By Suzanne Carter, Community Outreach & Learning Manager
There’s always something new going on at New Standard Works in Vittoria Street. If fact, you might describe the building as a hive of activity! It is home to Ruskin Mill Trusts’ Argent College which provides specialist independent education for young people aged 16-25 with learning differences and complex needs.
You will find student craft workshops throughout the first floor, a transformative movement studio and therapy rooms on the second, and a bio-dynamically farmed roof top micro-farm in between.
It is here that organic produce is grown and harvested by the students and used in the food served in the popular Hive Café & Bakery on the ground floor and the student canteen. The roof garden really started buzzing in June with the arrival of approx. 50,000 honeybees who are busy pollinating green spaces within a 6-mile radius of the Jewellery Quarter.
On 19 June, during an evening awards ceremony being hosted in the café, and much to the delight and surprise of the guests, a beehive was carried through, wrapped in an old duvet! Pictured Tim Vivien and his daughter, Custard Factory Bees, and Gary Smith, Argent College.
The bees have settled into their new environment well and it won’t be long until they naturally swarm and relocate into two new log hives that have been bought by the college. These are not conventional hives on the ground, but conservation hives designed to mimic hollow trees. Argent College’s bees are not going to be intensively managed; they will get to keep their own honey and given the freedom to live as they would in the wild. Gary Smith, Bio-dynamic Land Co-ordinator for Argent College tells us why this decision has been made;
“The bees are offering our students a valuable learning experience about nature and about environmental responsibility. We are interested in the pollinating power of the bee and the lessons they can teach us all about working together and being part of a community.
We won’t have enough bees to commercially produce honey and we aren’t going to intervene in the natural way of things or use any chemicals, which is known to cause stress for bees. Evidence shows that bees who live in the wild can live twice as long as they would in man-made hives. They do say that bees make the best beekeepers! Our log hives mimic hollow trees to create the perfect environment for them. The thick walls will help our bees stay warm during the cold winter months. I wonder if humans would live twice as long if they lived in the perfect environment?”
There are plans to raise up one of the log hives on 2m high stilts so that activity can be viewed from below, and to install a camera inside the hive to live stream the bees’ activity on a screen in the Hive Café and Bakery, so that everyone can enjoy seeing the bees at work. This will provide a great conversation starter for café customers!
The bees will play an important role in food production on the roof, although the student canteen and Hive Café’s produce list this year is already impressive; it includes ten different fresh vegetables, over twenty different types of salad leaves, thirteen types of aromatic herbs and seven types of edible flowers. The food is freshly harvested in the morning from the rooftop; creating student footprints, rather than carbon ones.
Argent College and the Hive Café also recycle food waste in the building using a rooftop composter and basement wormery which, over a process of 3-4 months, turns waste into rich nutrients, which Gary calls ‘Brown Gold’. Since staff at the college and café started recycling food waste, they have massively reduced the quantity of compost bought from external sources as well as increasing soil fertility.
Staff and students at Argent College would like to pass on their gratitude to those who have helped them get started in beekeeping.
A big thank you to Tim Vivien from Custard Factory Bees for his advice and practical help, to Leila Scott and her mother Elsie Weston who donated her late husband Ernie’s beehive and equipment to the college, and to The Edward and Dorothy Cadbury Trust for a grant which has bought the new log hives and will cover the cost of future plans.
Ruskin Mill Trust also ran a fundraising campaign to fund urgent rooftop modifications to create a safe environment for the bees to live. Thanks go to our corporate sponsors Armsons and Davlyn Construction and to the dozen people* who donated money, including Marie and Mark Haddleton (publishers of the Hockley Flyer!).
Sponsors including Brian Simpson, Tina Francis, Sarah Hayes, Richard Woods, Josie Wall, Kate Cummins, Samantha Courtney, David Gaskin and Sally Walters. Other sponsors were anonymous.
So, what’s next for the New Standard Works building? Well, a new gallery space is being launched this month on the ground floor, and we can report that there are plans to grow a new type of produce in the basement, but for the moment we’ll have to keep you in the dark about that!