Incorporating nature into the built environment to promote healthier lifestyles and working environment has been late in catching on in the areas where the need is probably greatest. Interesting and inexpensive schemes can be achieved with intelligent planning and some ingenuity.
Grounds maintenance has another role beyond managing operations and costs, namely seeking ways of adding value. One of the approaches we use at GRITIT is that the grounds of any property are an invaluable asset that we can help improve through intelligent planning, rather than seeing it as an area that just demands maintenance. Within the trade this is known as ‘biophilic design’ – improving wellness and wellbeing through making the most of green spaces. Well managed green spaces reduce stress, improve cognitive functions and creativity, improve our mood and even improves healing!
This concept is not just for specialist architects and horticulturalists, but is relevant for schools, Housing Association homes and businesses. Making the most out of green spaces is effective for any scale of site and does not require major renovations. In fact, it is often the tricky problem areas that trigger the most ingenious solutions.
Green Spaces for Housing Associations
Around Housing Associations, landscaping is often an afterthought, and sustainable landscaping a luxury. No surprise then that incorporating nature into the built environment to promote healthier lifestyles and working environments - is late in catching on with housing associations, but the fact is that this may be where the need for such an approach is greatest.
In the UK, the areas that experience the highest levels of deprivation are unfortunately also those with lowest levels of access to green spaces. This lack of access to parks and playing fields has an impact of health outcomes, but there are also factors of perceived wellbeing and pride in one’s locality to consider. Choosing an accomplished grounds maintenance contractor such as GRITIT, that looks beyond mere maintenance to create a green space, can collaborate and be a contributor to helping to reduce the stigma attached to social housing estates and promote a better sense of pride of place.
GRITIT is aware of budget pressures with Housing Associations and our approach uses simple, low-cost features such as encouraging urban wild flower meadows that can provide colour and interest. Even in sites with limited green spaces, it is perfectly possible and affordable to create features such as living walls and roofs. As well as boosting aesthetic appeal and sustainability, GRITIT’s approach brings social benefits: CABE’s research found a high correlation between a community’s overall satisfaction with their neighbourhood and local authorities and their satisfaction with the parks and open spaces in that area. It also found a correlation between the quality of these spaces and the degree to which the community made use of these spaces. Indeed, allotments or community orchards can have a very direct impact by enabling participation.
Above all, we don’t believe in making this expensive. Retrofitting landscapes can often be delivered as a cost neutral benefit in line with a landscape management and maintenance plan or over an agreed period. For example, planting a semi-wild area and raised beds for vegetables may involve some initial investment, but it will ultimately be cost-neutral as it requires less ongoing maintenance than a lawns and flower beds that needs frequent mowing and weeding!
Green Spaces for schools
For schools, the space available tends to be limited so the priority is to make it as multifunctional as possible, to maximize the potential that landscapes provide for learning. There is much to be learned from the introduction of green spaces. Habitat creation and conservation (i.e. ponds, bird and bat boxes, habitat hotels and pollen rich planting) provide excellent opportunities for students to learn about the natural environment, and the natural world can also be used to learn about key subjects on the national curriculum, such as biology.
Designing spaces in this way for education is a matter of GRITIT ingenuity. We take pride in introducing interesting and inexpensive schemes, for example urban wild flower meadows, attracting pollinators and wildlife as well as providing colour. In areas where external space is lacking we create exciting features such as living walls and small ponds, looking to make the most out of the available environment.
GRITIT Tips for new Green Spaces
Your employees are on site eight hours a day and the opportunities for them to ‘connect with nature’ exist all around; the route into the car park and front door, scenes from inside the building looking out, small quality outside spaces near the building for short breaks or larger areas where you can encourage exercise and communal and multifunctional use.
Other things to consider are:
- Benefits can occur in as brief a time as a 5-minute exposure
- Small sensory interactions that are frequently repeated are highly effective, for example a glimpse of nature from a regularly used corridor
- A single high-quality project can be more effective and have greater restorative potential than several lower quality bodged initiatives
- Tackle a difficult or problem area of a site and turn it in to a well-being landscape challenge, even involving employees with a competition for ideas
- It doesn’t need to be expensive! A flower meadow costs little to plant and reduces costs over the long-term
Quality green and open spaces are not only a positive in terms of reputation and motivating staff, they provide clear evidence of a business’ green credentials.
Procuring the right Commercial Grounds Maintenance contractor and managing quality standards are essential from the outset to ensure Facilities Managers establish the optimum working relationship and achieve added value from their provider for their green spaces.