The Value of Community demonstrated at Discover Middlesbrough

A sense of community and belonging is something that cannot be measured in monetary terms, it cannot be quantified by consultants and accountants through surveys and spreadsheets. However, it does have a great value, regardless of land and property prices.

Hands on Middlesbrough have hosted two successful events this month as part of the Discover Middlesbrough Festival which demonstrate the value of community:

cseventOn Saturday 22nd October, Hands on Middlesbrough volunteers in partnership with Ageing Better, Middlesbrough hosted Cannon Street Revisited at St Columba’s Church.

Before the event, there was a short service given by Father Stephen Cooper. In attendance were a dedicated congregation, who despite no longer living in the area (one family travel from Skelton), they still feel connected to “Cannon Street” and St Columba’s Church.

More than 50 years since Cannon Street was demolished, the strength of feeling from people who lived, worked and grew up there is something very special. It was one of the most successful events of the Discover Middlesbrough festival, with over 300 people turning out to share their memories and photographs of Cannon Street. The event featured a community exhibition, with images taken from the popular Facebook page Cannon Street Revisited and there were talks and screenings throughout the day. Photographs were scanned by volunteers from Hands on Middlesbrough which will form part of a digital archive, recording the residents of Cannon Street going back to the 1911 census which will be used for reminiscence therapy, family history and research.


The Cannon Street area was built between 1865 and 1882. Despite being built to accommodate workers from the Ironmasters’ District, the houses became family homes and a tight-knit community developed. The success of this community is obvious because although this part of town was demolished in the late 60s and early 70s due to poor living conditions, people still feel a sense of loss, not for the houses but for the community itself and a way of life. Cannon Street was a poor but hard-working community, well known for having over 60 independent businesses on one street. To be from Cannon Street meant to live or work on the street itself, one of the streets off it, to be connected to the community through family members or attending the churches and schools. They worked together, supported each other and built the foundations of a strong and successful community, of which they were proud to belong. Women took a pride in their neighbourhood, they scrubbed the doorsteps and pavements (even though it was not their responsibility) and were a support network for families who struggled with the pressures of poverty and everyday life. It was a place where the men worked hard physical jobs for very little, but many had a sense of pride in the town they helped to build. That pride is still there now and has passed to their families.


It was moving to see North East Film Archive and BBC North East film footage of an interview with Father Hooper projected onto the wall of the church where he was Priest for 35 years. He campaigned tirelessly for the council to rebuild the houses and not split up a tight-knit community. There was something very special about seeing him speak so passionately in front of some of the people he stood up for all those years ago. Father Hooper spoke about the “price of progress” and as a well respected man, he was the voice for others. He spoke eloquently about the value of community and why it’s value should not be underestimated when planning the town.

Our second event, ran by the Friends of Nature’s World in association with Middlesbrough Environment City, demonstrated the value of community interacting with wild, green space. Over 150 people came to our apple picking event at the Organic Heritage Orchard. The event was a diverse representation of the Middlesbrough community doing something free and simple with their families; picking apples which can then be made into something to eat and shared with family and neighbours.

ap11People young and old got together and had fun. There were no bells and whistles, it was about being with nature on our doorstep (not everyone has access to a car to drive to the countryside) and the former Nature’s World site being used as a resource for families. Nature’s World was once described as “The North of England’s pioneering Eco-experience” – with an average of over 29,000 visitors a year.

The 26 acre site contained over 100 different interactive features and exhibits focusing issues such energy generation, recycling and re-using waste, organic gardening, green transport, bio-diversity and habitat conservation. Since the closure of the site most of the formal gardens, water bodies and woodland spaces have reverted back to nature.ap45

Friends of Natures World are a dedicated group of volunteers who started working onsite in October 2014, and with the cooperation and assistance of Middlesbrough Council, aim to restore the features and maintain them for as long as they have permission to do so. Friends of Nature’s World aim to demonstrate that as a wild, green space it is as a valuable resource to residents of Middlesbrough. They run a number of community events each year to give people the opportunity be around nature and get actively involved in a range of activities.

The two events which ran in October, are prime examples of the value of community. It is something that cannot be measured in monetary terms but is felt by people who invest emotionally in where they live. That emotional investment can then act as a catalyst for people to get involved with a range of activities which benefit the local community.

Hands on Middlesbrough have a number of volunteers working on heritage projects, but are always in need of more.

If you enjoy working outside, Friends of Nature’s World would welcome you with open arms!

