Godfrey Ermen Field
Godfrey Ermen Playing Field has been a part of my life for over seventy years. Amongst my earliest childhood memories was of wondering what all the whistles and shouting was in the distance. Only later did I learn that it was boys playing football in the field.
In those distant times, though the field was in constant use by local football teams, it was not a place to which the general public had access. Rather it was a place which people passed on the way along the railway which bordered it and over the bridge to a further open space where people could play and picnic on a field adjoining the golf course.
Over the years the area has changed significantly. The railway line was closed and filled in to make a cycle track – still known after the line which was called The Fallowfield Loop – the playing field has ceased to be used for football and the golf course replaced by Wright Robinson Sports College. Yet the field remains in transformed state.
This transformation has had several interesting effects. It has opened up the field to public access and fused it with the cycle track and other pathways in the area to provide Green Ways and natural corridors. The changing use has been surprising in how soon the area has reverted to a natural, semi-wild state with extensive wooded and wild flower growth and an increasing wild life presence.
It is this environmental enhancement that now contributes to the most valuable aspect of the field. From a physical amenity (a number of football pitches) the field has become a therapeutic, even spiritual, place which lifts the spirits as soon as one enters its presence, reconnecting one with nature. This experience has been called ‘biophilia’, the innate feeling and need people have for connection with the natural world and without which their lives shrivel and die. It is this which now draws people to this area.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the field is that walking along the congested narrow streets of terraced houses the adjoin it one would never imagine that it was there. On entering it the transformation is sudden and amazing, as if one were walking through a time warp into a different world. Suddenly the landscape opens up and there is nothing but a wide open natural vista which is peaceful, still and serene.
The late, local MP Sir Gerald Kaufman, used to refer to the open space of which the field is a part as a ‘green lung’ for the densely populated constituency of Gorton and Longsight, home to over 40,000 people and threaded by busy roads. Air quality is something of which we have become increasingly aware and of the devastating health consequences of air pollution. So also of the vital need for green open spaces which can act as carbon filters and sinks.
Curiously, it was exactly this concern that motivated the gift of the field for public use in the first place. When the Lord Mayor of Manchester, Alderman Titt, opened the field in 1928 he too described it as a ‘green lung’ which, in the then heavily industrialised area of east Manchester, would help to provide a refreshing benefit to its residents. It was this health concern that was of prime concern then just as it is now, which is perhaps why he had the foresight to dedicate the field ‘for ever and ever’.
In fact one can clearly see that in its present state the field fulfils its original intention more completely than ever. Instead of merely a mown open playing field the area with its many trees and dense foliage has become a living natural filter. It has also become more openly accessible to the public, a green oasis which attracts people not just from the locality but far and wide.
After seventy years I continue walk alongside the field, almost the first thing I do every day. I never tire of its uplifting presence and the many varied aspects of the changing seasons. In a strange way its unassuming natural presence even seems to provide a motivation for living. Just as the field has been present at the beginning of my life I hope it will be there at the end and live on for many others to enjoy.