Cornwall is a British region that for centuries has been economically dependent on the mining industry. Until the beginning of the 20th century, Cornwall was in fact among the world's largest copper and tin exporters but, when the sector came to a halt, almost half a million people were forced to emigrate. The region had to face not only high unemployment rates, but also find solutions for a landscape partially compromised by the mines.
In this situation, pretty similar to that of many areas in post-industrial crisis, the desire to imagine a completely different future drove the stakeholders toward sustainability: it was the right time to start using the natural heritage of the region as a resource to be protected and not to be consumed.
An extremely ambitious territorial rebranding was launched. The Cornwall Sustainability Awards were established, many brewers went into business, the agro-food companies incredibly refined their produces, the regional government started a program of sustainable development that involved transportation, construction, waste management, environmental protection.
In this rebirth scenario, the idea of Tim Smith, a visionary capable of carrying out great projects, found fertile ground. It was 1995 when his eyes set on the St Austell abandoned mines and the location seemed to him perfect to realize one of his dreams: collect rare plants in a huge garden open to visitors, start a protection program for some endangered species and make it a hub for tourism, recreation, social cohesion and environmental education.
In 1998 the works began and, thanks to a great team of architects and engineers, the doors of the park officially opened on March 17, 2001: a record time for such an ambitious project, able to attract 18 million visitors and contribute to the revival of Cornwall, with an economic impact of 1.7 billion pounds. A tourist attraction of great scenic impact and enormous cultural and social value.
The Eden Project was funded by the Millennium Commission (£ 37.5 + 18.5 million), by the European Union (£ 26 million), by the regional government (£ 24 million), by commercial loans (£ 20 million) and by itself, by reinvesting profits.
Regarding the impact on the labour market, the Eden Project employs 400 people on a permanent basis, 200 seasonal workers and 150 volunteers. Over the years, as many as 48,000 students have participated in educational events, not counting all the families that have been educated to the fundamental role of plants in the planet's climate balance.
The park is a continuous sequence of immersive experiences, interactive platforms, installations and photographs that guide adults and kids along a pleasant and enjoyable educational route.
However, the Eden Project does not only teach, but it is at the forefront of doing. The best practices to reduce the environmental impact of the complex are countless: there is a very efficient recycling system, a virtuous water saving system, the commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 5% pa, the use of renewable energy and a geothermal power plant in the pipeline. Everything documented in a report published annually and available on the website.
Furthermore, the Eden Project considers inclusion one of its core values. Almost all the park's facilities are accessible by people with reduced mobility and a large number of wheelchairs are available at the entrance. Relaxed activities are designed for visitors who may benefit from a more informal experience, such as those with autism and sensory or communication needs.
But the Eden Project is not just tourism and, if one of the fundamental principles of sustainability is the host community benefit, it does not fail to lead by example in this case as well. And not only by granting jobs to hundreds of people, organizing workshops for residents and supporting the local businesses: the Eden Project invests in happiness.
The bond with the local community is so strong and the activities organized so special, that there is a specifically dedicated website for social lunches (attended by 7.3 million residents in 2016), collective walks and the stories of the people who make the difference in the community they live in with their daily commitment.
They are also piloting a weekly lunch club for local older people who have a range of conditions that leave them housebound, in order to reduce their isolation and improve their lifestyle through socialization, healthy food and mobility. There are also special walking groups for people with diabetes and horticulture therapy sessions for people with mental ill health, to help them develop skills, independence and self-confidence through nature.
A wonderful project that has become a point of reference for ethical entrepreneurs, governments and sustainable tourism stakeholders all over the world