Groundwork, which hosted a major conference for 250 professionals in Manchester to celebrate its 30th anniversary, looked at who and what turned a fringe activity into the multibillion-pound mainstream business of today.
Lord Heseltine’s contribution was revisited on the same day 30 years later that he published a report on growth, which echoes his campaigns in the 1980s for devolving power to revitalise and reinvigorate industrial cities.
Speakers said key turning points then were the Brixton and Toxteth riots of 1981 bookended by the Aberfan disaster of 1966 and the collapse of coal mining in the mid to late 1980s.
Manchester University emeritus professor John Hadley singled out Lord Heseltine, the founder of Horticulture Week publisher Haymarket, for three key landmarks: Liverpool International Garden Festival, Mersey Basin Campaign and "Operation Groundwork" to set up five northern trusts, which led to the forming of Groundwork.
"Some people criticised him but I have sympathy; he understood the transformative power of positive change through landscape. The work changed the way people felt about themselves and their landscapes at a time of mass unemployment and deindustrialisation."
Environmentalist Chris Baines said the origins of Groundwork were borne of the riots of 1981. Heseltine’s "response was to counter the aggression of those times by helping to promote and create gentle landscapes."
Groundwork had three things to offer, said Baines: a long track record; integrity on delivery based on research and monitoring; and an "extraordinary alumnus, which is the sleeping giant of accumulative wisdom".