Updated: Jan 25
Sandfield Primary School has received £40,000 funding from Reclaim Network for an urban greening project to protect the health of their students.
The project, called GoGreen, is an ongoing collaboration between the school, Sandfield parents and local residents, local charity Zero Carbon Guildford, and the University of Surrey’s world-leading air pollution research lab the Global Centre for Clean Air Research (GCARE), and will use a variety of measures to reduce, remove, and monitor air pollution around the Sandfield grounds.
Sandfield sits at the busy junction of York Road and Stoke Road, which is regularly congested during school arrival and departure times. Professor Prashant Kumar and his team at GCARE have been monitoring the air quality levels at the primary school and found them to frequently breach safe levels.
The impact of air pollution locally extends well beyond Sandfield students. Guildford is in the 97th percentile for air pollution in the UK, and at times has the worst air quality in England, and the hope is therefore that the Sandfield project will kickstart efforts elsewhere to help make the borough a healthier and happier place to live. In fact, air pollution contributes to around 40,000 premature deaths in the UK every year, and Surrey has 66% more traffic on the roads than the national average, with congestion costing the local Surrey economy £550m every single year.
Sandfield's first active travel 'Wheels Day'
The £40,000 awarded by Reclaim Network will allow the school to implement a strategic combination of solutions to cut air pollution on school grounds, by marrying infrastructure improvements with behaviour-change campaigns.The school will install aesthetically-pleasing green-blue infrastructure including living walls, green screens, and tree planting around its perimeter, to act as a natural shield to the emissions from idling and passing traffic.
Head teacher at Sandfield Kate Collins was thrilled with the grant, saying, "All pupils, their families and staff are absolutely delighted by the confirmation of a substantial grant from RECLAIM Network Plus. This will allow Sandfield School to fulfil our vision of creating a green wall around the perimeter of the school.”
This project will provide an excellent vehicle to educate our children on the dangers of air pollution and protecting our environment to improve the health and wellbeing of all who attend and work at Sandfield. Hopefully, this project will inspire other schools in built up areas, to create their green walls too. Therefore, protecting more school children from the harmful effects of air pollution."
Professor Kumar’s team have proven the positive impact of urban greening, with their hedge installations at schools in Lambeth demonstrating that reductions of up to 44% of air pollutants are possible with strategically designed vegetation. Green-blue infrastructure creates a number of co-benefits alongside air quality improvements, including higher potential for rainwater absorption - a vital adaptation strategy with a warming atmosphere creating more frequent and extreme flood events - as well as the proven mental health benefits associated with being amongst nature. Urban greening can also provide a critical counterfoil to the increased risk of depression in both children and adults who are exposed to higher levels of air pollution.
Green-blue infrastructure might include living walls, rain gardens, green screens, and other natural interventions designed to combat rainwater runoff and air pollution
Professor Kumar, who is Principal Investigator of the UKRI-funded RECLAIM Network Plus and the Co-Director of the Institute for Sustainability at the University of Surrey, said:
“RECLAIM Network is driving the levelling-up agenda of urban sustainability. It has recently funded about £400k of projects that explicitly address gaps in our knowledge of green-blue-grey infrastructure effectiveness against multiple outcomes, including social justice and equity. CoGreen is one of the funded projects, which is very special to me personally as it is co-designed by charities, businesses, parents, councils, schools and researchers to achieve a shared vision of making schools greener and healthier whilst educating children about air pollution, climate change, and biodiversity linked to urban greening. We have an ambition to build CoGreen as a flagship project by delivering evidence-based outcomes that can be rolled out and implemented in schools across Surrey county and the country.”
Alongside the green-blue infrastructure, parents and students will be encouraged to take up more active travel. Sandfield kicked off this part of the programme earlier in 2022, with their first ‘Wheels Day’, an event aimed at making walking and cycling fun, whilst showcasing the benefits to physical and mental wellbeing of being more active. Air pollution levels at multiple sites on the school grounds will continue to be monitored, building a case for more investment in green-blue infrastructure.
Speaking about the potential impact locally, Kate Alger, local resident and former Sandfield parent said, “The statistics about air-pollution and the harmful effects it has on everyone’s health and wellbeing is alarming – yet it remains an invisible threat and invisible presence in our lives and town. I really hope that this project will help to make this very real but invisible threat visible to many more people so that they change their habits for the better, as well as considerably decreasing the amount of air pollution that the local schoolchildren are exposed to.”
Ben McCallan of Zero Carbon Guildford added, ‘This is a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate the co-benefits of urban greening, which not only lowers the level of air pollution the children are exposed to, but offers shade during increasingly hot summers and significant benefits to mental wellbeing that we all get from exposure to nature and the countryside. This sort of project is a brilliant way to make our towns a more pleasant place to live whilst tackling the climate crisis in a positive and engaging way’.
RECLAIM Network Plus is funded by the UKRI under the Grant No. EP/W034034/1.