To get involved in either group (or both) please visit the “Contact us” page.

MEC will relocate to Nature’s World

nature trans

Photograph by Clive Winward

It was confirmed in a council meeting on 16th December 2015 that Middlesbrough Environment City,  a charity which run a variety of projects in Middlesbrough which focus on communities becoming more sustainable, will be based at the former “Nature’s World” site. This will secure the future for part of the site. The council has demonstrated commitment to grant use of the site to benefit the community and for environmental uses for the short to mid-term which is commendable. This shows what can be achieved when “activists”, community groups and volunteers work together to secure the future of places they value. By demonstrating a proactive attitude it can open up new possibilities.

Volunteers have maintained and protected the towns assets for a number of years…just look at all the Friends groups who put events on for families and keep areas nice for us all (and for wildlife) such as Friends of: Linthorpe Cemetery and Nature Reserve, Stainton Quarry, Stewart Park, Blue Bell Beck, Boro Becks, Fairy Dell and Nature’s World.

It is good news that MEC will be moving onsite but the future is still uncertain for the gardens and water features.

Friends of Nature’s World are always in need of volunteers, so please get in touch if you are interested in helping out.

“Charity could move to derelict nature’s world site” Northern Echo

“Former visitors attraction could be taken over by leading charity” Evening Gazette

Apple Picking Event 2015


On a lovely sunny day in September 2015, Hands on Middlesbrough and Friends of Natures World hosted their annual Apple Picking Event. With support from Middlesbrough Borough Council, the former Natures World site was once again opened to the public and over 150 people came along to pick heritage varieties of apples, plums and pears from the Community Orchard.

a9a32The hundreds of organic apples picked (there were still hundreds left!) were donated to Mary Thompson Fund and Teesside Hospice. Below: Scarlet, Chair of HOM and Veronica from Mary Thompson Fund)

mary thompson

Families were encouraged to make their own apple juice using the apple press and also created their own apples and hungry caterpillars at the art table.

a28craft apple

Thanks to the support of the families who turned up on the day it all helps try and secure a brighter future for the former Natures World site. It helps demonstrate that families regard Natures World as an asset to the community. The site is a haven for wildlife and a resource for food which can help a number of charities. This free event gave children the opportunity to pick their own food, learn about where it comes from and even take some of the apples home to bake crumbles with their parents.

The Natures World site has so much potential to benefit Middlesbrough residents.

Northern Echo Group aims to preserve closed tourist attraction

Love Nature's World Celebration

sarah dennis 7 james sav hopper

In a recent meeting, Middlesbrough Council Executive Sub Committee for Property decided that Nature’s World should continue to be a base for green projects. Partner organisations and community groups are likely to be based onsite, and Friends of Nature’s World have been granted continued access to maintain the site, and host occasional community events.

This is a small victory for Friends of Nature’s World because it means that new housing development is not planned, at least not in the short-term. This gives the group time to build on public support and hopefully ensure that there is a bright future for Nature’s World.

On Saturday 28th March 2015, Friends & Supporters of Hands on Middlesbrough and Friends of Nature’s World gathered at Nature’s World to celebrate.

Even in the pouring rain (again!) over 40 people turned out to demonstrate their support and volunteer their time to help maintain the site for as long as it takes…

There was live music in the Hydroponicum from Sara Dennis, Marie Marx and James Sav Hopper, while kids decorated wooden hearts with messages; memories of Nature’s World and what Green Space means to them. The hearts were then fixed to a nearby tree as a constant reminder of what places like Nature’s World mean to children.


After tea and homemade cakes, a variety of bulbs were planted in containers to flower in the summer and families were taken on a tour of the site by botanist Anne Press, who was one of Nature’s World founding members. Anne informed the group of rare plants that could be found on site and showed them the forest garden, which is now one of the oldest in the UK.


It is hoped that Nature’s World will continue to benefit the local community, families from surrounding boroughs and future generations for many years to come.

“Housing Remains Long-Term Option” Gazette Article




Nature's World Community Orchard

nature's world2

Originally introduced by the Romans, apples have been cared for and cultivated for centuries, yet today orchards are in decline.

