Before I had thoughts of making a 'Mancunian to the Core' cider I was a Moss Side resident. So first and foremost, I wear my Mr Community hat. In fact, when my wife and I bought our house, the estate agent had listed it as being in neighbouring Fallowfield. We quickly realised that the borders had in fact changed and we were indeed Moss Side residents.
Were we bothered? Not in the slightest! We were all the more motivated to get involved in community, knowing the reputation the area had/has, as with a lot of perceived "bad neighbourhoods" the problems are all to often isolated and few and far between.
So where to begin? Joining our residents association seemed like a good place to start and soon I found myself being vice chair of T.A.R.A. (The Avenues Residents' Association) which covers the six avenues that backed onto the Stagecoach bus depot in Moss Side, plus a few extras. We knew if we listened to our residents we'd then know what the community needed. The absolute highlight of my time on the team was being in a meeting with councillors, police and other residents' associations from the area. The police were reporting back on the crime stats for South Manchester and it turned out Moss Side had the least crime, beating Chorlton, Didsbury, Withington and more. Now the cynics among you will just say that 'well they're obviously not robbing their own' but I like to think that this is down to the community spirit of Moss Side residents. It really is a great place to live and friends and family often comment on how well we appear to be 'building community'. My response is always the same "Community is what you make it, get stuck in!"
One of the main reasons T.A.R.A exists, apart from batting off the repeated question of "can we have alley gating?"*, is to be a collective voice. At the time, this collective voice was focused on what was to become of the iconic bus depot site in Moss Side. Pre -2010 we knew it was definitely coming down so we rallied the troops, had some great street parties and beautified the alleyway that ran the full length of the back of the building with hanging baskets. The result, community spirit was at an all-time high!
It was during this time that the seed of planting an orchard on the site was birthed. We'd discussed as residents the idea of approaching the council for use of the land on a temporary basis while a developer was sought. It was only when I was in bed one night when the wife piped up and said, "If you've got an orchard and you do make cider, you'd be making cider in Moss Side, you could call it Moss Cider". I didn't waste any time. I knew it would be years before we had our orchard on the site so I just started asking around to see if anyone had any apples. It turned out that one of our neighbours had a massive apple tree in their garden. So in 2010 we met in an alley just of Broadfield Road in Moss Side and made our first batch. You can see and read a condensed version of events here. So now I also wear my Mr Local Cider Business hat.
So those are my two hats: my Mr Community hat and now my Moss Cider hat. I guess my challenge now and the thing I'm keen to communicate is that my business model can do both things. We can bring people together from all walks of life for a co-op style harvest, much the same as our brothers in the trade in rural settings have been doing for decades, in some instances hundreds of years. We bring about community cohesion and beautify areas in the process through planting trees. Plus if things go well we can employ local people to produce a local product that Moss Side residents, as well as all Mancunians can take pride in. Aren't SMBs going to be one of the saving graces of the current economic climate? That's certainly what I see and hear in the news. Some might call me (us) crazy but many other brands and businesses formed in times of recession.
So can't we take a 'holistic' approach? My AfSL (where some of the story began) buddies will know what I mean by that. It's about each of us doing our little bit towards building sustainable communities. I got frustrated recently when I heard that a few residents thought our community project on the old Stagecoach Bus depot site, now called 'The Open Yarden Garden' was becoming 'too commercial'. Now that could be due to the fact that one of the first flyers promoting the project featured a little logo of another "small-scale" brewery based down the road in Moss Side**. Whatever the reason, my thinking is, you're not doing community unless anyone and everyone can get involved, whatever their agenda might be. We're not in the position to look a gift horse in the mouth and every small venture could do with a hand from the big boys.
So in my mind there's room for a small-scale, cider producer to have a few trees on the land upon which he once dreamed of planting an orchard. Even if his dream of a few trees has now become a much bigger vision for a city-wide orchard.
The Fleet Foxes said it best in their track 'Helplessness Blues', - "If I had an orchard I'll work till I'm sore." My hands aren't sore just yet!
*We would get asked this at every meeting. Truth be told alley gating schemes are pretty expensive costing upwards of £70k (according to our counsellors) to gate just one alley. What I did discover though was that the majority of this cost is legal fees as the ramblers association likes to complain a lot about their rights of way being blocked. So the price difference between gating one alley or six is negligible. Shame the alley at the back of our house missed out as some of the avenues have amazing community gardens/play areas in them now.
** It was thanks to Heineken, who loved what we were doing, that we gained an additional 25 cider variety trees for free. We just had to pay for delivery and give them a shout out on publicity.