Setting a “Green Print”

Ellen Salter and Julia Haggstrom, Sustainability Consultants at
Arup, describe how the Wild West End partnership is setting new
standards for appropriate development in city green space.

Biodiversity is reaching a crisis point. According to analysis by the RSPB, the UK has failed to reach 17 out of the 20 UN biodiversity targets agreed ten years ago, in what has been described as a ‘lost decade for nature’. The UK has only half of its natural biodiversity left; compared to other countries in the EU, only Ireland and Malta come out worse. The UK is in the bottom 10% of all countries globally in terms of how much historic biodiversity still survives, and urban development has the potential to further obstruct the natural environment through the fragmentation of habitats and the displacement of species. To stop and reverse biodiversity loss, ambitious action must be taken to deliver appropriate development to our new and existing urban spaces through a clear partnership approach.

An introduction to Wild West End

In 2016, Wild West End was established out of a desire to protect, promote, and enhance biodiversity, as a partnership between central London’s largest property owners: the Church Commissioners for England, the Crown Estate, Great Portland Estates, Grosvenor Britain & Ireland, the Portman Estate, the Howard de Walden Estate and Shaftesbury. The partnership is also supported by eight Business Improvement Districts, two Strategic Partners (the Greater London Authority and the London Wildlife Trust) and a Technical Partner (Arup). Together we are introducing measures to encourage birds, bees, and bats back into the heart of London – building greater connections with nature for residents, visitors, and workers to enjoy.

Following the project’s launch, baseline surveys were immediately undertaken across the area to establish the extent, condition, and value of green spaces; bird and bat surveys were also conducted to record the types and numbers of each species present. Since then, we have worked strategically with monitoring, target setting, specification guidance, engagement events, sharing of good practices and installations of green features to support our vision (www. In short, Wild West End aims to set the ‘green print’ for appropriate development in our cities’ parks and green spaces.

Beyond simply increasing the total area of green spaces, Wild West End seeks to increase their multi-functional value. Newly created green spaces must target, as a minimum, at least two ‘beneficial functions’ in line with the Wild West End Value Matrix. These functions fall under five broad categories – biodiversity, climate, microclimate, well-being and social – and are periodically reviewed to ensure leading best practice, in line with national, regional and local legislation and guidance. Through carefully considered and integrated management, new and existing green infrastructure can provide London with enhanced climate, health and social benefits.

Planters and seating at George’s Pocket Park in the Baker Street Quarter (copyright: ARUP)
Protecting and enhancing biodiversity

Within the London Environment Strategy, the Mayor has taken a range of actions to help the environment towards a ‘path for a better future’; Wild West End builds on plans such as this to deliver appropriate development within green spaces, according to the Value Matrix. Projects must give careful consideration to the quantity and type of habitat provision for target species, as well including features such as bat boxes, bird boxes, and invertebrate features; habitat provision is supervised by a relevant specialist to optimise opportunities and minimise costs. Every two years, habitat surveys are repeated and compared against the 2016 baseline, to highlight how new ecology features have changed the condition of green space and its use by target species. Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all approach; what constitutes appropriate development is highly dependent on factors bespoke to the location.

For example, the Portman Estate sought to improve the biodiversity value of its four garden squares – Portman Square, Bryanston Square, Manchester Square and Montagu Square. In consultation with their respective garden committees, they implemented changes including: providing extensive leaf litter areas, log piles, and bug hotels, as ideal homes for invertebrates (in turn supporting birds and mammals); and installing bird and bat boxes in potential nesting and roosting trees throughout the gardens. Monitoring has already shown evidence of birds using the squares for nesting, particularly in Montagu Square, and then utilising the other squares as feeding grounds.

The appropriate development of our parks and green spaces cannot be considered in isolation; to this end, the Partnership is seeking to establish a green corridor – stepping stones between existing areas of surrounding parkland through a combination of green roofs, green walls, planters, street trees and other green features. Through our strategic partnerships with the Greater London Authority and London Wildlife Trust, we share present publicly accessible green space data to support strategic decision-making and contribute towards ecological connectivity in the West End.

