Published: 10 November 2023

Guildford Living Lab completes hedge and living gate installation at Sandfield Primary School

Sandfield Primary School has new protective green measures around its perimeter, thanks to help from a team from the University of Surrey’s Global Centre for Clean Air Research (GCARE), supported by the RECLAIM Network Plus-funded CoGreen project.

The school sits at a busy crossroads in the centre of Guildford with high pollution levels. The main gate on York Road and fences along the school car park next to the playgrounds are the key pathways for traffic pollution to the school grounds. A collaborative discussion between the school, researchers from GCARE, ZERO Carbon Guildford, parents and residents’ groups came up with green infrastructure solutions to try to curb the effect of air pollution on the school children and staff. 

A living green gate now protects the school entrance, one of the first in the UK, while an ivy screen acts as a natural filter along the main road. The gate consists of 140 plants, which students actively helped to plant. The children are happy to see their plants on the green gate each day and the communal installation activity, which brought together students, parents, the school, and researchers, facilitated the dissemination of messages and knowledge about the air quality benefits of green infrastructure.

In a boost to their involvement and to supplement their curriculum, the children also conducted biodiversity surveys to monitor the levels and diversity of animals, plants, and insects. 

The University team is monitoring air pollution levels to determine the gate and hedge’s impact on particle levels in the school, as well as their impact on noise reduction and enhanced biodiversity. 

RECLAIM project Principle Investigator and the founding Director of the GCARE, Professor Prashant Kumar, said, “We have been planning for the installation of these protective measures for years, including hedges to block traffic emissions and enhance biodiversity. The living gate, a unique moving green gate, allowed children to contribute by planting their own plants. My team is diligently researching the positive effects of these green installations on pollution reduction, noise control, thermal comfort and biodiversity, in addition to looking for further funding opportunities to cover other areas of the school with similar installations. This project, involving the school, charities, and parent groups, is a proud example that can serve as a case study for other UK schools to follow.”

Sandfield Primary School head Mrs Collins said, “This project has been amazing for our school in terms of ensuring the health and wellbeing of all our pupils and staff.  The Eco team and all the children were involved in the planting of the gate, which promotes a feeling of legacy.  We feel so proud to have one of the first living gates in the UK.  This has inspired us to create more living walls within our school grounds.  This whole project shows that when communities get together, we can achieve our goals.”  

Lead researcher Abhijith Kooloth Valappil said, “It was a fulfilling experience to work with the school to select, design and build the green gate while monitoring the changes in air quality. Kids took the first step in building our green gate, planting hope and purpose in each pouch on the gate. It became an instant hit with parents and children alike, silently echoing the benefits of green infrastructure and its shielding against air pollution exposure.”

Ben McCallan from Zero Carbon Guildford said, “It’s fantastic to see this project taking shape, not least because of the amazing co-creation and collaboration that has seen its delivery. Sandfield staff and parents, GCARE, Zero Carbon Guildford, and Surrey Councillor for the area Angela Goodwin have all made great contributions toward a project which helps protect student's health, provides biodiversity benefits, and improves air quality at a heavily polluted junction. Hopefully, this kick starts further urban greening across Guildford.”

The school is now looking to complete the green wall around the school perimeter and is crowdfunding to cover the cost:  Fundraiser by Sandfield School : Help Sandfield School have a greener future (

RECLAIM is a £1.45m EPSRC-funded Network Plus project (EP/W034034/1) that focuses on the UK’s ‘forgotten cities’ and acts as a ‘one-stop-shop’ for towns and cities to find the information and support they need to install green and blue infrastructure. More information on the project can be found at our RECLAIM Network Plus Conference webpage here

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