Supporting food system change in Manchester

A collaboration to shape the future of grassroots green infrastructure projects in Greater Manchester and beyond.

Partner overview

Manchester Urban Diggers (MUD) are community market gardeners who are looking to create food system change in Manchester by providing a network of hyper-local, organically grown fresh produce to the local communities. The organisation offers the space to the local community to host workshops, events, volunteer sessions, social prescribing sessions.

Project delivery: March to June 2021

The challenge

community garden

MUD has demonstrated that their urban gardening model is feasible with both public and private partners. Manchester’s Platt Fields Market Garden attracts many customers and volunteers across the city, effectively showing how public land can be used to grow local and sustainable food products. Establishing a partnership with local restaurants, they have proved that private business can equally be involved in the transformation of urban land into a cultivable one that benefits the community. 

Building on the first-hand evidence gathered so far through these projects on the benefits of market gardening, MUD was looking to scale up their activities, develop new business collaborations and stronger connections in the local community. In order to achieve this, they needed a stronger evidence-based communication strategy as well as a structured analysis of their business context to identify and prioritise opportunities. 

Research team

  • Ling Li, School of Management, The University of Liverpool
  • Dr Filippo Oncini, Marie Curie Fellow, Sustainable Consumption Institute, The University of Manchester
  • Sarah Walker, PhD Researcher in Design, School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University

The solution 

The Research Team built on their complementary theoretical approaches in business development (Ling Li), mixed methods research design (Filippo Oncini) and co-creative practices and design theory (Sarah Walker) to offer a multifaceted solution to MUD’s business challenge. They used a multi-method approach to collate and analyse existing data and documentations as well as to collect primary data through interviews with volunteers and partners, to tell a story of what MUD do and what they want to achieve in the future.

Outcomes and impact

This research demonstrated that urban gardening is an instrumental practice to alleviate food security issues as well as a way to ease stress, engage with the environment and develop a sense of community.

MUD received a comprehensive report which included case studies to showcase the environmental and social benefits of their projects, as well as recommendations for future development. As part of the outputs, an editable brochure was created to offer findings in a visual format to help MUD outreach to its wider community including volunteers, partners, customers and prospective funders and supporters. Recommendations were provided in four strategic areas, including measurement of impacts, future development of Platt Fields Markect Garden, future development of partnerships, and future development of funding applications, to help MUD further grow and expand in the future. These recommendations along with the research findings provided MUD with a solid evidence base for promoting their important community work and attracting additional funding.

ESRC Festival of Social Sciences 2021

The research team built on their research findings and recommendations in a community workshop, as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Sciences 2021. They collaborated with MUD, Hannah Murray, Collaboration Labs and the Sustainable Consumption Institute at The University of Manchester to deliver an urban gardening workshop 'Dig for Victory: Growing Greater Manchester's Sustainable Food Revolution'. 

This workshop aimed to support emerging grassroots green interventions in Greater Manchester by engaging with a range of communities from across the city-region. It featured a series of interactive talks exploring the role of urban gardening in helping us to build safe, resilient and sustainable cities; why we must incorporate food into Manchester’s Climate Change Response; the transformational possibilities of sustainable food in the city, with a tour of Platt Fields Market Garden. 

The story of MUD as well as the future visions of the founders were truly inspirational and we are proud to be part of the team to help them spread their message using our collective skills. The benefits of working with MUD provided us with a sense of responsibility to our research that we feel urged to conduct more relevant studies to support organisations like MUD.

Ling Li / University of Liverpool

We feel that we have grasped a general idea on the benefits of urban gardening, as well as the problems that researchers are facing to measure the impact (especially the qualitative aspects such as social value) of urban agriculture. The literature review will come handy also for our and MUD’s future works, as it details the results of the most important studies conducted to date.

Dr. Filippo Oncini / The University of Manchester

It’s been a pleasure to work with MUD on this collaborative project, they have been very supportive and flexible throughout the process. It has been fascinating to learn more about what MUD do and hear directly from their volunteers and partner about all the fantastic work they do. This project encourages me to continue researching social value and impacts of grassroots and social enterprises to people and the planet.

Sarah Walker / Manchester Metropolitan University