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Bolton NEWT - one big year in review

From May 2020 to June 2021 Bolton NEWT volunteers have been relentless in their volunteer work, written on behalf of Simon Gilkes, Bolton NEWT chairman. Due to the pandemic everything we had planned for 2020 and 2021 could have been cancelled, the money returned and as we had been under no obligation to do anything for the community because we're all just volunteers.. Instead, we contacted the appropriate funding bodies and not only adapted our funding already granted but applied for further funding to help the community.

Covid Resilience Fund

The outbreak led to NEWT applying for funding that would help spread awareness about Covid, help people with their mental health through Covid and still create a sense of community. We created our first ever vegetable grow kit, six pots, soil, seeds, grow guide, maps of Leverhulme Park and information regarding Covid.

The funding also allowed us to create two large banners with local Breightmet based information support ranging from food banks to community groups. The funding also included the purchase of a laptop and mobile data costs, we quickly learned that even NEWT members didn’t feel comfortable on group chats so we adapted that aspect to create guided walks and talks which we livestreamed, they had been a massive success, the Nob End SSSI walk had almost 10,000 views and encouraged people to visit the SSSI.

Bolton At Home Fund and Tonge Big Local Before the pandemic hit, we had successfully been given £736 from the Tonge Big Local for a community event and £500 from Bolton At Home for a community event at the Garstang Hub. We had already purchased 5000 maps of Leverhulme Park from the TBL fund, we then with approval adapted the grant funding with both funders to create a Halloween gift bag for the two wards. At the allotments, we, as a group put together all the ideas and concepts of the game, including testing of the game. However, myself and Simon lost the will to live in creating, fine-tuning, printing, laminating and developing a board game from scratch. It turned into a full-time job for both of us, working between eight and ten hour days for weeks. It was roughly 272 bags we made, each with an A3 board game of Leverhulme Park that featured Del’s face, a witch card with Del’s face, dice, chunk of clay, covid information, spell cards, Spooktacular cards, handmade wand, laminated score cards, rules and five pictures of pumpkin stencils, bag of haribo, other sweets and we had kind donations from Morrisons and the Co-Op that provided extra sweets.

The distribution in Tonge was much easier, thanks to Michelle from Bolton At Home, she put us in touch with Play and Youth who took sixty bags for local residents, we also had contacts in multiple shops who had been more than happy to take 15 bags each to be given out free to any families. In Breightmet however, NEWT members and volunteers took them by car to people’s homes. Although it was very time consuming, very labor intensive, we brought Halloween to the community not just in Breightmet but to Tonge, we brought some normality to children so they could enjoy what is now a well-established celebration of Halloween. Yet again, I want to reiterate this point, we had been under zero obligation to do any of this, we could have simply returned the money like other groups had done but instead we adapted the grant funding to do something we had never done before.

Winter Wonderland Bags There had been funding still left over from the Tonge Big Local, we spoke to Michelle who approved the use of a Winter Wonder land bag, 60 bags for families in Tonge. We also applied for grant funding, that was supposed to be used for NEWT volunteers as a celebration for ourselves, but as a group we decided we would like to use it to create sixty bags for the local area. Each Committee member had ten bags; they had been free to donate them to whoever they wanted.

The goodie bag was a new idea, never done before by us and so we purchased a multitude of Christmas related toys. Adele had contacts in Bromley Cross who had extra presents, through Del these presents from books to toys where put into the Winter Wonderland bags. The bags in Tonge were distributed through the shops again, open to all, first come, first serve. The bags in Breightmet both went to homes and to local connections to any large gatherings of families.

Remembrance Day Display Using the Garstang Hub, my flat and my parents’ home we created forty wooden poppies cut from donated wood given to the Hub. We had never done this before and it was part of our partnership work to enhance the display created by Adele, we sold 20 poppies raising £200 which helped to cover our costs but still allowed us to make a £100 donation the British Legion. My dad Dave in all honesty must have done at least 50% of these poppies by himself, it was labor intensive but the end result of seeing Del’s silhouettes surrounded by these wooden poppies really enhanced the display.

The feedback from the community on Bolton NEWT’s posts, Del’s Councillor page and Breightmet What’s happening was immense, not a single display piece was stolen or vandalized and I think this speak volume about our community.

Heathland Restoration Leverhulme Park had three patches of heather, the first by the tributary on the Breightmet side has been completely lost and all that remains is a few common gorse bushes. The heather by the bridge in the sandy banks has also been completely lost to Japanese knotweed, the third and final heather patch, located on the Tonge hill side was on the verge of being lost to silver birch, as the saplings become established and brambles over ran the heather.

During the Summer of 2020, we set about recovering the hillside, putting in hundreds of hours in removing the silver birch, opening up the light to the south side, thinning the trees, dead hedging, crown lifting and a new technique to leave five foot standing stumps so that we could carve them in to totems. During those summer months we discovered an abundance of fly agaric under the heather, common spotted orchard, raspberry bushes, Brimstone butterflies and that a breeding pair of sparrow hawks appear to nest nearby in the woods to the north east of the location. In May 2021 we received a donation from a local resident who purchased 100 heather plugs, a combination of all year-round flowering heather with a variation of colors, this was successfully planted and all plugs currently appear to be taking hold to their new habitat.

