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Academics 'excited' by £30m ICZ testbed

Jul 05, 2017

RHS
Colleagues from four Schools were shown the RHS Bridgewater plans

ACADEMICS are “excited” by an invitation to contribute to one of Salford’s “most amazing” developmental projects.

Salford’s new £30m RHS national garden, in Worsley, is set to become a top tourist attraction and a leading centre for research, community engagement, education and training.

The University has been invited by the Royal Horticultural Society to lend its expertise, creating opportunities in archaeology, design, health, technology, and a range of environmental practice.

The masterplan by world-acclaimed landscape architect Tom Stuart-Smith will revive the fascinating ‘lost’ past of a former stately home, popular with Royals and replete with extraordinary features, such as the walled garden and a Cold War bunker.

140 jobs

To be named ‘RHS Bridgewater’ after the Dukes who held the estate and built the famous Lancashire canal, the plan, which will create 140 jobs and add millions to the local economy, includes:

  •    A garden laid out like a web and planted as a perennial meadow.
  •    A water garden of interlocking streams and rocky waterfalls.
  •   The reconstruction of the 10-acre historic walled garden, to include a therapeutic garden, vegetable garden and flower garden.
  •    A new learning centre

The garden will also act as a hands-on teaching facility looking at areas like virtual reality, ecology and wildlife, volunteering and green spaces.

Professor Philip Brown, Director of the Centre for Applied Research in Health, Welfare and Policy (CARe), said the garden which opens in 2019, will be “a central opportunity for the University and one which is causing a great deal of excitement.

ICZ testbed

“There are many interested parties and Tony Warne has been heading this up from an ICZ perspective. We have work streams within CARe and across the University linked up on the theme of health and wellbeing.”

Among these is a likely evaluation of the therapeutic garden – a specialism of mental health specialist Dr Michelle Howarth and the benefits of growing your own food by geographer Dr Mike Hardman.

Philip James, Professor of Ecology, agreed there were “exciting times ahead” for staff from the Ecosystem and Environment Research Centre “to join forces with leading researchers and practitioners from the RHS”.

Philip’s research student Katie Scaletta, whose PhD  is supported by the RHS, is studying ‘edgespaces’ (gardens, and small areas of community land) and her studies will inform the RHS’s outreach activities, and also feed into Defra's Urban Pioneer project.

Rich history

Dr Mike Nevell, Head of Archaeology and co-editor of the Industrial Archaeology Review, whose team have already excavated parts of the site, said: “It is a fantastic set-piece Victorian estate centre.

“I’m looking at using the history and archaeology of the site to provide background and context to the new garden through student projects for our new Archaeology & Geography UG degree, and to involve our volunteers in uncovering the gardens’ past. We also have an idea to produce a publication on the archaeology of the site in our ‘Greater Manchester Past revealed’ series.

Dr Nick Davies, a tourism and events management expert, in the School of Built Environment, said: “A RHS garden will be a significant tourist attraction.  In order to understand its impact there are several dimensions of sustainability, with health and wellbeing the obvious one.  Environmental impact is also key – RHS scientists do a lot of engagement work on how the properties of plants and gardens can counteract climate change, and flooding, and increase biodiversity.  They also foster environmental awareness in the public. 

“A tourist attraction of this magnitude will have significant effects on local economic multipliers, and bring in jobs to the Salford /GM area.  Obviously all of these areas are congruent with research at Salford and the ICZ strategy, and the great thing is that it is on our doorstep.”

Long-term partnership

Mike Taylor, Head of Industry Partnerships, who is driving the relationship, organised a site visit for academics which also included Simon Campion (SoBE), Neil Entwistle (ELS) and Prof Peter Walker (SoBE), who is writing a monograph of Stephen Hodder OBE, the architect appointed to design the RHS Visitor Centre.

Mike said: “As part of our strategic partnership with Salford City Council, Councillor Derek Antrobus kindly introduced us to the RHS last year to explore how we might align our ambitions with their needs. Since then we have working hard getting to know the Bridgewater project and attended the first community engagement events.”

The university has been commissioned to carry out a longitudinal study of the impact of RHS Garden on the local and regional economy and society.

RHS Bridgewater, on Leigh Road, Worsley, was chosen form 20 potential sites for the Firth RHS Gardens. The existing four are in Surrey, Devon, Essex and Yorkshire.

Programme director Anna da Silva, who is an Honorary Associate of the University as part of the ICZ strategy, said: “It’s the first time in more than 100 years that the RHS has taken on a garden project of this size. It will be an amazing resource for generations to come.”