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Green spaces create happy learning places

GRITIT Grounds Maintenance explains how 'biophilic design' has the power to transform schools

Posted by Hannah Vickers | May 23, 2017 | Outdoors

One of the many challenges facing educational organisations is how to make the most of their surroundings in order to create the most effective learning environment. Creating aesthetically pleasing spaces in and around learning environments is hugely important on many levels. Well-maintained buildings and attractively landscaped grounds are vital in helping to create a positive, productive and healthy learning environment. 

The obvious benefit with the provision of green spaces is that it affords the opportunity for physical exercise and outdoor activity. However, not all facilities are fortunate to have acres of outdoor space at their disposal. However, as urbanisation reduces the amount of green space within educational settings, design can play a role in maximising those assets that are available to maintain or reintroduce nature to our educational buildings and spaces.

It is important to make whatever space is available as multifunctional as possible, for instance, by exploring the potential that landscapes provide for learning. There is much to be learned from the introduction of nature. Habitat creation and conservation (i.e. ponds, bird and bat boxes, habitat hotels and pollen rich planting) provide excellent opportunities for students to learn about the natural environment. However, the natural world can also be used to learn about key subjects on the national curriculum, such as maths and science.

The relationship between humans and nature is being taken increasingly seriously by those involved in the design of shared communal spaces

In addition to the physical benefits that green spaces can bring, consideration must also be given to the emotional aspect of green spaces in educational environments. The relationship between humans and nature, and understanding of the essential human need to connect to a natural environment, is being taken increasingly seriously by those involved in the design of shared communal spaces and is described by the phrase “biophilic design” or “biophilia” – the practice of incorporating nature into the built environment. 

Biophilic educational spaces have the ability to improve performance and the wellbeing of both staff members and students. A study conducted among schoolchildren in Barcelona in 2015 indicated that green spaces could actually boost cognitive outcomes. Results showed that children who had more vegetation around their schools showed more progress in working memory and attention over the course of a year.

Spending time in and around nature has also been correlated with better mental health, attention and mood in both children and adults. Further research has found that our attention capacity is restored when we come into contact with nature. Beyond these direct benefits to pupils, there’s clearly an important environmental dimension in terms of reducing CO2 around schools, while green spaces are also known to reduce city noise and stress.

Making biophilic design effective in this way is a matter of ingenuity. Many educational facilities are introducing innovative schemes - such as retro fitted monoculture systems, for example urban wild flower meadows, which provide colour and interest while attracting pollinators and wildlife. In areas where external space is lacking, some sites are creating features such as living walls and roofs, or looking to make the most of internal spaces and plant species. 

Making the business case

Those responsible for the management of educational facilities need to consider green spaces in the same way as the building itself; they should be approached as a lifetime asset, rather than an area that requires constant maintenance – which comes at a cost. 

In order to secure more funds and resources, site managers need to put forward proposals that highlight what benefits a dynamic green space has to health and wellbeing, as well as the ecological improvements that can be achieved such as increased biodiversity, improved air flow, and reduced flood risk through grey water harvesting and management. But beyond this, it is also important to take a longer, more strategic view that can help demonstrate that the benefits of biophilic design needn’t come at a greater cost at all.

Retrofitting landscapes to improve biodiversity can be implemented with no increased budget or investment. Indeed, this can often be delivered as a cost neutral benefit in line with a landscape management and maintenance plan or over an agreed period of time. For example, planting a wildflower meadow in place of lawn may involve some initial investment, but it will ultimately require far less ongoing maintenance than a lawn that has to be frequently mowed. 

Implementing and managing outside green spaces

The most effective way in which these schemes can be implemented is through a good landscape maintenance contractor. This will not only help drive innovative ideas and suggest ways in which to maximise your green and open space potential, but provide ongoing added value, helping to keep costs to a minimum. After an initial consultation, your maintenance contractor should provide you with a detailed landscape survey across your portfolio to gain an understanding of what green assets are on site and what condition they are in. From this a detailed management plan can be established. 

Companies, such as GRITIT Grounds Maintenance, are bringing a fresh approach to place keeping that allows for lean cost-effective operations, but without reducing the service itself to bare bones approach. By implementing innovative technology GRITIT is able to offer reporting and mapping technology, providing clients with real time information about their sites and the service provided throughout the year. As much of the operational side is automated, GRITIT’s landscape managers take more time to work in a more consultative manner with the client and allowing green spaces to be more strategically managed. 

It’s time to expect a bit more creativity from grounds maintenance providers, and to gain even more from your green spaces

In many respects this is simply bringing grounds maintenance into the modern age, but it is also giving the opportunities to develop the services to include services that deliver better value like biophilic design. These changes are also giving clients the ability to demand a bit more. It’s time to expect a bit more creativity from grounds maintenance providers, and to gain even more from your green spaces.

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