Window planters improve Mayfair’s environment for both people and wildlife (copyright: ARUP)

Creating a better place to live, work and visit

The importance of access to urban green spaces has never been more apparent than during the past year. There is increasing evidence linking access to green space with socio-economic factors, including better social cohesion, lower stress, and higher levels of satisfaction and wellbeing. Appropriate development should therefore extend beyond biodiversity benefits to consider human health and wellbeing for all who come to the area.

Applying these principles, Grosvenor Britain & Ireland has trialled a number of features to provide both environmental and social benefits. In 2019, they installed the world’s first green lamp posts in Ebury Street, Belgravia, with the aim of reducing air pollution, improving urban biodiversity, increasing evapotranspiration cooling and reducing noise. Over 3,000 new plants have also been installed to frame four of the West End’s retail streets – Mount Street, North Audley Street, Duke Street and South Molton Street – in a new initiative to improve the environment in Mayfair for retailers, office occupiers and visitors.

Amelia Bright, Executive Director of the London Estate Grosvenor Britain & Ireland, commented: “The new planting softens the West End’s harder edges while celebrating its incredible architecture and improving the environment for all. We will continue to invest in innovative initiatives like this.”

Working with the Portman Estate and Derwent London, the Baker Street Quarter Partnership also seeks to drive social engagement and promote wellbeing within existing development. With space at a premium, the careful design of George’s Pocket Park was key; our Wild West End Partner Handbook informed decision-making to create space for people to sit, enjoy, and socially engage. The decking space – created from reclaimed scaffolding boards – has seating built in; there are also regular pop-up stalls and temporary seating to encourage dwell time for events. Two years on, the seating and planters provide outdoor space for local residents, employees, and visitors to enjoy.

These are straightforward approaches to promote engagement with nature within existing development, which can often be difficult to realise in urban environments. When designed well, urban spaces can be sites of tranquillity, helping people to combat the stresses of daily life. New and existing development should therefore ensure consistent and regular exposure to nature and access to green spaces for all.

Partnership, knowledge, and engagement

Following the installation of the Reflection Garden at 25 Porchester Place on the Hyde Park Estate (Church Commissioners for England), residents were invited to provide feedback on the value of the garden for wellbeing and social engagement. This exemplifies Wild West End’s commitment to inspiring others and
facilitating a culture of knowledge-sharing. Our technical understanding of appropriate development can be enhanced through academic endeavour, and Wild West End actively engages with universities, collaborators, academic institutes and professional bodies to drive best practice implementation measures.

In 2020, a student at the University of Nottingham worked with
Shaftesbury and the Howard de Walden Estate to understand how urban planting may support the establishment of green corridors, and provide pollinator species with the necessary resources to move freely in the urban environment. The research highlighted the importance of planting variety, rather than patch size, for pollinator visitation; the findings were disseminated to the Partnership and made available via the Wild West End website to share lessons learned for future development.

The Reflection Garden at 25 Porchester Place (copyright: ARUP)
The future of appropriate green space development

A step change is needed in how development approaches its relationship with the natural environment. Designing and enhancing our urban spaces requires the adoption of key principles to support an ecologically and socially restorative recovery: multi-functional biodiversity, health and wellbeing benefits for all; a bespoke approach in line with context specific factors such as location and ecological connectivity to surrounding green spaces; engagement with key stakeholders to facilitate knowledge-sharing and promote long-term stewardship; and academic engagement to further technical understanding.

To find out more and get involved with the Wild West End project visit

DIY redevelopment:

How skateboarders are transforming open spaces in London and beyond

Chris Lawton, Community Development Officer at Skateboard GB and Visiting Research Fellow at Nottingham Trent University, describes how the grass-roots skateboard community’s commitment to redeveloping skate spaces could turn London greener, not greyer.

Skate event at King Edward Park in Nottingham, part of the Green Hustle sustainability festival which aims to raise awareness of community groups working within the city’s green spaces (copyright Simon Bernacki)

In nine years as a public policy researcher and a further nine as an economics lecturer – all the while being an active skateboarder – I’ve worked on numerous social, economic and environmental ‘problems’. Both policy and academic research tend to focus on defining and re-defining these problems, whilst being less curious about how communities and other actors attempt to address them.

