news | half term report december 2004

roof garden home

 

Introduction
* History of project
* Funding
* The Nursery Garden
* The construction process
* Working with children
* Involving the wider community
* Health, Safety and Liability
* Targets for the next three months.
* Thanks to and conclusion


Introduction
This is not exactly a half term report in the sense that this project has been bubbling away for some time now, and relatively, is in fact nearing it's conclusion. Or more accurately it's beginning. However, if the roof garden is to be up and running by June, we are half way through a gardener's year and this seems a timely moment to pause, evaluate and take stock of what has been achieved. And then to take a deep breath and prepare for what is to come over the next few months!

I hope it will be useful as an update and record of progress and process of activities as well as chance identify future challenges and prioritise targets.

 


History of project
The seed of this project germinated in an original idea to collect kitchen plant remedies from parents, carers and families of children attending North Harringay School. This idea came up at least five years ago.

I first visited the roof and formed the idea to build a garden in early Spring 2002, while running a gardening club with teachers Cynthia Tompkins and Naz Dagli. I approached Mitch Karunaratna, the then acting head in June 2002. At the same time Anne Doorman and I were negotiating with nursery staff to plant functional edible plants in front of the nursery and build a kitchen garden, rather than bland low maintenance prickly shrubbery.

While all this was going on I was involved in setting up a not- for- profit group, London Community herbalists (www.lcherbalists.co.uk). Our mission was to make herbal medicine accessible within our communities. This group, soon to become an Industrial and Provident Society, was the platform from which we were able to seek funding for the roof garden project.

In February 2003 we set about drawing and building designs for the roof. Ms. Dulay, then Head teacher moved the project on by promising to release money that encouraged us to employ the structural engineers. The first funding application to 'Awards for all' was completed with help from professional fundraiser Ian Mowl, in June 2003. During summer and autumn of that year Linda Bush a North Harringay parent joined London Community Herbalists and diligently submitted successful funding applications to the Scarman trust, Bridge house and the Community fund. From the beginning our funding remit was to build a project that was based on sustainability and community inclusion. Our aim was not just to build a roof garden but also to create a space that involved and celebrated the diverse communities of Haringey. We dreamt of an international roof garden featuring plants that were food and medicine from around the world.


Funding
- To date with have brought in over £40,000 worth of funding. As well as persuading the council to contribute £7,ooo towards removal of asbestos tiles and waterproofing of the roof, we have benefited from the Seed Challenge; an education authority scheme that has match funded everything we have raised.

We will need to bring in more money to fund development worker time after March as well as construction aspects of the roof.

The latest donation of two and a half thousand pounds was made so we can buy a specialist path product. The path will be wheel chair accessible, made from recycled wood and plastic and is guaranteed for forty years. Karen Demeza made the donation from a small amount of money left by her late husband Paddy Sheehy. Paddy was an active member of the P.S A. at North Haringey. He worked hard and with some success to build a P.S.A. that represented the diverse communities of Haringey. He was someone who believed passionately in inclusion and community involvement and Karen and her two daughters, both ex pupils, thought that helping us buy this suitable path would be an appropriate memorial to him.

 

The Nursery Garden
While it wasn't always clear this was what was happening at the time, this has evolved as a sister/pilot project for the roof garden, as well as being a special resource in it's own right.

With help from the Children's fund, the kitchen garden has been built to include a backdrop of perennials and a working area for a turnover of annual plants. The theme of herbal planting has extended to the rest of the infant reception area green spaces.
Over the past 18 months many infant children have benefited from working in the garden in small groups. This work has included: digging in compost, watering, weeding, planting out seedlings, pest control, harvesting plants and making medicines.

Sometimes classes have visited the garden in order to amplify various aspects of their curriculum learning.

Stella Cavanaugh was very supportive and helped bring in initial funding to get the garden going and it was a delight to work with enthusiastic children to prepare the garden for her leaving party.

