Following a lengthy period of public consultation events, the hybrid planning application for Oldham’s Northern Roots urban farm and eco-park has been submitted to Oldham Council which, along with outline proposals for the 160-acre site, includes detailed design proposals for a Visitor Centre and Learning Centre from Newcastle-based JDDK Architects.

The practice has worked on a wide range of award-winning visitor centre projects across the UK, which are similarly located in sensitive greenbelt and world heritage sites such as The Sill in Northumberland, the Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre in Nottingham, and the RSPB’s Saltholme International Nature Reserve on Teesside.

When complete, Northern Roots will be the UK’s largest urban farm and eco-park. Set in the heart of Oldham, the project will create a unique new community asset and visitor destination, offering a range of new facilities and activities whilst also creating jobs, training and business opportunities for local people. In addition to protecting and enhancing the habitat, biodiversity and environmental value of the 160-acre site, the project will also support the health and wellbeing of local residents and communities.

The Visitor Centre has been designed to blend with the surrounding natural environment and nestles into the woodland edge combining elements of the initial two proposals presented to public consultations as JDDK Principal Architect, Alison Thornton-Sykes, explained, “One option was based on the transformation of a caterpillar from the cocoon stage to the emerging butterfly whilst the second option arose from the modelling workshops which showed a preference for a circular building and influences of spiral beehives and so we combined the two ideas.”

View of the Visitor Centre Amphitheatre.

“The transformation journey remains, symbolic of the wider transformation of the site from an 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 elliptical 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 landscape beyond. The café opens onto a south facing terrace which connects to steps and footpath leading down to the amphitheatre which provides additional seating.”
View of the Visitor Centre Boardwalk

The Learning Centre site sits within a woodland area to the southwest of the hybrid application boundary and consists of a series of linked timber framed buildings on stilts to minimise impact on the ground and tree roots and well screened by the surrounding trees. The Learning Centre will house a reception, teaching kitchen and breakout space, staff facilities, multi faith prayer and meditation space, classrooms, toilets and a bunkhouse. There will also be communal outdoor space for outdoor learning. Only the smaller end elevations of the reception and bunkhouse buildings will pop out through the trees to signpost the location of the Learning Centre, while the remaining buildings will be settled in amongst the trees.

View of the Outdoor Classrooms.

Anna da Silva, Project Director, Northern Roots, added, “Actively involving communities in Oldham in the design and co-creation of the proposed Visitor Centre and Learning Centre at Northern Roots, has been really important. Not only has the process been dynamic, iterative and allowed for meaningful involvement in shaping the final proposals, it will foster a sense of ownership in the community in the long term; these are buildings that have been shaped by people in Oldham for people in Oldham, and that is key to the overall ethos of Northern Roots.”

The ‘Green Roofs of the Learning Centre.

Funding for the project has been guaranteed by the Government’s Towns Fund, which awarded Oldham £24.4m for four projects, the Rural Community Energy Fund, the DEFRA-funded Green Recovery Challenge Fund, GM Moving and the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.

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