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Abi's Trainee Challenge: New green spaces to aid mental health

Willmott Dixon Interiors (WDI) trainees led renovation works to improve mental and physical wellbeing across four community projects.

Delivered by a team of 18 management trainees plus volunteers from the business, the projects enhanced outdoor facilities used by members of the community groups, based in London and Birmingham. Led by Abi Inskip, Design Management Trainee with WDI, the project, entitled 'The Power of Green', focused on improving health and wellbeing in the community, in line with our Now or Never sustainability strategy.

Part of the Willmott Dixon Trainee Challenge 2022, the project started with just £500 seed money and called on donated time, materials, and money. 85% of WDI people supported the project in some way.

Abi Inskip said: “The projects will help people across the Borough of Waltham Forest and Alum Rock in Birmingham by encouraging them into outdoor spaces that are accessible to those who may not have previously had access to green space.

“Spending time outdoors, gardening and looking after animals can have massive physical and mental benefits which will support the local communities.”

Langthorne Park

The team’s project at Langthorne Park in Walthamstow modernised the community pavilion used by the E17 Toy Library. The charity, which supports parents in the community on low and supported income, wanted to refurbish an unused kitchen to create a revenue-boosting café. To make the surroundings more attractive for the group’s play sessions, the team cleaned up the park’s amphitheatre and installed planters – all decorated by children and parents - to grow fruit and vegetables.

Abi said: “By adding a usable kitchen to the pavilion, the E17 Toy Library are now able to run cookery sessions to show the children and adults that use the centre great ways to use the vegetables grown in the park.

“And to limit waste, the old kitchen appliances were shipped to Uganda to support a small family restaurant there.”

Project Zero

Project Zero.jpg

Project Zero is a community space in Walthamstow set up to reduce knife and violent crime by engaging young people in positive activities and programmes that help them find work. Abi’s team created an outdoor space for the community to spend time, helping to build community cohesion and deters gang involvement.

“To bring this area to life we added benches for the community, planters to encourage wildlife and a shed to store sports materials," said Abi.

“And inside we redecorated the centre’s Leyton Orient room and after competition ran a number of employability sessions and attended a careers fair at Project Zero,” Abi added.

Lime Academy

The third project at the Lime Academy near Blackhorse Road transformed an unused field into a school farm. Now home to chickens and ducks, the WDI team added wheelchair access and level pathways throughout the site and created a large sensory garden for students at the SEN (Special Education Needs) school.

Lime Academy.jpg

Assistant Head George Lambrou said: “Our vision is to shape lives one lesson at a time and there is no better opportunity for our learners than to be able to experience a farm in house here.”

Abi said: “By adding the school farm, students can now learn about caring for both animals and plants. Many students do not currently have access to a garden, so it gives staff and students a safe, calm and quiet space to spend time and appreciate colours, sounds and smells.

“We’ve also encouraged wildlife by building six bug hotels and a tiny forest at the back of the school farm to improve biodiversity."

Norton Hall

Norton Hall.jpg

Moving to Birmingham, the team created a memorial garden and improved a community outdoor space at Norton Hall Family and Children’s centre in Alum Rock. The centre runs a nursery, after school clubs, school holiday programs, sessions for young mums, SEN learning and support for the community.

“The memorial garden is open to all, providing an aesthetically pleasing green space to spend time in as many in the community currently lack access to a garden or other public green space,” said Abi.

The project is also linked with Birmingham City University. This year, the landscape design competition for undergraduate students will be judged by Willmott Dixon people, with elements of the design set to be incorporated at Norton Hall.

Driving sustainability through the Trainee Challenge

The Willmott Dixon Trainee Challenge asks that each project relates to themes from the Now or Never strategy. The Power of Green combines Building Lives and Better Planet themes to show how green space enhancements and social value impacts can be delivered together.

Hayley Newman, Sustainability Manager, said: ““It was great to see how Abi inspired and motivated the trainees to achieve something beyond what has been done before.

"It was great fun to be part of and leaves a legacy that will help WDI address customer and social demand for accessible, biodiversity-rich green spaces.”

With trainees given a total of three weeks to complete the challenge, delivery of four projects required support and specialised skills. The success of the projects also owes a great deal to trainees Ivan Fluin on the Project Zero and Langthorne Park, Neil Adams on Lime Academy, Sat Chima and Ken Millar for support on Norton Hall.


Management Trainee Abi harnesses 'the power of green' to improve mental and physical wellbeing