Watch: Meet the charity putting the unemployed back to work… using beehives on top of Manchester Cathedral

Perched atop Manchester Cathedral are ten beehives and the honey they produce helps some of the city’s unemployed get back into work.

The hives are maintained by a team of volunteers from the charitable organisation Volition, based in the city’s iconic Cathedral. 

Out-of-work people join Volition and through training and volunteering opportunities develop important tools to help them rejoin the workforce.

One of these roles involves taking care of the bees, something Volunteer Coordinator Laura Henshaw says has a lot of benefits.

She said: “It’s one of our quirkier volunteer roles and that really encourages people to develop their confidence, to work as part of a team and to learn new skills.”

During the winter the bees have to be fed icing sugar once a week but in the warmer months, volunteers help the resident apiarist maintain the hives, put the screens in and monitor the honey levels. 

There are 18 beehives in total across Greater Manchester; four on top of the Printworks and another four at the Salford Cathedral, producing almost 200 pounds of honey under the ‘Heavenly Honey’ brand. 

The programme takes in between 120-140 people each year and with a focus on volunteer work their distinctive red sashes and coats can be seen all over town, as well as the Cathedral’s roof. 

Some act as guides to the 200,000 visitors a year that the Cathedral receives, others get first-hand administration experience in the back office and many act as welcomers to the city at the cenotaph. 

Founder Anthony O’Connor said: “These practical, tangible skills where people have to do something with their hands have far more of an impact than sitting somebody in a classroom.”

The ten-week programme includes a one-to-one assessment to form an action plan, a weekly workshop from local businesses and regular support from Manchester College to teach literacy and numeracy proficiency. 

Some of the 70 employers involved include the Arndale, Virgin Money and Hotel Football and for this, the Cathedral’s prominence in the city has played a huge role in opening doors. 

The Cathedral has been running the programme since April 2012 and almost 900 volunteers have taken part in that time, boasting a 35-50% employment rating for those who take part. 

The organisers are keen to point out that they operate a ‘no goodbye’ policy for any of those who do not find work straight away. 

Ms Henshaw said: “At the end of the ten weeks we have a really strong no goodbyes policy so if anyone needs any further support from us or they want to continue volunteering we say that our door is always open.”

Initially, their biggest backer was Jobcentre Plus but government spending cuts have meant most funding now comes from corporate sponsors and private sources to find the required £120,000. 

Mr O’Connor makes it clear who the programme is trying to help and though they cannot provide a paid job, he believes there are “multiple barriers” stopping some people that he hopes to break down. 

“What we’ve got in society today is masses of people out there with no family support at the back of them, nobody to guide them and they go through the whole schooling system and they go out the other end.

“They’re forced to sign on, nobody’s actually guided them and the system picks them up.

“The point is that people are out there and we never really know what circumstances they are living in.”

He points out that though the organisation is not “massive”, a sister organisation has recently opened in Liverpool Cathedral and “it comes down to trying to make a difference.”

Heavenly Honey is on sale now from Harvey Nichols and Salvi’s Mozzarella Bar in the Corn Exchange, with all profits going back into the Volition programme. 

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