The challenges of building inside town’s ‘green lung’

THE WONDER of nature is at the heart of a project to create a new hospice for children.

An old woodland – on the eastern outskirts of Ipswich less than 100 years ago but now acting as a “green lung” within an urban expanse – is the site of a building where seriously and terminally ill youngsters will be given respite or end-of-life care.

The site, donated by a local charitable trust, was not designated for development but, largely as a result of measures to protect and enhance most of the woodland habitat, planning permission was finally obtained.

The highly-insulated building will take advantage of modern ideas in environmental design – including the installation of a “living” sedum roof – and efforts are being made to reduce the carbon footprint of the construction process with materials and expertise being sourced as locally as possible.

But the wonder of nature will never be far away because the building will be surrounded by existing and newly-planted trees, new hedgerows and wildflower areas.

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The stumps of some of the old trees felled by the 1987 gale are being retained for both their sculptural and habitat benefits while an oak tree – thought to be between 150 and 200 years old, will be the centrepiece of a courtyard.

East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices has launched a Treehouse Appeal to raise the �3million needed to cover the costs of a project which will significantly bolster the region’s hospice facilities for youngsters.

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The current children’s hospice in Ipswich, a bungalow, is inadequate to meet the needs of youngsters with terminal or life-threatening conditions and their families. There are not enough beds and rooms, nor is there dedicated space for specialist services.

The new building, designed by Ipswich architects, Barefoot and Gilles, will allow end-of-life care to be delivered in greater privacy, provide more bed spaces for life-threatened children, provide private overnight accommodation for families and include dedicated areas for hydrotherapy, physiotherapy and music and play therapies.

Susan Deakin, project ecologist, said species of plant in the “sedum” roof would be those beneficial to wildlife and it would form an integral part of the local eco-system. Plants would include cowslips, wild thyme and primroses but climate change forecasts were also being taken into account.

“There will be a built-in irrigation system but the species planted will generally be tolerant of summer drought. Use of this type of roof will slow down water run-off and reduce heat loss from within the building,” she said.

Susan, who has lived in Suffolk since her marriage 26 years ago, was brought in at an early stage to help in drawing up the planning application, controversial because of the “protected” woodland siting next to the Ipswich-Felixstowe rail line, a “feeder” route for wildlife travelling through the concrete urban jungle.

Her first job was to establish what exactly was already on site in terms of habitat and wildlife species. Valuable habitats included a number of mature deciduous trees and also rotting timber – oak, elm and beech – from the 1987 storm, now hosts for insects and fungus. There was evidence of occupation by wood mice and other small mammals as well as reptiles.

However there were no signs of use by badgers or great crested newts – the kind of species which would have certainly led to delays, the need for mitigation measures or, possibly, refusal of planning permission.

With a lack of management, the ecological condition of the woodland was considered to be “degraded” and Susan drew up a plan to protect and enhance its valuable features while increasing the stock of trees and habitat around the hospice.

“We want it to be as lovely as possible for the children and their families,” Susan said.

However, some trees – mainly self-seeded sycamores – have had to be felled and roots removed to make way for the building. Even so, only a small part of the four-acre site is being developed. The rest is being given over to nature conservation.

“We’ve managed to retain all the good trees, including the oaks and a really good sweet chestnut, and all the trees which have potential for bats. The amount of wildlife already in the wood was much less than one would expect as a result of lack of management over the years,” Susan said.

Suffolk Wildlife Trust and Natural England have both been consulted as part of the process of creating a management plan for the woodland. Existing and new trees will also help form a noise barrier, for the site is close to a busy road junction, as well as an active rail line.

The risk of construction spilling over into the retained woodland has been largely eliminated by the erection of a secure fence around the building site by the main contractor, Ipswich-based Barnes Construction.

Chris Bruce, the firm’s pre-contracts director, said a great deal of effort was being made to “green” the construction process.

A nationally-recognised environmental impact measurement scheme was being used and the aim was to achieve a high rating. Timber used on site was from accredited “renewable” sources while other needs were met by recycled materials.

“We are monitoring the use of electricity and water on site and recycling as much waste as possible. Deliveries and other journeys to and from the site are also being monitored,” said Chris who was born in Ipswich and is a former pupil of Chantry High School.

The support of the site workforce in minimising waste and monitoring input levels is obviously important and Chris believes employees and sub-contractors are well aware of the need to achieve good standards.

Low energy lighting systems will be installed and water-based paints will be used in the fitting out and decoration of the new building which is expected to be occupied by the spring of next year.

More information about the Treehouse Appeal and East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices can be obtained by logging on to

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