Manchester opens first new park in 100 years, delighting children and kingfishers

Manchester opens first new park in 100 years, delighting children and kingfishers

Manchester opens first new park in 100 years, delighting children and kingfishers

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<p><figcaption class=Photo: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Manchester’s first new public park in 100 years opened its gates on Wednesday and has eight slides declared “so scary” by delighted children who got the first chance.

One of the slides carries riders across the River Medlock, a largely forgotten Mancunian waterway that has been under concrete there for the past 150 years. Another offers what feels like an almost vertical drop—an invigorating one for those nostalgic for the days when playgrounds carried a real sense of danger. One is made accessible for children in wheelchairs.

Adults are allowed – although the slide’s architects, Stockport-based Massey and Harris, seem to have made the most of the crack deliberately for anyone over 5ft 4. Mercie Biawete, a 14-year-old from East Manchester Academy, one of the first locals to give them a test drive, called “so scary” but “really good”.

There are eight slides in total at Mayfield, which is located between Mancunian Way, the city’s ring road and Piccadilly Station.

Originally developed for a printing plant during the Industrial Revolution and later used as a railway station and parcel depot, the 24-acre site has lain derelict for decades but has been brought back to life in a £1.4bn public-private partnership, with offices and 1,300 apartments built on the outskirts.

Boy on one of the slides

The park is located between Mancunian Way, the ring road and Piccadilly Station Photo: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Despite 50% of the park being privately owned, it will be run “on the same basis as any other public park in Manchester, and open from morning to night”, said Martyn Evans, creative director of U+I, the developer. “What we wanted Mayfield to be from the very beginning was not just some buildings with a nice landscape between them, but a park with buildings in and around them. It’s not common.”

The park takes up 6.5 acres and includes a lush lawn watered regularly by three historic wells uncovered during the excavation of the site – meaning Mayfield will hopefully avoid the fate of Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester’s drug-trafficking haven, where the grass runs specter from “Somme” to “scorched earth” according to the season.

View of the park

Mayfield Park is Manchester’s first new city center park in more than 100 years. Photo: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Mayfield also includes the longest exposed section of Medlock in the center, a 400m stretch of clear water. “It was absolutely filthy, but the minute we cleaned it, kingfishers, house geese, geese came back,” Evans said. “Nature finds a way – even next to the Mancunian Way.”

Developers are also exploring installing a lido on the roof of the nearby rail depot, which is home to the Warehouse Project nightclub and Freight Island, a food hall. If engineers believe the roof can withstand the weight of that much water, it could open next summer, according to Evans.

“Broadwick Live, who lease the Mayfield depot, would still like to set up a lido there, so we are exploring the plans,” Evans said. The hope is to create a long, thin pool in the drop between two platforms where the trains used to run, he explained. “I would love if we could do that, but it may not be possible.”

Although the park has been in planning since 2016, the opening feels “serendipitous,” Evans said. “Post-Covid, green spaces are what everyone wants.”

Even Manchester’s most ardent defenders accept that the fast-growing city lacks green space. As well as the unloved Piccadilly Gardens, there are some token quadrants here and there, often completely overshadowed by surrounding buildings, but nothing to compare with Hyde Park in London or Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh. “This is one of the nicest parks I’ve seen in a long time,” Biawete said. “Most parks smell of cigars and vapes. Here you can breathe.”

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