Cheetham Al Hilal Community Project

Palm trees in the city: improving the environment as an expression
of faith

Astory is told how when Muslims first gathered together to pray, they did so under the protective shade of a palm tree and in many countries they do so still to this day. According to another Islamic story, Mariam is said to have borne the prophet Issa (Peace Be Upon Him), known to Christians as Jesus, under the nurturing, life sustaining boughs of a palm tree. Palm leaves also feature in Easter rituals among Christian communities. Palms then are symbolically important for British Muslims and Christians alike.

Reflecting cultural diversity

In the North of England, however, palms are unusual, though not impossible to grow. One of the most readily available is the European Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis), a native European palm, which is fully hardy anywhere in the British Isles.

In the heart of ‘sunny’ Manchester, palm trees line the street and small children play safely in a paradise garden. At the Cheetham Al Hilal Community Project, the whole Muslim community has participated in an innovative project to improve the built and natural environment in a way that reflects the cultural diversity of the area.

Making it happen

The Muslim community together with the Black Environment Network, Groundwork Manchester Salford and Trafford (MST), the multi-agency Environment Working Group in Cheetham, began work in January 2003 to improve the grounds of Al Hilal Community Centre. An inclusive process of consultation and design ensured that everyone - female and male, young and old - has contributed something to transform this tiny plot from a waste ground into a rich resource for outdoor activities.

 

Integrity, impact and inspiration

Islamic elements of garden design lend the whole project asense of integrity, creating a safe, enclosed garden for families to play in, enhancing the street scene with tree planting and making a powerful statement of presence to the wider world. Al Hilal occupies a prominent site on a main road in Chetham, which is a gateway tothe city of Manchester, so the changes are very visible to many passers by. In fact, the improvements have made such an impact that the City Council has been inspired to follow this model, and soon palm trees will be springing up all over Manchester!

 

The Future
BEN is consulting local residents’ groups and working closely with Manchester City Council to identify open spaces, which would benefit from similar schemes.

 

FACTFILE

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Cheetham Al Hilal Community Project