The environment we live in is known to have an impact on the way we think, feel and behave.
Increasingly, across the UK, communities are becoming involved in decisions to improve the places they live in, particularly underused or neglected pieces of land that blight the area.
Bradford Community Environment Project’s (BCEP) urban design team works closely with communities across the district to enable people to have an influence upon neglected or under-used land close to them. Many sites are on people’s doorsteps, and can impact upon residents’ quality of life.
Schools, children’s centres, community associations, and friends’ groups are among those who have worked with the team to revive and revamp spaces including traditional play areas, allotments, memorial gardens, school grounds, wildlife habitats and community gardens.
“We support people in improving their environment,” says Adele Adams, BCEP’s senior landscape architect for the environment charity. “It may be perceived as an eyesore or a neglected site. Quite often, local people have got together to do something positive and bring us in to improve it.
“Once people become involved it helps to bring members of the community together– people who might not otherwise meet into each other,” she adds.
“People can be involved to whatever level they feel comfortable, knowing that they have a professional team to support them.”
Involvement can last for many years, building and strengthening community cohesion.
Budgets range from £5,000 to £250,000, with funding generally secured through a variety of sources including clients, grants and local fundraising.
Recently-completed projects include Abbey Green Nursery School, where judges in the Manningham and Girlington In Bloom competition commented that “every centimetre of space is used to give a rich outdoor experience to the children”. The nursery and adjoining children’s centre were overall winners of the contest this year.
The team is currently working with Thornbury Primary School in Dick Lane, Bradford, improving the grounds to encourage adventure, and to enable children to stretch themselves. Children will be involved in creating artwork stepping stones. Seating and planting areas will divide a large play area into ‘niches’ so that children can play more harmoniously in smaller peer groups.
Headteacher Tim Richards is thrilled with the results. “It’s fabulous. We’ve had extensive work done on the outside play area and now it has lots of different parts – ponds, wildlife areas and play equipment. It will significantly help children in exploration and investigative work. It will also help their physical development. The different areas enable the children to sit quietly or play noisily. They love it – to them it is jaw- dropping.”
A community project with Norwood Neighbourhood Association hopes to transform a neglected piece of land into a thriving community play and social space, with food growing areas similar to an edible forest garden, and allotments. “This project has particular value in an area where households only have access to small gardens or yards,” says Adele. “We are consulting local people about what they would like.”
Work is also ongoing towards installing ‘rocket’ composters at Southfield Pathfinder Vocational Centre at Southfield School in Bradford, to take waste food from dinners and turn it into usable compost for their organic growing site. “The groups using the centre have secured funding to complete some initial stages and are looking for support to continue,” says Adele.
Wibsey Park Community Garden is also to benefit from a forest garden for schools to visit. “We have been successful in securing £60,000 from the national recycling company WREN,” says Adele.
This project, in common with others, is carried out in conjunction with Habitat Heroes, also part of BCEP, who help people to get the most out of their newly-created spaces.
Community environment worker Colin Green says: “It is taking spaces that are being underused or are unable to be used and bringing them back into community use in a safe manner.”
Property investment firm British Land – who own Forster Square retail park – provide funding for the Habitat Heroes programme. Manager Denis Copeland says: “We recognise that local people have a key role to play in making a difference to their neighbourhoods. By responding to their particular needs in the form of both finance and practical help we hope that we can make a difference as well, and help to create an environment where individuals, businesses and the community itself can grow and thrive.”