Bees bring back buzz to Kilsyth community

02 July 2014

Kilsyth, a small town in North Lanarkshire, Scotland, has a long history of coal mining. After the decline of the pits in the 1950s, a large amount of people that depended on the industry were affected.

More recently people there have been increasingly concerned about a growing lack of community spirit, which some blame on the closure of the pits.

George Robertson, a former coalminer, said: “As a coal mining town we used to be a close knit community where everyone looked out for one another. Since the pits closed it’s rare that you recognise anyone in the town, everyone’s become so me, me, me.”

Following a number of public meetings to find solutions to local issues of isolation and growing divisions in the community, local people decided to do something positive.

They wanted to create closer ties between people, and reach those that had become isolated due to disability and mental ill health. They wanted to give people access to new skills and new friendships. They also wanted to make the area more attractive – reclaiming derelict land and putting it to good use. It was decided that a community owned social enterprise was a great first step towards bringing the community together, and they had the perfect model as inspiration.

‘Beekeeping for Free’ is a social enterprise model that produces honey and beeswax products, and was developed by Kelvin Valley Honey – a company with charitable aims that is owned and managed by residents of the Upper Kelvin Valley. It is this initiative that the residents of Kilsyth wanted to replicate.

Thanks to investment of £45,000 from People’s Health Trust, Kilsyth Community Beekeeping was born.

Liaising with staff from Kelvin Valley Honey for guidance and support, residents of Kilsyth have established their group, and have been meeting monthly to deliver their project - reaching isolated people, and bringing the community together.

Creating new habitats for bees by planting trees and shrubs in disused spaces, maintaining bee colonies and extracting honey, and producing beeswax and honey products are all tasks carried out by members of the community. The project has also worked hard to reach members of the community who are isolated – introducing them to new skills to produce honey and beeswax products from home.

It has even managed to persuade George, the former coalminer, that Kilsyth’s community spirit might not be lost after all: “The project has become a focal point for incomers and long term residents alike. People are busy planning socials and outings. We might not be the strongest of communities yet, but since the project began, we’re quite a long way on the road to returning to the times when we all pulled together. Long may it last.”

Skilled beekeepers from Kelvin Valley Honey, shadowed by members of the Kilsyth Community Beekeeping group, provide all the skills and training required to deliver the project on a day to day basis, until residents of Kilsyth are ready to take the reins of the project themselves.   

Miss C, who prefers to remain anonymous, said: “I’ve been suffering from depression for a very long time now, and only went out of the house if I absolutely had to. It was my GP who suggested that I give the community beekeeping project a try. The staff and volunteers have been amazing. They visited me four times at home explaining what the project involved, the things I could get to do and the people I’d meet.

“I was reluctant to give it a go, but now you can’t keep me away. The project and the people running it have completely changed my life. Last week was the first time in years that I went out for a cup of coffee with some of the other people from the project.”

Paul Holmes, project coordinator at Kilsyth Community Beekeeping, is very happy with how well the community has received the project: “It seems as if virtually the whole community has got behind the project. We have been amazed at people's enthusiasm and commitment, and what they achieved in such a relatively short time.

“The numbers of local people already involved in Kilsyth Community Beekeeping has far exceeded everyone's expectations, so much so that we now have a waiting list of 40 plus residents eager to join in. Forgive the pun, but there's now a real buzz around the areas and communities in Kilsyth where the project operates. People have really embraced it, and not only is it making a real difference in people's lives, but it’s bringing communities closer together, making them stronger, safer, healthier and above all more inclusive.”

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