We have begun to advertise and recruit grandparents to help maintain the garden. For the last month or so grandmother Anne Gilman and I have spent delightful Tuesday mornings pottering, weeding and harvesting vegetables and herbs for medicines. This grandparents' gardening club needs to be consolidated if the garden is to be maintained and kept tidy in the long term. We also need to co-ordinate a strategy for how children get the most from the garden in the future.

Practically there needs to be an outdoor tap so younger children can take part in a watering rota - they were all very keen last year. It would make sense to have water buts to harvest water from the roof. Also it would be good to have a small budget to buy some bulbs to put in now ready to come up in spring.

 

Construction of roof Garden
So far:
* A structural Engineer's report assessing the load bearing capacity of the roof has been completed
* Asbestos tiles have been removed from the roof.
* A guaranteed tough waterproof layer has been professionally laid
* The garden design has been completed (over long consultative process) and submitted to scrutiny of roofing consultants and structural engineer
* A perimeter fence has been attached to the parapet wall around the roof. This is an impressive piece of artwork that can be seen from the streets below.
* Building control has been to inspect the fence and has said that as it stands it complies with building regulations.
* The process of hard landscaping, i.e. building the beds, path has begun. The tyre wall around the tropical bed, the bottle wall next to the water feature, and the hurdle wall around the wildlife bed are nearly completed.

It would have made sense to have all our building materials all lined up and ready to bring up onto the roof when the mechanical hoist was there to remove the asbestos tiles. However, this luxury was not available to us, and our building materials often have had to be begged, borrowed and stolen as the opportunity arises Through design principal and financial necessity (and I no longer remember which came first) the decision has evolved that the hard landscaping would be completed using recycled materials and different sustainable building technologies. This has brought a whole dimension to the project that introduces the children to environmental architecture choices such as whether a wall is earthquake proof, or gives off a high or low carbon emission in it's construction.

The main area that is not occurring according to schedule in relation to the building process is the renewable energy side of things. We would love to build some kind of wind pump to pump harvested rainwater onto the roof to water the garden. So far, for various reasons this aspect of the project has not been developed. If anyone has a particular interest or expertise in this area then please let me know.

 

Working with children

The children have been involved in the roof garden build from the out set. Initially, before any funding had been secured they were encouraged to submit designs and ideas. Some excellent submissions were rewarded with prizes donated by the alternative technology centre.

Later many children visited the infant parent's room to contribute ideas during design the roof garden week.

Then we came to make the fence. John Grace, our fence contractor spent a lot of time considering the children's own designs during the conception of the fence.

There was the fever pitch exciting day when the year threes painted flowers and all children and a couple of teachers created wonderful models out of wax -including the now famous napalm death snowman. After much discussion we decided to cast all the children's models on the strength that no one would take responsibility for the artistic decision of which ones to exclude! Thanks to money from Tottenham Grammar school fund we were able to do this. Essex Castings did a wonderful labour of love job turning the models into aluminium castings that I know often involved welding back on arms and legs beyond the call of duty. Casting all the models may have been a slightly sentimental decision but I have noticed that children always immediately ask 'where's mine?' when presented with the models, so I think it was worth it.
Some of the models have been inlaid into the fence. The Golden snitches have been strategically 'hidden' around the walls and fences and the rest of models will find homes in and around the garden as pieces of sculpture when the time comes.

Different moments children have also helped with things like translation and staffing a display table on international day.

I have already mentioned that many children worked hard in the infant kitchen garden. The most satisfying moments for me have been the luxury of working with small groups of children over time. Sometimes there has been the opportunity to engage very bright children in stretching conversations about pollination and wider horticultural subjects. Sometime the intimate sharing work activity allows others space to muse and chat about home and school. Occasionally it has been a chance for children who are struggling with English to involve themselves in lessons. Or tell me stories about somewhere that they once lived that seems very different from London. And then there was the little boy who went from disruptive ladybird squasher to responsible and helpful head of pest control!

