A new education centre was officially opened at Sheffield’s Botanical Gardens today (Wednesday 15 March) by the Duke of Devonshire, Peregrine Cavendish.
The Duke, who is a patron of the Sheffield Botanical Gardens Trust, welcomed guests to the new Dorothy Fox Education Centre.
Named after the extremely generous donor who made the project possible, the centre aims to transform the use of the gardens as an educational resource for people of all ages in Sheffield.
It has a library and three flexible classroom areas which can be combined to create a large lecture area. It will also offer educational opportunities for schools and practical courses for adult learners, as well as a programme of lectures, demonstrations, art classes and photography courses.
Councillor Mary Lea, cabinet member for culture, sport and leisure at Sheffield City Council, said: “Since the Botanical Gardens opened in 1836, the site has provided generations of Sheffielders with a beautiful spot of tranquility and natural beauty.
“I hope that this new education centre will help to inspire people to enjoy the gardens, which are a real jewel in Sheffield’s crown.
“I would also like to thank our very generous donors, and groups including the Sheffield Botanical Gardens Trust (SBGT) and the Friends of the Botanical Gardens, Sheffield (FOBS) for their support, ceaseless fundraising and hard work.
“Without them, creating this new education centre would simply not have been possible.”
The Grade II-listed Botanical Gardens were created in 1836 by Robert Marnock, a leading horticulturalist and landscape designer of his day. In 1951 the gardens, which cover 19 acres, were leased to Sheffield City Council from the Sheffield Town Trust.
The site now has 15 different garden areas featuring collections of plants from all over the world, including Mediterranean, Asian, American prairie-style, woodland and rock-and-water plantings.
It also plays host to a calendar of functions and events, including the annual Art in the Gardens festival which draws in art and culture lovers from all over the North.
Development of a new education centre and educational activities has been a long-term aim since the completion, in 2005, of an ambitious restoration project which saw the pavilions and gardens returned to their former glories.
Since then, the Sheffield Botanical Gardens Trust and FOBS have continued to raise funds for the improvement of the site. Further money has also come in from private donations, from gifts from local charitable foundations and through legacies from generous supporters including FOBS members Barbara Holland and Mildred Rushby.
Dorothy Fox, after whom the centre is named, was a Sheffield woman who loved the gardens so much that she left a house in her will to the Sheffield Botanical Gardens Trust.
Her substantial legacy funded much of the development of the new education centre, so it was felt only fitting to dedicate the name of the building to her.
The new education centre replaces a temporary and outdated classroom block and will enable botanical, horticultural and heritage-based educational activities for people of all ages.
The development, which will merge learning with outdoor life, also adds to Sheffield’s growing reputation as The Outdoor City.
Jill Sinclair, chairman of FOBS, said: “We are thrilled by the opening of the new centre, which gives us chance to develop some exciting new initiatives.
“It has the potential to put Sheffield on the map as a major venue for horticultural education in the north.”
Joe Kavanagh, on behalf of the Sheffield Botanical Gardens Trust, said: “Many past and present trustees, patrons, members of FOBS and the Gardens Team have worked very hard to deliver this education centre.
“Constant fundraising by FOBS and the Trust, continued support from the Freshgate, JG Graves and Church Burgesses charitable trusts and some wonderful legacies have provided the funding.”