Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project, Bolton

Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project
A few things have happened in the last couple weeks which have made me want to do this post. Firstly, I've been thinking a lot about mental health after reading a few things on social media, and chatting to people I work with.

Last year, a series of events in my own life left me feeling especially vulnerable to the world around me, but on reflection, I was incredibly lucky to be surrounded by people who were ready to wrap their arms around me, offer support, and build me up. I chose to be happy, but could only do that with a lot of help. I feel very fortunate.

Then last week I read an article by Simon Binns in the Manchester Evening News. It was an incredibly honest account of how his life got turned upside down by anxiety and depression, to which most of us (at some time in our lives) can relate to. Have a read.

Next up was a trip to Men in Sheds at the Willow Hey Project in Farnworth, and something magical happened. The project was set up by Age UK Bolton, in partnership with Bolton Council and Bolton at Home. It is for men who feel isolated or a bit down, and want to make new friendships whilst having some fun. They grow fruit and vegetables (as well as some fantastic plants and flowers), make things, and aim to support health and mental well being in their community. Basically this is a free space for men (although everyone's welcome) to get together, have a chat, get involved in a whole manner of projects, and feel like they belong, in a beautiful setting.

I felt compelled to tell you about it. 
Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project
We all find it hard to open up sometimes. A survey by the Mental Health Foundation showed only a quarter of men had told a friend or family member that they were struggling. Even when they do share, it's not always easy to persuade them to seek professional help. Men were 40% more likely than women to wait over two years, or never tell friends or family. 

This is why initiatives such as the Willow Hey Project are going to be so important for communities in the future. Let's face it, the NHS are up against it, so it's up to us to look after each other a little more as well. Community Development Officer Chris Wood told us tales of men whose lives had been turned around after illness, bereavement, tough family situations, and loneliness. We got to talk to some of the men who access the project, who spoke so lovingly about the work they get involved in, and what it means to them. Before I get all teary, I suggest you watch this:
All about the Willow Hey Project

On our visit, Glen (a man who I am sure has been a carpenter from birth) was telling us all about the amazing Viking roundhouse they are building at the bottom of the site, which is one magnificent structure. I have to admit that I got rather excited by his talk on making Viking tool boxes, and by the end of my visit, was pretty much convinced that I wanted to be a Viking.
Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project
The Viking roundhouse
Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project
The passion they have for the work they are involved in is truly infectious, and clearly brings them joy and an increased sense of purpose, as well as meeting some new friends in the process. We all left the site feeling massively humbled by what they were doing, and by what many of them had overcome. And we wanted chickens.

Where is the Willow Hey Project?
This project is in the corner of Doe Hey Grove in Farnworth. Just walk round the green and enter via the gate.

When can I visit Willow Hey Project?
  • Men in Sheds session: Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday between 9.30am-2.30pm
  • Community growing/social day: Thursdays 10am-4pm

Now the site has water and power, they are hoping to host forest school sessions, they have longer term plans for a horticultural college on the site, and already host events such as music festivals, and parties for the wider community during Easter, Summer, Halloween and Christmas.
Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project
For more information, please contact Lee Harrison (Men in Sheds Coordinator) leeharrison@ageukbolton.org.uk 
Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project
The girls
Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project
Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project
Wildlife
Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Rainbow Room and Top of the Rock, New York

Rainbow Room New York
I rearranged our whole itinerary around this booking. Gone are the days where Michelin stars excite me (been there, done that, bought the guides), rather now I get giddy by chic cocktail bars. I only found the Rainbow Room about a month before we flew to New York, but managed to snaffle a booking that would mean we could see the sunset from the Top of the Rock, and then watch the city by night as we ate dinner.

We had been ridiculously excited about this booking, and I had donned a 'New York' dress to mark the occasion. No exaggeration, it was like people had never seen such an item! Locals were already tickled pink by my hair (which swagged us free drinks), but the themed dress was definitely a good choice. You know what its downside was? It was windy as hell up there, and that circle skirt inflates far too easily...
Lindy Bop New York Dress
We booked our 'Top of the Rock' tickets for 7.30pm, so we could watch the last of the sunshine, the sunset, and then nightfall at the top of the Rockefeller Centre. I had been to the Empire State Building on my last trip, and I have to say it's true that this is so much better! There's a viewing platform where you have the option to see the same beauty from inside, or you can venture out, if you are wearing appropriate dress... 

