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Peel Building University of Salford

Developing the Nature-Based Solutions Living Lab at Salford University


Dr Nick Davies, Researcher of Urban Sustainability

One of the main goals for the IGNITION project is to look at the positive arguments around nature-based solutions (NBS) and show the benefits of investing in a greener future. The University of Salford’s new Living Lab aims to create a space where anyone can understand the financial benefits of NBS, as well as their potential for climate change adaptation in towns and cities.


A collaborative process

At the University, we have been preparing for the final design and build of the Living Lab since the beginning of the IGNITION project in October 2018. This has been an intense programme of activity which has required collaboration on multiple levels. The team at the university is led by Professor Hisham Elkadi, Dean of Architecture, and includes specialist researchers in measuring climate, energy, biodiversity and human adaptation factors such as thermal comfort, climate change awareness and social value. Additionally, we have worked closely with colleagues in Estates, Procurement and other departments to ensure all design ideas fit with University processes.

Nourhan Heysham, Research Assistant on the IGNITION project, has developed a tender for contractors to deliver the design and build of the Living Lab. None of this process would have been possible without the expert advice from our steering group which involves our project partners: City of Trees, Groundwork, the RHS and University of Manchester. Co-design and collaboration with stakeholders are at the heart of the development of the Living Lab and helping to deliver its future success. Monitoring is as important as the design, and our monitoring Research Assistant, Ethan Bellmer, has been developing a framework to measure the benefits of NBS.


Ready to go

We are now at the stage where very soon we hope to deliver the first stage of the design and build process.

The design will involve a raingarden adjacent to the University Library building, which is integrated into a living wall and is fed by the library roof. The second stage, which is detailed in a separate tender, will include a green roof, a larger living wall, and sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) street trees in a nearby area of the campus. Collectively, these elements make up the Living Lab.

Interpretation of the impacts of NBS is crucial to address the project’s aims. Therefore, we aim to show these benefits at an accessible level for everyone who visits – from those new to the concepts to others who might have long-standing interest for a variety of reasons. NBS have the ability to help cities adapt to climate change impacts. Increases in extreme weather in our cities have multiple adverse effects: excess water from inundated drainage systems cause floods, excess heat or drought, and negative impacts on humans including health, and disruption to many urban processes such as transport and business.

The key to our success will be how well we can demonstrate the benefits of different types of NBS to mitigate these problems, and most importantly, how that can be financially viable for investment.

To get to this stage, we have consulted and co-created design ideas with a raft of different wider stakeholders including: experts in NBS, suppliers, the campus community and environmental practitioners working in the field. We have spent more than a year doing this, resulting in the outline design for the Living Lab which very soon will be made reality.


Hopes and challenges ahead

I can’t deny that this process has been challenging, and there have been a multitude of factors to consider in order to optimise our design! For example, the university is a thriving location with a population of over 20,000. We must ensure that it continues to fulfil its primary function as an educational institution during the building process. There is no denying that, once built, the Living Lab will be an asset to the region and beyond as a resource for showcasing NBS solutions and demonstrating how they work, and why they are needed in urban areas.

We also will be able to provide important information on the considerations when investing in, installing and maintaining NBS. We are a live case study on learning about and mitigating the potential risks and, most importantly, harnessing the opportunities of increased NBS on site. The Living Lab can break down some of the barriers which have previously held back these opportunities in practice.

From the team at the university, we hope that you come and visit us soon to see the Living Lab in action!

To find out more about the Living Lab, head to the University of Salford website.