Revisiting Global Generation’s History - 2008

Developing Global Generation has often felt like we were following a map that was being uncovered through the great people we met along the way, writes Jane Riddiford.

It was through Arthur Potts-Dawson of Acorn House restaurant that we were introduced to King’s Cross-based branding agency Wolff Olins.

Design Director Bethany Koby and Building Manager Stuart Robinson wanted to involve the staff in growing vegetables for the Wolff Olins kitchen as a way of stimulating a hands-on understanding of sustainability throughout the company, which in turn would trickle down to their clients.

Sometimes it is logistically quite a stretch to be seemingly working on all fronts, i.e. organising for things like cranes to transport tons of soil, turning office roofs into education spaces for the local community and encouraging people to experience themselves in a different, deeper way, in the midst of it all.

The mix of elements and activities seems important. Because we are trying to create new spaces in the city, it means that people are open to the fact that we have to find new spaces inside ourselves, so we can imagine new possibilities

I didn’t realise this kind of thing happens on top of buildings… it makes me think of all the things we could do in London.
— Amika, 12-year-old Participant

Like all of our gardens, the roof was developed through a series of workshop events, involving the Wolff Olins staff and young people (a Swiss Cottage Somali girls group, the Generators and girls from Maria Fidelis Secondary School)

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Once again, the workshop days demonstrated that the raw material for the garden is not simply wood, soil and plants or even the extensive knowledge of Paul Richens, who by this time was officially our Gardens Manager.

At the end of the day, Pelumb and Gbengar, the two Generators, were beaming; they really seemed to understand that they were part of a big process.

I have been watching it from the beginning when there was no soil on the roof and now we are doing the planting… although it is step by step, it’s a big plan for the future.
— Gbengar Ajayi, 15 years old

The Wolff Olins staff participated in the garden build in a full and hands-on way.

The workshop was brilliant. The Generators were all so hard working and friendly and to see everyone working together was just wonderful. All the employees that were a part of this first workshop, including the Managing Director and an array of designers and strategists, had a wonderful time, not only being outside and working with the Generators but also sharing a sense of participation and collaboration.
— Bethany Koby, Wolff Olins Project Instigator

I had several conversations with Bethany about the value of involving young people in their process of environmental improvement. She explained how there is a culture of professionalism in the firm, which has been an obstacle to really engaging people in environmental actions, i.e. people think this is not their area of expertise

Engaging the Generators has enabled people to let down their guard, to be more vulnerable and open to what they don’t already know. The biggest thing I feel the Generators bring to the equation is positive engagement. They have no expertise to bring, only themselves, their interest and commitment.

An important part of Global Generation’s relationship with Wolff Olins has been the consistency and creativity provided by Paul Richens and Stuart Robinson in ensuring the roof garden itself continues to thrive. Each week, Wolff Olins pays for Paul to come in and work in the garden.

Through the rooftop garden, Stuart’s role has changed from that of a straight out building manager to sustainability advocate for the company. Over the years, I have brought students and visitors to see the garden and Stuart is always happy to inspire them with why it has been so important for Wolff Olins.