Providence Row, based in central London, is a homeless charity tackling the root causes of homelessness to help people get off and stay off the streets. Last year, around 1,500 people used their services. Working with people to build skills and confidence is the key to their success. They do this through trainee schemes, language classes and employment support. The support they provide for mental health and addiction issues helps people to rejoin the community. They also help people to return to their home communities and families, in the UK and abroad.
Providence Row approached me to help them to develop their outside courtyard and roof terrace into a thriving green space for their clients, staff and visitors to enjoy, feel safe and experience nature. The organisation also wanted it to be a garden for their clients to gain horticultural skills as part of an ongoing gardening project and trainee scheme that they are developing. It is a fantastic and valuable project that I have been delighted to work on.
The existing space is rather grey, urban and tatty with a jumble of dated and clashing materials but it is spacious by inner london standards and clearly valued by the clients and staff alike. A survey drawing to indicate current uses, context and opportunities and constraints was suitable in this project because of the many stakeholders and potential funders that may be interested in the site’s background.
Staff, the clients and I spent some time together in consultation to discuss their aspirations and ideas about how the outside space could look and what it could mean. Following on from this I initially prepared some rough sketches to present some ideas to the client that began to explore how the space could work. I do not usually share this rough level of working with a client but it made perfect sense to do so in this instance because they wanted to be hands on with the garden’s development and they easily grasped that this level of drawing is only indicative of the space and form of a site and would require more detailed development.
These sketches were well received so I worked them up with a few tweaks and amendments into a final Proposed Strategic Masterplan. The proposed design creates a landscape that will inspire the clients and staff to experience new perspectives and possibilities through a concept that explores both the permanence and transient experience of it’s users. Planting will create permanence and stability and encourage wildlife and the soothing experience of natural processes. The different patterns, textures and form of the hard materials will create changing views, have elements of surprise and encourage new horizons – literally and metaphorically. The proposed moveable features (seating/planters/screens) will create a playful, changeable and creative space whose users will feel an ownership for and belonging to. There can be social areas, workshop and creative areas and private gentle spaces within the scheme. The landscape aims to provide something for everybody and inspire it’s users to engage with the world around them.
The Roof Terrace area will provide an additional peaceful area for quiet thought and reflection for residents and staff that is away from the more social courtyard area. It will also be a working space for growing plants and vegetable and acquiring horticultural skills.
The planting plans have been great fun to do. The brief is to create a high maintenance horticultural project, which is unusual as often a client does not want their planting to involve much maintenance. I have also had to think about creating as wide a range of planting scenarios to broaden the training opportunities for the project whilst maintaining an aesthetic continuity across the site. To this end I have specified herbaceous borders with some evergreen shrub and grass interest across the cascading beds, a woodland themed area underneath the tree, meadows with climbers and wall shrubs in the Dellow wall planters and a mix of annuals, herbs and veg and acid loving plantings in the moveable planters. There should be plenty there to keep the project busy!
Its very exciting to see the various elements come together exactly as I have imagined them. Sadly there hasn’t been enough in the pot to pay for the paving at this stage but the brick setts will have a good clean. The roof terrace design is being submitted for planning permission and funding is being sought for the terrace to be built as a future phase of development after the courtyard is built.
The garden already has a transformative effect on residents, staff and visitors alike who are enjoying the new seating areas, colour, greenery and peaceful contact with nature.
The Providence Row garden project is underway too with an officer in post to guide the project to help the residents manage the gardens and learn new horticultural skills. I am looking forward to watching the project and gardens grow in every way.
See the project on the Providence Row website too – http://www.providencerow.org.uk/urban-garden
“Providence Row is a charity working with homeless people, particularly those who are sleeping rough, with substance misuse and mental health problems. Our large, paved courtyard was a blank canvass. It provided an opportunity to create a welcoming, inclusive and beautiful space in stark contrast to the usual experience for our clients. Elaine understood the transformative nature of the garden for our charity. Put simply, by valuing our own space we were signalling to our clients that we valued them and their contribution to making and keeping the garden. Elaine provided a very appropriate design for the site, picking up on existing themes in the buildings and working within the constraints placed upon us. She was very flexible, approachable and friendly when consulting with clients (some of whom can exhibit quite challenging behaviour at times). She created opportunities for clients to become involved in growing plants, including things we could eat, without overwhelming them. Elaine also provided ideas, contacts and further concept plans for other parts of the garden so that we can take forward our next steps in creating a kitchen garden on our roof.”
Pam Orchard, CEO Providence Row