shift it happen!


Pot Luck by Will Ashworth

Here at Make:Shift towers we are always interested in ideas that involve bringing our communities together and the idea that we are greater than the sum of our parts. After all, Make:Shift is all about sharing your ideas with the wider community to help improve the city. A great idea will remain exactly that unless it is shared with other people.

This week I have been looking across the pond to see what our American friends can teach us about getting people together and I came across a long held tradition of theirs that, unlike gangster rap or chocolate with peanut butter, has not quite managed to take root on our shores.

In our quaint British way, community gatherings are often only supplied with refreshments in the form of a cup of lukewarm tea, a pack of biscuits, or possibly an overcooked fairy cake. But as with many things in America, they do things a bit bigger with what they call the ‘potluck’. This isn’t a type of bingo, but a gathering where all the attendees bring along their favourite dish to share with everyone at a big community dinner.

Pot luck

After my online research on these events, it seems that the received wisdom is to decide on a theme so that curry isn’t sat alongside pasta. But I’m not sure I agree with this. Surely by calling an event a potluck should mean that dishes should be random?! Also, if it is truly potluck, then any event would surely show off the diversity in food and culture, especially in a place like Wolverhampton. Chocolate cake with your chow mein? Yes, please!

There are so many ways of bringing a community together, and food seems to me like something we all have in common. So why not organise your own potluck? Or, of course, if you have another great idea, come and tell us about it at Make:Shift this October. Don’t forget the biscuits!


Take a walk on the Wildside

When you think of Wolverhampton, you might not immediately conjure images of the idyllic scenes found in something like The Wind in the Willows. This might be even less likely when talking about an area like Whitmore Reans, a place that many would sooner associate with stretches of terrace houses rather than grassy riverbanks.

But like many places in our city, it is home to something that you might not expect to find there. That something is the Wildside Activity Centre, a small independent charity that has been operating for the past twenty years. Its aim? To provide outdoor environmental education to the people of Wolverhampton via a wide range of activities that the centre is able to host.


An oasis of nature in the midst of this urban environment, Wildside is quite unique in its location. Situated on the bank of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, it offers visitors access to a diverse range of natural habitats that include the waterway, as well as surrounding wooded and meadow areas. This enables them to provide a staggering array of activities all designed to get people off the sofa and into the great outdoors.

Such activities include everything from bike rides and canoeing, to pond dipping and treasure hunts. While being fun for visitors, they are also created to educate and inform about environment and conservation issues that affect everyone in the local area, both now and for generations to come. They also boast their very own narrow boat ‘The Trebalisa’ which they are able to operate as a ‘floating classroom’ taking groups out for trips to learn about the natural and social history of the canal. Water way to have a good time!


All this nature on our doorstep is also something Wildside believe should not be the preserve of the few. They have a dedicated team of four part-time and one fulltime staff, plus many volunteers, whose aim it is to deliver this environmental education to the people of Whitmore Reans and beyond. Catering for schools, youth groups, families, private and corporate groups, there isn’t anyone who cannot enjoy the centre. In particular, they are proud of their work with disabled people and those with mental health issues. Even The Trebalisa is set up for disabled visitors ensuring that no one misses out.

And all this isn’t just what they do. They are also running various environmental projects at the same time. At the moment they have an active group of conservation volunteers that are working with the Canal and River Trust to improve the wildlife habitats along the canal. This recent work has seen the re-introduction of water vole into the area, so maybe we will see Ratty and Mr Toad down this way after all! As well as this success, another project has seen the centre recently acquire an allotment that can be used by the local community.


It’s amazing how something as simple as nature can be used to improve the lives of so many people in Wolverhampton. Wildside are making this happen and are also working with organisations such as Creative Black Country, Newhampton Arts Centre, and Whitmore Reans Connect to spread the message and get more people to enjoy this incredible place.

If you would like to find out more about Wildside Activity Centre, or would like to make a booking, call 01902 572240 or email info@wildsideac.co.uk.


Love your City? So do I.

Love your City? So do I.

This week, guest blogger, Will Ashworth, a recent graduate from City of Wolverhampton University, interviews Navi Aukh about her amazing initiative, Love My City.

Wolverhampton is such a miserable city, right? Wrong!

Especially when you are talking to the people from Love My City, the campaign designed to smash this notion to smithereens.


When a report last year by The Legatum Institute labelled the city the most miserable place in the UK, Navi Aulkh disagreed. Navi, who works at the All Nations church on Temple Street, knew what we all know about our city – that it is far from a miserable, and that there are plenty of things to love!

