‘Sponge Park’ mops up another award

West Gorton Community Park, the new ‘Sponge Park’, has won a prestigious environmental award from the Landscape Institute.

Nicknamed the ‘Sponge Park’, thanks to the way it soaks up excess water, the West Gorton Community Park, designed by landscape architects at BDP in collaboration with Manchester City Council, has been the recipient of two prestigious awards since it opened in 2020- including the Design Council’s ‘Golden Pineapple’ Award for Best Public Space. Most recently, the park won the Excellence in Flood and Water Management Award from the Landscape Institute Awards 2021. 

Situated in the heart of the Gorton Community, the park has a myriad of uses. It contributes to tackling the impacts of climate change, provides the local community with a much-needed green space and boasts many environmentally friendly features such as a “rain garden”, wildflower meadow, orchard trees, edible hedgerows and an exploration play area.  

West Gorton Community Park’s innovative design shows how nature-based solutions can help combat the impacts of climate change. Some of the parks specialist features include: The widespread use of water-loving plants and design features which help capture excess water from nearby roads and slow the rate at which it flows into drains; Swales, shallow trenches planted with aquatic vegetation which store and help absorb excess surface water; Rain gardens – attractive low level, wildlife-friendly spaces (which water naturally runs into) filled with thirsty plants which can handle being waterlogged; Bioretention tree pits – designed to receive stormwater and store it for gradual absorption through the root system.  

The ‘Sponge Park’ is the size of three football pitches and is part of a 10-year regeneration program to develop the area. The park itself has seen more than £1.2 million in investment since the project began in 2017, funded by GrowGreen an EU Horizon 2020 research project.  

The Landscape Institute Awards celebrate how landscape projects connect people, place and nature and the West Gorton Community Park combines all these elements. The park balances the needs of the community and educates them on climate change as well as, enriching the landscape with biodiversity and preventing flooding in an environmentally friendly manner.  

Acting as a hub of biodiversity and an innovative response to climate change, the park is key to acknowledging that to some degree climate change is unavoidable and we must adapt our landscapes to minimise the impact it can have.  

Councillor Tracy Rawlins, Executive Member for Environment, said:  

"Manchester is committed to playing its full part in addressing the urgent threat of climate change by reducing our carbon emissions. But climate change is already happening and while concerted international action can limit its impact, some degree of impact is inevitable, and we need to be doing radical new things to protect our city against potential problems such as the increased risk of flooding.  

"The West Gorton 'Sponge Park' is a perfect example of the sort of innovation required. It represents a whole new way of thinking about how we cope with excess water, something some would say we already have plenty of in Manchester, by capturing, controlling and reusing it. It is both an imaginative response to this challenge and a fantastic new green community space for West Gorton in its own right. 

“I am thrilled that we have won such a prestigious environmental award. It shows that our work is not going unnoticed and that our Pilot project is a project that Manchester –amongst others- can learn from to work towards a zero-carbon future”. 

James Millington, Landscape Architect at BDP, said:  

“West Gorton Community Park is a project that has involved so many fantastic and talented people, from the local community groups of West Gorton, University of Manchester, Manchester Climate change Agency, Manchester City Council and professional landscape architect and engineering teams. 

“The project is the UKs first research and demonstration project for assessing how nature-based solutions can help combat climate change. The project has been ground-breaking and innovative from its outset in managing storm water, improving air quality, reducing heat island effects, increasing biodiversity and enhancing community values. 

“At a local level, the project contributes to community wellness, healthy living and has fostered a real sense of community and a place for young people and the families of West Gorton to come together, play and get closer to nature. 

“We’re thrilled to have picked up this award!  At BDP we are always looking at pushing the boundaries in terms of design and innovation in the field of landscape architecture, and so it’s great to see this being recognised by others in our profession.  West Gorton Community Park works on so many levels – showcasing the use of Nature Based Solutions in tackling climate change, providing much needed green space within the city, creating something for the local community which they can be proud – and we hope that it is something that can be used as a case study by others when designing similar projects”. 

The council's partners in the West Gorton project are the Guinness Partnership Ltd (TGPL) and the University of Manchester (UoM). TGPL led the consultation to identify the community’s needs and aspirations for the open spaces and, through engaging with the community, raised awareness about the challenges of climate change to inspire local people to take pride in and ownership of the new park. The University of Manchester are monitoring the park’s progress and the data collected will be used to inform the design of greenspace in flood prone areas across the EU.  

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