THREE Leicester schools have seen their playgrounds revamped with new gardens, trees and planters as part of a natural approach to managing localised flood risk.
Leicester City Council was awarded £100,000 of government cash from the Department for Education as part of a four-year national programme to build sustainable urban drainage systems in schools that are vulnerable to surface water flooding.
Sustainable drainage systems – or SuDS – can help manage flood risk following heavy rainfall through natural measures by holding excess water in purpose-built wetland areas or rain gardens, and away from buildings.
So far, three Leicester schools have benefitted from sustainable drainage schemes, which have also help improve underused playground areas and create attractive new outdoor spaces for staff and children to enjoy.
At Abbey Mead Primary Academy, in Belgrave, a problem muddy area next to the playground has been transformed into a new seating and play area bordered with two rainwater gardens to help hold excess water from the playground. The scheme also features a new wildflower-rich swale area, a timber wall for shade, and more planting.
Bridge Junior School, in North Evington, has also seen its playground revamped with the addition of a new rainwater garden. A swale and wildflower scrape has also been added to the school’s sensory garden.
And a new nature garden, complete with a wooden bridge spanning a rainwater swale, has been created at Linden Primary School, in Evington. The school has also seen the creation of some new green-roofed areas, a large rain garden, and a fox mound using the excess soil, along with new tree planting.
All the new schemes feature biodiversity benefits, with pollinator-friendly planting and new habitats for local wildlife, including bee hotels and hibernacula that will provide shelter for wildlife in the cold winter months.
The city council worked with Severn Trent Water, UK environmental charity Trees for Cities and specialist contractor Wildscapes Cooperative to design and deliver the schemes, with input from staff and children at each of the three schools.
As part of the project, pupils also took part in a range of activities to help raise awareness of climate change, the impact of extreme weather and the importance of flood prevention.
Gary Aldred, headteacher at Abbey Mead Primary Academy, said: “The regeneration of the school grounds has not only improved the aesthetics of our outdoor space but provided rich learning opportunities linked to sustainability and ecology. Alongside this, pupils have worked with colleagues from Leicester City Council to understand more about sustainable drainage systems and their impact on the environment.”
Deputy city mayor Cllr Adam Clarke, who leads on climate, economy and culture, said: “These three schools are helping Leicester remain at the forefront of delivering innovative sustainable drainage systems. By working closely with the schools and project partners, we’ve been able to deliver something special that helps manage flood risk and has huge benefits for biodiversity.
“Sustainable drainage is a key part of our response to the climate emergency by helping to ensure our buildings and public spaces are adapted to a changing climate and heavier rainfall.”
Cllr Vi Dempster, assistant city mayor for education, added: “Along with addressing the risk of flood damage to school buildings, these schemes have helped to transform underused parts of the school grounds into attractive new gardens and nature areas.
“By bringing more greenery, trees and wildlife into our schools, these improvements will also help children reconnect with nature, support their emotional wellbeing and add value to the educational experience.”
Grace Walker, Landscape Design Manager at Trees for Cities, said: 'We're delighted to be partnering with Leicester City Council, Department for Education, TMHCC and Seven Trent Water, who are helping to bring the multiple benefits of urban trees and climate resilience to three school playgrounds in Leicester while connecting kids with nature.
“At Trees for Cities, we put nature-based solutions at the core of tackling the climate crisis and believe in the power of trees to transform neighbourhoods. This project aims to capture and take advantage of the vast amounts of rainwater runoff from the playground and recycle it to water and feed trees and large areas of planting. Whilst reducing the urban heat effect of the play area, it creates engaging, educational and habitat-rich spaces within the school.
“With 80% of the UK now living in urban areas, it's more important than ever that we take preventative measures to tackle this problem for today and future generations and actively contribute to children's education, health and happiness.”
Helen Purdy, Severn Trent Communications Officer, said “We’re delighted to be involved in this great partnership. In addition to the educational benefits for the schools, these SuDS create wonderful green spaces. We’re using SuDS more and more at Severn Trent as we look to more nature-based solutions to help reduce surface water flooding. We hope the pupils and staff enjoy these new facilities.”
Leicester City Council now plans to submit a second bid for funding to install SuDS in three more primary schools. If successful, work will get underway next year.
The project team at Abbey Mead Primary School’s new rainwater garden and seating area. From left: Helen Purdy, communications officer at Seven Trent Water; Grace Walker landscape designer at Trees for Cities; Gary Aldred, headteacher at Abbey Mead Primary School; Deputy City Mayor Cllr Adam Clarke; Laura Barke, sustainable schools project officer at Leicester City Council; Roshni Jose, flood risk engineer at Leicester City Council.