Whilst digging up saplings for a tree planting project down at Pertwood Farm back in 2005 I started imagining how we could bring the Pertwood experience to London. Our first real opportunity was thanks to Charlie Green; director of The Office Group, provider of office spaces for small businesses in central London, writes Jane Riddiford.
When we met Charlie he had recently purchased an Office Building on Grays Inn Road in Kings Cross.
It had a flat roof and he had a sense that something special could happen there, although he didn’t know what.
In my minds-eye I saw the potential of bringing the countryside to the rooftops of the city; they seemed like places where a pioneering spirit might grow.
In this unchartered territory people could step out of their familiar worlds to come together to create something new.
Charlie agreed to let us use his Kings Cross office building as our Guinea Pig and provided financial support which was added to by The Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts and J E Hyde.
We discovered the concept of Living Roofs as championed by enthusiastic bird watcher Dusty Gedge. Dusty guided us through the early days of learning about membranes, load bearing capacity and recycled aggregates – including the popular pooh pellets and crushed glass from Canary Wharf.
People stepped forward to help us on a journey that we really (in hindsight) knew very little about. Richard Jackson a structural engineer gave us reports we could understand and actually implement. Mick Caldwell, ex-policeman and community safety officer for construction company Costain Laing O’Rourke organised cranes and road closures and in the nicest possible way helped us avoid some potentially nightmarish health and safety challenges.
Moy Cash, bio diversity officer for Camden Council wrote letters and spoke enthusiastically about the habitats we were providing for London’s birds and beetles. The greatest surprise to all of us was when we did actually find a lesser stag beetle on the roof, an endangered ancient woodland species.
This was thanks to the generosity of Danny Murphy and the Hampstead Heath Conservation team who brought us truckloads of woodchip and logs from the Heath. In most cases the work was unpaid or done for next to nothing.
People helped because, like us, they believed that young people should be given a chance to make something significant happen. From the get-go we involved young people in every part of the process, we wanted to give them the hands-on sense they could create the future.
Our voluntary underage workforce included ex-offenders from the Westway Project; young people from Kori Cultural Arts Club, Camden Job Train and our growing body of Generators (Youth Leaders) from schools in Camden.
We learnt that what made a living roof was more than the bio-diversity, it was the relationship formed between these young people from the local area and the businesses that occupied the building.
One way of building relationships happened thanks to the involvement of Jenni Wiggle and her team at Global Action Plan. The Generators worked with Global Action Plan staff as they carried out environmental audits of all 63 businesses occupying The Office Group's Kings Cross and Farringdon Buildings.
The roof is still in operation and is now managed and maintained by The Office Group. It provides a business breakout space for the businesses that occupy the building and for a number of years it was a Living Roof Classroom for the groups of children and young people that Global Generation worked with.
It gave us confidence that the worlds of education, business and charity could work together for mutual benefit. In recognition of this, in 2005 Global Generation was asked to do a presentation at the World Green Roof Congress in Basel, Switzerland entitled “Green Roofs a Catalyst for Building Community.”
Thanks to funding from Camden Primary Care Trust’s HAZ (Health Action Zone) programme we were able to pilot projects in Camden which combined gardening, healthy food, cooking and fitness. These were delivered in partnership with The Calthorpe Community Garden and Ampthill Square Estate and included two camps at Pertwood and workshops in London.
The funding helped us develop both the Pertwood and Calthorpe Kitchens and establish a vegetable garden and fruit trees in both places. A significant aspect of the work was the increased interest from parents, additional funding in the enabled us to run cooking and fitness classes for them.
This encouraged us to think further about our objectives of educating adults as well as children if we are to equip a generation of people with the skills and understanding to create a positive future.