Cornwall’s Eden Project is one of the most recognisable tourist attractions in Britain. Its large biome gardens, and attached exhibits, have been used to educate millions on ecology, climatology, and the environment since it opened in 2001.

Thus, the plan to open a new offshoot – Eden Project North in Morecambe – has attracted a lot of support and attention from those in the Lancaster University community. This new project, which is set to open in 2023, will focus on the marine life and ‘story’ of Morecambe Bay, which is the largest expanse of inter-tidal mudflats and sands in the UK. It is set to open in the same year as a third enterprise, Eden Project Foyle, in Derry in the north of Ireland.

Lancaster University is one of the organisations supporting the development of Eden Project North, alongside the City and County Councils and Lancashire Enterprise Partnership. The challenging artificial separation of ‘town and gown’ has been something the University has tried to overcome throughout its history. Regardless, attempts have been made – the University is one of the largest contributors to the local economy and in 2019 it reaffirmed its commitment to Lancaster District as a signatory of the ‘Civic University Agreement’. The outwardly friendly face of the University who represents it to the local community is Professor Dame Sue Black, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Engagement, who said on Eden Project North: ‘There has never been a better opportunity to do something like this, with the partners that we have, with the innovation that we have, with the sheer imagination that we have.’

Lancaster University is, naturally, particularly involved in the educational opportunities presented by Eden Project North. On 1st May, they jointly appointed Professor Robert Barratt as the inaugural Eden Project Chair of Education and Engagement. Barratt, who has joined the University’s pioneering Educational Research department, is an environmental education academic and formerly the head of the School of Education at the University of Gloucestershire. The new vice-chancellor, Prof. Andy Schofield, praised the appointment: ‘This… renews our commitment to our region and underlines our strategy to become a university which truly engages locally and internationally to address the issues that concern us as a society.’

Lancaster University’s record on environmental issues this past year has been less than impressive. A mass petition organised in first term, calling on the University to declare a climate emergency, was signed by over 2,000 people. A motion condemning the University’s stance at LUSU’s AGM was also overwhelmingly passed. The University’s response since has been lacklustre, hosting ‘Big Conversations’ in the place of taking concrete action. The call for divestment, which last thrived five years ago with Laura Clayson, has resurfaced led by groups like Lancaster University Extinction Rebellion and People & Planet. The move to support Eden Project North is a step in the right direction, though, and will hopefully enhance the ecological education that many children in the North West have over the coming years, in order to help combat the climate emergency.

Spineless contributor and Master’s student Alistair Williams spoke to Professor Barratt about his new appointment:

What exactly does your new role entail?

This new role specifically focuses on developing the Eden Project North Education (EPN) strategy. This portfolio includes working with local education providers (early settings through to universities), and health, business and community partners. Together we are co-constructing an integrated and inter-disciplinary place based curriculum. This is called the Morecambe Bay Curriculum. The primary focus is on the health of the people and the Bay and further, an overriding concern to develop future models of sustainable living.

Do you expect there to be more shared appointments between The Eden Project and Lancaster University in the future?

I'm not sure. It would be reasonable to assume that this will be considered. Certainly, the build, Eden Project North, will employ a wide range of local people within the venue and Eden supply chain. Given that EPN will reflect aspects Lancaster University's research, scholarship and wider civic work, colleagues will have opportunities to engage in all sorts of ways.

How do you expect Lancaster University to benefit from a developing partnership with the Eden Project?

In so many ways! There is a huge opportunity to engage with Eden's global mission to address how we can live sustainably, and in harmony with the planet. I have already spoken with so many colleagues at Lancaster who identify with Eden's mission and values and see opportunities for their personal and professional interests to be connected to the over arching ambition.

Eden is an education charity that has a track record of pro-actively engaging the public in science and asking people to think about their relationship to the natural world and how they can make a difference. Given this, the Lancaster community are already thinking about how partnering with Eden will make a positive difference to our community and the place in which we live.

What is your favourite element of working for The Eden Project?

The people! Eden brings together people form all walks of life, a common theme is that we are all very positive people, solution finders and innovators! There is never a dull moment in any meeting or conversation! Eden is driven by an urgency to make the planet healthy and improve the lives of all, especially the more-than-human world. Simply without oxygen from planets we wouldn't exist. If you have the opportunity to visit the Eden Project in Cornwall make sure you experience the 'dead cat' installation in the Visitors Centre. Then pop down to the Core Building and be mesmerized by the extraordinary cyanobacteria called Infinity Blue.

What do you think of the development of the Eden Project Study Programme at Lancaster and Morecambe College?

This is a first. It doesn't exist anywhere else in the UK. It is radical and innovative and provides the opportunity for learners to study in a completely different way and engage with the Eden values and behaviors. There is a dedicated and newly designed Eden Project Hub that provides a stimulating space and challenges curriculum content and pedagogy.

What are you looking forward to most about your new job?

It is an absolute privilege to be working with so many talented, creative and positive people in the University and the wider community. For me, it's the challenge. We plan to open the site in 2023 and so this date truly focuses the mind! This is enough time but we want to create so much and so the challenge is to ensure that what we co-construct is the best it can be and it is owned by the community. This is to ensure that together we build the foundation of a sustainable future for Morecambe Bay and the community. This will be built upon the powerful relationships that already exist and through the collective effort of all to re-imagine a new future for the Bay.

There is no delay expected to the commencement of construction for the North project in 2021, in line for completion in 2023. More information about the organisation and its expansion programme can be found on its website.

Featured image by Ian Capper, licenced CC BY-SA 2.0.