The completion of a proposed £60m Foyle River Gardens eco-educational project from the Foyle Bridge to Culmore would draw Derry’s emigrant geniuses back home, the co-founder of the Eden Project has said.
Sir Tim Smit wants to create an educational hub on the Foyle to help regenerate the city.
He is advocating an “agricultural revolution” to improve public nutrition and has linked up with both the Ulster University and the Queen’s University, Belfast, where he delivered the Institute for Global Food Security Annual Lecture last night.
Sir Tim said: “The River Foyle is really extraordinary. I feel that someone has given me the Thames or something like that and said, ‘no one seems to know what to do with that but here you are’.
“In my view one of five most beautiful rivers in the whole of Europe and it is not even a social focus for a city because they had too much trouble.”
Under the Foyle River Gardens scheme Sir Tim and his partners want to create new educational opportunities for a diverse range of students and QUB and Ulster University are co-operating on the project.
The site will extend from Foyle Bridge towards Culmore Point. The initiative aims to link the Boom Hall and Brook Hall estates, including previously inaccessible river frontages.
Sir Tim said: “You have got a place that is now owned by the council that is completely derelict, a wonderful estate, the stables are falling down, the house is falling down. You have got the former Protestant stately home, you have got a convent - it is like a sitcom.
“You have got all of the bits you can weave together into a wonderful story. Derry has been a place that exported genius, its main export is in genius, its cool people go off.
“How do you create something that acts as a beacon that brings them back and also enables the people that are there to feel a sense of possibility?”
The environmental pioneer was introduced to the idea during a visit during the ity of Culture year.
“I like challenges; because it feels difficult I think it is actually relatively easy. Someone once said to me the most difficult prisons to break out of are those where you cannot see the bars and I thought that was really profound.
“I thought in Derry we can see the bars, we can see the low expectation that fortune will favour you, with all of the consequences associated with that, and yet you have a people who do revere education at the same time.”