Training with Creative English – laughing our way to better English!

Creative English is a proven, community-based, English language teaching programme that provides learning courses suitable for all levels of English, particularly suitable for those with little or no English language skills. Participants who are more confident and have more advanced English can really improve their English also by helping those with less skills and even becoming volunteers and facilitators within the programme.

By using a drama-based teaching method, that uses scenarios, props and flash cards within peer to peer, group/pair work, role-play and games, participants acquire every-day, practical English covering topics such as health, going to the doctor / hospital, shopping and the local community and housing. Participants have also found the topics related to work very useful, including job interviews and volunteering. We have found the Creative English programme to be a fantastic platform to also provide information and sign-post participants to other opportunities, services and sources of support linked to the subjects covered.

We have been delivering Creative English classes alongside other social gatherings for more than 3 years now and many participants have improved their English and made new friends as a result of coming to classes. You can find out more about the background to our Creative English class in the page within this blog: ‘Our Creative English Journey’.

Our group has undergone quite a few changes over the last 6 months with many new participants joining and becoming volunteers – so we decided it was time to breathe some new life into our class! Dr Anne Smith, the creator and developer of Creative English came all the way up to Salford from her base in London to visit us and deliver training to our group over what was two very fun and enjoyable days!

Participants involved in our January 2020 training with Dr. Anne Smith (far right)

Getting involved in the training has provided an opportunity for volunteers to learn how to facilitate the Creative English method within learning sessions as well as practice and improve their own communication, confidence and leadership skills. We became much more familiar with how to facilitate the informal games, dramatized stories and play-based activities that make the Creative English learning syllabus so much fun whilst being accessible to all. Dr. Anne Smith was very supportive and gave us confidence to continue delivering our Creative English class for the diverse, multi-ethnic community of Salford.

A Day Out to Manchester Whitworth Gallery and Gardens

With exhibitions of new work by some of the world’s leading artists alongside watercolours, textiles, wallpapers, photographs and fine art, The Whitworth has become one of the city’s most popular galleries. So our group decided that this must-see cultural destination must be our next visit!

The Whitworth Gallery, situated in central Manchester, was enjoyed by all who attended! We loved this excursion because, as well as the various exhibition spaces inside, there are also outside galleries that are integrated into the adjacent park and art garden. There is a sculpture terrace and orchard garden that run alongside spaces that lead intoi the park.

Following our guide to the outside gallery space.

Our tour allowed time to explore the tapestries from around the world – from Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Yemen. Many of these countries that hold a wealth of heritage are also important to the culture of many of our participants, particularly those having fled the on-going conflict within Syria and Yemen. Exhibitions included drawings, paintings, sculptures, photographs and more from a wide range of local and international artists.

A tour guide from the Whiteworth Gallery accompanied our group on our visit and provided a wealth of information and insight to the works on display.

Our group learning about the origins of tapestries on display

The section of ‘Kiswa’ cloth, woven in satin silk, dates back to 1924 and really made an impression on many of our group. This important cloth is woven with religious phrases in Arabic and covers the ‘Ka’ba’ in Mecca and sections are destributed accross the world every year.

Our group crowding around the ‘Kiswa’ cloth.

Our group was fascinated to learn more about the Vistorian tradition of making wall-paper and how British dsigners actually used methods involving dyes, wood-blocks and printing that originated in India, Pakistan and the Middle-East as well as Japan and far-eastern countries. The tour guide explained how methods have evolved over time and how we now use computer-aided design and modern technologies now. However, these technologies are often used to recreate ancient techniques and draw upon other cultures and tradition.

There was also an exhibition called ‘Beyond Faith: Muslim Women Artists Today’ showcasing the work of five Muslim women that really made an impression on many of our participants, many of whom were already familiar with the stories and works of the artists but who had never actually seen their work. The exhibition explored themes of identity, culture, ‘otherness’ and belonging. These imprtant pieces also reflected the diverse personal journeys of the artsists and their artistic journies, challenging the stereo-types of Muslim women.

A First Excursion… Our Visit to Ordsall Hall in Salford

For our first excursion we wanted to visit the beautiful Ordsall Hall, a fantastic example of a great Tudor house, situated in our own area Salford.  The house has had a long and interesting history and dates back to 1177! Participants and volunteers thought it would was important to explore a local museum where participants can easily re-visit with friends and family in the future.