Most recent and very enjoyable work for me has been working with the year sixes on anti-biotics and anti-biotic resistance. This relates to my remit for delivering the roof garden project in the sense of engaging the children in considering and taking responsibility for their health. Both year six classes were bright, enthusiastic and inspiring to work with. They each presented a different delightful sharing assembly to the rest of the school and to parents. Six P's presentation focussed on the discovery of anti-biotics this century and the growth of anti-biotic resistance. It included the improvised classic line from a young actor as Alexander Fleming returning from his holidays: "oh no, I've left my Petri-dish out of the fridge, my experiment's ruined -it's gone all mouldy!" and the actual sombre words of the current Director General of the World Health Organisation, warning against the growth of anti-biotics resistance "Our grandparents didn't have anti-biotics. Our Grandchildren may not. Time is running out". Six D took the longer view of this history of anti-microbials and presented examples from ancient Egypt, the New Testament, folklore and the bubonic plague in Europe. I hope that the work we have done will inspire them to take an interest in the medicinal plants that we grow in the nursery garden and on the roof.

After each assembly parents were given leaflets on appropriate use of anti-biotics and invited to stay and discuss strategies against infection and discuss the potential use of kitchen remedies in combating viruses. Few parents were able to do so, but I hope this is a subject we can return to in the future. Perhaps when we actually start introducing plants.

We are still attempting to clarify insurance and liability issues so children have not been allowed on the roof while it is in such a building work is in progress. However visiting specialists who have been helping with the wildlife bed and the recycled material hard landscaping work gave short talks to year 4 classes on their respective areas of interest.

As we have made one of the beds out of recycled bottles and may make another out of recycled cans, it would be good to take some children on a trip to visit the local recycling centre.

In the medium term I would like to involve the children in a national project of collecting remembered plant remedies that is happening in conjunction with Kew Gardens and the natural History museum. This is another area where children would be involved by involving their families.

As a postscript to this section I would like to mention that we have also been working with a young woman who, for her own reasons feels unable to attend her secondary school at the moment. She is helping with aspects of the project and plans to work with her Inclusion Officer and the home tutoring team to develop these into presentations for her ASDAN award. This is a qualification equivalent to a GCSE. I hope this proves to be a positive experience for her. It is fantastic for us as she is making a genuinely practical contribution to the roof garden. It also demonstrates that this kind of project may feature 'Inclusion' on several different levels.

 


Involving the wider community
This is the area that has brought in the most funding. It is the area that is the difference between the roof garden being the roof garden being a resource that involves, inspires, and brings the community into the school. Or an expensive albatross that saps time and resources.

It is perhaps the area where activity has most been displaced through focus on issues of construction, of health and safety, of finance and funding, accountability and liability, partnership and management.

To say that this area has been neglected is not true, nor is it right to say that it has not been successful; in many ways it has. However we can definitely say that it has not been enough.

To date parents have been involved in the design process and some were involved practically in helping make the wax models.

Letters have been translated and sent out inviting parents to contribute skills to the project on different occasions. An e-mail list has been set up, and some correspondence has been sent through this. London community herbalists have a website includes pages on the roof garden website.

In March this year parents were invited to a garden committee meeting. Parents attending an evening meeting engaged in an astute and helpful discussion around management, accountability and support of the roof garden project co-ordinator. The meeting suggested that in the early stages of the project, it would make sense for the project worker to be supported and directed by a garden committee from London Community Herbalists. But that it should be the remit of the project worker to work towards setting up a garden committee consisting of parents and people connected with the school to be in place towards the end of the project delivery time.

Over the last few weeks several parents have consistently been involved in the construction process. Many more have loyally ferried shopping bags of bricks up the six flights of stairs. And two weeks ago I was rewarded with the memorable sight of Dads in hard hats supervising the more sophisticated winching up the side of the building, method of transporting bricks and cement.

