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Halifax Opportunities Trust

From a derelict patch of land and a skip full of vodka bottles, a beautiful garden is now blooming in the heart of Halifax.

children in permaculture garden

The Outback is a permaculture garden created by Halifax Opportunities Trust. It’s filled with espaliered apple and pear trees, plums, damsons, almonds, strawberries, and at the centre is a newly built straw bale kitchen building.

Barbara Harbinson is the CEO of Halifax Opportunities Trust and came up with the idea to create a family-friendly garden on a derelict plot.

Barbara saw there was a real need in her community to create a link between young people and outdoor space – a link that was previously missing.

Barbara HarbinsonBarbara said: “Our area is all traditional back-to-backs – there was absolutely no green space. The kids here have no connection with the outdoors, or with food. They think strawberries come from Asda. This area has high levels of obesity, high infant mortality and people die 10 years younger than average.

“The garden has allowed us to secretly promote healthy eating. We never push the healthy agenda. People can go in and pick the food, cook with it and eat it and just enjoy themselves.”

Halifax Opportunities Trust funded the project using their reserves – a tough choice, but it meant they had the freedom to create the project on their own, rather than meeting a funder’s prescriptive requirements.

Barbara said: “I know this is a big issue for Locality members. Do you use your restricted reserves to cover salaries while you hang on and hope for better times, or do you take a hard line and use reserves for investment? Which is what we decided to do.

“It’s given us the chance to create the space we wanted to – somewhere as free and as wild as possible, a space for all the family.”

Work on the Outback started a few years ago, when Halifax Opportunities Trust decided to make use of a piece of derelict council land. The first step was clearing the land of a skip’s worth of empty vodka bottles.

Barabara said: “The number of bottles was a surprise considering 70% of our population is Asian and most people don’t even drink!”

Once the land was clear, the Halifax team planted a permaculture garden of fruit and vegetables, which is now flourishing and has its own dedicated gardener.

Barbara said: “I love spending time with the gardener. She’s the most chilled-out person in the entire world.”

Work also began on the straw bale kitchen, currently nearing completion.

straw bale kitchen building

Barbara said: “We used a company of all-female straw bale builders from Todmorden. It’s taken a while, but the result is beautiful. It’s nearly finished. It’ll have a tandoori oven, a barbeque, we’ll run family events, cookery courses, story workshops.

“It’s about providing the space, but not prescribing what people should be doing. It’s going to be just a big kitchen – a home away from home.”

The straw building bale and garden was officially opened at the Halifax Festival in July 2012. Future plans for the garden include the addition of chickens and bees.

four kids in garden