Inspired by this knowledge, Navi took to Facebook to let everyone know how wrong she thought this summary of Wolverhampton was, in an attempt to counteract some of the negativity that it had created. This small gesture of defiant optimism soon sparked a huge response from the so-called miserable people of the city, with thousands of likes and shares in a matter of days. From this, the Love My City Facebook page was born, with Navi using her background in design to create a stunning logo that reflects her passion for the city that is shared by so many.

Armed with an idea that she knew she could grow, Navi pitched Love My City at October’s Make:Shift. Her goal was to start a campaign to promote a message of positivity about the city and to make links with other local organisations and businesses that could help spread the message that Wolverhampton is a magnificent place to be!


Navi pitching her idea at Make:Shift


The main goal of Make:Shift is to ‘Change Wolverhampton with an Idea’, and Love My City has gone from strength to strength since the meeting in October, with multiple doors being opened to Navi that have helped her turn this goal into a reality.

She has made links with organisations such as Creative Wolverhampton, producing a small range of merchandise such as branded t shirts that were displayed on a stall at the Mental Spaces Art Fair at the Newhampton Arts Centre. They have given these t shirts away to the people of Wolverhampton and have been around the city promoting their message of positivity.

The campaign has also had national coverage, as they were featured on the Radio 4 programme Saturday Live, where local people gave their account of Wolverhampton in response to the recent negative press.


Gemma Cairney

Radio 1 DJ Emma Cairney Sporting a Love My City T-Shirt



According to Navi, they have been in contact with the city council in order to secure permission to put up a series of posters around the city featuring their hashtags, #NotMiserable and #BetheChange.

As well as the continued promotion of this message, Love My City has also found another function in helping those in need. When they were recently approached by a family of refugees that were in urgent need of clothing and shelter, they were able to use their profile on Facebook to alert the good people of Wolverhampton to their situation. Within three hours they had been donated food, bedding and clothes, and have since offered similar help to other homeless and vulnerable people in the local area.

Just think. Something as simple as a Facebook post, with a little help from Make:Shift, can grow into something making a huge difference to where we live.



Make:Shift lifts off for success … and has now gone into orbit

IMG_3090Well, I had to say something to cover my obvious embarrassment at omitting to include the Camera Obscura in my Make:Shift round up. This was (honestly!) due to some technical issues but please see the lovely picture of Ann Walker, who has been leading this project at Boundary Way. Not only has she battled to get planning permission, she has also had plans drawn up as well as delivering some taster activities
My sincere apologies to Ann. I hope you can forgive me.

Make:Shift 2015 lifts off for success

The ideas were flowing at Make:Shift 2015 on Saturday as more than 60 people from across the city shared their thoughts on how to ‘Change Wolverhampton with an Idea’.


Make:Shift participants never let us down in terms of innovation and creativity and this year was no exception.

Participants received funding and business advice, and got involved in workshops designed to inspire people to create or enhance their own ideas.

Ideas put forward at the event included:

– A new campaign called ‘Love My City’, aimed at countering some of the negative press Wolverhampton has recently received

– An idea to support people and their families effected by dementia

– An initiative to support homeless people to develop a self-sustaining social enterprise

– Starting Wednesfield in Bloom
– Developing an artist’s quarter in the Chapel Ash area of the city

The creators will now be supported to implement their ideas.

Ideas at last year’s event have taken off, and include:

– Mental Spaces, supporting new and emerging artists in the city with free exhibition and studio space
– Creative Wolverhampton, uniting, supporting and promoting creative industries in the city
– Earth Fire, delivering holistic therapies to the people most in need of this service
Musical Twigs, a multi-media creative arts project aimed at local families

Thank you to everyone for helping to make this year’s event such a success.

Five reasons YOU should be at Make:Shift this Saturday

Five reasons you should be at Make:Shift on Saturday:

1. It’s the place to be for anyone with a passion for Wolverhampton
2. You’ll be in great company – Make:Shift is a magnet for creatives and innovators
3. You’ll be the first to find out how last year’s ideas have developed
4. You’ll get to hear all the great new ideas being pitched or perhaps even pitch one yourself
5. You’ll get a delicious free lunch freshly prepared on the premises by local social enterprise Aspiring Future

Plus there will be plenty of opportunities to network, discuss, get free advice on getting your idea off the ground and to meet people who can really make it happen.

Alright. Alright. I know I said five reasons but I just love Make:Shift and the reasons just kept coming. Come and find out why this Saturday 31 October 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. at The Old School, Dudley Road, Blakenhall.

See you there.