Twenty years ago the Green Estate site in the Manor and Castle area high above the centre of Sheffield was a sad, fly-tipped stretch. It was plagued with rubble, squatters, and stray horses. The historic Tudor Lodge which once imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots was a sorry ruin. Little grass grew there.
Today in an amazing turnaround the same area, now run by a community interest company called Green Estate, has provided swathes of glorious wildflowers outside the chapel at Windsor Castle for Meghan and Harry’s wedding. It was on sale at the RHS show at Chatsworth House earlier this month, has been sold for many private gardens belonging to the rich and famous around the world, and closer to home can be seen on verges, roundabouts and parks across Sheffield.
It has even been sold to Holland to grace a canalside bank in The Hague.
The flowering turf is produced by Pictorial Meadows, just one of the businesses under the umbrella of Green Estate, the community interest company which sprang out of a regeneration drive across the Manor and Castle area founded 20 years ago. Now it has arms which run a green waste recycling venture on site, sell grass roofs and provide turf design and installation services, operate the Rhubarb Shed café and an education centre, and will shortly open a wedding venue.
Currently the Green Estate fields in Sheffield are largely used for research and development, with international Sheffield University PhD students trialling new seed mixes and testing wild flowers for colours and longevity. A student from Mongolia is growing plants from his native land, while in Spain a former Sheffield student is helping to test local species for Green Estate.
However, currently the bulk flowering turf is grown in Lincolnshire. This leads to time lags and is not as efficient as having the research and development and the production all on one site.
Now, thanks to an £84,000 Business Investment Fund grant through the Sheffield City Region Growth Hub, Green Estate can transform its operations and bring production on site, with investment in new machinery and infrastructure, and add nine staff over the next two years to the 45 already employed.
The Growth Hub investment has also acted as a catalyst for opening up the business to new ideas including plans for encouraging wildlife ‘tourism’ with visits to the site.
Sue France, Chief Executive of Green Estate, worked closely with Rachel Fletcher, one of the Growth Hub’s Access to Finance Advisors, as they applied for the grant. She said: “Rachel saw the business potential and kept steering and guiding us through the process. She is very capable – and she certainly wasn’t going to let me give up!”
Andy Sorsby, a Growth Hub Business Growth Specialist, also worked with Green Estate, making the initial diagnosis of its business needs, and referring it on to Rachel Fletcher.
Ms France added: “We are a social enterprise, and we sprang out of a community initiative, but I have always insisted that we needed to be businesslike. My early career was spent largely working with historic estates falling into decay such as the Lost Gardens of Heligan, where the owners were looking for ways to make a sustainable income and provide local employment.
“There is no reason why you shouldn’t have a profitable concern that also does good.”