Orchards are important because:

  • They create beautiful landscapes
  • Fruit tress are a source of food
  • They are valuable habitats for wildlife
  • Locally grown fruit provides local jobs, reduces transport costs and pollution
  • Old varieties of fruit and fruit trees are irreplaceable sources of genetic diversity
  • Orchards have a long tradition of multiple use spaces
  • They are places of local cultural significance


Nature’s World Community Orchard was managed organically (without the use of synthetic pesticides and soluble fertilizers). Pest and disease control was reliant on creating a diverse environment and encouraging maximum levels of natural predators.

Despite the closure of Nature’s World in 2013, the heritage community orchard is still a beautiful place, rich with hundreds of specimens of apple, plum and pear trees.

Friends of Nature’s World requested that Middlesbrough Borough Council place Tree Protection Orders on these trees, but we were told that the trees on the site are not outstanding fully-mature specimen trees and in themselves would not warrant Tree Preservation Orders.

Apparently, it is not usual practice for cropping trees to be protected under Tree Preservation Orders, though there have been some instances of very rare cropped trees to be so protected. This is dependant on their rarity and specialist advice would have to be taken as it involves a highly specialised investigation of the seeds (“pips”) to determine whether such cropped trees are worthy of Tree Preservation Order status.

On the Nature’s World site, there are a number of trees which were adopted by members of the public who paid to maintain a tree. There are also a number of memorial trees to which the public can not access.

Friends of Nature’s World hope that by maintaining the site for as long as required, eventually the public will be allowed access to the orchards once again.

Listed below are the types of apple, pear and plum tree found at Nature’s World.

Apples Outer Ring (Clockwise from entrance)


Howgate Wonder

Laxtons Superb

James Grieve

Tydemans Late Orange


Kidd’s Orange Red

Norfolk Beefing



Autumn Pearmain

Beeley Pippin

Allen’s Everlasting

Pitmaston Pineapple


White Transparent


Herring Pippin

Tom Putt

White Melrose

Sheeps Nose

Nettlestone Pippin

Keswick Codling

Tydemans Early Worcester

Worcester Pearmain




Apples Inner Ring (Clockwise from entrance)

Cockpit Improved



George Cave

John Downie

Red Ellison’s



Rev W Wilks

Golden Delicious

Lord Lambourne

Court Pendu Plat

Golden Spire

Golden Hornet




Brownlee’s Russet

Ellison’s Orange

Lord Derby

Egremont Russet

Blenheim Orange


Bramley’s Seedling

Beauty of Bath

Cheal’s Scarlet


Early Victoria

Arthur Turner

Early Worcester


Charles Ross

Newton Wonder

Lane’s Prince Albert

Keswick Codling

Veitch’s Scarlet

Cox’s Orange Pippin

Ashmeads’s Kernel

Allington Pippin

Pears (Clockwise from entrance)


Buerre Hardy




Doyenne Du Cornice



Louise Bonne of Jersey


Packham’s Triumph

William’s Bon Chretien

Glou Morcheau


Glou Morcheau

William’s Bon Chretien

Packham’s Triumph


Louise Bonne of Jersey



Doyenne Du Comice




Buerre Hardy


Plums (Clockwise from entrance)


Early Rivers



Reine Claude D’Bavay

Cambridge Gage


Belle De Louvain

Laxtons Cropper


Witherslack Damson

Rivers Early Prolific

Count D’ Althan’s Gage

Angelina Burdett


Information was taken from an original Nature’s World leaflet









nature's world cp3

On 27th December, Friends of Nature’s World spent a cold morning weeding the Nature’s World car park.

FoNW obtained a variety of tools to use for the day, thanks to a volunteer group in South Middlesbrough. Despite the icy conditions, the group made good use of the wheel barrows, spades and secateurs.


It was hoped that Middlesbrough Council would see the groups dedication to maintaining the site (even at Christmas) and how hopeful they are that the New Year will offer new opportunities for the Nature’s World site.

possibilities are endlessThe group aims to maintain the grounds until a suitable plan is accepted by Middlesbrough Council. It is hoped that by raising the profile of the site, potential investors, charities, community groups and the public will be reminded what an asset it is to the local community and Middlesbrough as a whole. There are not many places where children can actively learn about nature and the environment.

Allegedly, there is currently a £1.6 million pounds debt owed to the National Lottery which would have to be paid back by an investor if the council is to sell the land commercially. If Nature’s World is transferred to benefit the community (community asset transfer) or to a charity then the debt would be cancelled out.

This is probably why there has been little interest in Nature’s World since its closure. To a housing developer, £1.6 million would still be a worthwhile cost for a 26 acre site.

