THE warmth of a desert glasshouse provided the perfect conditions for a crop of ideas to safeguard the future of a closure-threatened botanic garden.
It was the setting for one of several brainstorming workshops at Moorbank garden in Newcastle yesterday as more than 150 people turned up to seek ways forward for the 90-year-old four-acre grounds and glasshouses site.
The future is uncertain for the garden off Claremont Road after Newcastle University decided not to renew its lease on the site with the Freemen of Newcastle.
The Friends of the garden and volunteers have set up the Growing Moorbank body and held an open meeting yesterday to recruit people with a wide range of skills to plot how the site could become an asset for the city.
Retired Newcastle University Professor of Botany John Richards, a founder member of the Friends, said that the site and its important plant collections were visited by around 2,000 people a year through garden open days and group bookings.
But he said that in five years under a new set-up the garden could attract 20,000 people annually.
Dr Aidan Doyle, who was previously involved with organising visits of children to the site, said: “We have had children from all kinds of backgrounds visiting. It is a key resource for the city. There is no other place like it in Newcastle for youngsters to enjoy this sort of quality experience.
“It should be a key site for the university to link with the city and communities.”
Workshops explored whether Moorbank could support itself as a visitor attraction or could branch out in directions such as being a unique setting for corporate events and conferences, against a backdrop of facilities such as its tropical glasshouse.
Other suggestions included:
:: Inviting other universities and colleges to use Moorbank’s plant research and propagation facilities, and for art students to work with its plant collections;
:: Moorbank becoming part of restructured city council horticultural services;
:: Offering courses to the public from gardening and crafts to bee-keeping;
:: Becoming a garden in the North for the Royal Horticultural Society or London’s Kew Gardens;
:: Becoming a social enterprise organisation or a base for local communities to grow produce, including herbs, which are difficult to raise on allotments and linking with food and multi-cultural festivals.
The Freemen are still waiting to be informed formally in writing of the university’s decision to withdraw from Moorbank.
It is thought that Moorbank will remain with the university until next September, when the Freemen will consider all options for the site.
Prof Richards said: “The open meeting has been partly about making more people aware of Moorbank, and allowing people who may never have visited before to see what is here and that this is a facility which should not be thrown away.
“We are looking for ideas from fundraising to what sort of events could be held at Moorbank and we are looking for helpers with all sorts of skills and expertise.”
“The Freemen are rightly awaiting written notification and we hope the university does not drag its heels,” said Prof Richards. “The Freemen know where we are and I hope the message is coming across that there is a lot of public support for a botanic garden in Newcastle.”
It was hoped that Moorbank could be part of the £1m-lottery funded and community-run Greening Wingrove project, with the garden being in the city’s Wingrove ward.
“We need to decide if Moorbank is a research unit, a visitor attraction or part of our heritage to protect. It could be anything,” said Greening Wingrove director Karen Brown.