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Monday, 28 April 2014

Guest Blog: Why do I always sign up for a challenge?!

By Lizabeth Bohler, Project Manager at New Charter Housing Trust Group

In January 2013, my work colleague Shaun and I, applied to be contestants on BBC2’s ‘Big Allotment Challenge’. I had previously won an award for re-designing the New Charter Housing Trust Group staff garden, where I work as a project manager. Little did I know what the next 14 months would bring.

After getting through to the TV show in April 2013, I travelled to ‘that London’ every Friday, cultivating our allotment for 15 hours and travelling back ready for a full working week. We did that for six months! During this time I managed the Housing Employer Ownership of Skills Group and started to make links with different industries including hospitality.

Eating out had become the norm after long days on the allotment and I realised that, unless fresh produce is included with your food, you’ll hardly order it. Why? My experience of warm and tasteless tomatoes in burgers was just the tip of the iceberg lettuce! The eateries we visited sold vegetables as a ‘Keanu Reeves supporting act’ to the main ‘Matthew McConaughey chicken’. What a disappointment restaurant food became to Shaun and myself; we went from our green heaven to stodge hell.

Being on the allotment had taught me how easy growing salad items can be - radishes in 5 weeks, lettuce in abundance and sweetcorn to die for. Once Big Allotment challenge weeks began, I had started to plan a new eating concept, a restaurant and bar where you see your order grow - learning while eating. Think ‘pick your own’ and you’re half way there!

The Big Allotment Challenge aired on Tuesday 15th April and together with friends from New Charter and our families we held a party to celebrate. For the two of us, 16 growing weeks came down to just one hour! Over the coming weeks you’ll see sunflowers, dahlias, cordials and hampers. I loved my time on the allotment and am very lucky that my employer was flexible.

So you may have seen the tomato jam? Or the ‘mish mash’ bouquet? What you didn’t see was me sitting in a hotel lobby writing a business plan and making contact with investors, suppliers and advisors such as GM Chamber.

So what now?

New Charter is a  Sunday Times Top 100 employer and that means I’m gaining first hand experience of putting strong values into practice. My role includes managing educational projects, increasing brand recognition and networking. I plan to stay in my role and follow my passion of owning a restaurant in my spare time.

A third of all business failures are restaurants so I’ll plan, plan and plan some more. I’m in no rush, I’d rather take 12 months to get the model right than risk my brand’s reputation.

Why do I always sign up for challenge? I found this explanation; ‘Challenge: A call to engage in a demanding but stimulating undertaking’. I believe you should never stop challenging who you are and how the world is. And for me ‘that telephone’s a ringing!!’

New Charter Housing Trust Group is a social landlord with 19,500 homes, a turnover of £100 million and a workforce of around 1,000 people. The Group consists of New Charter Homes, based in the Greater Manchester area, Gedling Homes in Nottingham and Aksa Homes in Oldham. It has its own New Charter Building Company, and one of its most recent partnerships is with Threshold, based in Oldham. New Charter is proud to sponsor the New Charter Academy, in Ashton-under-Lyne and it has recently sponsored the Silver Springs Primary Academy and Copley Academy in Stalybridge.

The team's mission is to provide GREAT Homes, GREAT Neighbourhoods and GREAT People.
For more information about New Charter Housing Trust Group email

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