Let’s go up on the roof

There’s nothing quite as special as spending a hot summer’s day with our friends and family in nice, clean, green surroundings.

It’s a time when ice cream tastes extra special – and just being able to get away from it all helps to recharge our batteries. With the sun putting in some fairly strong performances over the past few weeks, I’m sure across the UK many picnic baskets have been stocked, sun tan lotion applied, and frisbees thrown, as we cram in as much summer fun as we can. 

Perhaps you’re even reading this blog now in the park, with a glass of Pimms in one hand and your Blackberry in the other?

But what would you do if you lived in a heavily built up urban area with little or no green space nearby? Would summertime become a cruel irony, where you have to endure what seems like tropical conditions as you struggle to make your way through the concrete jungle?

Would the urban heat island effect leave you thirsting for green space, because the inner city is up to seven degrees hotter than the countryside?

Groundwork has recently opened a roof garden on top of a theatre in a heavily built up area of Hammersmith, London, to give local people a much needed green retreat to enjoy – not only for when the mercury rises, but throughout the rest of the year too.

Installed on top of the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, this remarkable and beautiful garden is a living, breathing oasis right next to a social housing estate. The local community can visit the garden whenever they wish via a staircase from street level. 

We have been working with communities to create or clean up inner city green spaces for over 25 years, and are at the forefront of maximising landscaping potential, wherever it may be found.

Our experience tells us that communities in urban areas find green space invaluable. They use it to get fit and active, as a place to get to know one another, or to simply escape the hustle and bustle of the city to relax.

These days, however, the imperative is to cool our cities down. Creating quality green spaces in urban areas is one very effective way of doing this.

We are leading the way to do just that. If we can’t create or retrofit on the ground, our next thought is to take green space to the unused space on rooftops.

Funded by the theatre, HammersmithLondon, responsible for a business improvement district, and Marks & Spencer, the roof garden was designed by our principal landscape architect for London, Adam White, and fellow senior landscape architect Andrée Davies. The garden is one of 46 projects funded by Marks & Spencer through their Greener Living Spaces programme.

Because Hammersmith High Street is such a frenetic place to be, the roof garden offers a gentle idyll – such a contrast to everything else nearby.  Installing the garden was not without challenges – some materials had to be lifted onto the terrace from 25 feet below, using a crane!

The planting was completed with support of the Groundwork Green Team – a project that helps the long-term unemployed to learn horticultural skills.

So we’re not only contributing to a green infrastructure but also to a green economy, by helping those with little or no skills to find work in the low-tech end of green space management.  Children from a nearby primary school have also lent a hand, and got to learn a thing or two about biodiversity as part of the bargain. 

I spoke to Rory, who lives nearby, when the garden was launched. He said the roof garden used to be pretty desolate as it was a just a paved roof terrace.  Now, with all the plants, trees and shrubs, he plans to come to ‘chill out and relax as it’s such a cool place.’

But this space is not just about people – it’s about wildlife too. We’ve deliberately used a mixture of elements that are good for encouraging biodiversity, for example a big proportion of flowering plants, as well as timber and evergreen trees. 

With urban green space at an absolute premium, it could be said the only way is up.  This roof garden is definitely a win : win for all the right reasons – well planned designs for public green space can give inner city communities somewhere to enjoy, boost the UK’s green infrastructure and help to mitigate the impacts of climate change. 

It’s almost as if The Drifters had visions of the Lyric Theatre roof garden in 1962 when they sang about finding ‘a paradise that’s trouble proof, up on the roof.’


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