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As I sit at my desk with my border collie, Ben, by my feet, I reflect on the past two years at Chair of the Project Board for the GM Ringway, Greater Manchester’s new walking trail, an initiative that has been a real privilege to lead. Ben has been my best mate and walking companion since my wife, Anne, sadly died five years ago.  I also enjoy spending time in the countryside with my grandchildren, and show them the pleasures of being out in the fresh air in lovely rural settings, where we’re pictured here.

Nick Thompson GM Ringway Chair

My love of the great outdoors started as a young lad myself, playing in Ecclesall Woods on the outskirts of Sheffield. We were intrepid explorers, making amazing bivouacs by propping branches against trees and covering them with ferns. Then on Saturdays, when Parkhead cricket team was at home, we got half a crown for each lost ball cricket ball we found that had been hit for six from the small cricket ground on the edge of the woods, which was a nice little earner.

Then before girls became a serious distraction, I spent lovely weekends out with my mum, and Misty our dog, exploring the dark peaks of Derbyshire.  When I got married and moved to London, the call of the countryside led me to walk the Pennine Way in June 1975 with two really good friends, Big John and Little John. Nearly 50 years on, the three of us still meet up annually to do other long-distance walks. Last year it was St Cuthbert’s Way from Melrose to Lindisfarne and this year it’s back to Derbyshire.  Next year I hope it may be the GM Ringway.

In 2005, 30 years on from that first long-distance walk, I joined CPRE, the Countryside charity, as regional chair for the North West, supporting branches in Cheshire Lancashire and Cumbria. After about 5 years as North West chair I stood down, became Lancashire branch group president and still continue as a trustee.

Founded back in 1926, the CPRE was primarily established to fight, not only for the green belts round all the larger towns and cities to prevent urban sprawl, but also for the creation of national parks. These days an important part of our strategy is to help everyone access and enjoy our wonderful countryside and green spaces, whether they live in cities or in rural areas.  That’s why CPRE believed so strongly in supporting the GM Ringway walking trail. It’s just a brilliant way to help many more people to explore and enjoy the wonderful green spaces right here in Greater Manchester. We work in partnership with local communities, businesses and government to help promote and protect our green spaces for everyone’s benefit. The GM Ringway really sums up how we have evolved as an organisation as we approach our centenary in 2026.

The GM Ringway project came along just at the right time for us. For some time our branch had wanted wider appeal. Like the majority of CPRE members, we realised that more than half of our members lived in urban areas, where our presence and our appeal tended to be pretty minimal. As part of our objective to have more of an urban focus, we wanted to attract a very different audience, people who didn’t have much experience of the great outdoors. We felt that some communities weren’t given the chance to discover the fantastic countryside and lovely green spaces right on their doorstep. In the branch we discussed devising a walk which would join up all the green belt areas around Greater Manchester. Just as we were thinking about this bold idea, we were introduced to Andrew Read, someone with a similar vision to ours, and someone who knew the area well. We were delighted to find that Andrew had actually devised a route to link up the best parts of green open spaces right round all of Greater Manchester’s ten local authorities. And Andrew had gone further. He’d worked out how the route could be divided into different stages, each stage being accessible by public transport.

It was a genius idea. Now all we needed was the money to turn it into reality. We discovered a fellow CPRE trustee, Alasdair Forman, was a skilled bid writer. So Andrew and Alasdair got cracking on bidding for lottery funding on behalf of CPRE. Getting the money wasn’t easy. It took three attempts, but third time lucky and we were awarded the full £250,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to make our vision reality. CPRE’s national office agreed to underwrite the project and Ramblers stepped in to make a financial contribution towards the required match-funding, which was fantastic.

As chair, I’m supported by two board members, Mark Chung and Margaret Manning. With Andrew and Alasdair and a small team behind them, we’ve managed to pull this off.  This year we’ve seen real progress with 24 ‘Stage Guardians’ recruited, a dynamic and innovative new website and the Go Jauntly app is starting to be widely used. Momentum is building fast, with tens of thousands of people checking out the app each month, and several thousand people have already been out walking the trail.

And at the time of writing, we have nearly completed the waymarking for the 200 mile trail with thousands of little roundels on stiles and posts around the region.

In August the project comes to an end, so we’re now planning for the long-term future. We’ll launch Friends of GM Ringway with CPRE Lancashire still providing support and management of the website.  We’re now planning a big celebration event on August bank holiday Monday where I hope to see all of you there.

Nick Thompson, June 2024

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