We were able to enjoy a special tour specifically designed for those whose first language is not English, provided by two very knowledgeable and friendly tour guides which really made the visit very interesting and fun! There was so much to do and discover and we even took part in a quiz!

Our tour guide explaining how kitchen apparatus was used in Tudor times.

Participants enjoyed dressing up as Tudors and tried on some chainmail, exploring the different rooms and places within the great house with plenty of time to ask questions and discuss the different artefacts on display.

We spent an enjoyable amount of time sat at the Tudor dining table learning about foods that would have been cooked at the Hall in the 1500s. We were all fascinated to learn about different recipes and what you would eat if you were the wealthy land owner or a servant at the other end of the table!

Participants were fascinated to discover more about the way of life for people living in tudor times and how the owners of the property would have spent their time. The tour staff answered many questions and added a real buzz to our day which added to what was a very enjoyable time spent with friends exploring the house and gardens. We also found time to enjoy some tea and cake in the museum cafe!

The gardens surrounding Ordsall Hall are designed to showcase garden elements popular throughout history such as the late Tudor style knot garden, medieval herb gardens and orchards which provided participants with plenty of inspiration for our own Paradise Garden rebuild design. The traditional 20th century allotment that can be explored at Ordsall Hall also provide a fantastic example of the kinds of fruit and vegetables that can be grown within a relatively small space throughout the year.

A New Project: Making Friends & Learning English Through Culture & Nature

The Creative English programme we have delivered over the last 4 years focuses on a wide range of topics such as health, public transport, recognising landmarks, seasonal events and festivals amongst many more (see the ‘Our Creative English Group’ page within this blog for more info). Following the catastropic fire that decimated The Ascension Church in February, 2017, the Creative English classes relocated to our nearby sister church of St. Paul’s Church, Pendelton, Salford.

Volunteers and participants at a Creative English class at St. Paul’s Church

Many of the discussions involved in the learning activities within classes have covered UK culture, history and heritage. To continue and expand these learning activities, we are now delivering a new project alongside our current Creative English activities. This new project goes beyond the class-room, with regular, ‘field-trips’ to iconic, cultural, historical and scenic places across Greater Manchester and its rural surroundings so that participants can learn about nature, ecology, heritage and gardening, linked into our Paradise Garden rebuild programme whilst practicing English and making friends!

Developing friendships is an important part of our Creative English programme

The field trips will involve group discussions, research and planning prior to trips, focusing on building the confidence of participants to fully participate in the experiences on offer, using and practicing English in everyday situations, acquiring vocabulary and ideas for future class-room based activities with related, Creative English revision around related themes.  

We are really excited about this new project as it will provide an opportunity for participants to interact, make friends and experience cultural UK heritage and nature, enabling participants to better integrate and access the life of the whole community around them. Moreover, this project will also enable the local community itself to move forward in a positive way, following the devastating fire of February, 2017, offering the opportunity for growth, change and engagement across the community.

Volunteers enjoying the Paradise Garden before the fire of Feb, 2017.

What Happened! Catastrophic fire burns The Ascension Church to the ground, Feb 2017

Only a few months following the previous post from November, 2016, a devastating fire reduced the huge 800 capacity, Victorian Ascension Church and our beautiful Paradise Garden to a ruin in an arson attack on February 13th, 2017. The blaze could be seen for miles across the City of Manchester, with fire-fighters battling the fire for hours to gain control, however, only parts of the stone shell, columns and some stone carvings remained of the church, with the Paradise Garden also decimated and ruined by huge amounts of water and the many fire fighters and equipment needed to stop the blaze.

The Ascension Church following the devastating fire. Photo courtesy of Thomasins Civil and Structural Engineers.

However, the day after the fire it was discovered that all of our bee-hives and colonies of bees within were unharmed, sheltered behind the high apiary fence and poplar trees in the corner of the Paradise Garden. The bee-hives were quickly re-homed within the allotments belonging to our collaborative partner The Irwell Valley Sustainable Communities Trust. The fact that they had survived the terrible blaze provided a sign of hope to the devastated community, particularly those involved in our Paradise Garden.