Some workshops using the nursery garden to harvest and explore medicinal uses of plants were planned but poorly attended. This was partly due to timing and many parents have expressed and interest for future events. But it is also an issue of reaching people. The workshops were advertised with translated fliers going out by hand and in book bags. I have talked to many different parents who expressed an interest after and before the event. Yet over two mornings only two parents came.
My feeling is we will have to do much more than letters home, translated or otherwise in order to recruit and include people. These are my thoughts.

* The new fortnightly newsletter will be a good way of communicating
* Having now designated days for roof garden (Thursdays) and nursery garden (Tuesday mornings) work, this will help and gather momentum over time with patience and consistency.
* Moya Wolf was a very valuable help in communicating directly within the different communities and I am sorry to loose her input. I am not sure what her exact role with in the school was, but should someone be directly recruited to replace with her I should be grateful of the opportunity of working with them. I imagine however that the sort of community knowledge and skill that she has can only be built up over time. Perhaps we could raise this as an issue with teachers who may identify parents that they might consider introducing me to.
* Notice boards! I have placed notice on all the conventional ones but I fear they are invisible. We have acquired two mobile white boards - that can be strategically placed on appropriate days. I am not averse to walking around with a sandwich board if someone would care to make me one!
* Website. This needs developing with the facility of different language options. Children could be encouraged to visit the website in IT, and show it to their parents.
* I need to identify and pursue other ways of reaching and communicating with people who do not have English as a first language. This may be through various agencies - e.g. Turkish women's group. Or maybe simply through hanging around and talking to women learning English in the Falkland centre. To date some of my most fruitful conversations have been through accidental conversations that have occurred in the parents' room. Either way I think bringing parents in is crucial for the success of the roof garden, but also could contribute a great deal to wider problem of involving a diverse group of parents in the running of the PSA. The problem for me is not motivation or commitment to this issue;or even lack of imagination as to how to achieve it. The issue is prioritising the workload and identifying and clarifying areas of partnership and accountability.
* We need large hyped up days of community participation, celebration and delicious food. The day we get the soil on the roof will be a good opportunity to do this.

 

Safety, Liability, Accountability and such
While the obvious remit for my job description for roof garden co-ordinator comes under the previous headings - Construction of the roof, working with the school, working with the community (with a possible sub heading of fundraising and finance) -it feels that a very large amount of my time has been taken up with issues other than the above to do with co-ordination, accountability, liability and safety.
Sometimes the reasons for this have been circumstantial - e.g. it has been tricky to work with five different Head Teachers over three years. Sometimes it feels the project, instead of enjoying the momentum of a being shared vision that builds and consolidates overtime, has had to run behind the chaos and change that the school was experiencing, sometimes muddling along in the background, often having to clamour apologetically for attention among ever pressing day to day issues. Janine Catchpole has been supportive and consistent throughout this time. Her positive hard working attitude and integrity are humbling to be around. But while being carrying a huge pressure of responsibility, she has not always been in the position to have ultimate overview in relation to issues of liability and budget etc. With every new Head we have had to bring them up to date, renegotiate the goalposts etc, and certain areas have, I believe been neglected.

Sometimes the lack of clarity of management and accountability is just the nature of the institutions and organisations involved. The question arises who is ultimately responsible for the project. We are enhancing the capital assets and prestige of Haringey council and might hope to have their co-operation and support. And in fact we have it in the sense of the match funding. Over and above this I continue to hope to identify key individuals who may share their expertise from time to time. This has happened in some areas and not in others.

Sometimes tasks have taken longer than they might otherwise of done, due to working in unfamiliar area - e.g. risk assessment ands health and safety reports. As a herbalist my craft and profession is entirely focussed around health, and my work has taken me to some dangerous situations across the world. However I have to say it really did take a while to get to grips with this area. Mainly in putting off time. Having said that, we have had good support from Marc Brocklehurst, Haringey's health and safety officer. I am satisfied with the health and safety policy one of our group has written and I think the risk assessment forms we have produced are very good. Particularly as they unpack the technical language and systems sometimes associated with these forms and attempt to show that health and safety is about applying common sense. This point is important in relation to a project that is attempting to empower and involve people at a community level.