Sunset up there is the weirdest thing. It literally goes from full daylight, to pools of light hitting specific spots in the distance, to dark. Sixty five stories up boasts some of the most stunning views of the city, spanning from Central Park right down to Lady Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge. 
Rainbow Room New York
Rainbow Room New York
Rainbow Room New York
Rainbow Room New York
Once darkness had almost descended, we went down one floor to the Rainbow Room restaurant. There aren't many views better than this. We were a little early, so we had a cocktail in Bar 65 before our meal, and enjoyed some amazing views of the city. Happiness is a cocktail in hand, great company, and a beautiful city.
Rainbow Room New York
Once settled in our seats on the best side of the building, we reflected on what had been the most wonderful day stomping around New York, drinks being sipped and menus in hand.
Rainbow Room New York
Oven-roasted flatbread - Burrata, caramelised onions, crispy Brussels sprouts, prosciutto: A fancy pizza of sorts. Cheesy, naturally salty, and incredibly tasty.
Rainbow Room New York
Poached pear salad - pomegranate, winter greens, maple-sherry dressing: The perfect lighter option whilst still being packed full of flavour.
Rainbow Room New York
We finished our evening with another cocktail, and a chat to two chaps who had also found themselves walking round the city all day. Seems the Rainbow Room is the perfect way to end a day in the Big Apple.
Rainbow Room New York
Go here for Don Draper style glamour. It's a place for dressing up, treating yourself to fine cocktails, and taking in the view.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Empire, Horwich

Empire, Horwich
So I was aware of Empire before it was even a twinkle on Chorley New Road, yet for some reason, it's taken me this long to actually go. A couple of months ago, I bumped into an old school friend who I hadn't seen since we were about 18. She's moved back to the area, so we decided to get out for the evening, and sample what Empire had to offer.
Empire, Horwich
Downstairs is a beautifully styled restaurant, whilst upstairs boasts a rather swish cocktail bar. The plan was to have a little something to eat, followed by a couple of cocktails in the bar. Sensible eh? It did not go down like that. Not at all. 

We took full advantage of the 'Two steaks for £26' offer that was on that night, which included a fat sirloin served with cherry tomatoes, sautéed mushroom and hand cut chips. I also ordered a peppercorn sauce, which is standard behaviour. I have to admit that I wasn't expecting amazing things, as steak can be a bit of a risk when trying somewhere new. This was absolutely delicious. Perhaps a tad more to the medium than rare side, but still, a lovely cut of meat with tasty sides.
Empire, Horwich
This is where things went a little bit west for us. I was still heavily jet-lagged after New York, and if I was able to push through the mid afternoon lull, I was good until about 2am. It was a school night.

So, we popped upstairs for a couple. Things started in my usual fashion of challenging the barman to a surprise, so the cocktails below are mainly 'off piste' and of his own creation on the night. We became firm friends with Lucas, who I am sure performed some sort of alcohol based witchcraft. I also have to admit that looking at the volume here, I know there were more, and I had two of at least one of these. I didn't take pictures of duplicates, or the additional beers. Don't judge, it was a reunion.

I'm just sorry that I can't recall what was in most of these, other than the first one, which I know was a Poison Apple. What I can tell you is that we had a cracking little time, with each cocktail more delicious than the previous one. We also got vouchers for a free bottle of Prosecco for our return visit. I only got in bed at 1.15am on a Thursday night... oh well.
Empire, Horwich
Empire, Horwich
Empire, HorwichEmpire, HorwichEmpire, HorwichGo here with your mates to have a bloody good time. We went on a quiet weekday, but Lucas and pals kept us entertained, and certainly ensured that the drinks kept on flowing. I'll definitely be back to use my Prosecco voucher, and see what other alcoholic brews he can come up with.
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