As part of the WW1 Centenary commemorations City of Trees and partners planted Heroes Wood, a memorial woodland remembering the people of Gorton in Manchester that served in World War One and armed conflicts since.
Heroes Wood is situated in Debdale Park, Gorton and is comprised of trees species such as oak, beech and pine.
These semi-mature trees line a footpath which leads to a memorial, creating a space for quiet reflection and contemplation. There are also a series of information boards in place that tell us Gorton’s story during the First World War.
The design of Heroes Wood
The design for this project was led by community engagement activities, encouraging local schools and community groups to provide information about what the war meant to them and to share stories about relatives who served in the field and at home. This helped to build a picture about what members of the community wanted from the new space and ensure the interpretation was relevant and user-friendly. Working with the Gorton Local History Group, residents and students from Wright Robinson Academy we were able to find out how the people of Gorton participated in the First World War both on the front lines in Europe and in the factories and military rehabilitation hospitals of Gorton and the surrounding area. Visits by the students to Commonwealth War Graves at local cemeteries helped to bring home the reality of War.
Making this project possible
After securing initial funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, City of Trees asked for the public’s support through a crowdfunding appeal which helped to meet the project’s funding target. In an event to launch this campaign, a symbolic poppy trench was created along the edge of what would become Heroes Wood. Funding for Heroes Wood was provided by a range of other funders plus help in kind. Many organisations and individuals also donated their valuable time to help get work under way.
In October 2017, partners from local construction companies helped to install the new path and the five white granite benches which make up the memorial area. Upwards of 30 community volunteers then came together to plant 19 semi-mature oak trees which create an avenue surrounding the pathway and memorial. In February 2018, approximately 80 volunteers came out over two days to plant the rest of the semi-mature trees, completing the commemorative woodland.
A series of events were held to encourage local people to find out about and participate in their local heritage. By working with a wide range of ages, we aimed to encourage cross generational understanding and respect and to bring to life the area’s local history. Students from Wright Robinson Academy were involved in researching the role of Gorton in the First World War. Their interesting findings can be found in a series of information boards around the memorial space and as a download below.
The memorial at Heroes Wood was officially opened on Armistice Day 2018. The event was attended by residents, pupils from Wright Robinson Academy, the Royal British Legion, veterans and the Lord Mayor of Manchester. Attendees marked the Act of Remembrance by laying wreaths and listening to readings lead by Wright Robinson’s students.
The Heroes Wood project was a great example of partnership working where local companies, residents, community groups and school pupils worked together to deliver something that is a fitting tribute to the people of Gorton who have been affected by War. The involvement of students from local schools such as Wright Robinson College demonstrated that young people want to find out about their local history and how the First World War changed lives during and after the War. One community member said: “It has been amazing to put Manchester on the map as hosting the first ever commemorative woodland in the region, and we’re really touched at how that the public have dug deep and rallied together to help Heroes Wood take root.”
All visitors to the park are welcome to use the memorial space as a place for quiet contemplation and reflection.
City of Trees would like to acknowledge that this project would not have been achievable without the generous support of the following funders, organisations and individuals:
Heritage Lottery Fund
The Living Memorial Fund
The Royal British Legion
Beers Timber & Building Supplies
North of England Horticultural Society
Life For A Life
The Woodland Trust
Gorton Local History Group
Tesco Bags of Help
University of Manchester
John Southworth Builders
GM Fire Service
Gorton Heritage Trail
Spacehive and all those that donated to the Crowdfunding appeal in particular; Our Manchester, Growing a Greener Britain, Janet Wallwork, Jeff & Annie Hustler, Irene Leigh, Stephen Faulder and Phil Vokes.