Photo courtesy of Thomasins Civil & Structural Engineers

The fire made national news the following day, with a huge outcry from the local community to rebuild the church, particularly from residents, volunteers and parishioners who worshipped at church and accessed the various community activities and volunteer initiatives, with interest and support also flooding in from churches across the UK and from people of other faiths and no faith. It was initially feared that the church would have to be demolished, however, The Diocese of Manchester and Ecclesiastical Insurance responded positively to this huge, public outcry from the local community to rebuild the iconic much-loved, local landmark and well used community facility, with Architects Buttress appointed to take on the rebuilding of the Grade II listed building.

Work begins to salvage, restore and rebuild The Ascension Church in 2017. Photo courtesy of Tomasins Civil & structural Engineers

After an initial phase of assessment to identify what remained in terms of architectural features or artefacts that had historic and social significance, these items were conserved and the building stabilised. During 2018 the work to rebuild the roof and masonry repair work was begun with the work set to continue into 2019 / 2020. However, by the end of 2019 the work will begin on the interior of the church and the current hope is that the work will be finished in time for the church to re-open sometime in 2020.

Landscaping, Planting…. and mowing!


Throughout the Summer months our Paradise Garden continued to bloom with many more of the bulbs and seeds we planted earlier in the Winter and Spring months bringing forth beautiful flowers including poppies, tulips, wall flowers, bluebells. The cherry tree and apple trees that are situated on the South side of the church also bloomed much more profusely than in previous years.

Our volunteers found that it is hard to keep a balance between doing the rewarding and creative jobs such as planting and landscaping that bring the garden forward and continue developing the vision of a ‘Paradise Garden’ and the more mundane jobs which must be done in order to maintain the appearance of the garden and keep it free from weeds.  However, the volunteers managed to carry out some heavy landscaping tasks alongside the everyday jobs such as weeding, mowing and pruning etc! Volunteers particularly enjoyed getting involved in the weaving of our living willow arch way that covers the disabled access ramp.

Watch This!  Volunteer Interviews

Some thoughts and feedback on their volunteering experience from volunteers Scott and Subhan and some exciting news on their upcoming plans for future work and employment.

Creating a tiny part of English Countryside

Our aim is to create a multi-faith, contemporary Paradise Garden which draws on the rich heritage and symbolism of traditional Paradise Gardens and yet also endeavours to reassemble the natural mosaic of indigenous landscape features, plants and habitats that still exist in the pockets of wild nature in our English countryside. In addition to the many fruit trees, herbs and wild flowers that have been planted over the past five years, the volunteers planted many new additions to the South Side of the church this year including many different species that would be found in native meadows and encourage bees and other insects that contribute to the health and vitality of the garden.

Varieties of hardy, perennials that are indigenous to the UK planted include the attractive thistle ‘Cirsium  Rivulare’, the wood sage ‘Trevor’s Blue Wonder’,  the ornamental clover ‘Triffolium Rubers’, the beautiful ‘Helenium’ which is part of the sunflower family, ‘Monarda’ or Elsie’s Lavender’ and the columbine flower ‘Aquilegia Vulgaris’.


We also planted some other varieties that are natural wildflower species but are actually indigenous to Canada and the U.S.A. such as Phlox Paniculata and Achillea Flipendulina or ‘Gold Plate’ or the ‘Thalictrum Flavum’ or Tukker Princess’ which is indigenous to Russia.



The organic vegetable garden also needed plenty of work to keep it weeded with plenty of watering needed during the sunny spells. Lewis’s bean patch needed various larger stakes putting in for the beans to climb up as they grew taller and taller!


The laurel trees and other large shrubs that were planted in February to cover the view from the walkway to our apiary also thrived over the summer months and volunteers could see the hard work they had done some six months ago was now paying off!






Bee Hives Thrive in Spring 2016

Due to a super mild winter our bees only needed to have a very short period of a few months when the weather was too cold for going out ‘foraging’ and by April we could see plenty of activity and the numbers of bees in the colony began to grow and grow!  We also welcomed many new volunteers onto the bee-keeping programme in April and we soon had a regular Saturday morning group of many different ages. Here’s some of the group getting to grips with the basics…

“I got involved as I wanted to learn something new and it is so interesting to see how busy they are and learn how complex their systems are!”  Sophie

“I feel very excited and happy to be so close to the colony” Narendra

“It was really interesting and exciting seeing the hive with all the bees flying around and seeing larvae in the cells and where the queen bee was.” Nathan

Our practical rolling programme includes the below aspects and apart from the honey extraction and pest management (which are both autumn/winter tasks) our new bee-keepers started to get to grips with the tasks right away.

