UK’s largest urban farm submits application for Oldham site

May 13, 2022 | Natural Environment

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Northern Roots Visitor Centre by JDDK Architects

A full planning application for Northern Roots, which is set to be the UK’s largest urban farm and country-park, has been submitted.

The application covers the vision for the northern third of the 160-acre site in Oldham, Greater Manchester, along with detailed applications for the proposed Visitor Centre, Forestry Depot, Learning Centre and Solar Array.

Councillor Abdul Jabbar, Chair, Northern Roots Board of Trustees, said: “Submitting the planning application for Northern Roots is a pivotal milestone in the development of the project. Northern Roots will provide an exceptional community resource for Oldham, offering a wide array of opportunities and benefits to residents.”

The final proposals have been shaped by intensive community consultation, with the latest in-person and online phase running between August and December 2021. Consultation included building design workshops with Oldham College, Mahdlo Youth Zone and the wider public in Oldham, led by architect Alison Thornton-Sykes of JDDK Architects.

The resulting Visitor Centre, which will provide café, exhibition, shop and meeting space, has been designed to blend with the surrounding natural environment and nestles into the woodland edge at the northern end of the site.

Alison Thornton-Sykes, architect, JDDK Architects, said: “The Visitor Centre has been inspired by the transformation of a caterpillar from the cocoon stage to the emerging butterfly.”

“That transformation journey remains symbolic of the wider transformation of the Northern Roots site, from its industrial past to a green masterplan, with the butterfly roof rising from an elliptical shaped building surrounding a welcoming courtyard.”

“The layout of the Visitor Centre is based around a central cloister leading into the reception area which flows into the retail space and also provides access to staff areas and a multi faith meditation and prayer space. The cloister continues to provide access to toilets including a changing places facility, multi-use/ learning space and interpretation space.”

“From the reception the staircase and lift lead up to the café on the first floor which has elevated south facing views across the meadow and to the foothills of the Peak District beyond. The café opens onto a south facing terrace which connects to steps and footpath leading down to the amphitheatre, which provides additional seating.”

Playfully inspired by the community’s enthusiasm for tree houses, the Learning Centre sits within a woodland area to the south east of the hybrid application boundary.  It consists of a series of linked timber framed buildings, which sit on stilts to minimise impact to the ground and tree roots and is well screened by the surrounding trees. The Learning Centre will house a reception, classrooms, teaching kitchen and breakout space, staff facilities, multi faith prayer and meditation space, toilets and a bunkhouse.

Nicky Watson, Director, JDDK Architects, said: “JDDK Architects have really enjoyed developing the design proposals with young people and local communities in Oldham, whose thoughts and ideas have contributed greatly to the how the final proposals are looking. Thank you so much for all the input we have had – it’s been a real team effort!”

Plans for a new Bike Hub and Trails facility at Northern Roots were submitted for planning approval in February 2022.

Northern Roots Learning Centre Outdoor Classroom View JDDK Architects

Northern Roots, which achieved charitable status in December 2021, is one of four projects in Oldham to benefit from Oldham’s successful £24.4 million Towns Fund bid in 2021.

In January 2022, the Northern Roots Charity, in partnership with Positive Steps and The Skill Mill, secured £595,772 funding from the Community Renewal Fund to deliver Roots of Opportunity, a six-month pilot project.

Roots of Opportunity is underway, supporting young people in Oldham into employment, delivering an initial arts and culture programme at Northern Roots, and supporting local businesses to start operating from the Northern Roots site.

The Northern Roots Charity has also just secured an additional £1 million in revenue funding from Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. The funding will support the establishment of the new charity and enable it to continue to work with local communities to develop businesses, creative and learning projects and ecological enhancements at Northern Roots over the coming four years.

Anna da Silva, Project Director, Northern Roots, said: “We are immensely grateful to Esmée Fairbairn Foundation for this generous grant. It is a tremendous vote of confidence in the vision underpinning Northern Roots and the benefits that the scheme seeks to deliver to and with local communities.”

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