Skateboarders can be artists, social entrepreneurs, skilled tradespeople, videographers and photographers, social researchers, community organisers and custodians of urban spaces – as well as sportspeople of sorts. A recent large-scale study by the Pullias Centre at the University of Southern California (2020) found that skateboarders felt motivated to participate by being with friends, maintaining their mental health and – importantly – being connected to a safe physical space (a skatepark or skate spot) from which they drew much of their identity.

This is epitomised by the record-breaking success of the Long Live Southbank campaign, which mustered the largest number of objections ever lodged against a planning application and helped prevent the redevelopment of the skate spot beneath the Southbank Centre. Deep identification with a physical space can drive young people to successfully take on well-resourced institutions with far-reaching positive impacts for public spaces in London and elsewhere. Skateboarding has the potential to transform urban spaces.

Alongside community organising in my hometown of Nottingham, where I co-founded the social enterprise Skate Nottingham, I’ve recently left academia to take up a new role as Community Development Officer at Skateboard GB, the National Governing Body. This has made me familiar with several projects in which skateboarders, working with their local communities, have transformed urban spaces from neglected, sometimes dangerous sites to valued community assets, often with significant elements of urban greening, including tree planting and public allotments.

The Hackney Bumps project, which Skateboard GB has supported in partnership with mortgage lender Habito, is an incredible story of grassroots hard work and perseverance, much of which happened during the first national lockdown. Hackney Bumps is a 1980s-era concrete facility in Daubeney Fields near Hackney Marshes and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. It’s a mellow, undulating moonscape which complements the surrounding green space; the lack of the highly specialised forms that typify more modern skateparks fits nicely with the principle of ‘adventure play’ favoured by Hackney Council, enabling users to interact with the space as they wish, on bikes, skates, scooters, skateboards or on foot.

Polishing the Hackney Bumps (copyright Hackney Bumps)

Through the 1990s, the space fell into disrepair – the riding surface became rough, cracked and barely usable, often littered with shopping trolleys and burned-out motorbikes. For the next two decades Hackney Bumps remained underused and largely forgotten. Local volunteers began working towards regenerating the site in early 2019 and became aware of an innovative Scandinavian approach to ‘polishing’ concrete skateparks, suggested by Daryl Nobbs at Norwegian skatepark company Betongpark. Funding talks for the project were progressing well until early 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic caused the funding body and Hackney Council to put all talks and possible funding on hold indefinitely.

Undeterred, local volunteers Nick Tombs and Greg King decided to do it themselves, painstakingly hand-polishing the site a few square feet a day every day, as part of their permitted daily exercise. This incredible effort became a rallying point for other users, and a vibrant community sprang up around the space in summer 2020 as the country began to unlock at the end of the first coronavirus wave.

Now the space is visibly well-maintained and well-used, including by a much larger proportion of women and girls, children and families than is usually found in skateparks. A successful crowdfunder and a self-made film, alongside continued support and expert advice from Betongpark, has made the project increasingly ambitious; the periphery of the skatepark has been updated with more modern obstacles, built by the skaters to a professional standard, whilst maintaining the abstract, aesthetically pleasing integrity of the main space. The Hackney Bumps community group are now working with local charity Hackney Quest to provide free beginners’ skate sessions for local children, alongside other activities such as mural painting with local graffiti artists.

Before Hackney Bumps, bringing historic skateparks back to a level of contemporary usability has been prohibitively costly and difficult, leading to a Local Government preference to tear down and start again. The Hackney Bumps community has provided a blueprint for small-scale, low cost restorations that are sensitive to heritage, have a relatively low environmental impact, and enhance the diversity and inclusivity of the user community by engaging them in the build process. A wave of similar projects is beginning to transform other such spaces from the 1970s and 80s, including the concrete skatepark at Romford, which gained Grade II listed status in 2014 – the first skatepark in the UK to be listed by Historic England.

The potential impact on public spaces is clear, but can essential green space benefit from this sense of ownership and responsibility for community land? More than 100 miles up the Ml, Bournbrook DIY, in Selly Oak, Birmingham, has blurred the lines between self-built community skatepark and urban garden. Bournbrook Recreation Ground is one of the UK’s oldest legal graffiti spots, but had otherwise been in decline for decades; its rectangular concrete play area and basketball court were in a state of significant disrepair, leading to a critical lack of outdoor amenities for nearby residents. Local skater Shaun Boyle – like Nick and Greg in Hackney – felt driven to make a difference during the first lockdown. He started clearing the bushes and waste and built a small skateable ledge; he was soon joined by volunteers from a diverse user and resident community, and the project grew. The whole area was cleared, verges re-dug and flowers and small trees planted.

