Nick Riley CMLI shares two of his experiences working with children, one as an Ambassador for Landscape in the UK and another when travelling in Indonesia.

    Schoolchildren in Bali, Indonesia

    Nick Riley CMLI is an Ambassador for Landscape – one of a number of LI members who engage in school visits and other crucial outreach work to promote the landscape profession. Here he shares one of his recent experiences volunteering for Class of Your Own, as well as a personal anecdote from a family trip to Bali in Indonesia.

    Working with Playscape Engineering, part of the Landscape Engineering Group, is a great challenge. It is always rewarding to see a plan come together. The real reward, however, is the children’s faces when they see our designs turn into reality!

    A Design Engineer Construct!® event at Darwen Aldridge Community Academy, Lancashire
    A Design Engineer Construct!® event at Darwen Aldridge Community Academy, Lancashire

    Class of Your Own Limited, a social business set up by Alison Watson to engage school and college students with the built environment, helps achieve this. Class of Your Own delivers Design Engineer Construct!® (DEC!), an accredited curriculum and learning programme that promotes careers in architecture, construction and engineering to secondary-school age students, their parents and their teachers. I’ve been helping Alison and her colleagues in academies and schools from Liverpool to Pendle – to name just a couple!

    It is always a little daunting when the sessions start. Could we really get an eco-classroom designed and set within a landscaped setting within one school day, with no preparation, and present this to judges at the end of the day?

    We always do. Well, the children do. Supported by various disciplines that champion the industry, they are inspired by and believe in what they do. Assigning friends to roles – director, architect, sustainability lead, marketing and branding professional, surveyor and yes, landscape architect – they get stuck in!

    Doing this work, I really get the sense that as well as promoting our industry, the Ambassador for Landscape scheme could be keeping it alive. At fourteen years of age, many children might not even have heard of the landscape profession, let alone considered being practitioners themselves! Interest soared when ‘Google Images’ came into play and the ideas really started to flow.

    By the end of the day, a full scheme concept, drawings, logo and company name all form part of a PowerPoint presentation to the judges. Most recently, colleagues from Mott Macdonald Bentley joined the headteacher to judge the teams. It is just incredible what can be achieved, and maybe what this has done to open the minds of fourteen-year-olds to what the future could be.

    Involving children in what we do is key. They are the future of how we shape and manage the world. This is why we need more initiatives such as Class of Your Own, and crucially, more members volunteering as Ambassadors for Landscape. Involving and engaging young people can really help safeguard the future of the profession.

    Recently, I was lucky enough to take my family on a trip of a lifetime to Bali, Indonesia. En route, we went from the extreme heat of Dubai to the humid wonders of Singapore and its incredible ‘Gardens by the Bay’, by UK Landscape Architects Grant Associates.

    Visiting Gardens by the Bay in Singapore, designed by Grant Associates
    Visiting Gardens by the Bay in Singapore, designed by Grant Associates

    A series of botanical gardens boasts huge, man-made trees that are illuminated at night and intersected by walkways. A play area with a sand play surface and a trim trail through incredible, lush and massive planting opens out into a water feature oasis. Adventure and play, for adults and children, is at the heart of this project, as is sustainability. It is a fantastic educational experience and one that re-invigorated my drive for quality design in landscape architecture.

    From the opulent magic of Singapore, however, came the magic of ‘play’ in a 240-pupil school just outside Ubud, Bali, where we deviated somewhat from our adventure. Once our guide had helped us with approvals, all five of us arrived. The schoolchildren’s initial shyness soon disappeared when I remembered a rhyme and trick my father taught me: the story of two little birds, Peter and Paul!

    Luckily, the emergency masking tape in my ruck sack (a lesson from my cub scout days!) came in useful. The Balinese kids were totally amazed at the trick as I swiftly swapped my fingers over mid-rhyme to make the masking tape birds disappear. After teaching the children both the rhyme and the trick, I had no masking tape left.

    As more classes exited their rooms to see what the visitors were doing, keeping them all entertained became a bigger task (it’s amazing how well the Hokey Kokey goes down in Ubud). It did get quite riotous as time went on, but great fun was had by all. Waved off the site like royalty, we said goodbye and continued our adventure.

    Schoolchildren in Bali, Indonesia
    Schoolchildren in Bali, Indonesia

    Later that week, over a local rice dish with bebek betutu (duck stuffed with spices wrapped in banana leaves) I talked with my kids about the highlights of the trip. Guess what? It was the school! This was a double whammy for me – we entertained without any technology, and my kids enjoyed themselves without iPads (that happened that evening, when they Instagrammed the images to their mates!)

    So the main lesson for me from that trip (yes I’m still learning after 25 years practicing as a landscape architect), is to use the simple things in life to engage with children; to not overcomplicate designs and concepts; and to engage and involve them in the design process. Taking that approach will always prove fruitful, and might just help shape the future of children’s life choices – hopefully there will be more landscape architects designing great places to play for hundreds of years to come!

    Nick Riley, CMLI
    Ambassador for Landscape


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