Revisiting Global Generation’s History - 2007

One of the many times Global Generation has experienced a challenge turning to an opportunity was in 2007. Thanks to the summer drought in the previous year that nearly devastated our first London project - a garden on the roof of The Office Group’s building in King’s Cross - we found ways to bring water to support the growth of wild flowers and food crops, writes Jane Riddiford.

A random phone call led to a series of meetings with Thames Water and a success with the Lottery fund provided us with enough financial and people resources to save more water than we actually needed.

Chris Shirley-Smith set up a Grey to Green Water Recycling System which involved installing a complex system of pipes to redirect water from the urinals, hand washing sinks and showers.

The water was then pumped up to the roof with a micro-wind turbine and solar panel, then filtered through Chris’s ingenious rooftop reed bed system, before being used to flush half the toilets in the building. A secondary rainwater harvesting system was set up by Nicole Gordon, to capture water from an adjacent roof.

Each individual element - the water, the bio-diversity, the energy - had a story to tell. However, the most compelling story was what happened when we brought everyone together to re-plant the roof at the beginning of the summer.

For the second time, Costain Laing O’rouke arranged for a 10-ton crane and a road closure to lift several tons of aggregate and water filtration tanks onto the roof. Teenagers and construction guys along with The Office Group Director Charlie Green all worked together, raking and sowing seeds.

It was like one giant living organism that stretched from the pavement to the rooftop. I overhead one of the teenagers new to our work whisper to his mate, “this is cool - I don’t know what it is, I just like the vibe here.” There was an electric sense of unity and purpose between us, which the Generators captured on film.

To see people who wouldn’t normally work together really creating something new is why I helped start Global Generation. So young people can meet the crane driver, the film crew, the construction guys, the owner of the building, other young people and get to have this shared experience.
— Sara Riley, Global Generation Trustee and Co-founder
I think there’s a transformation occurring on this roof. I brought a group of ex-offenders from Camden Jobtrain as we are trying to give them a taste of new pathways. It’s about a team effort rather than one person. I think that what is beautiful about the guys from the Channel Tunnel (Costain Laing O’rouke) is that they are in flow together, so I guess that’s the spirit we want to create up here right now.
— Paul Aiken, Global Generation Trustee and Co-founder

Since we all recognised that the involvement of people of all ages and circumstances is what kept the spirit of the project alive, it was a logical step to develop from biodiversity to food growing.

Thanks to our association with Acorn House restaurant, we met their gardener, Paul Richens, who by his own admission has been a ‘worm botherer’ since the age of two. Our acquaintance with Paul, who still works with us, was the beginning of a whole new adventure for Global Generation, which hasn’t stopped.

It was no time before Paul was working his magic on The Office Group’s roof, and willow baskets were created to grow red and white currants, brassicas and blue potatoes along with mountain strawberries.

This small garden meant the receptionists could get involved in watering and the idea of creating transactional relationship-building objects in the form of produce began to develop. We discovered that selling a bunch of carrots and a few heads of broccoli provided a simple way for our young people to go into places in their neighbourhood that are normally out of bounds.

It allows young people to integrate into communities that we are normally secluded from, meaning that Global Generation works as a medium for young people to emulsify businesses together by becoming more environmentally aware; we use nature as our common ground.
— Rachel Gates, Generator, 15 years old