Rooting for success – The Big Dig at MMU

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By Sarah Douglas

Students setting up plant pots at the Big Dig

Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) was recently awarded status of one of the UK’s greenest universities. Slap bang in the middle of one of the largest Cities in the UK, with the Mancunian Way cutting a swathe through the heart of the campus; you could be scratching your head as to how such an award has been bestowed on one of the most metropolitan of cities.

But students and staff here at MMU take their environment and sustainability credentials incredibly seriously. This week saw MMU’s Big Dig take place on campus. A project designed by students to develop and use the green areas in the John Dalton Building. The project was initially conceived by the Urban Gardening Society who renovated the much under-used area last year, and is continuing the improvements.

MMU's Urban Gardening Society's Treasurer Scott Tanswell taking part in the Big Dig

Scott Tanswell, UGS Treasurer

Heading up the Big Dig is second year History Student Scott Tanswell, treasurer of the Urban Gardening Society.

“I’ve always been a veggie so when I started University I thought it would be a really good idea to start learning how to grow my own veg… I’ve always been interested in this, but never had to the chance to get involved… so when I started [university] it was one of the first things I signed up for at Fresher’s Fair.”

The society hopes to have a range of vegetables and fruits growing in the summer, from blueberries to cabbages, and some “proper root vegetables.” They are also constructing signs and boards inviting staff and students into the area, to both educate and actively involve the university community in the project.

The Urban Gardening Society’s projects have welcome support from the Faculty of Humanities, Languages and Social Sciences ‘Make a Difference’ project. A project aimed at encouraging and supporting student led projects that make a difference to the culture and community around them.

Students digging with shovels“Students from our Faculty can apply for funding and support for their own projects,” said Maria Wowk, lecturer in Sociology and Make a Difference project lead. “It’s a fantastic way for students to learn a wide range of skills, gain confidence, and perhaps more importantly, get involved in something that really interests them.”

The Urban Gardening Society are involved in a number of other projects further afield from the University, with an allotment in Levenshulme and a project starting soon at the local Children’s Hospital. Though these projects offer a chance to try new things, gain new skills, and meet new people, for Scott the impetus is much simpler.

“We just want to have lots of veg growing and everyone to come in, pick veg, help out, ask questions and join the society. It’s a very communal thing, growing veg, so we just want as many people involved as possible.”

And people are involved. At least a dozen staff and students had picked up a shovel and were digging out the areas for the next round of planting. It seems, in this instance, students are making a difference one cabbage patch at a time.

Sarah Douglas studies Digital Media and Communications at Manchester Metropolitan University. She has never dug up a potato in her life, so may just start her Urban Gardening experience with some sprouts.


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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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