Surrounded by wildflower meadows, kingfishers and tawny owls, you’d never guess you were in Gorton. But, as Len Grant reports, there’s a whole lot to discover beyond Tesco and the busy Hyde Road.
Simon hasn’t always lived in Gorton. In fact, when he moved here from Whalley Range in south Manchester just three years ago he admits he had negative preconceptions about the place. “I was pleasantly surprised when I saw this house,” he says. “But it was the location that really sold it for me: the views and the amazing habitats right on the doorstep.”
Simon’s small cottage is part of a conservation area with some older houses nearby dating back to the Gorton Hall estate. He didn’t realise until he’d moved in that his new home was right next to the Gorton Heritage Trail. “One of the neighbours gave me a leaflet, and that was the first I’d heard of it.”
The Trail was established 10 years earlier in 1997, inspired by local councillor and one time Lord Mayor of Manchester, James Ashley. It was Ashley and a group of local people he brought together who first recognised the potential of celebrating local heritage within a trail that took in some outstanding wildlife habitats. The trail includes Richard Peacock’s Mausoleum (he of Beyer Peacock fame), the ‘Dissenters Graveyard’ at Brookfield Church, an old salt road and lots of clues to an old tannery.
With his fiancée, Vicky Evans, Simon joined in with the group’s efforts to maintain the trail. “As ecologists we are both interested in practical conservation work – we help with the Wildlife Trust as well – and we thought we could lend a hand with some of the hard work.” Content with weeding, litter picking and clearing paths, he wasn’t so keen at first on joining the organising committee.
“James Ashley had died a year or so before I moved here and the committee was becoming gradually disillusioned. They’d put in a massive effort over the first few years but needed new blood to take things forward. And so, despite paperwork not being a strong point, I reluctantly agreed to come on board.”
The timing was good, however. In early 2009 the Environment Team at New East Manchester contacted the group and asked how they could help.
“They asked how the trail was being used,” recalls Simon, “and how it could be developed further as a community asset. Groundwork was then commissioned to conduct a consultation which lasted several months.”
Exhibitions were set up locally in the library and the indoor market; there were door-to-door questionnaires; and walkers were stopped on the footpaths and quizzed about their use of the trail. “Groundwork produced a really detailed masterplan which captured everyone’s comments and ideas and set out funding opportunities and a whole list of medium and long-term goals.
“It’s really invigorated the committee,” enthuses Simon. “Since then we’ve won funding for tools and safety equipment for our clean-up days and new computer equipment for all our admin.”
But there’s a lot to do. “One of the long-term goals is to have a pedestrian crossing at the point where the footpath dissects the busy Hyde Road. That’s quite crucial to the future of the trail. New East Manchester are also applying for an ‘Access to Nature’ grant on our behalf so we could afford a part-time development worker. Yes, the last 18 months have been good, which has been down to the help we’ve had from New East Manchester.
“If I were able to see into the future I’d see the trail being used by lots more local people, being well sign-posted and being accessible to local schools and youth groups for things like pond-dipping and bug hunts. It’d be great!”
See the Gorton Heritage Trail website here