Leading UK University plant scientists and air quality experts partner with inner-city infant School to launch trailblazing pollution barrier

Today (4 November, 2019), Hunter’s Bar Infant School unveiled the much anticipated #GoGoGreen pollution barrier to a crowd of supporters; including city-wide air quality and health policy makers, plant scientists, researchers, businesses, school and community champions.


The living green wall, which stretches the 60 metre perimeter of this South West Sheffield infant school playground, is the culmination of eight months public fundraising and corporate engagement, involving the entire school community and more than 50 organisations across the city.


The #GoGoGreen campaign launched publicly in March 2019, following a University of Sheffield Department of Landscape Architecture and Hunter’s Bar Infant School partnership struck in September 2018. This special collaboration was formed after the school began to investigate air pollution mitigation methods in 2017; when they learnt that monthly averages of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) levels in the playground had exceeded World Health Organisation guidelines twice in two years.


The University of Sheffield’s Breathe Project research study funded by the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, has seen PhD student María del Carmen Redondo Bermúdez taking daily measurements of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and Particulate Matter (PM10 and PM2.5) from Hunter’s Bar Infant School playground since April 2019. With six month’s data compiled prior to the construction of the living green wall, Maria will continue to monitor the air quality to understand the impact it has had on critical pollutants. The full study will be published in 2021. There is an ambition to share early data and insight into a green barrier’s ability to mitigate against air pollution, as well as its impact on the wellbeing levels and environmental awareness of school children, families and staff.


Whilst schools in London have been talking publicly about the effects of playground air pollution and accessing central funding to mitigate against it for some time, this type of project is less common outside the capital and there is currently no central pot of funding to build playground air pollution barriers within Sheffield.  It is hoped that the research findings and the project learning generated from the holistic approach taken by the #GoGoGreen campaign, can be used to create an accessible toolkit, making it easier for other inner-city schools facing air pollution challenges to roll out similar schemes.


Hunter’s Bar Infant School Head Teacher, Catherine Carr, said: “When we first started looking at playground air quality, we didn’t find it easy. It was hard to navigate the existing research studies, to know how and what to monitor and, importantly, to know which of the solutions in the marketplace would be most effective as well as affordable. We had the added worry of not wanting to frighten our families or make them feel that the air quality at our school made it unsafe. Actually we are in a very similar position to many inner-city schools and ultimately we decided we wanted to help find a solution that could serve everyone.


“We were incredibly lucky to partner with the University of Sheffield on the #GoGoGreen campaign. Their research study has caught the imagination of our whole school community. It has helped us to fundraise for the plants and materials we needed to build our living green pollution barrier. It has also given us a platform from which to run a series of educational initiatives, looking beyond mitigating against air pollution, and helping us focus on what we can all do to reduce emissions.


“We really hope that we can use all of our learning and the relationships we have made along the way, to make the process a little easier for other schools who might come up against some of the issues we experienced when we started out on this journey.”


Planting design for the pollution barrier was undertaken by Landscape Architects Urban Wilderness in collaboration with the University of Sheffield. It was planted in a series of ‘planting parties’ by volunteers from Hunter’s Bar Infant School, the Department of Landscape Architecture, and other organisations from across the city.


PhD student María del Carmen Redondo Bermúdez explains the design and plant selection: “The pollution barrier consists of three layers. Fifty ivy fence panels, supplied by Mobilane and sponsored by city-wide supporters act as the first line of defence; they aim to reduce the amount of NO2 gases reaching the playground. The middle layer consists of plant species selected because of their ability to reduce particulate matter in the air; such as conifers and bamboo. The third and final layer which is the inner layer, first seen by children, has been designed using shrubs and herbaceous plants that complement the aesthetics of the playground.”


An early relationship formed with Sheffield Business Together in March 2019 led to key introductions to Henry Boot and Arup which supercharged the summer’s pre-planting groundworks project. Since inception in 2017 over 50 businesses and organisations from across the city have supported the #GoGoGreen campaign, offering in-kind services, funds and partnerships essential to its delivery. A combination of fundraising from Hunter’s Bar Infant School Home School Association, private donations and sponsorship raised the £20,000 needed for materials, services and plants. The project has also received over £54,000 of in-kind services from businesses donating their time, tools and expertise for free.


Graham Richardson, Managing Director of Johnsons of Whixley, the nursery that supplied the 240 plants used in front of the ivy panels, to build the living green wall at a much discounted rate, sums up why this project has captured the imagination of so many supporters. Mr Richardson said:


“When we were approached to supply the plants for the #GoGoGreen living green barrier, we knew that this project had the potential to make a real difference to the whole school community. Beyond this though, the partnership with the University of Sheffield and the support it has received from across the city has created a unique opportunity to showcase the benefit of plants both in mitigating against air pollution and in creating school environments that support outdoor learning and play. We are proud to support this project and be part of the much wider conversation it has engaged.”


For more information about #GoGoGreen please visit  http://bit.ly/GoGoGreenHBI


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