Evans Concrete’s recent hard landscaping project at the University of Sheffield in Yorkshire seems to have been particularly appropriate, in the light of research undertaken by the University’s Department of Landscape in conjunction with a London-based think tank.
The hard landscaping includes precast concrete benches and planters, designed to create a pleasant outdoor environment for socialising or quiet contemplation.
This, the research found, is an important facility which is becoming increasingly under threat in the modern urban environment. These findings are part of the Bench a recent project (funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council) by Sheffield University and The Young Foundation together with other research groups, which investigated the use of public spaces in two London boroughs.
The research confirms what many have long suspected - sitting on benches lets people spend longer outside, and this is good for mental health, whilst also allowing people to connect with others in their community. And it’s free, which is important for people who can’t afford pubs and cafes, and who are excluded from other social environments such as work and study.
This is particularly important for people who may find cafes too expensive or who are marginalised from other collective environments, such as work or education. Public benches are also beneficial for physical health, as they can provide resting places for those with limited mobility.
The researchers noted that precast concrete benches are sometimes seen as an inconvenience by some town planners, because they can be a focus for various kinds of anti-social behaviour such as rough sleeping, drinking, and playing music. However, it’s important to recognise that activities which might be seen as messy or intimidating may be entirely legitimate (‘differently-social’ rather than ‘anti-social’) and can be tolerated if the location is planned with sufficient care.
The Evans hard landscaping at Sheffield is an excellent example of this care. The benches, whilst beautiful, are also designed to be resistant to the kind of rough usage which is not unknown amongst the student population.
Clare Rishbeth of the University’s Department of Landscape, the project’s Principal Investigator, said: “It is heartening to find how sitting outside can improve quality of life for many people, and underlines the importance of socially aware design of both benches and public space”.