Rooftop Gardening Brings Together Occupiers

09/12/2021

Abrdn and JLL’s rooftop garden at The White Building in Reading is boosting health and wellbeing, as occupiers from different organisations nurture their plants and enjoy the green space together. As well as growing a sense of community in the building, the project is also enriching biodiversity. The facilities management team has already developed more ideas to extend social and environmental benefits, creating new opportunities for occupier engagement.

Over 20 occupiers and team members engaged in gardening

Organic herbs and vegetables for occupiers

Enriching biodiversity, attracting bees, insects and birds

Gold Green Apple Award 2021

Situation

The White Building in Reading is an eight-storey office building, with a large communal roof terrace. Owned by Abrdn and managed by JLL, it is home to nine occupiers. As a long-term responsible investor, Abrdn is dialling up how it integrates environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies into real estate management, and JLL is embedding sustainability into everything it does. 

When the Facilities Manager at The White Building, Hannah Lewis, found 20 unused planters in a compound on the rooftop in early 2021, she saw an exciting opportunity to live up to the tagline for The White Building, ‘A workplace less ordinary’. Hannah explains: “My garden at home really helped me get through the first national lockdown and I felt bad for people who didn’t have the privilege of outdoor space, being locked inside for months. Talking to occupiers, I discovered many of them had also taken up gardening and others wanted to but sadly didn’t have the space. JLL and Abrdn are always supporting and encouraging us to build a community and do more for sustainability. So, we decided to set up a rooftop garden at The White Building.”

Drivers included:

  • Promoting mental health and wellbeing for occupiers, creating new opportunities for them to experience nature in the workplace, tending to their own plants during breaks or enjoying time in the rooftop garden.
  • Bringing occupiers together, further growing the sense of community as part of the building’s popular events programme, encouraging people to return to the workplace as Covid-19 restrictions were lifted.
  • Enriching biodiversity, encouraging bees, insect life and birds.
  • Supporting Abrdn and JLL’s ESG policies and sustainability strategies, including wellbeing and biodiversity.

Actions

The facilities team moved the old planters from the compound, cleaned them up and replenished the soil, supported by service partner Ground Control. They launched the project to occupiers on Earth Day in April 2021, inviting people to sign up and choose from a wide selection of herbs and vegetables. Ground Control then purchased items from a local supplier.

Each occupier that signed up received:

  • A gardening starter pack, including gloves, twine, tools and bamboo canes.
  • Baby herb plants and vegetables, pre-chosen by occupiers from a wide selection.
  • Indoor herbs for occupiers to grow on windowsills in their offices or kitchen areas.

There is also a community gardening box, providing vegetable feed, garden waste bags, watering cans, gardening tools and coffee grounds for fertiliser, from the coffee machine in the reception. 

The occupiers then nurtured the flowers, herbs and vegetables, with help from the building team. There has been a particular focus on organic vegetables and herbs, as well as bee-friendly plants, such as lavender. There was a prize for the most green-fingered occupier.

The whole building team is involved in the project, from watering plants for people who are away, to growing their own vegetables and herbs. One of the reception team, who has experience volunteering for a food growing charity and a community allotment, shared her knowledge, for example giving tips on when to prune and harvest.

When the volunteers harvest their crops, the building team packages up any surplus for other occupiers to take home – from bundles of rosemary and mint to bags of tomatoes and onions. Mint from the garden was also used in an event to celebrate Wimbledon. The team recently created recipe cards to give out with the organic crops.

Financials

The project cost approximately £650, funded through the service charge budget for community and events: 

  • £150 on plants.
  • £500 on service partner Ground Control supplying new soil in the pots and gardening packs for occupiers. The old soil was used on raised flower beds on the ground floor and the gardening packs can be reused every year.

