Students protest their own university over plans to develop Ryebank Fields


Students protested with community groups against Manchester Metropolitan University’s (MMU) decision to sell a much loved field in south Manchester. Ryebank Fields in Chorlton has been at the heart of a battle of green space versus housing for over 25 years.

The fields, which sit on the border between Manchester and Trafford, were gifted to MMU under Margaret Thatcher’s government back in the 1980s for use of sports and recreation. However, many locals believe selling the land off to private developers is against the spirit of the gift of land.

The protest camp, once a few scattered tents, now composes of an entire eco-house complete with a wood burner, solar panels and a bike shed, and has stood on a corner of Ryebank Fields since April 2021 so there is a constant protest against development.

Read more: Protesters camped on Ryebank Fields for a YEAR to stop housing development warn: ‘I don’t mind staying here forever’

Now, the students of MMU have got involved and have protested against the university’s alleged ‘greenwashing’. In 2021, the university claimed to be the most sustainable university in the UK, which the students and protesters disagree with due to their decision to build on this site.

Gina Bates, 25, a master’s student at MMU, originally came from Massachusetts in America to study at MMU. For her, the university’s sustainability policy was a reason to choose MMU.

Keira Dennison, Gina Bates, Issie Masters protest MMU’s sale of Ryebank Fields

She said: “This was a reason why I chose to come here. But this has flipped my perspective. I didn’t give the university the benefit of the doubt, this f***ed it for me. I just hope that this draws the attention it deserves and that MMU rethink their current path.

“I was really excited, what I knew of Manchester was that the city is very involved in politics and is progressive and to go to the greenest university, it really mattered. So I was really upset to find out that it wasn’t true.

“Not to be dramatic, but I cried. Now I go here and have to support this university, but if the most I can do is support Ryebanks, I will.”

Issie Masters, 21, a second year student at MMU said: “They just don’t care, if the teachers speak up they could get fired. We’re interested in supporting Ryebanks and it’s important to show our support.”

Kiera Dennison, 20, a second year student at MMU added: “It’s a complete 180 on the values of our university and what they say they stand for.”

'Save Ryebank Fields' banner
‘Save Ryebank Fields’ banner

The protest took place all across last week, with students occupying the Grosvenor East building and dropping banners from its roof. Shouts of ‘shame on you, MMU’ and ‘MMU stop greenwashing’ were called over megaphones and chanted back by the 40 or so protesters who gathered.

They say the aim was to cause as much disruption as possible to MMU’s operations to raise awareness around the university’s decision to develop on the land. As part of the protest, students, activists and Chorlton residents were handing out leaflets, which had been printed at the university using their facilities and funding to do so.

The land is well used by residents of both Chorlton and Trafford as it is a rich area of biodiversity, home to an aspen grove, the ancient Nico ditch, and many millennium oak trees. It is also currently home to a protest camp which has been on the site for over a year.

Sarah, a mum from Stretford, said “Ryebank Fields is ten minutes walk from my house, and it became a refuge for my teenage daughter and I during lockdown. It’s somewhere both of us can just breathe and feel more part of nature, and so visiting the fields has since become a regular part of my week.

Leaflets asking for support for Ryebank Fields
Leaflets asking for support for Ryebank Fields

“The community of Ryebank is very special too, lots of brilliant people who care so passionately about the Fields that they dedicate their time to protecting them. There’s something about a shared love of a place that brings different people together, and shows us ‘we are the same’.

“If Ryebank Fields were gone, I’d be devastated at the loss of a magical place, and of all the wildlife who live there in our corner of Greater Manchester, and also heartbroken at the loss of a community that loves it as much as I do.”

A spokesperson for Manchester Metropolitan University said: “We are aware a small number of students have shown an interest in the campaign by Friends of Ryebank Fields against our plan to dispose of land at Ryebank Fields in Chorlton to a suitable developer as part of our strategy to consolidate onto a single, sustainable, city centre campus.

“For context, there was a gathering of around 15-20 people – campaigners and students – in All Saints Park today as part of a planned peaceful protest. There has been no impact on University activities. We remain in discussions to sell the land and no preferred developer has yet been appointed.

“We expect to appoint a preferred developer in the near future.”

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