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Transformation of Positive Steps

The Transformation of Positive Steps’ “Front Garden”: 2014 - 2016


  • To improve the area in front of Positive Steps in Oldham.
  • To develop the brick beds and make them easier to maintain.
  • To provide volunteer opportunities within the local community.


The Early Days

 Back in July 2014, John McCullough, a service user Positive Steps offered his services as a volunteer to clear out the area in front of Positive Steps, in Oldham.


Fifteen years previous, John had been a self employed gardener, so he was filled with enthusiasm for working outdoors after recently completing a conservation course with Groundwork. John linked up with Martin Sutton, the Family Services Project Manager at Positive Steps, and over the next six weeks John embarked on the process of clearing out the four brick flower beds. These were overgrown with trees and shrubs and in urgent need of attention. In the autumn, he planted bulbs that would rise up in the spring.



Pictures taken from Positive Steps, Early August 2014.


Winter – Early 2016: Prince’s Trust Community Project


In autumn 2015, Groundwork established Positive Steps as one of their team bases for Oldham funded Prince’s Trust teams. As part of the course each team is required to complete a project to benefit the community. Team 108 looked no further than the facility they had benefitted from and sought to improve it for others.

 After discussions with Martin, the team decided to conduct a variety of tasks. This included painting the benches, scraping and repainting the metal railings, digging out and adding new top soil to one of the lawns, and edging the lawn with timber.

 With the help of John they managed to achieve everything they set out to do. The benches were repainted brown and the railings are now a slick black. They successfully dug out and edged one lawn with John completing the other. At the end of the project they showcased their work in a team presentation to the Oldham Evening Chronicle and the management at Positive Steps. It was a great example of what a group of young people can achieve when motivated.


Spring & Early Summer 2016


The work around the front of Positive Steps progressed considerably from April. The idea was to develop the area into an edible garden. Oldham Council Parks department began their involvement and the conservation volunteers working through the Early Help project joined in too.

 Thanks to considerable investment from the Council in terms of plants and turf, the area has been entered for the “In Bloom” award. Council staff and volunteers have worked hard to get the area complete in time for the judge’s arrival.

 In the brick beds a variety of herbs and edible plants have been planted.




The Early Help volunteers working through Groundwork have also played their part. When they have been on site they have assisted in the upkeep of the area. Tasks have included weeding, watering, and harvesting, to encourage further healthy plant growth.

 Martin Sutton has been a constant source of support. Volunteers and staff alike have been very grateful for his positive feedback and assistance to access the equipment needed to maintain the area.


Lessons Learned

The range of agencies involved in the project serves as proof that an integrated approach can work. Hard work and cooperation have been at the centre of ensuring the space has been transformed. This case study explains how the project developed and highlights the main figures involved.


John McCullough, Positive Steps Volunteer Gardener:


                “I have gained a lot of self-confidence from doing the garden and want to seek paid work in this field if possible. I have been pleased by the efforts of both Prince’s Trust and Early Help volunteers, they have been a big part of the project. The improvement in the area has been massive and something for service users and staff from Positive Steps to be proud of. Central Oldham is being redeveloped significantly at the moment and it is great to see our patch being part of it.”


Since planting took place, the area has required maintenance. John McCullough has played a significant part in keeping the area looking fantastic. The final stage of planting was completed on June 1st and since then the beds have required constant watering and the lawns have needed mowing.

 The project itself has certainly been a success but the volunteer experience has also benefitted participants. A core team of roughly half a dozen volunteers have been consistently involved.



Martin Sutton, Family Services Project Manager, Positive Steps:


                “The project has helped volunteers gain skills they will need for employment. The garden at Positive Steps has been transformed from a town centre eye sore to an award winning community produce garden. I see it being used on a daily basis by residents and those who work in Oldham at lunchtime and throughout the day.”


Some of the Early Help volunteers & staff: (L-R) Joe Boardman, John McCullough, Neil Tomlinson, Paul Kenworthy, Matthew Lynwood, James Scholes.


Moving Forward


The upkeep will rest with John and the Early Help volunteers. Groundwork has an agreement through the Early Help contract to keep working on the site and engaging volunteers to maintain it. This presents an opportunity for service users to get involved on a potentially award winning site.