Social Impact, collaboration, and sustainability
I was amazed to hear about some more of the great ways Dirt Factory is teaming up with the local community to make their new place the best it can be, and generate new income streams, while also giving back to the area and the environment.
In the area outside, where the portable pump track is kept, were piles of old bikes in various states of disrepair. I was curious as to where these had all come from, and what they were doing there. Turns out, these old bikes are a lot more useful than they look!
Dan explained that they had been donated by Greater Manchester Police. At police stations, they have heaps and heaps of stolen and missing bikes that could not be traced back to their original owners, so were just sitting there not being used, taking up a lot of valuable space at police stations. Greater Manchester is a big place - thousands of bikes go missing or get stolen every year, so you could imagine the sheer volume of bikes that end up at police stations is unreal!
The Dirt Factory guys run workshops for the public - kids and adults - where they strip down the bikes, and people have the chance to get creative with the parts, and make their own ornaments and art pieces. People of all ages are welcome, and it’s absolutely free! “The idea is”, Dan explained, “is that you don’t use any tools; just the bike parts and your hands”.
They have plans for another project, due to start in a month. This is called Build a Bike. The idea is that people can come along, and restore one of those bikes donated by the police with help from the mechanics employed by Dirt Factory. Once the bike is up and running, they get to take it home as their very own!
As it turns out, the decoration I had seen on the way in, with the plant pots and the bike parts, was the result of one of these workshops! I found out later that the plan for this is for the plants to grow up and around all the bike parts in time, which will look even better than it does already. Dan showed me some more of the crazy things people had been making...the first thing I saw was something that looked like it had 4 legs and a head. “This is supposed to be a horse”, he explained.
On one of the steep inclines next to one of the dirt tracks inside, were things that looked a bit like faces - all made out of old tyres, and chains and bolts. This had been someone’s creation at one of the workshops. One young boy and his mother had worked together to build a big flower. They had wrapped fairy lights around it, and it still worked. Dan switched it on, and it looked amazing. I would love that as a lamp in my sitting room!
The whole area had so many of these quirky and characterful sculptures and pieces of bike art scattered around in various places. There was loads more to discover, by looking around.
Dan pointed out the real trees and plants dotted around. These, like the bikes, had started out in a bad state of disrepair, and had been given a second chance, once they had been donated by Mayfield, a building company.
So that was the outcome of the last 12-odd months. But how did it all start?
Dan explained the backstory, and how it has all come together…
U and I are a unique property developer focussed on regeneration of run-down areas, particularly in the biggest cities. They have taken on the task of regenerating the whole area where the Dirt Factory premesis is located - And Dirt Factory is part of that project. The old Mayfield Depot, and the surrounding area has been derelict and abandoned for over 30 years. The 24 acre area is set to create around 10,000 new jobs, as it becomes office, commercial, retail and leisure space, becoming a brand new neighbourhood for the people. The whole thing is worth £1.1 billion, and is a 15-year scheme.
A year passed by after that initial conversation took place before they took things any further. When Dirt Factory got back in touch with the development company, they broached the possibility of Dirt Factory potentially using one of the smaller warehouses to build a Dirt Factory Pop-up. Of course, their main mission is still to achieve something on a far bigger scale than what I had just been shown around, but they decided that for the time being, they would need to consider doing something on a significantly smaller scale. After seeing this warehouse space, Dan and the crew pitched their idea to Mayfield and U and I, explaining their vision in detail, how it would look and how it would work, the kinds of audiences it would appeal to, etc...they liked the idea and agreed to let them carry out the plan!
“We cracked on as soon as we could with building the thing, and here we are now!” Dan said proudly, with a huge smile on his face. He stressed the point that this is a mini Dirt Factory, and is only a small picture of what he wants it to become - They are currently a tenant of the warehouse, and have signed a 2 year contract. This is the reason they refer to it as a pop-up. This is a temporary thing, until they are in a position to scale up towards their bigger goal.
Dan had great things to say about U and I as a developer. They are quite different to most property development companies - They are highly creative and innovative, and passionate about bringing ideas to life. He felt that his idea had been properly listened to and taken seriously. This is so refreshing, to hear that big businesses can have people at the heart of what they do, and celebrate the creativity of the people around them. This is the kind of culture that makes Manchester a great place to live and work, and these are the kind of values I would like to build my own career on in future.
Dirt Factory share the space with an eclectic bunch of other tenants, including Easy Peel, a collective of craftspeople who make art installations, Underway, a group of makers who do all kinds of cool stuff like pottery, art work, printing, and run free workshops for the community, and Grub, who sell all kinds of street food and drinks.
From a social point of view, Dirt Factory’s focus is on encouraging activity, getting more people on bikes, getting people fitter, increasing their general wellbeing, and going some way towards tackling some of the issues we face in modern society, such as obesity, mental health, and even crime. It gives young people something fun and constructive to get involved with, increasing their confidence, and hopefully helping them to move in a better direction.
Find out more about what Dirt Factory do, and why they are awesome, have a look at their website:
For more information about what U and I are doing at Mayfield, check out their website.