How to green your street

How do you bring colour and nature to a normally grey concrete space?

That was the challenge taken up by Greening Church Street, one of Grow Wild’s 2018 Community Projects based in Stoke-on-Trent.  They have used colourful art installations, upcycled planters and UK native wildflowers to brighten up their area and bring nature into the town.

We’re sure you’ll agree from the photos that their work looks fabulous, and you might be tempted to green some of your local area too. Luckily, we spoke to Rachel, Anne and Sarah from the project to get their top tips for greening your streets!

Two women standing in front of a wall of coloured trellis with handbags planted with flowers

Start small

“You need to get going and get the first materials, the first site set up, and then the rest can grow”.

Rachel started out the idea for Greening Church Street with a few small sites, which then grew as people became interested. From there, however, they haven’t had a huge overall plan for the project. As Sarah explained, “things have happened quite organically…people shaped things themselves”, and they let ideas develop depending on the people who get involved.

Once you start your activity, however small, people will take notice. “When we were putting the bath in we had loads of conversation with people asking what we’re doing”, explained Anne. That initial interest meant some of people came back to join in when work started on other sites.

Know your area

Every place is different, and so your greened streets should respond to those local needs.

Rachel explained that their area of Stoke is built around terraced housing & shops with very little outdoor space. Many buildings open straight onto the street, so the greened spaced needed to be small and low-cost to attract interest – their biggest installation is the bike garden outside The Art Stop, which measures 2x1 metres.

The local context also helped with pitching the idea to the community. The project’s target audience was unlikely to have their own growing space, so had limited experience in planting and maintaining wildflowers. This meant that activities had to be accessible and interesting to people who don’t usually garden.

Brightly painted filing cabinet and bike dotted with plants on a concrete pavement

Find support from local businesses

“Go and talk to people and see if you can find donations and support of time”.

Anne was thrilled when a local business donated a large amount of free soil to the project because they wanted to support the town. Other businesses near the project’s sites have taken a lead in their own space, increasing the impact of what’s been done and often supporting with time or resources.

Consider using recycled materials

“We didn’t have much resource, so upcycling materials made sense,”

Using recycled materials had a lot of benefits, not least that it’s easier to source for cheap or free.

As well as being low cost, it was another way for people to get involved. Their workshops often focused around creating plant pots from tin cans because everyone has cans they would otherwise throw away.

Plastic bottles used as planters attached to a brick red wall

Work with people’s current interests

“Our starting point wasn’t the planting, but the art...”

...the team explained. Because they are an arts organisation, it was things like decorating pots and installing the bike and bath gardens that got people involved. Once they’d done that, they became interested in what was being planted in it the spaces they’d helped create.

Be visible

“We made colourful signs to go on every installation”

Being noticeable in everything you do is a great way to get people involved. When you’re out and about have leaflets you can hand to someone with info on the project and a way to contact/get involved.

Bright and vibrant signage can capture people walking past, and encourages people to share photos on social media. Greening Church Street used the same colours on each installation to create a sense of continuity, gives passers by another way to find out  more.

The team have also identified social media has being a big boost for them – the project has reached new audiences who might have otherwise not been involved. There is power in the imagery of projects happening, so capture photos and stories where you can!

Woman with dreadlocks and a smile painting a tin can

Has this inspired you to green your streets? Find out more about our grant funding for community projects and youth-led projects.