When Dr Ryad Alsous walks past his bee hives close to the Standedge Tunnel, he sees more than just a plentiful supply of honey, much more. To him, those 10 wooden hives represent hope for the future and proof that second chances sometimes come in the most unlikeliest of places.
Back in his home country of Syria, Dr Alsous was a respected academic at the University of Damascus where students knew him as the professor of bees. He had spent years researching the chemical properties of honey and was about to embark on another ground breaking project when civil war broke out in 2011.
“Everything was destroyed,” he said. “I had 200 hives but they were just one of the many casualties of the violence. The militia became increasingly threatening. It was either kill or be killed. I knew I had to leave while my hands were still clean.”
Dr Alsous’ daughter Razan had already fled the chaos of home. She had arrived in Huddersfield with her husband and three children with nothing but the contents of a small suitcase in 2012 and it was she who encouraged her parents to follow.
“She told us it was a friendly place and the people had been good to her. We couldn’t stay in Syria, so my wife and I came here.”
By the time the couple landed in England, Razan was just setting up the Yorkshire Dama Cheese company, which has since won a host of awards. It wasn’t long before Dr Alsous was showing similar resilience and as his thoughts returned to his bees he put a call out on Facebook.
“I tried to see if any beekeepers here had any work going. Some needed labour, but they thought I was overqualified. I was thinking I might have to try another route when a lady from Manchester got in touch and offered me one of her hives. Next I built another two out of recycled wood and split the swarm. Bees are good for the soul and I knew that other people could benefit too.”
Approaching the Canal and River Trust, which agreed to give him a plot of land close to the Standedge Tunnel visitor centre, Dr Alsous yesterday launched the Buzz Project aimed at helping his fellow refugees and the long term unemployed find a sense of purpose through bee-keeping.
The 64 year old said: “I know how hard it can be when you are displaced. You carry with you an emotional tensions and the experiences and memories of what went before can make you feel isolated.
“I also know that many in this situation have had high level careers and so have an enormous amount to offer and contribute. I hope that the Buzz Project can be that first step. Looking after bees is real skill, but it’s a responsibility which I hope will get the volunteers back into the community.”
The project, which is being managed by Sanctuary Kirklees, should also result in a decent supply of honey and an unrivalled resource of royal jelly.
“People are amazed when I tell them that 90 per cent of the honey which is sold in supermarkets comes from the US, China or Spain. I think we can do better than that.”
While it is early days for the Buzz Project, Dr Alsous also hopes to continue his academic research at Huddersfield University.
He adds: “Helping the bees of Britain will be my way of saying thank you to a country which has given my family so much.”