Castlefield Viaduct to reopen after winter closure with new community gardens
- 08 February 2023
Visitors will once again be able to enjoy Manchester’s sky park when the gates of Castlefield Viaduct reopen to the public on Saturday 18 February 2023. The elevated park has been closed since December to allow time for the team of National Trust gardeners, volunteers, and community partners to prune, plant and create new areas on the giant 330-metre steel viaduct.
The National Trust opened the viaduct in July 2022 as a pilot project to gauge public opinion on the future of the Manchester landmark. So far, over ten thousand visitors have had the opportunity to explore part of the structure and find out more about the viaduct’s heritage and the city’s long relationship with plants and trees. Costing £1.8 million, the pilot has been made possible thanks to players of People’s Postcode Lottery, as well as public donations which covers two-thirds of the build costs.
In addition to a variety of seasonal planting displays created by National Trust gardeners and volunteers, four plots on the viaduct were handed over to local groups and partner organisations to create their own unique gardens for visitors to enjoy. Two of these ‘partner plots’ are now in new hands with Hulme Community Garden Centre and Sow the City revealing their viaduct gardens when it reopens to the public.
Hulme Community Garden Centre have created an urban forest garden to inspire viaduct visitors to create ‘layered’ planting which optimises precious growing areas, benefitting personal wellbeing and the local environment. The canopy consists of dwarf family fruit trees; a shrub layer of blackcurrant and cranberry; kiwi, hop, and nasturtium climbers; an understorey of edible herbaceous perennials such as rhubarb, globe artichoke and strawberry, plus a selection of self-seeding biennials and annuals.
These edible landscapes stack multiple species within the same space, with each plant taking what it needs from its level in the system to thrive. Once established, these low maintenance gardens produce food, medicines and other beneficial yields, as well as providing an ideal haven for wildlife.
Kath Gavin, Sustainability Co-ordinator at Hulme Community Garden Centre, said: “We combine an environmentally conscious garden centre, organic gardens, and hands-on educational activities, to provide the inspiration and practical means for people to green up their local spaces and provide for wildlife in the city. Our mini forest garden demonstrates how visitors to the viaduct can re-connect with nature on their doorstep whilst growing nutritious additions to their diet for improved health and well-being.”
Another plot has been designed and planted by Sow the City, working with Hubbub to bring a sensory nature garden to the viaduct, complete with a pond – a first for the industrial viaduct that was originally built to carry heavy rail traffic in and out of the Great Northern Warehouse. The ‘In Our Nature Garden’ aims to encourage a connection between people and nature and features wildlife habitats and bee-friendly planting.
The garden’s design draws its inspiration from the latest research in environmental psychology which indicates that the closer an individual’s relationship is with nature, the more likely they are to care for wildlife and the wider environment. The aim of the garden is to give those living in cities the opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle of Manchester’s city centre through tranquil sights, earthy smells, and an immersive audio recording that can be downloaded as part of the nature experience.
Jon Ross, Director of Sow the City, says: "There is a renaissance happening right now in how we understand the relationship between nature and humans. We’ve designed a garden on Castlefield Viaduct with the latest research in mind to help thousands of visitors get their nature fix right in the middle of Manchester.”
The two new areas of the viaduct created by Sow the City and Hulme Community Garden will join the existing ‘partner plots’ by City of Trees and Castlefield Forum.
Entry onto the structure will remain free when it reopens to the public and the team will be testing a new way to welcome visitors. A booking system will remain in place for guided walk visits between 11.00am to 12.30pm, but visitors wanting to explore the viaduct at their own pace after 1.00pm can now just turn up on the day. There are also plans to host events throughout the spring and summer, including new family tours both on and off the viaduct, yoga, planting events, lunch-hour talks on weekdays and community-led plays.
The team of National Trust volunteers and staff on the viaduct are also planning to ask members of the public to become ‘Castlefield Viaduct Heritage Detectives’ and help track down the people and stories behind the Manchester landmark.
Rebecca Alexander, Castlefield Viaduct Visitor Operations & Experience Manager, says: “We’re looking forward to welcoming visitors back onto the viaduct to see what we and our partners have been up to. In our first four months of opening, the viaduct proved very popular and many of our time slots to visit were fully booked. By introducing a new way for visitors to explore the viaduct at their own leisure, we hope that even more people will benefit from this green space in the heart of Manchester and support us in shaping its future.
“The feedback we gathered in the first four months of being open to the public revealed that virtually all our visitors would like to see the viaduct become a permanent feature of Manchester. Our task now is to raise the funds to make this a reality for the people of Manchester. This is something we simply can’t do alone, and we need people to support our work through donating, sponsoring and getting involved.”
The plans for Castlefield Viaduct are part of the National Trust’s Urban Places work to increase access for all to nature, history and beauty in, around and near urban areas.
To help build a longer-term future for the viaduct, the conservation charity will soon be launching several initiatives for individuals, funders and sponsors to help in creating a greener future for the steel structure and provide more people with access to nature. Opportunities will include the Castlefield Viaduct Club, sponsorship opportunities for artwork, themed events and apprentices, and a Community Connector Fund which will support the National Trust’s work with local communities.