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Christchurch Gardens, Westminster - City of Westminster and Victoria BID with ReardonSmith Landscape

This green space reopened to the public in September 2020, but has a long history dating back to the 13th Century, as a former burial ground near Westminster Abbey, to being bombed in WW2 and was transformed into a public park in the 1950s. Despite its challenges, it’s become a welcoming space for people to explore, enjoy and learn.

Where is the project located - please enter full address and postcode?

Victoria Street, London, SW1H 0PT

 

Who is the developer/client of the project?

City of Westminster / Victoria BID

 

 

Describe the context of this project and how it has made a positive contribution to urban life or user experience of this place in 250 words max. and please upload an image of the project in its wider context or a drawing that best situates the project in its location.

 

The history of this unique green space stretches back to the 13th Century. It is a former burial ground of the church adjacent to Westminster Abbey. Several notable figures are buried on the site including Ignatius Sancho (the first black Briton to vote) and Colonel Thomas Blood (failed thief of The Crown Jewels).
Christchurch Gardens was bombed in WWII and became a public park in the 1950s yet in recent years it has suffered from anti-social behaviour, poor light, failing planting, lack of seating and barriers which limit access. The innovation to improve this space was led by the Victoria Business Improvement District as part of a programme of greening and public realm improvements. The design was adopted by Westminster City Council (WCC) and constructed under their Highways Framework Contract. The site reopened to the public in September 2020.
Storytelling, accessibility and biodiversity are key components of placemaking and the transformation of Christchurch Gardens has created a welcoming new public realm which invites people to explore, enjoy and learn.
Key project objectives addressed in the design include:
Creating a space that people enjoy spending time in and where they can engage with each other and to increase opportunities for seating.
Maximising the site’s biodiversity through diverse planting with extended flowering periods of pollinator friendly plants.
Establishing a relationship between the gardens and adjacent Strutton Ground market recognising pedestrian desire lines.
To design out crime and address anti-social behaviour.
To allow for the future relationship of adjacent premises to the gardens.

 

 

What do you see as the greatest success of this project? 250 words max. Please attach an image of the project that supports your statement.

 

The existing site had a challenging set of conditions with a dense central tree canopy casting shade across the central lawn area and providing roosting for pigeons. Failing planting and planting beds with large areas of bare soil further deteriorated the character of the garden.
As a former burial ground, the subterranean conditions were carefully investigated to understand the extent, position and below ground levels of burials on site in conjunction with the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA). Tree roots were also investigated and the extent of root systems observed through trial holes with an aboricultural survey and root protection area plan informing the design and an archaeological watching brief set up to observe the site works. Soils were analysed by a soil scientist to inform the existing and proposed growing conditions and an ecologist carried out a survey to guide the proposals.
One of the greatest successes of the project is the balancing of the past with the present. The design incorporates key improvements and subtle design hints and storytelling as a former site of Christ Church and burial ground, to provide a restful neighbourhood green space to aid health and wellbeing especially relevant during Covid-19, to provide habitat incidentals, to improve signage and interpretation boards, introduce permeable surfaces / SuDS treatments (0% of water was designed to leave the site) and increase the variety of tree species for future resilience

 

How does this public space bring people together, encourage inclusivity, and make a positive environmental impact to the wider place? 250 words max. Please attach an image of the project that supports your statement.

 

Located within a conservation area the site is surrounded by a variety of architectural styles from red-brick Victorian mansion blocks, brown granite post-modern towers, to the white patterned facades of contemporary buildings. The design balances this varied vernacular with a material palette curated upon the colours and materiality of its surroundings, to complement the setting and allow the new planting to become the focus.
A composition of natural stone, timber and bronzed finishes instils a character of permanence and historical importance to the new space, with robust elements finessed with elegant lines and intricate details, akin to the materiality and presence of the former church and burial ground gravestones. The increase in seating and new performance space enables communal activity, creating a place where people want to visit, a high-quality space that is well cared for and loved, for the community to feel safe to dwell and address the ‘broken windows’ theory.
Planting proposals focus on improving biodiversity and providing a beautiful space throughout the year. To maximise a flexible and fully accessible central lawn space, planting was positioned around the garden boundaries adjacent to walkways to create a colourful edge, alluding to the former church’s stained-glass windows, to allow enjoyment both inside the garden and from surrounding streets. The addition of Yew provides evergreen structure whilst referencing its traditional use in churchyards.
All three existing statues were retained in the design including a bronze charter scroll of the Suffragette Movement (Caxton Hall, the movement’s meeting place, is opposite).

 

Please share any data or figures that support your entry about how this public space or landscape intervention has made a positive social, economic or environmental impact, for example biodiversity, increased dwell time, flood or drainage mitigation, wellness or safety. You may also attach an additional image or document to support your entry.

 

The prevalence of green public space in the city has never been as important as it is now for wellbeing and mental health.
The transformation of Christchurch Gardens has been informed by historical research and site investigations, guided by community consultation to deliver quantifiable results through multi-faceted collaboration with council departments.
Extensive multi stakeholder consultation was required with the Diocese of London, WCC, the Ministry of Justice and the local community.
The SuDS strategy aims to mitigate 100% of water runoff onsite whilst a sevenfold increase in seating increases community capacity, with armrests to some benches for mobility impaired.
Research at WCC Archives uncovered an 1846 burial record book and the 136 hand-drawn plates were photographed and ‘stitched’ to form a burial map providing new evidence of Sancho’s burial and which was overlaid onto a topographical survey to inform trial pit investigations.
To improve habitats that encourage biodiversity over 50% of species were selected from the RHS ‘Plants for Pollinators’ list, with 79 new species introduced, totalling over 3,700 new plants. Log piles to attract Stag Beetles and bird boxes were included with delayed pruning of seed heads and grasses proposed during winter extending foraging for birds.
Christchurch Gardens is about creating a place informed by the changing ways in which people are living with emphasis on peoples’ health and wellbeing, encouraging awareness in sustainability, climate change and to become custodians of their city spaces. Since opening the scheme has prompted positive feedback from businesses and residents.

Shortlisted for Public Space - The Pineapples Awards 2021

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