Behind the Scenes: The Gallery bees and garden
It all started in 2011.
I wrote a proposal to keep bees on the rooftop of Manchester Art Gallery. I had been reading an article about rooftop beekeeping on The Tate Modern and thought if they can do it then so can we. It also seemed apt that the symbol of Manchester is the bee. The proposal was accepted and that is when I wondered how to implement it!
I had no training or knowledge of beekeeping so along with my enthusiastic co-worker, John Peel, we enrolled on a beekeeping course and then bought a hive.
We now have 3 hives on the roof which produce enough honey for us to sell in the gallery shop – Bee Raphaelite Honey. We also have lip balm made with the wax from the hives.
The last four years have given me a wonderful insight into the world of beekeeping. It has introduced me to amazing people and provided fantastic experiences. I have appeared in a film about urban rooftop beekeepers. I have given a talk at Tatton Flower Show. We have held staff forums on the roof and even a BBC Radio Manchester broadcast. It has led to my interest in urban sustainability and planting flowers for foraging. As well as the three hives on the roof we now have a rooftop garden growing flowers for the bees to forage.
There has also been an allotment using old pallets and the produce grown used for a Harvest supper at MAG. My passion for urban sustainability has led to my involvement with the Lost Gardens of Manchester, working with The National Trust to create the new green space at the front of the gallery.
I have been working with Grow Wild, an organisation who promote the planting of wildflowers and was successful in receiving funding from Grow Wild to plant a medicinal garden at the front of the gallery. This is a space that we hope to develop and ultimately be able to use the herbs and plants.
I have worked very closely with River of Flowers – an organisation which encourages wildflower planting in urban areas – and Landlife from The National Wildflower Centre in Liverpool. These amazing people have helped to produce a bespoke Manchester Art Gallery wildflower seed mix called Cycle-Flower-Power also available in the gallery shop.
In May of this year 6 gallery colleagues joined me on a 3 day cycle ride from Manchester to London to promote the sustainability projects that the Manchester Museums and Galleries Partnership undertakes. Along the way we gave out packets of our wildflower seed mix and we ended our journey with an event in Bethnal Green as part of The Chelsea Fringe Festival. We have big plans for another cycle ride in 2016 to further promote the work we do with partner organisations.
The last four years have seen a lot of hard work and effort into realising these projects. They wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for the extraordinary help some people are prepared to give and also the backing and encouragement of the gallery. There are many like minded people in Manchester who keep bees on roofs, who plant wildflowers and endeavour to make the city, and beyond, a better place. In the future we will hopefully be able to have a cohesive map of these wonderful spaces that are hidden to many people.
As the bees get prepared for the winter and as the flowers wait for spring, I will be planning next years growing and cycling. For now our Honey will be on sale in the shop and we have an evening of celebrating apples to prepare for.
There is an old folklore which tells us to tell the bees all our news and they will pass that on. I think specifically it is births, marriages and deaths but I will take that analogy and pass on all future happenings from our rooftops.
John Mouncey, Visitor Services Gallery Manager