From beer gardens to alleyways, public parks to community spaces; if it’s home to a few potted plants and some shrubbery, then nowadays pretty much anywhere can be a ‘secret garden.’
Most ‘secret’ gardens, are not actually meant to be secret, or they wouldn’t attract swarms of visitors. What’s the point of a beautiful garden, if no one can see it?
Well, believe it or not, Middlesbrough has a twenty-six -acre secret called Nature’s World-a unique and special place worthy of rediscovery.
Twenty-seven years ago, despite being a town reliant on heavy industry, Middlesbrough supported a revolutionary idea and became the location for Nature’s World. “The North of England’s pioneering Eco-experience” – with an average of over 29,000 visitors a year.
The site contained over a hundred different interactive features and exhibits focusing on issues such as energy generation, recycling and re-using waste, organic gardening, green transport, bio-diversity and habitat conservation.
When it closed in 2012, due to rising costs, a fall in visitor numbers and funding cuts, the gardens were hidden from public view and at risk of being forgotten. The lost gardens were slowly disappearing under a blanket of brambles, sedge and willowherb, and ironically becoming one of the most biodiverse green spaces in the area; home to a variety of rare plants and animals.
In 2015, a group of dedicated volunteers; Friends of Nature’s World, were given permission by Middlesbrough Council to maintain one-third of the site, creating new areas for wildlife, enhancing the gardens and hosting a number of community events and activities.
Middlesbrough Environment City (an environmental charity) lease part of the site, and part has been sold off to build a school for children with special educational needs.
Some say that Nature’s World no longer exists, but volunteers would argue it is Middlesbrough’s best kept secret and, following the original ethos which is as relevant today as ever, it has evolved into something even more special. It has also brought people together from all walks of life, working towards the same goal: to see Nature’s World thriving as a community resource.
The original Nature’s World facility was ahead of its time, and perhaps twenty-seven years on, thanks to David Attenborough, a teenager called Greta and armies of environmental activists, many of us now understand the importance of green issues.
Nature’s World will never be an eco-centre again, but volunteers hope that with enough support, the areas in which they work will one day be used to educate and inform the next generation. It will no longer spoken about in hushed voices at council meetings or regarded as a failure, but instead will be celebrated as somewhere Middlesbrough can be proud of.
Secret Gardens often aim to be places of magic and mystery, despite actually being quite ordinary. Nature’s World isn’t ordinary, it’s got magic and mystery in spades and has so much to offer. One day, Middlesbrough’s best kept secret will be out.
If you would like to volunteer or support Friends of Nature’s World please contact firstname.lastname@example.org, visit their website at www.friendsofnaturesworld.co.uk or connect with them on Facebook
Volunteers meet Thursdays and Saturdays 10am-2pm-no gardening experience necessary, just a love of nature and working outdoors.
We’re delighted to welcome Scarlet Pinkas a guest blogger to Celebrating Change. Over the next few weeks, she’ll be sharing stories she’s gathered during her time as Community Reporter. You can see more stories like this on the Facebook group that she has set up, Community Good News Teesside.