The life cycle of the honey bee

Health and nutrition for the colony

Tools and safety awareness

Hive assembly and maintenance

Open-hive demonstrations and inspections

Pests and integrated pest management

The Bee Hive

The first task for our volunteers was getting to grips with the layout and different parts of the bee hive which was accomplished by repeated demonstrations and studying learning resources developed for the purpose. The modern hive has a self-spacing, ‘movable frames’ arranged side by side across the width of a rectangular box, which allow the bees to be ‘managed’ so that maximum amounts of honey can be produced and then easily extracted. Modern hives consist of:


  •  Outer cover: provides weather protection.

  • Inner cover: provides separation from an overly hot or cold outer cover and can be used as a shelf for feeding.

  • Honey super: usually shorter than the brood box, this is the uppermost box where honey is stored.

  • Queen excluder: provides a selective barrier inside the beehive that allows worker bees but not the larger queens and drones to traverse the barrier.

  • Frames and foundation: wooden frames with wax sheets with honeycomb impressions where the bees build their wax honey combs.

  • Brood box or Deep Super: the lowest box of the hive where the Queen Bee lays her eggs.

  • Bottom board: this has an entrance for the bees to get into the hive.

  • Hive stand- providing a landing board for the bees that helps to protect the bottom board from rot and cold transfer.

During April and May the Queen Bee lays eggs during the day and night, laying over 2000 eggs a day, more than her own body weight! With the brood nest expanding the colony grows bigger every day and the bees begin to fly out and ‘forage’ for nectar when the weather becomes warmer. Many important plants for the bees come into flower in May in our Paradise Garden including Fruit Blossom, Dandelions and Daffodils and the bee hive explodes with activity as the bees fly out to ‘forage’ and bring back nectar.

The hives need to be inspected every week to check that the Queen Bee has plenty of room to lay in the brood box, adding another if necessary.

Photos of open hive demonstrations in April & May, 2016

It is also the time when the swarming instinct is at its highest so it is time for the our Bee Keepers to be ahead of the bee’s requirements for honey storage by placing another super on as soon as a super is half full of bees and comb, especially if the weather is good! Volunteers learn how to inspect the hives and put second and third honey supers over the first during May so that they can be filled with the surplus honey that the bees are making – it is the season of plenty!

Watch This!

A short film of open hive inspections undertaken in April / May, 2016, demonstrating to new volunteers how to open up the hive and what to look for…

Spring Has Sprung!


In early March when the weather was still pretty cold and dreary some wonderful volunteers from The Broughton Trust with some of our regular families who volunteer with our community events came and helped out for a full day of job…. mending the fences around our bee hive apiary and clearing all the weeds and winter debris. We all planted some more Spring bulbs and shrubs following on from those planted during February. Great job guys…. Spring is round the corner!

Then April and May brought us some wonderful warm sunshine and we were quickly inundated with jobs to do so as everything began to grow – particularly the grass as mowing the ample lawns quickly becomes a weekly chore throughout the summer months as it grows so fast!  Preparing our raised beds ready for sowing seeds and planting them up with veg was also the major big job of the Spring….digging over the beds and mixing in manure and liquid see-weed plant food – a natural organic fertilizer that helps to bind soil together and contains all the nutrients, trace elements and amino acids that plants need.

We welcomed some new volunteers over the Spring months and quickly had a good team working hard every week at our regular gardening sessions. Here’s some of the team in action! Aladjin, Kayleigh, Lewis, Kokilamala, Prabash, Shiymali, Scott, Mohammed and Subhan – thanks for all your hard work!


The next job was getting some vegetables planted in our organic garden which every year are enjoyed by our volunteers, parishioners and friends of The Ascension Church.  This year we planted potatoes, runner (climbing) beans, tomatoes, cabbages, lettuces and chilli peppers! Here is Lewis and his runner bean bed, at only 9 years old he has been responsible for germinating the beans in ‘root-trainer books’ which he looked after at home before planting them out, watering and tending to the beans to make sure they clung to the stakes that he put in the raised bed for them to climb up – great job Lewis!