Benefits

  • Health and wellbeing: Creating a greener environment where occupiers enjoy spending time in nature. Evidence shows that a thriving, wildlife-rich environment benefits both physical and mental health.  Occupiers also harvested organic crops for healthy eating, including tomatoes, peppers, beans, salad, rosemary and mint.
  • Community: Bringing occupiers together and further growing the sense of community in the building, as part of a lively programme of events. The White Building has relatively high occupancy levels post-Covid. The garden project also helped the team build closer relationships with occupiers.
  • Experience: Enhancing the workplace experience, which is increasingly important post-pandemic, with greater demand for collaborative opportunities and higher wellness standards. As well as providing opportunities for shared learning and creativity, the rooftop garden supported team morale during a challenging time. 
  • Biodiversity: Following the creation of the rooftop garden, the team has seen an increase in wildlife, including bees, insect life and birds.
  • Circular economy: Through the project, 20 old planters that would otherwise have been disposed of are now being reused on site.
  • Objectives: Supporting the ESG policies and sustainability strategies of Abrdn, JLL and occupiers, including wellbeing and biodiversity. 
  • Award winning: Gaining positive recognition, winning Gold for Environmental Best Practice Property Management at the Green Apple Awards 2021.

Feedback

  • “It’s my little oasis at the office. I really enjoy getting away from my desk and spending some time outside.” Anna, occupier
  • “The roof is an amazing space to have in the middle of town and now it's becoming a garden too! I'm loving having my family of veg up there and seeing what everyone is growing. It’s a great environment for the plants and it’s starting to look excellent.” Nick, occupier
  • “When Hannah told us about the rooftop garden idea, our team got really excited at the prospect – enhanced community feel, sustainability, wellbeing and ecology. Working in the fresh air and seeing the fruits of your labour grow, surrounded by people with a similar vision can be very satisfying. I see our occupiers sharing the same view and immersing themselves into the project. The community feel is priceless. I am very proud to be one of the team that helped the rooftop garden bloom.” Misha, reception team
  • “The rooftop garden achieved exactly what we wanted it to. The building is buzzing with excitement, as occupiers nurture their plants together and talk about the project. People are spending more time outside during breaks, interacting with each other. The project has also created a talking point for those visiting the roof terrace, so even people who are not directly participating can still enjoy looking at the beautiful flowers, smelling the rosemary and watching the bees on the lavender. This is a simple idea that anyone can do. It’s fun, doesn’t have to cost a lot and has such a positive impact on occupiers and colleagues.” Hannah Lewis, Facilities Manager

Challenges & Achievements

COVID
 

How can you launch an occupier engagement project in the middle of a pandemic?

With many people working from home during the pandemic, there were fewer people working in the office to sign up for the project. Communication was key, with a combination of word of mouth, emails to occupiers and posts on Instagram. Over 20 people got involved in the first year and more are expected to join next year, as people return to the office. A lot of people have asked about the rooftop garden and are interested to get involved. There were also times when people were off, self-isolating, on holiday or sick. Our facilities team and receptionist provided a service watering and caring for plants when people were away. On hot weekends, our security colleagues made extra visits to the rooftop garden, making sure everything was watered.

FUTURE
 

How can you expand social and environmental opportunities through gardening?

The team is exploring a range of ideas for the future, including:

  • Seeds: Growing more plants from seeds. With beautiful big glass windows in the offices, seeds can be germinated indoors on windowsills, before being transferred outside. This is cheaper and lower carbon than buying plants from garden centres, through reduced transport and materials use. The team is already drying sunflower heads from this year, to harvest seeds for next year.
  • Learning: Service partners such as Ground Control could give gardening talks for occupiers, including aspects that are transferrable to home and encourage biodiversity, such as bee-friendly planting and bug hotels.
  • Biodiversity: The team is looking into additional opportunities to enrich biodiversity, such as planting more pollinator-friendly species, creating bug hotels and introducing beehives if the environment is suitable.
  • Community: Local schoolchildren could be invited for a rooftop event, visiting the garden, enjoying the views, touring offices and meeting volunteers. This could also help raise aspirations and contribute to curriculum learning. If next year’s crop is even bigger, surplus could be donated to the team’s chosen local charity, New Beginnings, which helps homeless people.

“Collaboration with owners, occupiers and service partners is core to JLL’s philosophy when it comes to driving sustainability across the places we manage. The achievements of the rooftop garden at The White Building are testament to our collaborative approach. This project has successfully created a green space that improves both biodiversity and occupier wellbeing and is centred on community engagement.”

Nick Hobbs, Associate – Client Sustainability Lead at JLL