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Ignition in Greater Manchester

Green wall with biodiversity enhancing planting © Matthew O’Donnell

The University of Salford’s Living Lab is a fantastic example of an urban green space. Launched in June 2021, this transformation has taken shape under the cloud of the pandemic, turning a somewhat unassuming site into a marvellous and thriving ecosystem in the heart of Greater Manchester. Through combining technology and nature in really innovative ways, Salford University has bloomed into life becoming a living model to measure the impact of works of this kind. The Living Lab, however, is only one component of a large ambitious new initiative led by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, the Ignition Project.

The Ignition Project, announced in March 2019, looked to nature to provide answers to the complex questions that socio-environmental pressures present in urban environments around the world. Nature Based Solutions (NBS), work with the environment rather than against it, harnessing the power of the natural world to help mitigate some of the issues that our ever-changing climate and societal structure present.

Sustainable drainage trees at the University of Salford © Matthew O’Donnell

In recent years problems such as flooding, air pollution and over-heating have become increasingly common across Greater Manchester. Historic land clearance and development stretching back to the industrial revolution and continuing to the present day has left us with a legacy of concrete jungles, large areas devoid of green spaces that have exacerbated these issues. GMCA identified the dire need to tackle these problems head on; not only to tackle the looming climate crisis, but also to provide opportunities for people living and working within the combined authority to enjoy the health and wellbeing benefits that green spaces deliver.

This project is backed by a £4.5 million investment from the EU’s Urban Innovation Actions (UIA) initiative and comprised of 12 partners including the University of Manchester, local government, NGOs and business. The Ignition Project has aimed to facilitate the funding of model NBS such as rain gardens, street trees, green roofs and walls. Through its use of modern technology and novel funding methods, whilst measuring impact and lessons learnt, this is far more than an attempt to green wash urban spaces.

Rain garden at Salford University © Matthew O’Donnell

My personal experience of working in the Cockcroft laboratory, before and since the installation of the Living lab infrastructure, has been significantly improved. The planting around the outside of the building has already transformed the space that is now teeming with an array of wildlife. Lunch and tea breaks are now something to cherish; enjoying the sight and smells of biodiversity on my doorstep. The pandemic and associated lockdowns rekindled our collective appreciation of wildlife, walks and the natural world in many ways. It is encouraging to see projects such as Ignition that will help to blend this appreciation, its value to society and combatting climate impacts into our urban environments.

As COP26 in Glasgow gets underway, it is more important than ever to celebrate the positive and successful applications of NBS to illustrate ways of tackling the climate crisis head on.

COP21 – the time is now

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