Talking of empowering and working at a community level, I think it is important to flag up the lesson of the structural engineer's report at this point. It should be noted that while various people have asked if we have had one done, no- one has asked to see it and read it. And if they had done I think there is a good chance we would have passed it on with relief; the authority/expert concerned would have glanced through it and found it satisfactory - and the miscalculation regarding the span of the roof would never had been spotted. This only came to light because Linda Bush and I studied it with nervous amateur meticulous attention to detail .My point is not that I think no one in the council need take responsibility for their buildings. But that being circumspect with filtering information through the appropriate channels is important in terms of fulfilling our obligations to accountability, but may not be enough in terms of fulfilling our obligation to children and parents for the actual safety of the project. We can seek advice and support from experts but I guess responsibility ultimately lies with leadership within the school.

Safely issues for the project can loosely be divided into structural and personal.
The structural safety relates to the load bearing, waterproofing etc. implications of building the roof. I suggest we create file that contains the various documentation -structural engineer's report, guarantees etc. that is handed over to the school at the end of the project. In the meantime we identify people within the council that we agree should be sent copies and keep record of whom we have sent to. I would suggest Steve Barnes in Buildings and Gordon Roy in Building Control.

The second area is personal safety in relation to people on the roof. We have already done some work with risk assessments for working with volunteers. They are currently covered under school public liability insurance. For this cover to be in place it is necessary that volunteers or workers are invited onto the site by the school, and somebody takes responsibility for giving permission. During the summer holidays Linda Bush who is a parent governor and Chair of Buildings committee took responsibility for this.

London Community Herbalists have been attempting to obtain their own public liability Insurance. We have detail of cover similar to that used by BTCV who employ volunteers in various construction projects. However we have been reluctant to buy it without seeing the detail of the education authority policy because it seems pointless to duplicate current cover without knowing if we are also duplicating the gaps.

Secondly we need to be clear about liability in relation to children. And we need to devise our own protocol for working on the roof that satisfies our own standards over and above demands of liability. We also need to satisfy parents.

To this end I suggest we do the following:
* Study education authority insurance policy.
* Investigate existing protocols and liability cover of comparable projects.
* Encrypt a procedure to be followed when working with children on the roof.
* Ensure that structures, including fence, meet with building control's regulations.
* Devise specific risk assessments for specific jobs and approach Marc Brocklesby for advice and approval.
* Develop a question and answer health and safety page on website. One aim of this would be to reassure parents.

 


Targets for next three months:

* Seek funding for capital costs for the water feature and the outdoor classroom.
* Approach B and Q or other local DIY store for donations of tools, water butts and compost bins for roof and infant garden
* Look for money to pay project worker to complete delivery of project up until June (money runs out in March)
* Seek corporate sponsorship for a Perspex or fibreglass lip around the fence.
* Approach local nurseries and local and national plant gardening projects (Chelsea Physic gardens, Kew gardens, A. E. Bowles garden, Eden project) for donations of plants.
* Consolidate our relationship with the Ethno-medica project, and formulate a strategy for collecting remembered remedies from within the school community.
* Build on the existing Grandparents Gardening club activities
* Continue to build and create a constituency of interested parents and other community members who may be interested in some kind of active participation in the ongoing running of the roof garden
* Arrange delivery of soil and accompanying parents' helping day festivities
* Develop a relationship with local/national press.
* Complete hard landscaping, including building of the path.
* Set up visits with children and parents to existing roof gardens, especially the RISC garden in Reading
* Develop and implement strategies for continuing to use roof garden as a focus for developing health and nutrition awareness in school community.
* Plan a Sustainability fest day with talks and workshops for children and parents
* Develop the renewable energy aspect of the project
* Plan whom shall we ask to the grand opening!

Realistic targets or far-fetched wish list - well this depends on people coming forward. Is there an area that interests you?

