Along Old Birley Street in Hulme, Manchester, lies the Hulme Community Garden Centre (HCGC), which is a welcoming community space where people cultivate plants, care for the environment, and form friendships. Residents of Hulme founded HCGC in 1998 following the Manchester City Council’s decision to demolish public housing projects known as the Hulme Crescents. Since the centre opened to the public in 2000, it has been a vibrant community organisation that offers wide-ranging social and environmental contributions to the surrounding area.
In my work placement at the Hulme Community Garden Centre, I created an exhibit on the organisation’s history. As a History MA student, I was excited and grateful for the opportunity to put some of my previous academic studies into practice by engaging with the processes and products of public history research. I also had the delightful chance to learn more about HCGC and connect with staff and volunteers.
As part of my research process, I conducted archival research and oral history interviews. I enjoyed exploring the centre’s archives with other volunteers, as we found images from HCGC’s first ‘birthday’ party in 2001 and uncovered photographs of the organisation’s expansion into a former car park. Beyond learning more about the practice of oral history, I had a truly wonderful experience interviewing staff and volunteers and hearing how they contributed to the centre’s history.
In addition to studying HCGC’s and Hulme’s past, the entire research experience underscored that many people care deeply about the garden centre. Since the organisation’s founding, staff and volunteers have thoughtfully documented the centre’s development—especially through photographs—and maintained an archive for HCGC for nearly two decades. The fact that people offered their time and perspective in oral history interviews reflected a commitment to supporting the centre generally and the history exhibit specifically.
I worked to translate my research into an exhibit for the centre’s outdoor ‘info hub’ structure. I appreciated how creating the display involved thinking visually about how to present history. After I carefully selected photographs, wrote text descriptions, and mapped a layout, I collaborated with a graphic designer at the centre who helped make my vision for the exhibit a reality.
I am immensely grateful for the chance to experience the centre’s role as a community space on a first-hand basis. I am also thankful for the many people the Hulme Community Garden Centre and University of Manchester who made the placement and research project at HCGC possible.