Despite not being allocated for new housing in the Local Plan, it could still be sold for a developer to land bank.


Friends of Nature’s World are optimistic that they can promote the benefits of Nature’s World and look after the site on a voluntary basis for as long as it takes.







Friends of Nature's World Granted Access by Middlesbrough Council


On Sunday 14th December, Friends of Nature’s World held their first meeting at the Nature’s World site, after being granted monthly access to maintain the 26 acres.

The group has been set up to maintain Nature’s World and demonstrate that the community wants to keep this resource. It is hoped that the Friends of Nature’s World can promote the importance of green space within Middlesbrough and that the spaces that are important to communities should be protected and preserved for future generations to enjoy.

It is hoped that through this group forming, Nature’s World can be revitalised, raise the profile and awareness of the site, attract potential investors and stop it from falling into disrepair.

There are very few places where children can learn about local wildlife, growing organic food and the environment. Nature’s World encouraged a “hands on” approach to learning and was a valuable resource to a number of community groups.

It was discussed at the first meeting onsite, that there are a number of possibilities to use the land to benefit the community once again.

As Nature’s World is not identified in the local plan it means that legally it can not be sold for housing until 2029. It is possible it could be sold to a developer to land bank or sold off in sections to build 10 homes or less. With enough public support for the campaign, it is hoped that the land can be re-opened and a suitable alternative to housing found.

Friends of Nature’s World would like to appeal for volunteers to join the group and who can offer their time to maintain the site once a month. We are waiting to hear from Middlesbrough Council if some volunteers will  be granted weekly access, as monthly access on a site that size will not be sufficient.

Please contact us:



On Saturday 8th November 2014, Hands On Middlesbrough and Friends of Nature’s World were given access for 2 hours to carry out maintenance of the play areas at Nature’s World and to pick any apples that may be left in the heritage orchards (unfortunately there were none left).

A group of about 15 people turned out in torrential rain. The weeds in the Adventure Playground were knee high and despite having no equipment, the volunteers pulled the weeds out by hand.

Some of the people who came to help had once worked at Nature’s World, some used to visit frequently with their families and had many fond memories.

Botanist, Ann Press came along to visit her Forest Garden, one of the oldest forest gardens in the UK and home to a number of rare plants, including a rare Lady Slipper Orchid. Some of the species of plants were replanted at ancient sites around the UK.


Nature’s World was a much loved place to visit. A place for scientific study and for adults and children to learn about nature and the environment. A beautiful green space in Middlesbrough and one that needs to be protected.

Gazette Article Tidy Work Down at Nature’s World

Reopen Nature's World: Apple Picking Charity Event at Nature's World

On Saturday 27th September, Hands on Middlesbrough hosted an apple picking event in the heritage orchards of Nature’s World. Hundreds of apples were picked by Teesside Homeless Action Group and the public, to be used by the charity but some could be kept for apple crumbles, pies and cider!

Children walked around with big smiles on their faces, abandoned playgrounds now overgrown and for the first time since its closure in 2013, children’s laughter could be heard at Nature’s World. Over 50 people turned out to show they care and many more signed a petition to re-open it.


Some had come to visit memorial trees which had been purchased for loved ones, which since the closure they had not been able to access.

It was emotional event and most people wondered how it could have been left with no future plan to re-open it. The main concern for the public is that it will be sold to build more executive homes which very few people can afford. If this was to happen (although no plans have been put forward yet) we would lose one of Middlesbrough’s finest assets.

nature's world2

Instead, we could show how much it means to us and Middlesbrough Council could use it to promote its Beacon Status for tackling climate change, and show that it is dedicated to promoting green issues and sustainable living.

With enough community support, I think we could really turn things around for Nature’s World. It is Middlesbrough’s Secret Garden, people have forgotten about it but if the council  could re-open the land once a month (to start with) for volunteers to help maintain it and host children’s events this would give time to figure out how to raise the money to save it. Why just leave it to fall into further disrepair?

natur11 natur10

The residents of Middlesbrough (and the surrounding boroughs) do not want the risk of it being sold for housing development and so we need to show how much we care and we realise its potential.

Good to see all those beautiful apples going to a good cause, to be given to the homeless in Middlesbrough and Redcar & Cleveland.


Please sign our petition to re-open Nature’s World

Look for our Facebook Page: Love Nature’s World

Gazette Article “Apple Pickers Support Fight to Reopen Middlesbrough’s Nature’s World”