Many of the Spring Bulbs which were planted back in January and February came into bloom and our Paradise Garden was awash with colour! Bluebells, Narcissus, Daffodils and Tulips and much more to come over the summer….


Our Apiary: Introducing Bees to The Paradise Garden

Our collaborative project with The Irwell Valley Sustainable Communities Project and The Salford Bee Collective enabled us to install our first bee hive in the Spring of 2014, with training which enabled volunteers to gain understanding of the life cycle of the honey bee and related aspects of bee-keeping and managing hives.

The bee-keeping volunteer initiative has since become very popular, with volunteers gaining a wealth of expertise and knowledge from their involvement in our practical activities with a second hive installed in the Summer of 2014 and over 15 jars of honey sold at the 2014 Christmas Fair as well as at other parish and volunteer events.

WATCH THIS! A collaborative project with Master’s Degree Media Studies Students at Salford University also got under way during the autumn and winter of 2014, producing a short film which describes how important bees are to the natural world and local ecosystems as well as how important the keeping of bees has become to the local community and volunteers at the Paradise Garden.

Introducing Our Bee-Keeping Trainer

David completed our ‘taster’ bee-keeping training course in July 2014 and became a very dedicated volunteer, subsequently taking a key role in the management of our hives as well as acquiring his own hives at his allotments shortly after starting volunteering with the project. Additional, more in depth training was enabled by funding secured through the European Social Fund capacity building grant so that David could undertake additional in-depth training at Tiger Hall in Shropshire providing the additional knowledge that he required to deliver bee-keeping training to a small group of participants during 2015.

David’s knowledge of bees and how to keep them now seems to be astronomical!  Following the positive feedback and involvement from those who took part in the bee-keeping activities led by David in 2015 we have promoted the bee-keeping to a much wider audience for the start of the 2016 season and hope to get many more people involved in the fascinating world of bee-keeping during the 2016 calendar year -seen here below…

December 2015 : A summary of ‘where the bees are up to’!

WATCH THIS!!! A short film capturing the final hive inspection of 2015 and interviews with David and other volunteers about the health of the colony as the hives were shut down in December 2015 and the hopes and aspirations of those involved for 2016.

The Garden: What’s Been Happening Over The Winter?

baksOur volunteers have continued to come and help maintain the garden over the winter months and although our winter season volunteer sessions are not as regular as during the summer and autumn months due to the weather, it has been great fun to meet up and continue developing our Paradise Garden.

We were still harvesting veg in early November due to the exceptionally mild weather! November and December proved to be a good time for tidying up the garden and pruning back the hedges and borders, picking up any litter and clearing decaying matter and dead leaves. 

Planting Our Spring Bulb Collections

During December and January we planted a variety of Spring bulbs which we purchased from Roger of Pickering’s fantastic family run nursery in North Yorkshire which specialises in traditional and organic methods of growing fruit trees and ornamental and naturally indigenous varieties of shrubs, trees and flowers.

Tony, Loch & Subhan prepare the beds ready for planting bulbs

A Naturalising Collection: We chose varieties of Crocus, Aconites, Bluebells and Fritillary, various Alliums including the ‘Stipitatum and ‘Vineale’ varieties and the ‘White Splendour’ and ‘Blue Shades’ Anemones, all of which are ideally suited to growing in the wild or in orchards and meadows in the natural English countryside. We also planted many different varieties of tulips to add colour to the borders including ‘Apricot Fox’, Queen of Night’ and ‘White Triumphator, such as the below examples of the flowers which will hopefully grow from the bulbs planted.

The ‘Scented Collection’: comprising five different Narcissus varieties including the ‘Carlton’ ‘Cheerfulness’ and Flower Drift’ varieties, three different Hyacinth varieties, the ‘Christmas Pearl’ and ‘Album’ varieties of Muscari and the violet scented blue ‘Reticulata Iris’. These varieties were all chosen for their sweetly scented flowers and bright colours which will give a beautiful splash of colour to the Paradise Garden during the first months of Spring, as per below examples.

