Community create 'blueprint' green wall to protect schoolchildren from pollution
A team of academics, pupils, parents, teachers, local businesses and councillors have created a beautiful green wall to protect a playground from air pollution and improve wellbeing.
The wall of specially-chosen trees and plants now covers the playground at Hunters Bar Infant School, an achievement that has been three years in the making and a citywide effort.
Rowan Hall, parent governor at the school started to look into air pollution levels at the school when a question about playground air quality was raised in a governors meeting in 2017.
She said: “We realised that twice in two years we’d exceeded the UK limits for nitrogen dioxide so I went to the council and asked ‘what can we do about this issue?'”
They did some research into what other schools in the country were doing to tackle the problem and met with Sheffield University who said they would fund a research student to investigate the school’s air quality for a joint project.
Ms Hall said: “It’s incredible to see it all come together now. We started fundraising this year, so all the school, parents and families and businesses, came together and started raising money.”
She said they managed to raise more than £20,000 through things like sponsoring panels, a fun run and a David Bowie tribute gig. They also engaged 50 businesses in the project.
Ms Hall said: “It’s been a citywide effort, everyone’s worked together to create this. It wouldn’t have to be so expensive but we wanted to use this as a showcase and a platform to hopefully really show what can be achieved and help other schools to do something similar… hopefully this learning curve we’ve been through will support other schools.”
Marie Carman, of Sheffield University, has worked for the past year investigating which species of plants would work best and measuring ‘before’ pollution levels to track the impact going forward.
She said: “It has plenty of benefits, the main goal is to improve the air quality in the playground, especially because it’s an area with many cars driving around and queueing for the roundabout. This is a way to filter and physical barrier to stop pollution entering the space.
“The main goal is air quality but we want to go beyond and have a more holistic way of looking at nature and the ecosystem of the urban landscape. So by putting in all these plants we can not only improve the air quality but also help with respiratory capacity and being in a greener environment will help the children feel more connected to nature and the aesthetics will totally change the landscape – instead of seeing cars outside they will see the plants.”
She said there were around 30 different species of plant chosen for the wall and around 230 specimens, and added: “Around 50 per cent of the plants we have are also good for pollination as well and enhancing biodiversity.
“Air pollution is bad for everybody and we cannot see it so it’s easy for people to dismiss it but it’s really important.”
Several Green Party councillors also lent their hands to help out with planting.
Coun Kaltum Rivers, representative for Broomhill and Sharrow Vale, said: “It really means a lot to me because my children went to this school but I always used to think ‘oh my God, how much are we inhaling?’ As a pregnant mum who also has children I always worried for them. It’s brilliant this is happening. As a local councillor and mum I’m really grateful this is being done.”
Coun Angela Argenzio, representative for Broomhill and Sharrow Vale, said: “This is a real grassroots project where the parents, school, university have come together and done something amazing. We would like this to be the blueprint for other projects around Sheffield.
“It’s super important because it brings people together. It’s not just about planting the shrubs and trees, it’s about people working together and we need more projects like this where the community feels empowered and I think things work better when it comes from the bottom up, rather than politicians telling people what to do.”
The group are hosting a launch party on Monday, November 4 to celebrate the project.