Visiting Bournbrook today, it’s hard to imagine that just over a year ago the site was filled with rubble, rat-infested piles of waste, thorny bushes and broken glass. Alongside a professional-standard skate space, which has just successfully completed a ROSPA inspection, there’s a well-maintained community garden, shaded sitting areas overlooked by newly planted shrubs, an accessible pathway cleared, dug and paved by the volunteers, and a wide mix of ages, genders and social backgrounds using the skatepark or enjoying the outdoor seating spaces.

As in Hackney with Betongpark, Shaun and the other volunteers in Birmingham were helped by experienced professional skatepark builders. The hand-polishing devices used successfully on the Hackney Bumps were lent to the Bournbrook volunteers, cementing a relationship between the two projects.

Another similarity between Bournbrook and Hackney is the role of local
academics; Esther Sayers in Hackney and Berni Good in Bournbrook. Esther started skateboarding in her 40s and is a teacher and researcher in arts education at Goldsmiths, University of London. Berni is a psychologist undertaking research on the wellbeing and psychology of video game players, and has been part of the Birmingham skate scene for many years. As well as challenging the stereotype of exclusively young male skatepark users, they’ve brought their intellectual curiosity to these projects: Berni talks authoritatively about the impact of Bournbrook on skaters’ wellbeing, and Esther enthuses about the importance of the outdoor public space in Hackney to explore the relationship between bodily movement, learning and gender.

Together these two projects have had big impacts on my practice. We’re really proud at Skateboard GB to be one of the only formal organisations to have supported both projects, in terms of in-kind advice and financial contributions to outstanding capital costs, kindly enabled by Habito.

In my project in Nottingham, we took inspiration from the can-do attitude displayed in Hackney and Bournbrook and applied it to our ‘problem’: a partially finished skatepark within the city’s most disadvantaged ward. The local residents of the Sneinton Tenants and Residents Outreach Programme (STOP-TRA) had effectively taken on maintenance of the wider green space, King Edward Park; the park sits on the footprint of one of Britain’s first asylums and has been a key amenity since the Second World War, when it provided war garden allotment space for residents to grow their own vegetables. The group had re-established the neglected allotments and renovated a former nursery building as an events space, but needed a bigger workforce to improve the space further. To tackle this, last summer we established the ‘Skate & Give Back’ project; in exchange for free skate lessons, parents and young people scraped old paintwork from the pavilion, joined residents on their weekly litter pick around the wider green space, and helped with allotments. It was a vital moment of outdoor togetherness and shared purpose after the trauma of the first wave of COVID-19.

Like Bournbrook and Hackney Bumps, a visibly improved green space and facility for outdoor exercise in Nottingham is the project’s legacy. The challenge now is to sustain activity in these spaces, all of which are unlikely to receive significant Local Government support in the foreseeable future. This means collaborating more with other groups committed to our green spaces, and finding new ways to draw energy from skateboarders’ unique range of interests, motivations and skills.

Space to play in Ladbroke Grove

Walking with John Goodier

A circular walk, starting and ending at Ladbroke Grove underground station.

