Inspiring young people to appreciate nature

Freelance photographer, writer and blogger, Len Grant, checks out how the wild flowers are blooming in Hulme, Manchester, one of the sites of the Grow Wild England flagship project, Tale of Two Cities. He meets some locals along the way before chatting to team member Steph Lynch about her role in the project. 

“It’s a lottery-funded project called Tale of Two Cities,” I tell him. 

“Oh yes, I’ve heard of it,” says Roger as he takes another snap of the wild flowers. 

I’m on my way to interview and photograph the newest member of the Tale of Two Cities team but find myself sidelined in the underpass below the Mancunian Way. 

“I live on the other side of Hulme and this is my shortcut into town,” he says. “You cycle through the urban landscape, come over that brow and then suddenly, wow, you’re hit by this amazing colour. I love it, I absolutely love it.” 

A person riding a bike“This was all sown by members of the community,” I say, remembering that wet Sunday afternoon back in March. I tell him quickly about the links with Everton and how the flowers are connecting the two communities. 

“Wonderful,” he says. “It can feel a bit drab round here, a bit rundown, so to come across something like this is really life-affirming.” 

“Thanks for your time,” I say to Roger as he gets back on his bike, “have a good day.” 

Steph Lynch is Manchester’s project coordinator for Grow Wild and gets the people of Hulme involved in what is the English Flagship project supported by the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. We’re meeting at the top of the dual carriageway, near Asda, where the flowers on the central reservation are turning the heads of motorists waiting at the lights as well as local people passing by. 

FlowersAt the pedestrian crossing I get into conversation with Jean, on her bike from the other side of Hulme, en route to work as a lunchtime organiser at a local primary school. She says she’s been watching the flowers come out these last few weeks. “They’re breathtaking,” she says, “really beautiful, I love them. I’m going to bring the grandkids down and have a photograph in front of them.” 

Once we meet up I ask Steph, who is only six weeks into her new role, what’s she enjoying most. “Working with members of the community,” she says, “and seeing the impact the flowers are having. I’m loving every second of it.” 

Steph has been organising trips for local schoolchildren to visit the National Wildflower Centre in Liverpool, the cornerstone of the Tale of Two Cities project. “One young lad said how lovely it was that, as they grow up, they’d see the flowers develop. He saw the wild flowers as symbolic of their childhood, and I thought it was really impressive for a young person to come out with something so poetic.”

FlowersIt’s the education aspect of her job that Steph tells me she finds most rewarding, especially inspiring young people to appreciate nature. “That’s something that’s been lost by many over the generations,” she says. “It’s important to explain that the flowers don’t just look pretty, but they are really important for biodiversity.” 

This end of the dual carriageway and the underpass, nearer the city centre, are resplendent with red poppies in particular but Steph says that each year the display will change. “Wild flower meadows can take up to five years to fully establish themselves,” she tells me. “Next year we’ll have a different display and, with little ongoing maintenance, the meadow will slowly find its own feet. It’ll be a changing feast that will evolve over time.” 

As we walk carefully through the wild flower meadow, deciding where best to take her picture, Steph says she’s noticed five species of bumble bee hopping between the brightly-coloured flowers. 

“Really?” I ask, unaware there were that many species of bee. 

“I’m a bee enthusiast,” she explains, “and the lead campaigner for bees with Manchester’s Friends of the Earth.” 

“So you can really appreciate the impact of the wild flowers?” 

“On so many levels,” says Steph. 

After the summer, when the sea of colour has retreated, Steph will be working with more schools and community groups, organising sowing events at new locations for next year. “I’ve got hours of fun ahead of me,” she says.

Words and pictures are by photographer and writer Len Grant.

To find out more about Tale of Two Cities, visit the National Wildflower Centre’s website and Facebook page