The lost path recovered

In the Autumn 2020 all the way to Spring 2021, when safe to work under covid rules we began restoration of a lost path at Leverhulme Park. On the old maps from the 1940’s it was discovered that a path once was located in the woods, when we explored this section, we discovered a flat leveled area now with established trees but below the soil, heavy compaction and stone two inches below. The work was extensive, we crown lifted over many months, we felled trees on the path and we even built a small bridge over a spillway and created five ponds with families from the run off. We knew when the work began that the area had both wild garlic and bluebells on either side of the path, what we didn’t expect is the sheer volume of both and how beautiful the area was in full bloom. The public even took pictures themselves and posted on social media after we publicized it’s opening and location. It really became one of the nicest locations at Leverhulme Park, even now in Summer, with the overhanging branches and full shade it feels like a true forest path.

Daffys on Long Lane Myself and Simon planted hundreds of tower daffys on Long Lane, I successfully managed to twist and bend the indestructible steel long handled bulb planter that has a 15 year guarantee. Myself, Simon and Gavin further planted one hundred daffys on the land Infront of Hatherleigh Walk. Both patches came up but we discovered a massive flaw in the Long Lane section, in that the flowering bulb is exactly the same height as the barrier, blocking the view of the daffy from car height. One nice gesture came from Rachel, while out planting daffys, we chatted about what we had been doing and she came back with brews for both me and SImon. These type of kind gestures from people, really do make a big difference to the work we do at Leverhulme Park.

Tawny Owl Wildflower Meadow Due to covid we had not been able to rake the cut grass on Tawny Owl Meadow to ensure yellow rattle establishment and germination, thank god for Del though in being able to convince the council to invest £1.5 million in environmental projects, which included £50,000 in a new device that attaches to the council tractor which not only cuts but rakes the grass! In May 2021 we planted 120 hedgerow saplings, a woodland trust community tree pack, on the north side of the meadow to enhance the habitat and mark the boundaries (a further 120 saplings will be planted in November 2021). On a further task we felled the saplings and fully extended the meadow on the north side but most importantly we observed that the new council tractor cut & rake had been a massive success in establishing, germinating and spreading the seeds. On this same task we finally introduced a combination of hand-picked wildflower meadow seeds purchased by myself and Simon but it was Simon who bought a ton of cornflower and yellow rattle out of his own pocket. As a new approach we have seeded a 1/3 of the seeds around open spots that surround the yellow rattle, we did this in June, it is a complete and utter experiment and we now have two months to watch and wait.

Orchard for Leverhulme Park City of trees in partnership work with Bolton Council, basically Del has used council funding to establish Orchards all around Bolton. We’re lucky that Leverhulme Park has not just one ward but is split between three wards, so one Orchard was granted to Leverhulme Park by the council. On Friday the 11th we met with City of Trees and planted 15 fruit trees; one local resident has donated funding with which he has purchased a further ten trees for the Orchard, on that same day we planted three Oak trees donated by a local resident.

Garstang Hub

The Garstang Allotments became the Garstang Hub, the development of this land was supposed to be a community driven project but due to Covid shutting down any volunteering it became NEWT’s covid regulated exercise site.

NEWT members and volunteers have utterly hammered and involved themselves in the establishment of this into an actual Hub. Bolton At Home donated a £1,800 weather proof shack for the site, we had visits from both Jon Lord and Noel Sharpe, a visit from David Greenhalgh the Council Leader and Robert Jenrick the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

It was used for planning and preparing our event bags, used for storage for NEWT tools and NEWT tasks, everything we did there is summed up quite well in a blog post. Oddly the vast majority of putting up a Greenhouse, weatherproof shack, multiple raised beds, laying flags has all been done in the last four months from March to June 2021. We have had substantial donations from the community to the allotments, every other week somebody seems to drop off donations and for 2020 we donated over 20 bags of potatoes to the food pantry (food bank), we even found time to make bug hotels which we donated to a Primary school.

The current issues we have for the site is gate access, we have given people keys then had locks break, locks get smashed, unable to get keys cut, it has been a nightmare. Even now, NEWT members don’t have keys. The entrance is an eyesore after ENW did work on it, we are still waiting for them to fix these issues.

In Summary Two of the nicest gestures we’ve had from the community was, firstly, a local resident who explained they had lived in the area since being a child and they had never seen the park looking so good as it does now. This resident who wishes to remain anonymous, has stated they would like to donate £500 for the enhancement of the park, so far this resident has purchased ten fruit trees, 100 heather plugs, 100 alpine strawberry plugs and with the remaining money, they have stated they will try and help find a rotavator for NEWT to use in future tasks. The second gesture was from George, who had been volunteering with us for a couple of sessions, he put us forward for a donation from his employer Cosatto for a £1,000. George mentioned he had a large donation and comedy sized cheque, we actually thought perhaps £200, which would have been amazing for our group as we know how far we can stretch donations but it was for a £1,000. That donation was phenomenal and it will be used to enhance and improve Leverhulme Park.

I stepped down from the chairman role due to family commitments. Simon is now the chairman, I’m still doing publicity roles and assisting where I can, the future for NEWT looks very promising and the level and scope of what we’ve accomplished in 2020 to 2021 has been nothing short of having full time employees despite the fact we’re all volunteers. I know everyone has family, work commitments, friends, social circles and other interests and hobbies besides NEWT so I just wanted to say thank you, for the time, each of you have given to NEWT, where and when you could.


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