Link to Map

  1. Starting from Ladbroke Grove tube station, follow Lancaster Road then Basing Street to Tavistock Gardens. Hidden among housing, it was completely redesigned in 2001; an area of grass and semi-tropical planting opens out to a children’s play area. Open space and trees between the houses and the Westway continue the green corridor.
  1. Continue round Tavistock Crescent to the Brunel Estate, completed in 1974. The landscaping, by Michael Brown, showcases brickwork, the highlight being a children’s slide built on a tall brick structure; reaching the top involves finding a route up various levels. The gardens have recently been added to Historic England’s List of Registered Parks.
  1. Continue along Westbourne Park Villas, then cross under Westway at Royal Oak tube station to Westbourne Green. Opened as a park in 1974, it was once the works depot for the building of the A40 and the Westway flyover. The southern part is meadow, but the most important features are the play areas, one for younger children in the northern part, across Bourne Terrace, and another for older children in the southern part, alongside an outdoor gym. The Canal runs along the top of the park, with a sculptural bridge crossing it.
  1. Without crossing the canal, follow the towpath left to the Meanwhile Gardens, established as a community garden in 1976. Play spaces including an excellent skate bowl sit within a range of habitats, with a formal sitting space – the Courtyard Garden – at the west end. Gerry’s Pompeii, a unique sculpture garden of ‘outsider art’, can be seen across the canal.
  1. Continue along Kensal Road to Emslie
    Horniman’s Pleasance Park, laid out in 1914 by Charles Voysey and Madeline Agar. Horniman was a local MP who
    gifted the park to the community; the restored formal garden is visible even when closed to the public. There is a well-equipped play area and an innovative adventure playground, with resident goats!
  1. Head down Hazlewood Crescent to Golborne Road, spotting an effective planting of palm trees in Kensal New Town. At the corner of Elkstone and Golborne Roads is a community garden highlighting the meanings and uses of plants. Follow Golborne Road to Portobello Road, arriving at Athlone Gardens which boasts playgrounds for both children and dogs! The middle of the park is caught up in housing redevelopment but there is good street planting in the finished parts. Return down Portobello Road to Portobello Green, run by the Westway Trust which manages the land under the Westway as community space. Follow Thorpe Close under the Westway to return to Ladbroke Grove tube station.

Rising to the challenge: London’s community gardens

Professional gardener Catherine Miller explores the adaptability that is helping to future-proof London’s community gardens.

National Trust founder Octavia Hill’s campaigns of the 19th century, ‘Space for the People’ and ‘More Air for London’, seem very relevant today as Covid-19 restrictions have brought so many more people into their local open spaces for essential exercise and contact with nature.

According to the Office for National Statistics, one in five households in London have no garden. Any green space, however small, is therefore very important to our well-being as Londoners. Community gardens such as Sunnyside in Archway and Phoenix in Soho are largely surrounded by flats; Sunnyside describes itself as “a massive back garden for local people”.

The Phoenix Garden (Photo: Lynne Eva)

London’s community gardens have always adapted to changing circumstances, but COVID-19 has brought exceptional challenges. They have had to close for much of the duration of the pandemic in many cases, or operate with many restrictions. Their visitors usually include the most vulnerable of society, and many were set up to reduce social isolation.

Culpeper Community Garden (Photo: Colin Wing)

Accordingly, they have repurposed their resources to support their local communities. Bankside Open Spaces Trust, which runs several community gardens in Southwark, put on its Great Get Together event online in 2020, and the Calthorpe Community Garden in Kings Cross has organised food parcels and phone calls to vulnerable or shielding local residents, instead of its usual social gatherings. Culpeper Community Garden in the Angel is now open again with clearly signed restrictions, and socially distanced digging is possible for local plotholders.

Funding difficulties

London’s community gardens do not have large reserves to buffer them from crises: they are small organisations built from the energy and resourcefulness of local people, and creative, committed staff. In terms of funding, the income they made from venue hire and corporate team-building days vanished in a puff of smoke overnight with lockdown. It is anyone’s guess how this will pan out in the long term, as companies have changed the way they do business, with so many people working from home. London may look very different as restrictions gradually come to an end.
In contrast, funding from charitable trusts has reportedly been very flexible and understanding. Funders are adjusting to circumstances too. It’s apparent that if community gardens cannot help people face-to-face they can do so in other ways which are valuable and worthy of support. The need for support has not gone away; mental health problems and poverty may get a lot worse this year and community conduits for help will be needed.

Community gardens, putting the natural world on the doorstep, have provided great solace to people in built-up areas enduring lockdown restrictions. Seasonal changes take place regardless, and bird and insect life of course does not distinguish between parks, community gardens or private gardens. It is all part of that great network of green space which makes London liveable.

And now, spring is here.

Follow Catherine on Twitter at @CommGdnsLondon

Precarious Parks

The impact of coronavirus on London’s green spaces

Local green spaces were used heavily during the coronavirus lockdown as many of us craved fresh air and exercise. Yet rather than heralding a new dawn for London’s parks, Dr Andrew Smith, Reader at the University of Westminster, explains how the COVID-19 crisis exposed the funding frailties which have long threatened their survival.

