It was infested with rats and a magnet for flytippers – now this Manchester alleyway has been transformed into a beautiful sanctuary

Yasmine El-Gabry would have never considered herself to have ‘green fingers’. The 30-year-old dismissed gardening as a pastime for ‘old people’ until she left her home in California for a new life in Moss Side.

The policy officer moved to Manchester for her postgraduate studies eight years ago and while she chose to stay, she found she craved outdoor space. Used to beaches and forests on her doorstep, her next best thing was Platt Fields Park.

Frustrated by the mess of her back alleyway, infested with rats and dirty mattresses, she and a few neighbors began clearing the space and giving it some TLC. Now, roses and honeysuckle have taken over, along with strawberry and cucumber plants; it’s Yasmine’s special place to relax and unwind.

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“I really like being able to come home from work and hang out and potter around somewhere that’s nearby,” Yasmine said. “It’s a nice way to decompress, I really appreciate it.”

The alleyway has come a long way from when she and her husband purchased their property on Newlyn Street in 2017. It was in such a state they could not step out in it.

“It was a tip. When we moved in we could not get out of the back alleyway from our yard, ”she said. “There were old wardrobes, fridges, mattresses, hundreds of bin bags at any given point, broken glass and mirrors.

The alleyway of Newlyn Street and Chilworth Street was being used as a dumping ground for rubbish

“There were lots of rats in the beginning. If you see a rat during the day you know there’s a problem. It was really bad.”

Sick of the fly-tipping and overflowing rubbish, one of Yasmine’s neighbors knocked on her door and asked if she would like to help in taking action. As a group of four residents, they worked together to clean it up.

They reported countless fly-tipping incidents to the council, who removed the ditched objects, and worked with Greater Manchester Police to take away a number of knives they came across. The residents were gradually able to add more plant pots, yet persistent fly-tipping continued.

By the summer of 2020, their efforts were rewarded, as the group successfully applied for a Neighborhood Investment Fund. They were granted £ 800 by the council, which they used to build raised flower beds, benches, and to incorporate more flowers and plants.

The alleyway now has plenty of greenery

Four years since work began, the Newlyn Street alleyway now grows courgette, cucumber, lettuce, spinach, strawberries, and sweetcorn from old bath tubs and even an old toilet, alongside homing plum and apple trees. There are rose bushes, gladioli, foxgloves, catmint, honeysuckle, geranium and lots more.

Yasmine says she now spends a few hours a week maintaining the alleyway, which is used for get-togethers. “When I moved here [Manchester]the lack of outdoor space was really hard, “Yasmine continued.

“And since lockdown, it’s become a lot more important to me and we’ve realized how desperate we are for outdoor space. Being in mid-terraced houses with paved yards, we do not have any.

Yasmine tending to her allotment

“I started to spend a significant amount of time in the alleyway. In the summer, I spend a good two, three, or four hours a week there, gardening and hanging out. If we have parties and BBQs, we have them in there and invite the neighbors; we’ve had bonfires there; one of the neighbors hired a cocktail maker to celebrate someone’s birthday, which we had in the alleyway; we’ve done 4th of July parties.

“It’s a nice way to hang out and meet people. I’ve only met my neighbors because of the alleyway, there are people I’d never seen before. Even the neighbors that do not participate have a great appreciation for it.

“Not everyone can help, and that’s understandable, but it’s nice people can appreciate the space and do what they can.” Yasmine has learned how to plant fruits and vegetables and flowers on the go, and encourages families with children living in the street to join in, learning where their food comes from.

It’s a place for the neighbors to host parties

She has enjoyed the process so much that she is now the proud owner of an allotment patch. “It just shows how much the alleyway has set me up for a really nice hobby, which I would have never considered before,” she said.

“Growing up you just think it’s an old people thing, you do not understand why people do gardening, I had no clue before, so I’ve been Googling things, asking for advice.” She argues the transformation has done wonders to deter flytipping, adding: “If it looks messy, people are going to dump, but this means consistently people are outside, it’s harder to dump because you’re going to be seen – there’s a knock- on effect. “

They put the ditched objects to use as planters

Yasmine’s ultimate goal is for the alleyway to be used by all of her neighbors, however she says it has been difficult as people move in and out often. “Currently, one end has really matured, and the other is hit and miss,” she explained.

“If every single house started getting involved a little bit, it would be a really nice thing to have, even just picking up the litter. Neighbors change a lot because it is a lot of social housing, so it’s important for people to understand everyone is welcome and they know it’s available for them. “

How to start ‘alleyway greening’

Yasmine, who shares updates and tips on Instagram at @mcrurbangardener, says you can transform an alleyway with just 10 minutes a day. “You could do it on the bare minimum,” she said. “It’s important for people to know it’s accessible even with a small amount of time.”

On manpower? “It says a lot that three or four people can transform an alleyway, so if you have a street with 10 volunteers, it could be an entirely different place.”

What about budget? “I would tell people to reuse what they have,” she said. “Recycle things, you can take old washing up bowls and turn them into planters, and ask for help. Try to get anyone involved who thinks it would be a nice space.”

“It sounds a lot more difficult than it is once you get going, everyone should just give it a go,” she added.

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