Time to love thy neighbour

5th March 1999 at 00:00
Transform an urban playground in two days? It can be done. Here's how...

Marion Richardson primary school in Stepney, east London, is nearly as old as the century. Like many other schools of its era, it is functional to look at and evokes a time when schools were in the business of imparting facts in classrooms and not encouraging their charges to go outside and play in all weathers. So for many years the playground was a rather utilitarian affair.

Business in the Community was enlisted to help. This charity acts as a kind of broker, putting companies who want to become more involved in their local communities in touch with people would could make use of them. Marion Richardson had requested a Groundforce-style makeover. So Business in the Community unearthed not Alan Titchmarsh and Charlie exactly, but the next best thing... The Times Supplements advertising department. And just to make the challenge specially authentic, gave them two days to build a pergola, turn an overgrown pond into a nature reserve, paint a mural, erect a greenhouse and lay a maze.

In case you think the admen and women of the Supplements had taken leave of their senses, they asked for it. Literally. After participating in various team-building exercises in the past whose effects had been transient at best, the team wanted to become involved in a worthwhile project that had not only a purpose but also a lifespan.

Like any major project, teamwork was the key. A firm of civil engineers, JBRiney not only provided technical expertise but also donated essential plant and materials. A Bristol firm, Architen, donated one of its innovative pergola-style sun shelters, and an artist was on hand to make sure the mural did not resemble a Turner prize entry. The result?

"When are they coming back?" asked headteacher John Ridgley. "I've got lots more jobs for them."

* Business in the Community, 44 Baker Street, London W1. Tel: 0171 224 1600

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