London’s parks are world renowned, but they have received unprecedented levels of attention and appreciation during the coronavirus crisis. Parks and green spaces supplied much needed fresh air and green space, particularly for the 21% of London households who do not have access to private gardens. Parks also provided places where people could socialise at a distance. When cafés, pubs and other social infra­structure were closed, the park became the place where public life was enacted and experienced.

Excess litter in Mountsfield Park
Excess litter in Mountsfield Park (Andrew Smith)

Given this prominence in the public sphere, it is tempting to think that the corona­virus crisis might have had positive effects for parks. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Looming in the background is a familiar and established problem: funding. London Boroughs were already struggling to fund their parks and green spaces1, and they now face an unprecedented budget crisis. There is a triple threat:

  • general local authority shortfalls caused by the crisis;
  • the loss of commercial income which now offsets the costs of maintaining many parks;
  • additional costs caused by the intense use of parks as lockdown measures began to be eased.
Clearing up the mess in Mountsfield Park
Clearing up the mess in Mountsfield Park (Andrew Smith)

Local authorities have been promised additional monies2 to help offset the effects of the crisis, but this will not be enough to prevent further cuts to local authority budgets. One thing we have learned from a decade of austerity is that, as non-statutory services, parks are not given the same priority as other services when council budgets are squeezed.

Over the past ten years, parks have been forced to generate more of their own income – by increasing the amount of revenue earned from car parking, concessions and sports facilities, and by hiring out space to event organisers. Before the COVID-19 crisis, the proportion of UK park funding derived from commercial sources of income was believed to be around 29%3. In 2018-9 the charitable trust that runs The Royal Parks generated three quarters of its operating budget4 from commercial revenue. London Boroughs like Lambeth, Wandsworth and Haringey have also adopted entrepreneurial approaches, and several of London’s largest municipal parks now generate more money than is needed to pay for their upkeep.

Tooting Common during lockdown
The café on Tooting Common during lockdown (Colin Wing)

Park authorities that have diversified their sources of income have been worst
hit by the coronavirus crisis. Revenue streams have collapsed, with losses up to
£1,000,000 affecting large, commercially oriented parks. Despite the reopening of
cafés and some sports facilities, it will be next year before authorities can generate
revenue from big ticket items like music festivals5.

Many London parks are now run by social enterprises or trusts, and these organis­ations may not survive the effects of COVID-19. The Community Interest Company (CIC) that runs Gunnersbury Park is reporting a 40% reduction in its annual income because it had to close facilities and cancel events.

Budget shortfalls have been exacerbated by the additional costs of maintaining parks during the crisis. When park use increases, as it has done since lockdown measures were eased6, so do the costs of maintaining parks. There have been big increases in littering and additional work for overstretched employees. Staff in Alexandra Park7
collected 25 tonnes of litter during the month of May, placing additional pressure on the trust that runs this park. Parties, raves and other unauthorised events8 have caused additional problems, with staff having to deal with associated urination, vandalism and complaints. Additional costs have been exacerbated by the loss of volunteer labour – when these in-kind contributions are taken into consideration, the losses caused by COVID-19 are even higher.

Faced with inadequate public funding, additional costs and the collapse of commercial income, park authorities are now seeking funds from other sources. Some, including Gunnersbury Park CIC and Lordship Rec, are asking for donations from users. This may help to offset short term deficits, and there may be potential to generate money from this source in the future9, but sustainable funding for London’s parks remains elusive. Commercial funding is precarious, and the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted that over-relying on income from events10 is not sensible. However with public funding likely to be even more scarce, park authorities may be forced to ramp up commercial activity as soon as it is safe to do so.

There are no easy solutions to the funding problems facing London’s parks, but the 2020 coronavirus pandemic suggests we should have more faith in our local authorities. Despite being undermined and underfunded by successive national governments, London’s borough councils have rightly earned praise for keeping parks open and safe during the COVID-19 crisis. Keeping them open and safe in the longer term might be achieved by backing local authority park management11, rather than constantly searching for new entrepreneurial governance and funding models. London’s parks seem more important than ever and, if they are to continue to deliver a range of public benefits and assist the green recovery, more public funding is urgently needed.