All of these things are achievable but time flashes past so quickly and before you know time has past and things get missed out. Often this is fine and a reflection of the natural organic process. Occasionally there is regret. I only have one so far and that is to do with the lack of recording the process from the beginning. We did have an independent film company interested in filming the project early on and they do have some early footage. For various reasons -partly ever moving deadlines and poor communication on our part -their initial interest has not been followed through. Many beautiful images -pink and orange November sunsets over the London skyline; Dads in yellow hard hats supervising our makeshift pulley; new Head Teacher Michael Akindele mixing cement; Mums with shopping bags full of bricks huffing and puffing up six flights of stairs; delicious picnic lunches from Green Lanes laid out on a table among the tools and tyres - exist only in our memories. They would have made great film! Having said that Aoife Sheehy has recently joined the project as our archivist and has taken some really wonderful photographs.

 

 

Thank you!

It is my pleasure to thank many people. I will make it my business to make sure that on the web -site our full process is explained and that it is made clear just who's input into the project has made the whole thing possible. For now this is an arbitrary (and in no particular order) role call of people who haven't been mentioned by name in the report so far as well as a general thanks to everybody, named or otherwise, for their support.


I am a member of a not for profit group, London Community Herbalists and there are several herbalists supporting me and supporting this project quietly in the background. Most people within the school community will never meet them, so I particularly want to mention them. Especially thank you to Olivia Cliff, who many people will know because she turns up nearly every week to work on the roof and has taken particular responsibility for the wild-life area. Last year she was also instrumental in maintaining the infant nursery garden.

I would have also been very stuck without the help of Clive Leach who has begun to take on more and more responsibility on the construction side of things as well making invaluable contributions to our health and safety process.

From very early on in the project Nick Ridout from Alumasc Exteriors, our green roof specialists, was been brilliant. He has never not returned a phone call and has consistently offered consultation and advice beyond the call of duty.

Shwetal Patel was the person in Haringey education department who trusted our vision enough to promise match funding from the Seed Challenge

Jeffery Smith Associates, our structural engineers, showed genuine interest for the wider aims of the project from the beginning. Their advice as expert individuals as well as professional specialists enabled the project to move from an idea to a real possibility.

Also school amalgamation build architects, Hazel, McCormack and Young, have brought expert advice as well as support and enthusiasm to the project.

Jason Hawkes, who many of you will know as Mr. Hawkes, the classroom assistant, who actually has a secret life as an Environmental Architect was so important for stretching the horizons of what could actually practically be achieved, during the design process.

Mark Brownless our traditional green wood craftsman is a calming and knowledgeable joy to work with.

Taus Larsen and Matt Bulba from the earthship project in Stanmore Park Brighton have brought technical expertise to our building process and inspiration and vision in relation to the bigger picture.

Throughout the last year or so North Haringey staff have been friendly, engaged and supportive when I am out and about around the school. Thank you. It really makes a difference.

Several staff who have welcomed me into their classrooms. Ms. Dagli, and Ms Popham allowed me to work with their children over several weeks, which was a great experience for me.

Thank you to Bridget King who laminates things at the drop of a hat and has been consistently lovely and efficient.

Matt Burge school site manager has been sympathetic and supportive of the project from the outset and has been flexible and strict with me in entirely appropriate measures.

And of course many parents, too many to name. have shown encouragement and support, morale and practical. Thank you so much to them.

And most of all thank you to the pupils of North Harringay. Every time I come into school countless smiling hopeful faces stop me to plead 'When can we go up on to the roof?' Our children's enthusiasm has kept the momentum of the project going more than anything.

The task ahead is enormous. So are the possibilities.

If anyone has feedback, ideas, comments -positive or otherwise - in
relation to this report, or the project in general, then please do not hesitate to contact me. E-mail me on Melissa@lcherbalists.co.uk or leave a message on 020 8376 2348

I am looking forward to working with you all in the New Year!

Melissa Ronaldson, Roof Garden Project Co-ordinator


 

london community herbalists roof garden at north harringay primary school :: all website content © 2005