Manchester’s sky park to stay open until summer 2024 after project gets extended

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The National Trust's Manchester sky park, Castlefield Viaduct, will stay open at least until summer 2024 | © National Trust/Drew Forsyth.

Visitors will now be able to enjoy Manchester’s sky park until autumn 2024 after the National Trust has been granted an extension by Manchester City Council to the popular Castlefield Viaduct project.

The temporary green space, that has revitalised an unused Victorian era railway viaduct, is already a firm favourite with locals, people from across Greater Manchester and tourists visiting the city since it opened last summer, with the pilot made possible thanks to players of the People’s Postcode Lottery. 

The announcement has been made just before the project’s first birthday on 30 July 2023 with the conservation charity also announcing the appointment of landscape architects from Manchester based design practice, BDP, which will work with the Trust, partners and the community to develop bigger, bolder plans for the next phase of the viaduct, for which funding is still required. 

Duncan Laird, Head of Urban Places at the National Trust says:

“We’re delighted to be staying open for another year so we can continue to provide visitors with moments of joy and build momentum to create a future for this fantastic place. As we enter this next phase of the project, we can start to truly understand what this space could become – and how it can serve future generations. 

“This won’t happen without big investment however, and we hope BDP can help us create a vision for this space to reflect ambitious plans for the city that investors want to be part of.

“Bringing nature and beauty to the centre of urban areas is something that we are passionate about. We want to bring more nature, beauty and history to urban areas as we know the benefits it can bring in terms of health, wellbeing, community and placemaking.”

James Millington, Landscape Architect Director at BDP, commented: “Castlefield Viaduct is a place like no other and it is fantastic to be working with the National Trust to bring to life a vision for the space that reaches far beyond its perceived potential. Over the last year, the viaduct has become a genuine city detour that inspires a diverse range of people and ages with a range of ideas, installations, and artistic interventions. It is a landscape-led approach that creates a new city garden, breathes new life into the lungs of the city and gives us the opportunity to enhance the space for nature and beauty. 

“As we develop our concepts further with the community, we know it will become a place which drives and reflects the success of Greater Manchester. We will be supercharging the attributes of this great piece of Victorian engineering to create a vibrant, people-focused experience that leaves a smile on the face of all who visit.”

The gardens – a mix of National Trust planting and plots designed and grown by community organisations – will remain as temporary ‘installations’ while the National Trust continue to gather feedback and fundraise in efforts to create a permanent feature on the 330-metre steel, Grade II listed, viaduct. 

The seasonal displays seek to inspire visitors to contribute their ideas of what they would like the space to become in the future – through surveys and leaving feedback. Kate Picker, Castlefield Viaduct Visitor Operations and Experience Manager, says: “The gardens are buzzing with bees and butterflies enjoying the plentiful nectar provided by the wildflowers and buddlias on the wilder parts of the viaduct and pollinator-friendly globe shaped echinops and brightly coloured cranesbill, lythrum and achillea will all be flowering over the next few weeks in our planters. Soon exotic heydichium and eucomis, also known as ‘pineapple flowers’, will be bursting into bloom adding to this midsummer garden of delights.

“This is already a much-loved place on Manchester’s cultural landscape and there will be different ways to experience the viaduct in the coming year.”

The Department for Transport and Historical Railways Estate have also helped to ensure the sky garden can remain open.

Helene Rossiter, National Highways’ Head of Historical Railways Estate Programme, said: “It’s been our pleasure and privilege to play a part in resurrecting this stunning structure. We share the National Trust’s ambition to transform it into an urban park and meeting place that connects the local community with nature and Manchester’s rich history.

“Bringing Castlefield viaduct back to life after many decades of maintaining it and keeping it safe reinforces our commitment to working with others to repurpose structures for future use wherever possible, and we’re delighted to see it flourishing.”

The pilot has been made possible thanks to funding from Postcode Earth Trust supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, as well as gifts from individuals and organisations. Donations, both large and small, are needed to help create a long-term green future for Castlefield Viaduct. 

The Trust has also announced a number of new events happening at the viaduct, including two new series starting this month. Wednesday At One Talks are a chance for visitors to hear from experts on a particular aspect of the viaduct project and the National Trust’s work. Sundowners are a whole host of evening performances that showcase local talent while the sun sets. Family trails will also run during the summer school holidays and many more activities are planned throughout the summer months. 

Kate Picker continued: “We’re also really looking forward to continuing our huge range of events on the viaduct. So far we’ve had everything from theatre productions to yoga classes. Coming up we’ve got a student photography exhibition and family seed planting workshops and there’ll be more planned for later this year and into 2024.

“By this time next year, we hope to have received significant financial and partnership support to take forward a permanent scheme on this site, building on everything we’ve heard throughout the pilot project. Until then, we’re encouraging everyone to enjoy the gardens and support the project through their own ideas and donations.”

Entry onto the viaduct remains free. Book for a guided visit between 11am to 12.30pm every day except Wednesdays, to find out more about the history of the site. To explore the garden at your own pace just walk up, without any need to book, every afternoon from 1–3.30pm.

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