Volunteer Jake prepares the beds and plants an assortment of bulbs against the South side wall

Climbing, Scented Roses

A selection of climbing roses were also planted over the winter which we hope will soon be climbing along the South and West walls of the church. We selected traditional varieties that flower often and that have strong fragrances to enhance the sweet scents which are a traditional element of ‘Paradise Gardens’. We also selected varieties that would be suitable for our often very wet and windy Salford climate! Varieties include the ‘Rosa Iceberg’, ‘Rosa Geoffrey Smith’, ‘Rosa Dublin Bay’ and ‘Rosa New Dawn’, such as examples below.

Ornamental Trees & Shrubs for a ‘Paradise Garden’

A particularly mild February proved to be an ideal time to plant new hedge shrubs and trees and transplant (move) any that would be better off situated in a different area. So a number of Espalier trees were successfully transplanted by volunteers Scott and Subhan to the North side hedge, because, although as although they were growing well situated against the South facing church wall there was a risk that the roots might be too close to the foundations.

Choosing carefully, we selected a variety of shrubs and ornamental trees which fits our aim of creating a contemporary ‘Paradise Garden’ that is ‘bee-friendly’, providing nectar ad pollen throughout the growing season. The varieties include unusual and striking plants as well as more traditional varieties which are indigenous to the UK. As the ground was unusually warm during February as there was hardly a frost in sight we got together to plant the rooted, flowering trees and shrubs as detailed below with photo examples.

Deutzia ‘Codsall’; A tall, unusual looking deciduous shrub with interesting bark which is native to Japan and china. It has scented flowers which appear in the summer for a few weeks and fruits which are small, cup-shaped capsules which come into fruition during the winter.

Kolwitzia Amabilis: A delicious shrub with bell-shaped flowers and lots of dark green foliage.

Philadelphus x Lemoinei: A shrub which has bright green leaves and a profusion of white flowers.

Ribes Sanguineum: also known as ‘King Edward VII’, a shrub which has a strong fragrances and large drooping clusters of crimson flowers in the Spring.

Planting a Privet Hedge Around Our Apiary

privet xx
The area between the apiary and the railings

We decided that the area near our apiary alongside the nearby railings which overlook a public walkway would benefit from a privet hedge and make the area more secure by obscuring the view of our bee-hives from unwanted attention. This is because the bee hives have unfortunately been vandalised in the past with bricks thrown at the hives.

hedge1During February we planted twenty-five shrubs of the fast-growing evergreen Ligustrum Ovalifolium, also known as ‘Oval Leaved Privet’, which will be ideal with it’s thick, fleshy leaves that are green on the top, with a yellowy underside and white flowers that bloom in midsummer with a strong scent. We also planted an additional five Prunus Luscitanicus, also known as Portugal Laurel, another hardy privet.

hedge 2

We planted the shrubs in trenches that were dug using the double digging method, which will grow up the outside of the new apiary we will be constructing, to allow better access for more bee-keepers within our training and volunteer activities.

The Double Digging Method

double digWe planted the shrubs in trenches that were dug using the double digging method, a technique used to increase soil drainage and aeration involving the loosening of two layers of soil and the addition of organic matter. This method is typically done when cultivating soil in a new garden, or when deep top-soil is required.

First the top layer is dug off with a spade, forming a shallow trench, and then the under-layer (at the bottom of the trench) is dug with a fork or ‘pick’, breaking up the lower layer with organic matter such as compost or horse manure (which is what we used) added to the soil.

mIN= HYou can also add any other minerals like gypsum or phosphorus which may be required added into the trench with the manure.

A second trench is then started, backfilling the first trench. This process is repeated until the whole bed has been treated. There will be soil left over from the first trench, which is used to fill the last trench.

Looking Forward to Spring!

The final removal of the scaffolding that has shrouded the entire east end of the church has left the area looking like a derelict building site. However, come the Spring this gives us a ‘blank canvas’ and plenty of opportunities for new planting schemes. Much of the work that has been done over the winter months, particularly the planting of winter bulbs, won’t be noticeable until the Spring and Summer months when we hope to enjoy the lovely flowers that will hopefully bloom, providing nectar and pollen for our bees as well as a splash of welcome colour to the garden.

feb bulb
….and by February the bulbs planted in November/December were already shooting up!