A centre for education
The Centre occupies land which was previously the kitchen garden and orchards of a small 18th Century country estate. The estate was bought by City of Manchester in 1922. During the Second World War the gardens had been cultivated as part of the Dig for Victory campaign. In 1947 the council opened the Rural Studies Centre with a remit to provide classes in gardening and natural history.
The range of activities
From 1947 until 1990 schoolchildren from all parts of the City were bussed here (funded by the Education Committee), either weekly or fortnightly for half-day sessions, during which the children cultivated their school's own plot.
There were 3 or 4 teachers dealing with 64 schools (mainstream and special needs ) visiting per fortnight, with an extra teacher dealing with other aspects of environmental work for single school visits. The grounds were tended by a team of four fulltime gardeners and three admin staff..
Additionally, there were many afternoon, evening and weekend courses for adults in subjects as varied as gardening, beekeeping, art, floristry, floral art, ornithology, local history and calligraphy.
The community steps in
When funding was withdrawn in 1990, the Friends of Parrs Wood was formed with the purpose of running the Centre independently. Charitable status was obtained in 1991 and Parrs Wood Trust and Parrs Wood Trading Company were formed. The Centre was opened to all schools, with a nominal charge for those outside Manchester. Many schools continued to visit to study a variety of environmental topics including mini-beasts, pond-dipping, trees and flowers, nature trails, fungi hunts and bird-watching.
Other organisations from the local community used the Centre, running courses and training sessions, for meetings, as a venue for socials and annual shows.
In the following 8 years over £400,000 was realised through fund-raising events and sponsorship, and a full-time warden, an instructor and a gardener were employed.
The number of visiting schools was reduced because there were fewer staff, no transport provided, and the National Curriculum had come into being, as a result of which the time for regular visits was no longer available.
In July 1998, the Centre went into suspension because of the development of the whole site. The school was to be rebuilt and an entertainment complex added.
It was then agreed that the Centre would come under the management of the High School. The Trust and the Trading Company had to be wound up, and charitable status relinquished.
For the next four years there was no work done on the site and the brambles, bindweed, nettles, horsetail and grasses all were able to grow unchecked. Because of the open access created by the building work the Centre suffered greatly from vandalism.
We were allowed back on site in 2002, but with very limited access. Activity was allowed on site at weekends, clearing the grounds, and later collecting fruit. Gardening groups started in April 2003. The first event was that Easter.
In 2004 we met with the newly-appointed Acting Head to discuss links with the School, and were at that point given full access to the site.
Since then a huge amount of effort has been spent on clearing debris and doing repairs, salvaging materials and resources for future use. This enabled us to re-establish two of our previous adult gardening classes.
Though hardly on the scale of famous garden reclamations like Heligan in Cornwall, there is a mature garden and woodland here which we would like to return to a creatively managed space.