Manchester’s first new city centre public park for 100 years opened its gates on Wednesday and has eight slides declared “so scary” by delighted children given the first go.
One of the slides transports riders over the River Medlock, a largely forgotten Mancunian waterway which has been under concrete there for the last 150 years. Another offers what feels like a near-vertical drop – a tonic for those nostalgic for the days when playgrounds carried a genuine sense of peril. One has been made accessible for children in wheelchairs.
Grownups are allowed – though the slide’s architects, Stockport-based Massey and Harris, seem to have made the gnarliest deliberately awkward for anyone over 5ft 4. Mercie Biawete, a 14-year-old from East Manchester Academy, one of the first locals to give them a test run, called “so scary” but “really good”.
There are eight slides in total at Mayfield, which is nestled between the Mancunian Way, the city’s ring road and Piccadilly Station.
Originally developed for a printing factory during the Industrial Revolution and later used as a railway station and parcel depot, the 24-acre site has lain derelict for decades but has been brought back to life in a £1.4bn public private partnership, with offices and 1,300 apartments built on its fringes.
Despite 50% of the park being privately owned, it will be operated “on the same basis as any other public park in Manchester, and open from dawn till dusk”, said Martyn Evans, creative director of U+I, the developer. “What we wanted Mayfield to be right from the beginning was not just some buildings with some nice landscaping in between them, but a park with buildings in and around it. That’s not common.”
The park takes up 6.5 acres and includes a verdant lawn watered regularly by three historic wells uncovered during the site excavation – meaning that Mayfield will, it is hoped, avoid the fate of Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester’s drug-dealing haven, where the grass runs the gamut from “Somme” to “scorched earth” according to the season.
Mayfield also includes the longest uncovered section of the Medlock in the city centre, a 400-metre stretch of clear water. “It was absolutely filthy but the minute we cleaned it kingfishers, housemartins, geese returned,” said Evans. “Nature finds a way – even next to the Mancunian Way.”
Developers are also exploring installing a lido on the roof of the neighbouring railway depot, which is home to the Warehouse Project nightclub and Freight Island, a food hall. If engineers believe the roof can take the weight of so much water it could open next summer, according to Evans.
“Broadwick Live, which leases Mayfield depot, would still like to put a lido up there, so we are exploring plans,” said Evans. The hope is to create a long, thin pool in the dip between two platforms where the trains used to run, he explained. “I would love it if we could do that, but it might not be possible.”
Though the park has been in planning since 2016, its opening feels “serendipitous”, said Evans. “Post-Covid, green space is what everybody wants.”
Even Manchester’s most ardent defenders accept that the rapidly growing city lacks green space. As well as the unloved Piccadilly Gardens, there are a few token quadrants here and there, often totally shaded by surrounding buildings, but nothing to compare with Hyde Park in London or Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh. “This is one of the nicest parks I have seen in a long time,” said Biawete. “Most parks smell of cigs and vapes. Here you can breathe.”